New vs. Used Commercial Embroidery Machines? Many potential embroiderers have been to their local state fair and have been wowed by the 6 needle semi-commercial embroidery machine and think this is my gateway to home based business riches. In fact the sales pitch will be exactly that and what you’ll find is that in about 6 months that machine is gathering dust in your spare bedroom or you are trying to figure out how you can sell it quickly to get a higher output 12 or 15 needle machine. Often times for the same price as that brand new hobby machine you could get a gently used commercial workhorse. There is a place for each, but be advised for the new business owner finding a used machine is a great way to get into the business. It’s how I started and it worked very well for me.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Case For a New Machine
- 2 The Case For a Used Machine
- 3 Brands
- 4 Choosing the Number of Embroidery Heads
- 5 Used Embroidery Machine Buyers Checklist
- 6 Embroidery Electronics
- 7 Embroidery Machine Mechanics
- 8 Embroidery Machine Testing
- 9 Questions to Ask Before Buying the Used Embroidery Machine
- 10 Finally
The Case For a New Machine
Oh I do love shiny new things. It was so tempting to get some financing and purchase my dream 4 head 15 needle beauty. Starting out I didn’t know what I was looking for and furthermore I didn’t even know where to look. I had been laboriously researching each of the brands websites and was set to purchase a startup single head package totaling $15,000. I had also been trolling craigslist and emailing about various used machines. Without really understanding what you are looking for it can be a gamble with a used machine (this guide hopes to at least educate you on the various machines so that you can decide what’s best for you) especially when you don’t even know so much how to turn one on let alone sew out a design.
With a new machine you’ll often get video guides, sometimes multi day onsite trainings, and a whole host of information for beginning embroiderer. There is definite value to going this route especially if you are overwhelmed by the prospect of researching, testing, negotiating and ultimately buying a used machine. Let’s look at the key factors in support of buying a new machine.
- Factory warranty: An embroidery machine is a sophisticated piece of equipment with a lot of moving parts. These parts sometimes break, it’s inevitable. With a new machine you will have a factory warranty providing you piece of mind for your first few years of ownership. It should be said though that different manufacturers have different warranty periods, we provide guidance below in the brand listings.
- Technical Support: Some of the embroidery machine manufacturers will not offer direct support of a used machine without a support contract in place. If that’s the case you’ll have to find other ways to get support, fellow embroiderers, forums, this site, etc. Having someone available via phone or email to help you with your problems (which I guarantee you’ll have) is strong motivation.
- Newest features and product enhancements: Touch screens, ethernet connectivity, bobbin sensors, laser guides are cool features that often come in only the newest embroidery machines. If you think you absolutely need these features then new is the way to go.
- Replacement parts and service: If you are concerned that you aren’t going to be able to find a replacement thread tension assembly for your used machine or other vital part then you can be sure of parts availability with a new machine. Maybe more importantly the newer machines will have a service network of qualified tech’s that can keep your machine in tip top shape.
The Case For a Used Machine
If the thought of having your embroidery equipment depreciate by over 30% the minute it’s dropped off the liftgate of the delivery truck makes you sick to your stomach then you are going to want to look at the used embroidery equipment market. You can get a top notch brand embroidery machine for a very reasonable price usually half of a new machine with a little legwork and know how. If you have a limited budget you can get way more machine going used whereas with a new machine you might be tempted to purchase one of the lesser known brands that may have a questionable long term business model and low resale value. Let’s look at the factors to consider in buying a used machine.
- Low cost of entry: Let’s face it, if you are starting a small business, cash is going to be limited. Instead of financing tens of thousands of dollars for a machine you might not end up using like you planned (sorry to inject some reality) why don’t you consider shelling out some cash for a good used machine.
- More machine for the money: Very rarely will you hear anyone say: “I just bought too much machine, I wish it would sew less thread colors, slower.” Depending on your budget with a new machine you’ll have to go with less needles and heads whereas with the same amount of money you could buy a Tajima, Happy or Barudan multi head machine that will have you producing at a much higher level. Your customers don’t care how shiny your machine is, they want the best value for their money.
