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Whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced embroidery enthusiast, picking the best embroidery machine for shirts may be difficult. There are a lot of shirt embroidery machines on the market, and there is a lot of minutiae that comes with embroidering shirts!
Here, I’ll review several of the best embroidery machines for shirts available for 2020 and help guide your selection based on the features you want in an embroidery machine. Lastly, I’ll walk you through some of my best t-shirt machine embroidery tips and supplies to help you create beautiful designs without a ton of trial and error.
So, read on!
T-Shirt Embroidery Machine Features & Your Personal Goals
There is no right answer to the question of what is the best embroidery machine for shirts. It all depends on what your end goals and project aspirations are. Are you just an occasional embroiderer of baby onesies? Or an aspiring home embroidery business? Before making your purchase, here are some embroidery machine features to consider.
Combo vs Embroidery-Only Machine
I have a sewing and embroidery combination machine. What that means is not only can I embroider or monogram shirts with my machine, but I can also sew other DIY projects.
In contrast, an embroidery-only machine is for, well, embroidery only. You’ll need to choose not to sew or have a separate sewing machine for sewing. (I’d recommend the Brother XM2701 as a nice, basic sewing machine to complement your embroidery machine.)
One big pro of a combination machine is it’s space-efficient to only have one machine, not two. The biggest con, however, is the price increases if you buy a 2-in-1 machine and only plan on embroidering.
Maximum Embroidery Area and Hoop Size
Every embroidery machine is going to come with a maximum hoop size and a slightly smaller maximum embroidery area. This hoop size limits the size of a design you can stitch at one time. For instance, an embroidery machine with a 5″x7″ embroidery area will not stitch larger than a 5″x7″ design in one pass. If you have a bigger design, you will need to use software to split the design into pieces and then rehoop your t-shirt in between stitching each section or use a repositional hoop.
The least expensive embroidery machines will have a 4″x4″ embroidery field, and sizes go up from there. If you are considering embroidering large areas, it will greatly benefit you to have a larger hoop size. If your budget allows, consider at least a 5″x7″ hoop to save time rehooping. Rehooping isn’t the end of the world, but it can be a little time-consuming to get things just perfect. If you only plan to embroider small logos or patches on t-shirts for your company, though, there’s no need to splurge for a huge hoop size!
As a note, even if you choose an embroidery machine with a large hoop size, you may benefit from having a smaller hoop available as well. Hooping onesies or small toddler shirts is darn near impossible using behemoth hoops. I’ve also found that small designs are easier to line up and center using a smaller hoop.
Manual Thread Changes vs Multi-Needle Commercial Embroidery Machine
Are you wanting to create shirts for children or grandchildren as a hobby, or are you looking to start a home embroidery business? Hobbyists may not need the snazziest machines, but for commercially-minded embroidery hopefuls, time is money.
Embroidering multi-colored, dense designs on a single-needle embroidery machine can take forever. It’s made even longer by having to stop after each thread color to change threads.
For budget-minded t-shirt machine embroidery enthusiasts, a multi-needle machine is not likely a possibility. However, purchasing a multi-needle embroidery machine might make sense if you want to sell your designs commercially. With a multi-needle embroidery machine, you can set up several colors at once to embroider without having to manually change threads.
Embroidery Free Arm
If you’re wanting to embroider shirt cuffs or pockets and can’t get these items hooped single layer in an embroidery hoop, you will want to look for an embroidery machine that has a free arm for embroidery. More common on multi-needle embroidery machines, this makes it MUCH easier to access small spaces such as cuffs, pockets, and even small onesies. There are a couple single-needle embroidery machines with free arms as well, although these machines are close to the price of budget multi-needle embroidery machines!
A slow embroidery machine will take longer to complete your project. A fast embroidery machine gets your projects done quicker, but it is more expensive.
