Once you decide to offer custom embroidery, the biggest investment will be the machine. It’s tough to find that balance between what you can afford and the best your money can buy. It’s so tempting to find a great deal that you jump on without research or testing and that can be a mistake.
Do your homework. Identify the top machines brands in the industry. Then Google and talk to embroidery machine owners to find out about dependability, weaknesses and strengths. This will narrow down your search.
It will be helpful to determine what type of embroidery you want to do and in which markets. Will you do a lot of caps, which will be critical if you are going after baseball teams? Or will you do large areas like jacket backs, large jerseys or blankets, which will be important if you are going after hockey teams or a horse niche.
One of the biggest challenges with used is you are not getting the latest technology. A machine with outdated hardware that uses a floppy disk and lower-bit processors are hard to upgrade. You may also find it hard to get technical support.
My First Machines
When I first started, I had a neighbor who was running a little DTG shop out of his garage a block away. He had a Korean-made, 15-needle singlehead he wanted to get rid of because he was concerned he could not get parts for it.
He sold it to me for $5,000. It was a good machine to learn on. I used it for three years. Fortunately, I am mechanically inclined, and I have a lot of patience, but I cussed at it a lot.
My next machine was a 1996 higher-end Japanese dual-head model. It had been used in a prison. It was worn out with more than a million and a half stitches, but it got the job done. It was a big help on our larger runs.
Proper Maintenance Is Critical
If your budget is forcing you to buy used, keep in mind that the age of the machine is less important than how damaged it is. Find out if the owner kept maintenance records and determine how the machine was treated. The truth is, when you take proper care of a machine, it will run much longer and maintain higher quality than one that is abused and neglected.
As my business grew and I had the financial resources, I continued to experiment with different brands. My next machine was a used Swiss-made one that I kept for only about five months. Finally, I invested in two better-quality Japanese models. First a singlehead and then, eight months later, a six head. Those were dependable and reliable for the next three years.
This past year I added another four head and a singlehead of the same brand as the six head. The singlehead is mainly for sewing samples. I have found embroidery machines are super finicky. Some days they run exactly how you want, and other days you just want to quit.
If you can, I recommend paying for some kind of support or training. Even getting a technician or embroidery consultant in for one day can speed up your learning curve and allow you to start producing sellable work faster. It may even be possible to do it online, which would reduce the price of paying to fly someone into your shop.
Based on my experience, I recommend sticking with Japanese makers. I used four brands in those early years, and my observation is if it’s made in Japan, it’s quality. They also do not depreciate as much as others in the same way that Hondas and Toyotas have higher resale value than other car models.
Your first machine may determine if you succeed or fail in your attempt to get started in embroidery. If you are mechanically inclined and have a lot of patience and time, you may find you can make just about any machine work. But, if you want to have a less frustrating and time-consuming start, buy as new as you can, get the machine thoroughly checked out and get training.
By contacting the manufacturer of the machine, you should be able to get a checklist of what to be testing and/or hire a technician to do an evaluation. It’s time and money well spent that can save you a lot of frustration and stress.
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