This is the question everyone who’s thinking of starting an embroidery business asks themselves. In fact, I’ve had hundreds of people ask me this exact question at events alone (which isn’t surprising given one of my most popular live seminars is “How to make money with embroidery”). In my opinion, the answer is slightly different depending on the person. I’ve found that to give you an accurate answer, you first need to understand some embroidery business basics & qualify your intentions.
So here are some points to consider:
- Flatbed vs. Multi-needle machines?
- The exception: Do you need a multi-purpose machine?
- Who’s your target market & will you need embroidery machine attachments for your business?
- Which machine brand is best for your home embroidery business?
1.Flatbed Vs. Multi-Needle Machines?
Are you certain this machine will be used for a business and not a hobby? I always ask this question first because it shows me which road to point you down right away. If you’re thinking about getting into embroidery specifically because you want to start a business, a flatbed machine is usually not the way to go!
First off, flatbeds aren’t designed or engineered for commercial purposes. The fact that the embroidery is running on a flat surface means that it’ll be very difficult to embroider any tubular items (tubular meaning something like a shirt or sock where there’s an inside to it. Instead of something like a towel where there’s a front & back). As an example: if embroidering on a sweatshirt, you’d need to turn it inside out and create a bowl, moving all the excess material out of the way as it embroiders. Then your full-time job would be to sit and watch the machine run the entire time… The second you walk away is exactly when the machine would sew into the material hanging over.
Another huge downside is that flatbeds can only run one color at a time. This means that for designs with multiple color changes, you’re continually having the machine stop so you can pull the next color of thread through the needle. This goes against one of your basic rules as an embroidery business owner: If your machine isn’t running, you’re not making money!
Any person considering embroidery as a business should start with the right tool for the job: A multi-needle machine. These machines usually have anywhere from 6 to 15 needles on the embroidery head. Because of this, once the design is programmed into the machine, it’ll change colors automatically and continue running from beginning to end without stopping. These machines can also run at higher speeds, on heavier items and most importantly, they’re more friendly for tubular items. A multi-needle machine will have a tubular arm with a rotary hook bobbin case at the end. This means you can slide/fit almost any item you want over this tubular arm and the excess material hangs down & out of the way. Even small items like onesies, EB bears, pockets & socks can be embroidered on this machine.
Now the best part about multi-needle machines is that you load the design, select the colors, place the tubular item on the machine, press the start button and then you WALK AWAY. This allows you to do other things to grow and benefit your business instead of baby sitting your machine while it embroiders.
2. The Exception: Do You Need a Multi-Purpose Machine?
Although I usually recommend multi-needle machines, there are some exceptions. Depending on your target market, it might be important to you that the machine you buy is friendly for embroidery but also includes sewing or quilting features. For example, I’ve met successful business owners who focus mainly on the cosplay market. They make 1-off customized costumes that require 1 or 2 small embroidery designs but a lot of customized sewing.
If you’re looking for a high-end machine that will be used for multiple purposes, then cross a multi-needle off the list as all they do is embroider. At the same time, if someone doesn’t plan on focusing on sewing or quilting within their business (or already has a decent sewing- or quilting-only machine), an embroidery-only machine like a multi-needle is the way to go. Taking the other factors out and looking at an embroidery-only machine like a multi-needle usually means you’ll either save money or get more bang for your buck by getting more features.
Now if you already own a high-end multi-purpose machine & are looking to add another embroidery machine, then I would strongly suggest your next purchase be a multi-needle. Why? Well once again you don’t have to babysit it… Owning two high-end machines that need full-time babysitting makes no sense. Keep one machine to sew and quilt on and have a multi-needle that you can load and walk away!
3. Who’s Your Target Market & Will You Need Embroidery Machine Attachments for Your Business?
If you’re looking to start a home embroidery business, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is my target market?
- On what items / garments would my target market like to embroider on?
- What hoop size & attachments will I need to meet my customer’s orders & needs?
These questions are extremely important to answer before you consider moving forward with any embroidery machine so please take the time to carefully answer them. Once these questions are answered, you can then find a machine that’ll meet that criteria within the budget you have to spend.
For the most part, if you’re looking to start a home embroidery business you want to keep expenses to a minimum. Although some of the features built into the high-end home brand machines are amazing (such as positioning stickers for placement and projected simulated embroidery images directly onto the item you’re embroidering), you pay for them. In most cases, these high-end features are bells & whistles which are cool for hobbyists but take away from your bottom line as a business owner. Why? Because they’re NOT necessities. When I ran 2 of my commercial embroidery factories in the 1990’s we didn’t have any of these bells & whistles. Yet we still managed to pump out over 10 million pieces of embroidered goods per year to become one of North America’s top 100 volume embroidery producers.
