Photo Conversion to Cross Stitch Pattern

One of the questions we often get after a holiday weekend is how photos can be turned into cross stitch patterns. There are several companies and software programs available on the market that will actually do this! This article is about a program that will convert photos to patterns in just a few steps: PC Stitch.

There are a couple pieces of datae to know when creating your pattern, and you will want these options to be available in the software you choose to create your pattern.

The more stitches you have in your design the most detail your pattern will have. One way to do that is to try and match the number of pixels to the number of stitches. For example if your picture is 300 pixels by 450 pixels, then set your width to 300 stitches. Your program should automatically set your height to about 450 stitches. These programs also let you choose your fabric count and whether you are stitching over one or two threads. When you plug in all that information, look to see how large that makes your pattern and adjust accordingly. A large photo and a large fabric count will result in a very large finished size, so be sure to adjuste the settings for the outcome you’d like.

The second most important consideration is your floss selection. The more colors you use, the closer your pattern will be to real life. Even will all the floss colors, you may still not be able to perfectly match all the colors from your photo. To see the difference, when setting the specifications for your pattern, start with 10 colors and then increase the number to 25 and then 50. Are you happy with the colors chosen? If so, stop there. If not, continue to increase the number of colors by 10. DMC has over 450 colors of floss, but using that many colors would be almost impossible to manage. Fractal patterns often use 100 – 150 colors to achieve the shading. Heaven and Earth also uses a multitude of colors to achieve their adaptations.

One of the most important steps no matter what you are doing on a computer is to Save Your Work frequently! Nothing is more frustrating when you have put a lot of time into your project and have it just the way you wanted it, to have something happen and lose the work. Save often!

The Basic Steps to Create your Pattern

Both PC Stitch and PC Stitch Pro have tutorials available when you load the program.

From the PC Stitch Pro tutorial, here are the basic steps:

  • Select your picture. This can be imported from a file on your computer or disk, or from a scanner or digital camera.
  • Crop the image to the area you want to stitch.
  • You can remove the background if you want. For example, you may have the cutest picture of your grandchild, but in the background is a playground full of other children. Delete those images and substitute a solid color.
  • Size your design, remembering that the smaller the pattern, the less detail you will have. Be sure to preview your pattern changes as you work. PC Stitch Pro has a side by side window where the original photo is on the left and your working copy is on the right. You will also be able to see a section of your pattern to see how it looks before you create the actual pattern.
  • Image adjustments can help make your pattern cleaner. Some of the items you can change are brightness and contrast (if an image is too light or too dark, you can use the brightness and contrast controls to improve the picture), saturation (the part of color that we see and describe as bright or dull), and hue (the actual color). If you like the photo the way it is, you can skip this step.
  • Now it is time to choose your floss colors. PC Stitch Pro gives you choices in Anchor, DMC, J&P Coats, Kreinik metallic, and some Mill Hill beads.

Once you have all the options set, preview it and adjust it until you are completely satisfied and then create your pattern. These programs generate full cross stitches only.

Adding Back Stitches

If you want to include back stitches on your pattern you want to do that after you generate your pattern. Pro has a feature called Auto backstitch. Auto backstitch will give you a backstitch around a certain block of color. For example, if you have 9 connected squares of light rose, the software will draw a line around those 9 squares, so it is not the best tool to use when you want a line that extends out to include several of the colors to help define a shadow. This type of backstitch has to be done manually, since you need to show the program where you want the back stitch line to be drawn on your pattern.

An Example

Here is an example of a pattern done from a photo of a tulip. When the tulip was cropped, the pixel size was 83 x 86, so the pattern was made to be 85W x 91H. 50 colors were chosen, trying to get a getter definition of the bottom of the tulip. The steps above were used to create this very simple pattern. Printing the pattern was next. There are several options for the pattern – symbols only (black and white), color blocks only, symbols over the color blocks, or the stitch. Here are two of the ways:


symbols and symbols over color

The legend also can be printed a couple of ways – right hand margin or separate sheet

Both the standard and Pro editions have other options for enhancing your pattern such as adding borders and alphabets. PC Stitch Pro has several other custom features such as creating custom stitches, alphabets, and borders.

Creating a Cross Stitch Pattern from Scratch

Another method you can use to create a cross stitch pattern is to do it from scratch, placing every color one stitch at a time. You have the option of full, half, and quarter stitches. You also add the back stitching yourself. This is great for charting small cross stitch motifs or bookmarks. It would be very time-consuming if you were trying to do a large, full color design.

Companies that Convert Photos for You

There are companies advertising on the web who will convert a photo for you for a price. There are mixed reviews on how well the pattern turns out. If you are going to use one of these companies, try to get some references or a money back guarantee. If possible, make yourself a copy of the photo you are sending in case it is misplaced or damaged while in the mail or doing the process.

We hope this has answered a few of your questions about the photo programs. In general, you get what you pay for whether it be the money spent on the program or the time you invest in learning the program and working with your photo conversions.


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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2 thoughts on “Photo Conversion to Cross Stitch Pattern

  1. Helpful article for the novice but a key point was left out and that was the eliminating of strays. The pleasure of stitching is sometimes left behind when constantly changing floss colors.

    If you have a stray stitch, check to see if you can replace it with an adjoining color; you can always click “undo” if not satisfied.

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