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Save with 5 Simple Ways to Choose the Right USB Stick for Your Embroidery Machine

Updated: Apr 5

I plugged that new USB stick into my embroidery machine and waited.

The machine beeped an error code. 😬

Where were all the designs I’d loaded? Was this brand new stick defective? I panicked!

Don’t Panic! I learned from my mistake. Now I’m going to show you how to select a USB stick that works with YOUR embroidery machine and avoid the biggest mistake most people make. You DON’T need to buy that expensive USB stick from the machine dealer.

I’ll also give a tip on how to make your USB port last longer because repairing them is expensive! You can watch the video below, or get the same information by reading the blog post below.

It doesn’t Matter what you Call it

USB sticks are used for transferring designs from your computer to your embroidery machine. Some people call them thumb drives, flash drives, USB stick, jump drive, pen stick, memory stick – they are all the same thing! I’m going to call them USB sticks in this article, OK?

Don’t be fooled by salespeople who want you to think their brand of USB stick is the only one your machine can read. That is Poppycock!

USB uses an international standard which means every factory that makes them must follow the same rules. USB sticks sold by machine dealers are not special, except for their high price tag.

I’ll show you how to choose the right one and save some money. You can buy a stick from Amazon, Best Buy or WalMart that works in your machine.

A lot of people will tell you to get a stick less than 16 GB, but that’s not the whole story.

What Color Is it?

Look at the port on your embroidery machine, the place where you plug in the USB stick. Now look inside – at the color. It’s probably black or maybe blue.

USB connectors have a color code. I’m not talking about the color on the outside of the stick – that’s decorative. I’m talking about the little piece of plastic inside. Look at the photo below to see those colorful bits of plastic inside…

three versions of USB sticks with black, blue and red inside

The color inside the stick needs to match the color of the port on your machine. This is because those colors indicate the version of USB in use.

If you try to plug a new version (like blue 3.0) into an older port (like black 2.0) it will not work. That’s why new USB sticks fail so often! We're buying the wrong version!

Remember the problem I told you at the beginning of this post? Blame the color mismatch. My blue stick did not match the black port on my machine. FAIL.

Even in 2022, most embroidery machines cannot handle the (blue inside) USB 3.0 or 3.1 formats yet!

Make sure you know the color of the USB port on your machine. Look at the two photos below. One is an older Viking machine with a black (USB 2.0) port, and the other is a Babylock multineedle machine, also with a black port. I want to point this out, because even the newest and fanciest embroidery machines may still use the older USB version. Crazy but true. I think some Bernina's have the USB3.0 (blue inside) but I haven't seen other machines with this yet.

USB port on embroidery machine
The USB portt on this older Viking machine is black inside - that means it's USB 2.0 and needs a USB stick of that same version.

USB 2.0  ports on Babylock Endurance II
This Babylock multi-needle machine also uses the black USB 2.0 standard. Newer machines don’t always use newer USB versions!

Bigger is not always better

As far as storage size or capacity, bigger is not better. The gigabyte capacity your machine can handle is completely dependent on the age and expense of your machine. Even a machine that can handle 128 or 256 GB will take a long time to read designs from a stick full of designs.

My advice is to get a smaller capacity stick and only use it for transferring designs. If you have a newer machine, 64Gb or 128GB of storage should work.

If your machine is older or a smaller machine (4×4 or 5×7 hoops) then you might want to stick with a 16GB or even 8GB to be safe. Just be sure the USB version is compatible. A 16GB USB stick can hold hundreds of designs! Don't use your USB stick for long term storage -more on that in a bit.

My favorite USB stick for embroidery machines is this one from Amazon because it looks like a little sewing machine. It's USB2.0 and comes in small capacity like 16GB.

USB stick that looks like a tiny sewing machine
this is an affiliate link to Amazon where I will earn a small commission if you purchase after clicking. Feel free to purchase wherever you like. I simply like to provide you with links to make your shopping search easier.

The problem with Folders

If you’re using a USB that is the correct size and version but your machine still can’t read the files, maybe it’s the folder structure on your stick?

We often organize our files in virtual “folders.” You may have a folder for flower designs and another for teddy bears, for example. But not all embroidery machines can read those folders on a USB stick and it will look like there are no designs on the stick. Those designs are not lost. You just need to take them out of folders.

And some machines (Janome & Elna come to mind) actually require designs to be placed in specially named folders on your USB so they appear on your machine’s menu.

Some older machines require the USB stick to be formatted using embroidery software before the machine can read it. The Viking Designer 1 is one of those machines still in use today.

How do you find out which folder structure YOUR machine wants to see on that USB stick? The owner’s manual should spell it out. Or do a google search for your machine and “USB folders” to see what comes up.

Protect your Library of Designs

I don’t recommend the USB stick for long-term storage of your embroidery designs. There are too many things that can go wrong with them and you don’t want to lose your entire design library. You’ll want to have your designs on your computer hard drive AND keep a backup that’s NOT a USB stick.

You can backup to cloud storage on the internet like these services:

Or if you like to keep things in your own home, an external hard drive is an excellent way to save your embroidery files or any other files from your computer. I use this 1 TB drive from SanDisk and absolutely love it! (amazon affiliate link)

Protect that Expensive Machine Too!

If the port on your machine breaks, it can be VERY expensive to fix. Repeatedly plugging that stick into your machine’s USB port creates some wear and tear. So I like to buy a short USB cable that stays plugged into my machine all the time, then I plug my USB stick into that cable. You’ll hear people call this a dongle cable. Because it just kinda hangs around your machine. (It reminds me of a dingleberry, if that helps you remember it.) But technically speaking, it's a short USB extension cable.

12 inch USB extension cable plugged into embroidery machine

People always ask me which extension cable to buy. Anything that fits your machine will work. Look for a short USB extension cable. I use this 1 FT USB cable from Amazon and it works great for me. Even though my machine has the black 2.0 port, this blue USB 3.0 cable is backward compatible and works just fine.

Summing up USB sticks for embroidery machines

You can save money by getting a generic USB stick for your embroidery machine. Match the color inside the stick with the port on your machine and get a small storage capacity. Be careful about formatting folders on that stick. Always back up your design library somewhere OTHER THAN your USB stick. And to extend the life of your embroidery machine – add a cheap, short cable to reduce the wear and tear from inserting that USB all the time. I hope these tips save you a bunch of money!

See? No more panic. After my initial scare with the wrong USB in my machine, I asked my husband if he had any spare USB sticks. He found an old one from his college days. It was black inside and EXACTLY the right kind of stick my embroidery machine needed! Problem solved. Plus, I got to read his master’s thesis that was saved on that ancient stick. (ʘ ͜ʖ ʘ)

If you want more nitty-gritty of machine embroidery sent to your email box, sign up for the Ballyhoo Crew Newsletter. I send out tips and tricks, along with some in-the-hoop inspiration. Or check out my popular Ballyhoo Creations YouTube channel.

The links in this post to Amazon products are affiliate links where I will earn a small commission if you purchase through my link. I like providing you with a quick route to a product that works and don't mind making a bit of money for doing all the shopping legwork for you. ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°)


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