After teaching hundreds of embroidery events across the world, and given my deep roots in the commercial industry, one of the most common question of those looking to start or running an embroidery business usually is “which embroidery machine is best for a home business?”.
In my opinion, the answer slightly differs from the person. To give you an accurate answer, you first need to understand some embroidery business basics and qualify your intentions.
When choosing which embroidery machine would be the right fit for your business, you must consider several factors before making your decision:
- Would you benefit more from a flatbed or a multi-needle machine?
- Based on the features you need, do you need a multi-purpose machine?
- Depending on your target market, will you need attachments for your embroidery machine?
- Which machine brand is best for your home embroidery business?
Embroidery machine multi-needle vs. flatbeds
Are you sure 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!
Flatbed embroidery machines
First off, flatbeds aren’t designed or engineered for commercial purposes. The embroidery runs on a flat surface, meaning it’ll be challenging 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.
Flatbed machines also have a decreased speed time. These machines usually use a hoop rectangular in shape, which can be problematic for registration and quality embroidery. This occurs because the hoop’s side that hooks into the machine frame drives the hoop back and forth, therefore slowing down production time as the motors running aren’t commercial grade.
Another huge downside is that flatbeds can only run one color at a time. This means that you will continually have to stop the machine for designs with multiple color changes so you can pull the next color of thread through the needle. This goes against one of the basic rules as an embroidery business owner: If your machine isn’t running, you’re not making money!
Multi-needle embroidery machines
Any person considering embroidery as a business should start with the right tool for the job: A multi-needle machine.
Multi-needle machines usually have anywhere from 6 to 18 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 and out of the way. Smaller items like onesies, EB bears, pockets, and socks can be embroidered on this machine.
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 walk away. This allows you to do other things to grow and benefit your business instead of babysitting your machine while it embroiders.
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 and 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 one or two 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 embroidering is their full-time job. 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 and 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!
Your embroidery machine attachments should match your target market
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 and attachments will I need to meet my customer’s orders and needs?
These questions are extremely important to answer before considering moving forward with any embroidery machine, so please take the time to answer them carefully. Once you answer these questions, you can then find a machine that’ll meet those 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 and 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 two of my commercial embroidery factories in the 1990’s we didn’t have any of these bells and 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 some of the bells and whistles. 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?
Now, I said ignore some of the bells and whistles. This does not apply to the Echidna Hooping Station, which is especially useful if you have limited hand mobility and strength or get frustrated with hooping your garments. This hooping station uses powerful magnets (they’re reusable and no mess -win!), giving you complete control over hoop placement for any project. This Echidna Hooping Station can save you time and project accidents. Hooping mistakes are an expensive mistake to make! Click here to learn more about the Echidna Hooping Station.
Best embroidery machine for a small business
I categorize machine brands into two main sections:
- Home Machine Brands
- Commercial Machine Brands
You might’ve noticed that when it comes to “Home Machines,” I’ve tried my best not to mention specific brands. The 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 generous local support as they’re primarily sold in-store via “dealer networks.” That said, the main reason why you may want to consider a home brand is if you’re new and struggle with learning new things (basically if you think you’ll need lots of one-on-one 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. This means that if you 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. You’ll most times get a great price, great financing, and a bundle of goodies thrown in. (Like when purchasing a ZSK machine from Embroidery Legacy, we also throw in a Diamond Embroidery Legacy Design Club Membership).
I highly suggest making an educated decision with whichever machines you’re interested in purchasing or potentially purchasing in the future. By this, I mean, you should make comparisons. What’s the difference in prices versus the difference in output? Compare the longevity and return on your investment. Even if you’re financing, you’re going to end up making money and saving money in the long run by getting the right machine from the start.
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 one-on-one support as home brands, but they’re literally made for pumping out production.
Now, remember, you get what you pay for. If you buy a commercial machine based on a price point, you will have potential issues that you will need to address, and you will need to get past the learning curve.