As a business owner you’ll want to ignore the bells & whistles and instead focus on the attachments and max hoop size you think you’ll require. For example, if you plan to embroider on caps, you’ll want to find a machine that has a cap attachment. And if you plan on embroidering sweaters or jacket backs, you’ll want to find a machine with a large enough max hoop size. Make sense?
4. Which Machine Brand is Best for Your Home Embroidery Business?
I categorize machine brands into 2 main sections:
- Home Machine Brands
- Commercial Machine Brands
Home Machine Brands
You might’ve noticed that when it comes to “Home Machines” I’ve tried my best not to mention specific brands. Reason being is that most of the reputable home brands in the industry have a strong following and users can be very protective as to which is best. However just so we’re on the same page, some examples of what I’d consider home brands are: Brother, Janome, Bernina, Viking, Babylock, etc.
In general, home brands are more expensive but come with great local support as they’re primarily sold in store via “dealer networks”. That being said, the main reasons why you may want to consider a home brand is if you’re new & struggle with learning new things (basically if you think you’ll need lots of 1-on-1 assistance).
Although I greatly respect the Brother brand in particular, if you’re looking into a home brand, I think you should pick the brand based on the support and education the dealer / store provides. Meaning that almost all popular home machine brands produce quality machines, but sometimes you might consider one brand over another based on the reputation and support of the dealer you’re purchasing from. With all the online resources available today it’s also relatively easy to do your homework and compare brands and the features they offer. And as always, show me the money… I’m a tiny bit responsible for this one, but I’ve found that most successful dealers these days are “event and show” driven ones. Which means that if you do want to purchase from a physical store (or dealer) you’ll usually find the best deals on machines at a consumer show or at an event the dealer is hosting. Most times you’ll get a great price, great financing and a bundle of goodies thrown in. If you’d like to see the list of events we have happening to help you hunt for a deal on a home machine, click here.
Tip: Thinking of purchasing a Home Machine used? Buyer beware! You might be buying someone else’s problems. If it’s a local transaction, I’d ask the seller if they would be willing to have the machine looked at by a local dealer technician; if they have nothing to hide, it shouldn’t be an issue. Purchasing a used machine from a dealer is usually a much safer way to go and you can find yourself a great deal. Many of the machines they sell are “last year’s model”.
Commercial Machine Brands:
Generally speaking, commercial brands don’t come with as much 1-on-1 support as home brands, but they’re literally made for pumping out production. Plus, some emerging commercial brands have machines that are both built to last & extremely affordable.
Starting out as a commercial multi-head embroiderer in the early 80s with over 136 heads in production, I’ve seen multi-needle manufacturers come and go. I’ve also seen machine quality evolve and improve considerably over the years. To be honest, years ago I would only consider purchasing what I considered to be the Cadillac of commercial brand machines which were Tajima, Barudan and ZSK. To this day I have great respect for these brands and if you’re willing to spend top dollar (they aren’t cheap) you’ll never regret your purchase. I’d generally recommend these brands for anyone operating a large-scale embroidery factory but not necessarily a home embroidery business. Why? Because unless you’re knocking out a huge quantity of production, it can be hard to recoup your initial investment & begin making profits.
The reason why I said, “years ago I would only consider” was because at that time most “offshore” machines being produced had terrible reputations and quality. Today, like many other industries, things have changed considerably, and the quality of many competing products do reach my expectations for quality and longevity.
Conclusion: What Machine is Best for Your Home Embroidery Business?
The answer to this question depends on a few different factors. But overall, if your business is primarily focused around embroidery (not sewing or quilting), I’d strongly recommend a multi-needle machine. Not only will it allow you to embroider on more garment types with its tubular arm & the different attachments available, but it will also allow you to set it and walk away. This translates to more time focusing on other aspects of your business & less time babysitting the machine throughout the stitching process.
In terms of a specific machine brand, this depends on the level of support you require and how much you’re willing to spend. In general, home brands aren’t cheap because they’re primary sold in store through authorized dealer networks. However, because of this, they often come with top notch assistance & 1-on-1 training. Commercial brands may not provide as personalized of a learning experience (you’ll likely learn online or have questions answered over the phone), but they’re built for production and some are extremely affordable (which helps your bottom line).
I hope this article has helped you narrow down your options & best of luck in your future embroidery business! if you have any questions please ask away in the comments below!