"Prototype" (a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction [Webster's dictionary])...used to describe creating an actual embroidery of a design. Whether for samples of a project to be produced in the future, or just one or a few embroideries of a logo for a small company, or other very small quantity because that is all that is needed right now, the digitizing part of the embroidery process is the same as when embroidering a thousand pieces.
The time it takes to program a design for embroidery can vary from 5 , 10, 15 minutes to 5, 10, 15 hours or more. The process of programming for embroidery (digitizing) involves using tools in an embroidery-machine-specific program to show the embroidery machine how to stitch an image, which can be a picture or lettering. Hiring a person to do your commercial, digital embroidery is similar to renting high-end equipment along with the skilled operator who can run it, and the costs vary depending on what the embroidery shop charges, how long the project takes, the supplies that are required, and often supply and demand.
The digitizing programs that run the embroidery system are not included with the purchase price of an embroidery machine; the program and the tools within that program are purchased by the embroidery shop separately, depending on that shop's needs, so different embroiderers have different programming capabilities. Some of the tools perform programming tasks more quickly but are more expensive to buy; thus they may be purchased by one shop and not another.
After a design has been digitized, a sample or samples are run on the actual embroidery machine. The result varies due to variables such as the fabric being embroidered, density of the stitches needed, overlapping colors, thread type used, and other things including subtle changes in heat & humidity (the weather). Some designs come out well with one sample; others can take a dozen or more samples with many changes to make the end result acceptable, and even then the digitized design can vary in appearance when being stitched on a different fabric (the actual garment being embroidered).
Most designs or lettering that is not a pre-programmed font take me at least one to two hours to program and run a sample. The time to edit designs and run multiple samples can add up quickly, It is not unusual for what appears to be a "simple" one-color chest-area (~3" tall or wide) design to take the better part of a day.
(This is why the prices I give by phone or text or email are estimates, which are projected guesses based on the information I have been given, and not quotes, which are firm prices, until I have the actual artwork, the actual items, and am aware of the client's expectations, and why the price can change even with a quote, due to customer's changes).
A large, detailed embroidered image on the back of a jacket will take exponentially longer and cost much more because it takes more time to digitize and sample. These can cost in the many hundreds or thousands of dollars to just digitize, as they take many (or many, many) hours to produce.
Once a design is digitized and looks good when embroidered, future orders for actual embroidery on garments or other items can be done using the same program file BUT the design may need to be edited when the same design is being stitched on different fabrics, or when the size of the design needs to be considerably larger or smaller; in which case the time it takes to edit the design can add to the cost of the project.
If it takes several hours to program a design and run a sample, expect to pay fair wages to the person who is hired to do the work on the equipment they have invested in to make their living.
Additionally, the cost of supplies can factor in, especially when a project requires specific threads or backings or toppings that would otherwise not be standard in any shop, so requiring those custom thread colors, backings, toppings may add to your cost.
When a design is being run on a hundred or a thousand items, these costs are spread out and can become a minor cost, but when you are then only having one or a few items made (as a prototype for future possible work or because you only want or need a few), that cost becomes part of only that one or few and can be considerable.
Furthermore, when having a logo or design embroidered on "only a few" items, there is a (low but possible) failure rate due to machine or operator error which is statistically higher per piece with small orders. Expect to supply (at your cost) at least a couple of extra garments in case editing is needed after running the first or second embroidery on your actual garments.
Lastly, when I have committed my available work time to other clients, I can not take other work without charging premium prices; akin to working overtime. I may be available to commit to work on rush orders for existing clients who are reordering the same logo, and not for other new (or returning) customers with new designs, as the time it takes to program a new logo has to factor in to my existing finite time frame.
Or another comparison for why embroidery prices vary: think airline fares, which are usually more when one is purchasing tickets close to departure dates. Here is a theoretical example:
When looking for airfares in June for a December 12 trip, I look into prices and the RT ticket price is $400. I don't buy the ticket but have that number in mind and look at prices again in September, when I note that the price is $500. Since I am not yet sure of my dates, I delay. Then, finally, on November 30, I decide to buy that ticket. The price for an available seat is now $1350. The airline is not going to give me the $400 price no matter how much I want it. If I want to travel, I am going to have to pay the current price of $1350 (plus tax) and I have to commit right away or that price may go up.
Similarly, when looking into having custom work done, consider that time is often scheded for work weeks, months, or seasons in advance, and expect the price to climb as it gets closer to the deadline. Sometimes, accept waiting too long means your project will not get done at any price.
Custom work costs considerably more per piece for small quantities, for quick turnaround, or for larger or more detailed designs.