Compact Flash Cards And Your Embroidery Machine

Why won’t my Compact Flash Card work in my embroidery machine?

There are several reasons why your CF card may not work in your embroidery machine. The card could be defective, it could be larger than your machine’s memory capacity, or it could be in the wrong format. While the brain of your embroidery machine is actually a small computer, it is no match for the power of your desktop PC. One of those limitations is the inability to read multiple file formats. Just as your machine is designed to read only certain types of embroidery files, it normally can only read files stored on the media in the older FAT or FAT16 file system format.

What does FAT mean?

FAT is an acronym that stands for “File Allocation Table”. In order for the operating system to be able to find and read files stored on various storage devices there must be some standard filing system. It’s sort of like a database that keeps track of every file on the disk and where it’s located. Think of it as file folders in your filing cabinet. Each folder contains files, and each file folder is labeled to allow you to find the files you need rapidly. The FAT system, while not the only file allocation system, is the most common standard used by Windows. Your embroidery machine is designed to operate under this same standard. There are different FAT systems, such as FAT32, but they differ only in the way the sectors on the storage device are allocated. There is no need for us to get technical here, so we’ll leave it at that.

What works with your embroidery machine?

With the possible exception of some of the newest embroidery machines, most machines can only read Compact Flash cards that are formatted in the FAT/FAT16 format. Many of today’s digital cameras on the other hand are capable of using the newer and more efficient FAT32 file system. Since Compact Flash cards were originally intended for use in digital cameras, a brand new card may come pre-formatted in the FAT32 file system format. Likewise, an older card may have been re-formatted in the FAT32 format for some other purpose. In either case your embroidery machine will not like it. This problem is easily solved by re-formatting the card on your computer to a format compatible with your embroidery machine.

How does the process work?

Before you can do anything with Compact Flash cards on your computer you must first purchase a reader/writer device. San Disk, as well as several other manufacturers, offers Compact Flash readers that are very moderately priced. You can purchase a good card reader for about $20.00 to $30.00. I use a San Disk “ImageMate 8 in 1” reader that cost me about $29.00. It is a USB device that is simple to install. Windows may recognize your new device without you having to install any software. If it doesn’t, the required software drivers should have come with your reader along with complete installation instructions. There are other ways to read Compact Flash cards in your computer, but the reader/writer box is simple and easy to use. Some of the newer laptops come equipped with CF card slots built in. Another option might be using one of your PCMCIA slots, if equipped, with a CF card adapter. These adapters normally run around $10.00 to $15.00. Assuming you’ve got your reader/writer box installed properly, you are now ready to re-format those Compact Flash Cards. Insert the card into the proper slot in your reader and let’s get started. Be very careful when inserting and removing these cards. The connecting pins are very tiny and somewhat fragile.

Step 1
Search for the “My Computer” icon on your desktop and double click to open it. What you should see is a view similar to the image below. Results will vary according to how your computer is equipped. The examples shown here are for reference only.
In this view we see a list of equipped devices. The CF card is the one shown highlighted. On my computer it is the (G:) drive. It’s labeled EOS_DIGTIAL because this is a large capacity card I use in my Canon digital camera. It will work fine here for outlining the formatting process, but it is too large to use in our embroidery machines. There are actually 4 Removable Disks shown because the card reader I use is actually a multi-card reader. It has 4 different slots for several different types of media cards. If you have a similar reader you will be able to tell which drive to use by inserting the card and attempting to access it. If there is no card in the slot Windows will tell you so.
Step 2
The next step is to right click with your mouse on the highlighted drive. What you should see next is a screen similar to the one below. Highlight “Format” and click on it to begin the formatting process.
Step 3
The next screen you see should look like this. There will be drop down box labeled “File System” that will allow you to select the file system you wish to use. For our embroidery machines we want to select “FAT.” If we select “FAT 32” your embroidery machine will not be able to read it. Once you have selected the proper file system you may also enter a “Volume Label” in the appropriate box. Entering a recognizable name here will allow you to determine what is on the card when you insert it into your computer and view it in Windows Explorer or My Computer.
As you can see, I named this particular disk “My_Designs,” but you can give it any name that is meaningful to you. Certain characters are not permitted in volume names, but you will be prompted by Windows if you attempt to use any invalid characters.
Step 4
Click the “Start” button at the bottom of the box to begin the formatting process. Windows will present you with a box warning you that formatting the disk will erase ALL data on the disk. If you are certain that you wish to proceed, click OK. If you change your mind and do not wish to format the card, or forgot to enter a Volume Label, click “Cancel” to return to the previous box.
Step 5
Windows will display a progress bar as it formats the card. Formatting may take several minutes depending on the speed of your computer and the actual size of the Compact Flash card. Once formatting has been completed you will see a “Format Complete” box pop up on your screen. Click “OK” to close the box and return to My Computer.
Step 6
Now that formatting is complete, we are ready to add some of our designs to the Compact Flash card. The picture below shows our G: drive now contains a card labeled “MYDESIGNS.” By adding a volume label in the previous steps we now can easily identify the card. Highlight the appropriate Removable Disk with your mouse button and proceed to Step 7. There we will add some folders to our Compact Flash card to make our designs easier to find later on.
Step 7
It’s always a good idea to create separate folders for your designs. You can give them names relating to the designs they contain that makes finding them later on a snap. Not only that, but folders are a good idea because your machine doesn’t have to read every design when you insert the card. If all of your design files where in the root directory your machine ha
s to read every one of them before it’s ready to go. That could take a while. While you still have the removable drive highlighted from Step 6, Select “File” then “New” then “Folder” from the menu at the top of the box. Click the “Folder” option and proceed to Step 8.
Step 8
In the “New Folder” box that appears type the name you wish to use and press “Enter” when finished. Your new folder will be created almost instantly.
Step 9
As shown in this screen shot, I chose to name my folder “Animals.” My new folder is now ready to accept my animal designs. By repeating Steps 6 through 8 you can create as many folders as you would like before adding any design files. You can also come back and add more at any time. The process remains the same.
Step 10
By using the Copy and Paste commands the same way you do for any other windows function, you can easily add your designs to the folder you just created. Here you see I’ve added three designs to the “Animals” folder of my Compact Flash card. The card is now ready to take to my embroidery machine to sew out the designs.
There are a few other things related to Compact Flash cards that are worth noting.
1) Compact Flash cards that are 32MB or smaller can not be formatted in the FAT 32 file format. If you have any cards 32MB or smaller cards they should work fine. If not they may have lost their format and may need to be re-formatted.
2) Cards over 2GB can only be formatted in the FAT 32 file format. Normally the large capacity cards wouldn’t work in your embroidery machine anyway, so formatting them shouldn’t be an issue. Most, if not all, embroidery machines do not have enough memory to be able to read and store all the information on these large capacity cards.
3) Not all embroidery machines, especially some home machines, like to see embroidery files in folders. They expect to find the designs in the root directory. Some machines only allow a single folder, and some require that folder to be a specific name. Check your manual if in doubt.
4) Most machines are designed to read CF cards up to a certain maximum size. The reason for this is built in memory space. The machine initially reads every design on the card when it accesses it. If there are more designs on the card than the machine can store in memory, it may not read any at all. It may be possible to utilize a card larger than your machines memory capacity, but only if the existing data does not exceed it.
5) It’s always a good idea to keep you Compact Flash cards in the small plastic case that came with the card. This helps to keep dust and dirt out of the contact area and also helps to cushion them if dropped. If your card did not come with a plastic case, they can be purchased
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