Starting as a commercial multi-head embroiderer in the early 80s running 2 factories 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. Years ago, I would only consider purchasing what I thought the Cadillac of commercial brand machines: Tajima, Barudan, and ZSK while running an embroidery business. To this day, I still have great respect for these brands, and if you’re willing to spend a bit more, you’ll never regret your purchase.
The reason why I said, “Years ago I would only consider” was because, at that time, most “offshore” machines produced had terrible reputations and quality. Today, like many other industries, things have changed, the quality isn’t as low as it used to be so I would no longer say you must avoid these machines.
Yet, a word of advice is that I do find that with many of the “cheaper” (in terms of price point) emerging commercial brands, there are additional hurdles and learning curves for you to overcome. One example of this is that the tension systems on many of these cheaper brands are a lot more needy and temperamental. This requires a lot of attention and fiddling for the machine owner which is particularly challenging for anyone not already familiar with running commercial machines.
For this reason, although the price point of some of these cheaper commercial machines may be attractive (some of them even under $10,000 USD), I would not recommend them to anyone fairly new to machine embroidery.
My personal suggestion for an embroidery business? Try the ZSK
As I mentioned, 3 machines that have a proven track record are Tajima, Barudan, and ZSK. Although these brands used to mainly focus on multi-head machines, they now also sell single head machines which are perfect for home embroidery business owners. Now out of these 3 brands, my personal favorite is ZSK. Why?
Because ZSK machines are the benchmark of quality, precision, and reliability. ZSK machines have many features that set them apart from other machines. They have the ability to run up to 1200 SPM, automatic color changes, thread break detection, an advanced servo motor to sew through thicker materials, and the industries smallest tubular arm … to name a few! Plus, with ZSK’s industry leading tension systems the upper thread sews with an exceptionally low tension of 85 grams compared to most other brands which need 120+ grams. This equals less puckering, mistregistration, and time wasted trying to adjust the tension system yourself.
If you’d like to learn more about the ZSK machine and see how it could best fit your embroidery needs, click here.
How to start an embroidery business
Now I threw this part in here for those of you interested in turning your hobby into a business but not sure where to start (if you already own an embroidery business, no problem. You can skip this section. First off, don’t be intimidated! Although it can seem like there is a lot of information to digest, we’re here to help get you started. Check out our free five crucial steps to starting an embroidery business here. These steps will help benefit your business and can be applied to any stage of your business for better results.
We also offer a free financial guide that includes 7 Financial Mistakes That Will Hurt Your Embroidery Business to help you start and succeed with your business. These tips will help you prevent common mistakes and get you started on the right track so you can start making money. Click here to view our financial guide.
If you want proven tips and techniques to help your business be more successful, our new How to Make Money with Embroidery Workshop is a must-watch! Whether you’ve never made money with embroidery before or are an experienced embroidery business owner, this workshop will help you find customers, streamline your workflow, increase your profits, and more.
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 on 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 and 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 and 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 primarily sold in-store through authorized dealer networks. However, because of this, they often come with top-notch assistance and one-on-one training. Commercial brands may not provide a personalized learning experience (you’ll likely learn online or have questions answered over the phone), but they’re built for production. They will help you to recoup your investment by increasing your workflow.
If you are looking for our personal machine brand recommendation, I highly suggest you check out the ZSK embroidery machine (click here). Granted, we may be a bit biased here at Embroidery Legacy, given we’re an official ZSK partner. But still, they are honestly the gold-standard for quality, precision, and reliability in the commercial embroidery industry. Even if you don’t end up purchasing one, it’s good to see all options available to you and the features that place ZSK a step above most of the other brands out there.
I hope this article has helped you narrow down your options, and best of luck in your future embroidery business! If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments below!
P.S. Looking to start an embroidery business or want accelerated results in turning your current embroidery business into a profit center? Check out our new How to Make Money with Embroidery Workshop! Featuring 8 lectures taught by industry experts, this workshop will teach you how to streamline your workflow, increase your profits, and find new customers. Click here to learn more now.