- Great resale market for top brand machines: If God forbid your new business “Bebo and Stitch” doesn’t take off or if you don’t like it, odds are really good that you can put that machine in our classifieds and sell it for near the same amount as you paid for it. My first machine was a Happy and I actually made money on the resale 3 years later.
- Older Machines aren’t that different then new: The underlying technology of embroidery machines is at it’s heart simple. It’s a very well made sewing machine that interprets paths to produce the embroidered object. This technology hasn’t changed that much in the last 10 years. Yes there are some fancy electronics for manipulating your designs, but in the end that’s just user interface, the actual sewing mechanisms are fundamentally the same. Don’t think that ethernet and touch screens are necessary for turning out first rate products for your customers.
There are a number of commercial embroidery machine manufacturers. Below you’ll find details on each of them as well as contact information and how to buy them if you are looking at new equipment.
Tajima is hands down the most popular embroidery machine manufacturer and it’s no wonder based on the quality of their machines. They have been in business since 1944 based in Japan. They are fantastic machines and as such claim the highest cost as well as resale value of any embroidery machines out there.
USA Dealer: Hirsch http://www.hic.us/
Canadian Dealer: Rubenstein RB Digital Inc. http://www.rubenstein.ca/
Happy as a company has many names, it’s grandparent company is ITOCHU Corporation based in Japan that started in 1858. It’s formal name is Happy Industrial Corporation and it’s US based company is known as TEXMAC. Phew. All of that to say that they have been building sewing machine, embroidery machines and industrial equipment very well for a long time. Their website has a wealth of information and is a good place to find more information about their machines, manuals, service records and the like.
USA Dealer: http://www.happyemb.com/
Canadian Dealer: http://www.happyemb.com/
Barudan is another excellent manufacturer of commercial embroidery machines started in Japan in 1959. Since then they have continued to be one of the top makers of industrial quality machines with fantastic warranties. They have a large line of machines from single heads on up to 56 head behemoths.
USA Dealer: http://www.barudanamerica.com/
Canadian Dealer: http://www.barudanamerica.com/index/why-barudan/our-company/locations/canada.html
Toyota produced single head embroidery machines for a limited time starting in the 1990’s until just a couple of years ago. They have since been sold to Tajima. That being said they are terrific machines although they do not make multi head models. Toyota machines had the unique capability to be networked together allowing them all to sew in unison acting as a multi head machine.
USA Dealer: http://www.pantograms.com/
Canadian Dealer: http://www.pantograms.com/
Brother makes great embroidery machines, and no disrespect intended this happened to be the very machine I saw sewing out an eagle on the back of a jean jacket at the state fair. They focus primarily on the hobbyist and home entrepreneurs and until recently only had a 6 needle machine. They have now released a 10 needle version that does indeed have some impressive features. The real challenge in going with a Brother is that you top out with their 10 needle machine. They don’t have multi head systems or more commercial varieties of machines. That being said you can find many used Brother machines as people are trading up for more workhorse machines so it might be a great way for you to understand and try out the business at a lower cost.
USA Dealer: http://www.brother-usa.com/
Canadian Dealer: http://www.brother.ca/
SWF started in Korea as Korea Machine Industry Co., Ltd. in 1974 and has quickly expanded worldwide. They started shipping their first embroidery machines in the US roughly in 1999. While not one of the Big 3 Japanese companies their machines are well respected and well supported in the United States and abroad. They also carry a large line of multi head and multi function machines.
USA Dealer: http://www.swfeast.com/
Canadian Dealer: http://www.swfeast.com/
Meistergram started in 1933 but has since been through many iterations of ownership. Their machines are made in China and would be a fine option assuming you can get the type of support you expect in your area. Due to the relatively volatile nature of their company ownership we are slightly hesitant to recommend them as an option when you have so many other choices available.
USA Dealer: http://www.meistergramemb.com
Melco is one of the few embroidery machine manufacturers that actually design and produce their equipment out of the United States. They started in 1972 and are a very respected brand in the industry. All you have to do is look through their list of customers to see their legacy. These machines will typically be more than their Chinese counterparts but you are paying for domestic construction and a great support network.