To complete a basic 4″x4″ single-color monogram or applique on my embroidery machine, it takes around 5 minutes of active stitching time. If I have multiple thread changes in a densely stitched design and need to rehoop and split designs, I can be embroidering up to an hour for a single large design. As I enjoy the process and embroider for fun, not profit, this doesn’t bother me. However, if you’re wanting to start commercially embroidering, a slow, single-needle machine will get you started but will not allow you to scale your business if your embroidered t-shirts suddenly become a hot commodity.
Jump Stitch Trimming: Manual vs Automatic
My second least favorite part of embroidering (my first is hooping stretchy fabrics) is having to trim jump stitches manually. Because, well, sometimes I accidentally trim more than just the jump threads. It takes good eyesight and good dexterity to trim those tiny things! Many designs you purchase will minimize jump stitches, but if you auto-digitize rather than manually digitize your design, you will end up with more.
If you think you’ll be doing involved, multicolor designs, having a machine with automatic jump stitch trimming is a HUGE time saver. This isn’t a feature most entry-level t-shirt embroidery machines will have, though. Most do at least have automatic thread trimming after the end of each color, which is convenient.
Digitizing Software Considerations and Expectations
While many embroidery machines have built-in designs, in almost all cases, you will need to venture out to find or make more designs. My machine comes with almost 300 built-in designs, but I rarely use them. The fonts are less than gorgeous, and making a monogram using them doesn’t give the wow factor I’m looking for.
Luckily, there are lots of websites that offer a selection of free embroidery designs. (Here’s my list of best places to find free embroidery patterns for your machine!) You can also purchase designs online.
If you want to create any sort of novel projects, though, you have to use embroidery software or pay a digitizer. Embroidery software allows you to create and edit designs and also split designs that are larger than your max hoop size. Most embroidery machines do not include their own software with purchase.
I have an engineering undergrad degree and am a doctor, and some of the embroidery software on the market is NOT intuitive to even me. If you’re not motivated to learn the basics of digitizing software or aren’t tech-savvy, have a plan for how you’ll get designs before you purchase a t-shirt embroidery machine.
In terms of software recommendations for non-commercial minded digitizers, I lean towards recommending Embrilliance to beginners who are looking for an affordable way to start creating designs. Because they come with a free demo period, you know what you’ll be getting before you purchase the software. Embrilliance also has a tiered system, so you can start cheap and only buy what you need as you grow.
I also like to create SVG files in Inkscape and convert them to embroidery files using Ink/Stitch. This is an open-source, FREE embroidery software, but it doesn’t offer the support other paid brands of programs do if you’re not familiar with graphic design. Hatch and Embird are also good programs, and most machine manufacturers also offer their own programs (Brother PE-Design, Bernina ArtLink, etc.) If you ask 10 digitizers what programs they like, I bet you’ll get at least 5 different answers!
Even if you choose to purchase designs rather than create, you will at least want to download a thumbnailer to help you view your embroidery files on your computer. Computers without embroidery software have no way to view embroidery files such as .pes, .jef, and more.
Best Embroidery Machine for Shirts – Reviews
If your budget is over $5000, I strongly recommend purchasing your shirt embroidery machine from a local sewing machine or embroidery machine retailer. You’ll be able to try out the machine before purchasing and discover its nuances. Bring a test t-shirt, some stabilizer, and one of your designs, and take the machine for a spin. If you’re looking for a Bernina, Juki, Melco, Babylock, Tajima, or high-end Brother machine to name a few, you’re more likely to find one at a retail store rather than online. Even with multi-needle commercial machines, you are better off searching at a local retailer if one is available.
The machines I’ve included below are more affordable embroidery machines and are less likely to make appearances in sewing shops for you to try before you buy.
I love Brother embroidery machines because they are affordable and offer great quality. Janome sewing machines also offer great quality but will still not quite break the bank. While Singer makes incredible sewing machines (especially heavy-duty sewing machines!), their embroidery machines in the last 10 years haven’t been able to compare to the other brands.
