Industrial embroidery software is intended for professional use with prices ranging from several 100 to several 1000 US-dollars.
There is not very much coherency in the way embroidery software is bundled by different distributors. While few of them offer a single complete CAD suite, many have created different variants for different use cases.
Many distributors provide different suites for companies who just customize ready made designs, others for those who digitize logos, and again others for those creating complex embroidery from scratch. Some distributors sell reduced, standard and pro versions of their software, while others have decided to leave it completely up to the client, to pick the modules they need.
Industrial CAD suites are adapted to the workflow of the professional embroidery designer - they provide a high degree of integration with the CAM process:
they are integrated with thread and fabric databases and come with modules that predict the cost per unit by calculating the amount of thread and time required on a given machine. Industrial Software should be expected to produce better digitizing results. It should take the properties of the fabric and threads to be used into account.
Some even perform actual 3d simulation, allowing for more realistic predictions of how the stitches interact with the fabric, and each other (underlay).
There is no benchmark that actually tests or compares the digitization results of various design suites, so it is not clear whether industrial digitization algorithms are really superior to their low-cost alternatives.
Professional embroidery punchers claim that even the most advanced digitization results are suboptimal, requiring human intervention of a trained professional and several test cycles of actual embroidery.
The only way to assist the quality of various digitizers, is to actually try them out. Unfortunately the save function of most Demo-Versions is restricted, so that it's impossible for the layman to compare the quality of the resulting embroidery beforehand.
For the home user, industrial embroidery software is heavily overpriced. The acclaimed increased of performance resulting from more efficient machine use, and shortened design cyles, are factors that are of little importance to the prosumer.
The high price of most embroidery suites can hardly be justified, given that low-cost software can compete with them in many respects.
Many design tools bundled with embroidery software, are less advanced than those included in low-cost or even free vector graphics software such as Corel Draw or Inkscape.
Those programs include tracer modules, for vectorization of rastergraphics, which is a first step in digitization.
The best alternative to a professional CAD-suite is a combination of the vector graphics program of your choice, a file format converter and a high-quality digitizer.
Unfortunately even the most basic Digitizing Algorithms are either well protected trade secrets, or covered by software patents.
Nevertheless it's pretty easy to create a simple digitizer that turns closed surfaces into fill stitch patterns, using a modified scanline fill algorithm.
Inkscape, Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator can all be extended using scripting languages - so with some basic programming skills, you can create a digitizer for the graphics suite of your choice.