When you are buying an embroidery machine, you are making an investment; whether that machine is intended for business use or personal use. Besides your budget, there are a number of things to consider before leaping into the world of computerized machine embroidery.
Business or Personal
The intended use of the machine will guide you in selecting a machine. If you are planning to start a business or expand your business into embroidery, then you need to purchase a commercial or industrial embroidery machine. If you plan to embellish items for personal use and perhaps as gifts, then a consumer grade machine is likely sufficient; however there are some great cross-over machines that work well in both arenas.
Consumer grade embroidery machines may be a small dedicated embroidery machine or a combination sewing machine with embroidery capabilities. Typically these are single needle, flat-bed machines that are relatively inexpensive.
These machines often have small embroidery areas and lack an automatic thread trimmer. They may stitch slowly and the flat bed presents limitations to what products can be embroidered.
Consumer embroidery machines are designed to reduce operator mistakes. These machines know what size hoop is installed and will not allow a larger or inappropriately positioned design to stitch. Some commercial machines will have this capability, while Industrial machines usually do not.
Lighter in durability than industrial machines, but better than consumer embroidery machines are the commercial, or cross-over, embroidery machines. These machines are usually multi-needle and may be flatbed or free arm, with a larger stitch area. Commercial embroidery machines are also faster than consumer models and will feature a thread trimmer.
The most expensive, big and heavy embroidery machines are for industrial use. These machines are more durable and usually multi-head, multi-needle and like commercial machines are either flatbed or free arm.
Industrial machines stitch about as fast, to slightly faster, than commercial embroidery machines and may offer a slightly larger stitch area.
On multiple head machines the pantograph for all heads is tied together, resulting in the same design being stitched on all heads, simultaneously.
Lower-end consumer and commercial embroidery machines only have one needle. These are the least expensive, but most time consuming machines. With each change of color in a design, the machine will stop so that the operator can remove the current color thread and then feed the machine with the next color thread. Even the most proficient operator loses time with this process – and the machine is doing nothing while it waits.
A Multi-needle machine allows the thread colors to be preloaded with the design colors. The embroidery machine will stitch out the design automatically changing between each needle as appropriate for the design colors. The machine requires less operator time and resumes stitching quickly after changing color needles.
Higher-end single needle machines will have an automatic thread cutter to reduce operator efforts. Provided the machine automatically cuts them, the thread cutter eliminates the need to trim jump stitches in designs.
Multi-needle machines will have an automatic thread cutter – without it serious mechanical issues will occur due to thread tangling and interference.
The stitching area of an embroidery machine is the space which a machine is capable of applying thread to stitch-out the design. Typically, the hoops and stitch areas are measured in millimeters. There are 25.4 millimeters in one inch. People that have difficulty with the metric system like to simplify the math and count 25 millimeters as one inch. This behavior leads to some confusion, since stitch areas are usually easy, rounded metric measurements, like 100mm (3.93″) and 250mm (9.84″); people call them four-inch and ten-inch respectively, but incorrectly.
The physical size of hoops will be larger than the stitch area to ensure there is adequate space for the machines mechanisms, like the presser foot, to clear the hoop.
Consider the materials you intend to stitch on to – when stitching onto a small product, you need the ability to use the smallest hoop possible to ensure a quality stitch-out; however, you may need to embroidery larger spaces also – for them you need larger hoops and stitch area. You need to make sure that your machine has stitch area capabilities that you need and comes with the appropriate hoops. It helps to have two hoops of each size per machine head.
Bear in mind that most Industrial embroidery machines and some commercial machines do not monitor the size of the hoop installed. Using an incorrect sized hoop can damage a machine if the design is too large.
Most modern embroidery machines have color or black-and-white touch-screen user interfaces that make operating the machine substantially easier. These machines can usually have designs loaded via USB cable or “thumb drive”. Machines that use proprietary design/memory cards are not common today, but they were very common in the early era of consumer embroidery.
There are still some machines on the market that require a computer (typically Microsoft Windows based PC) to run them, while a few others have a simple words and numbers only digital interface. These machines tend to require a Serial connection or USB connection to the computer. In some cases the computer can not be used during the stitch-out routine – a very important point in considering when buying an embroidery machine.