Dealer Websites: there are a variety of different Melco dealers with the landscape changing all the time, you are better off contacting Melco to learn more options.
Baby Lock is primarily a serger and sewing machine company that also has embroidery machines that combine sewing machine form factors as well as some single head home based models. They are a very well respected company with machines made in Japan but are not necessarily a company you would think of for large scale commercial embroidery.
Dealer Websites: Baby Lock works with independent resellers and local stores. You’ll find them supported at your local sewing machine distributor.
This is another Chinese based company with very limited information available about their product line. A quick search will provide you some information of a questionable nature about their quality. We can’t comment directly on the quality of their machines but based on others feedback you might want to look elsewhere for an embroidery machine especially for the price.
Choosing the Number of Embroidery Heads
When thinking of your first machine purchase the topic naturally comes to how many heads should I purchase? Budget might often make that choice easy but if you are really trying to figure out if this business is going to be viable for you then a single head embroidery machine is a good place to start. Even if you grow in the future having a single head machine available for quick design sew outs, or custom work is not going to go wasted. That way you are not going to put out a significant outlay only to determine three months down the road that you don’t like the business, business isn’t good or some other issue occurs. You should have little problem selling a used machine on the market provided it’s a reputable brand in good working order.
Used Embroidery Machine Buyers Checklist
If you have decided to go the route of buying a used embroidery machine you should be prepared to do a real inspection of the machine before you think about putting out an offer. If it doesn’t sew it doesn’t go. Absolutely walk away if the seller is not able to demonstrate the machine to you. This isn’t a toaster you are purchasing, this is a machine you are going to be basing your business on. I’ve got a few tips here to help you with the overall process but also go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking.
- Have the Seller Demonstrate the Loading of Designs
- Have the Seller Demonstrate the Assignment of Needle Colors
- Verify setting the origin of the machine and other sew out functions
Embroidery Machine Mechanics
- Have the Seller Demonstrate full range of movement of the hoop
- Ask where the oiling points are located (if they don’t know move on)
- Visually inspect all areas of the machine for wear
- Ask the seller to show you the bobbin and inspect it’s case
- Verify that the thread tensioners are all working
- During sew out use your ears to identify any metal on metal or harsh noises and investigate
- Make sure that the thread cutter operates as you expect for each color
Embroidery Machine Testing
Before you even think of purchasing the used machine you want to see some test sew outs. It’s a good idea to warn the seller that you are going to want to see this test done so they have it setup and ready to sew when you arrive. If they’ve only got 5 of their 12 needles setup with thread it’s going to waste a fair amount of both of your time to get that setup while you’re looking at it. If you have some designs ready to go you can bring one along and ask them to sew it out (make sure you know it sews well on other machines first). You can use something like Happy’s test sew out format to verify each and every color and that each needle is tensioned appropriately. You can download their designs at https://happyemb.com/support/tension-tests/
If the machine has multiple thread breaks during the sew out, get to the root of the problem before purchasing. Is it a timing issue with the machine (ask the seller). Is it a bent needle, poor thread tension, old thread. Figure it out before you write it off as fine. Thread breaks happen there is no doubt of that, but if it happens repeatedly that’s a real concern.
Questions to Ask Before Buying the Used Embroidery Machine
Here are a few more questions to ask before making an offer on the embroidery machine.
Ask about service technicians in the area. Have they used anybody? What service has been done on the machine itself? Do they have the records? Do they have the service manuals
- Is there a service technician in the area for this machine?
- What’s the service record of this machine?
- Where do you get parts for the machine?
- What accessories comes with the machine?
- Why are you selling the machine?
- Do you have any recommendations on the embroidery business? (they might give you some good insight into the small business market in your area.)
In no way am I trying to scare you away from the embroidery business, rather I’m trying to make you an informed consumer so that you can have your best chance for success. If you have any questions you can always contact us, we’d love to hear from you.