(Best Budget Shirt Embroidery Machine for Home Use)
|Embroidery Designs||138 designs|
|Maximum Embroidery Speed||650 stitches per minute|
|USB Connection||Built-in USB port|
The Brother PE800 embroidery machine is a great Brother embroidery-only machine. You won’t be able to sew with it, but it’s a powerhouse embroidery machine at an affordable price.
It has a maximum embroidery size of 5″x7,” which makes most medium-size designs feasible with minimum design splitting and rehooping. There is also a 5″x12″ repositional hoop you can purchase as an extra. All you have to do then is split a design into 2 sections with software and reposition just the hoop instead of the shirt in the smaller hoop. To use a smaller hoop size on smaller designs or children’s shirts, consider purchasing some smaller hoops to swap out.
The Brother PE800 embroidery machine features 138 built-in designs, although you’ll likely want to import your own designs to start making shirts. Import via USB on the side of the embroidery machine. There are also 11 fonts included, 7 of which are English. These fonts come in small, medium, or large sizes, so again, you may want to have your own embroidery software to customize more. And lastly, there are 10 frame shapes and 14 border designs to use when combining design elements to make your t-shirt designs more unique.
The Brother PE800 has a color LCD touchscreen, which is something nonnegotiable for me on a shirt embroidery machine. You can do a bit of pattern editing on screen also. Basic editing features include:
- Adjust design size – enlarge or shrink the design both proportionately or disproportionately up to a max size of 5″x7″
- Make a horizontal mirror image
- Combine and rotate designs
- Change thread colors and utilize a colored preview
- Change thread density
- Add letters to an arc
In terms of automatic features, it includes automatic thread tension, a thread trimmer (end of each color, not jump stitches), and an advanced needle threading apparatus.
As with all the Brother embroidery machines among these best t-shirt embroidery machines, it features a top-drop, quick-set bobbin. A quick-set bobbin means the machine itself pulls the bobbin thread up without you having to do anything. The bobbin is dropped in from the top of the workspace and is easily set up using the directions on the base of the machine.
Here’s my in-depth Brother PE800 review if you want more information!
As I mentioned before, our library’s computerized embroidery machine that I use is a Janome Memory Craft. Janome produces incredible embroidery machines that stitch accurately and efficiently.
The Janome MC400E is an embroidery-only machine that provides a nice-sized max embroidery area of 7.9″x7.9.” This is a great size for larger shirt designs. Compared to more budget embroidery machines, this machine offers more but at a higher price. It has a maximum embroidery speed of 860 spm, which means your designs will be completed faster.
It features 160 built-in designs and 6 monogramming fonts. Import additional designs or fonts via USB. Do basic design editing on the color touchscreen as well!
Features that will appeal to users looking for efficiency and ease of use include automatic jump stitch trimming, adjustable embroidery speed, adjustable hoop positioning, flexible stitch traveling, and auto return post-thread break. Other time-saving features include the advanced needle threader, automatic thread cutter, and a bobbin thread sensor. The bobbin thread sensor is a nice feature to save you from having to stop in the middle of embroidering a shirt design to replace your bobbin thread!
To upgrade, consider the Janome Memory Craft 500E embroidery machine. It features a larger 7.9″x11″ embroidery area, which is one of the few differences between these two Janome embroidery machines.
The Babylock Flourish II and Brother NQ1600E embroidery-only machines are VERY similar in all use and functions but are produced with either the Brother standards or Babylock standards, respectively. They’re similarly priced often as well.
Ways this machine is superior to the Brother PE800 include the larger 6″x10″ embroidery area and automatic jump stitch trimming, which can be a big time-saver. There are also more built-in designs (198 total) as well as 140 pattern-frame combinations and 11 embroidery fonts. The maximum speed is 850 spm. This machine is a big price jump from the Brother PE800 but is a favorite amongst embroiderers looking for a larger hoop size but not quite wanting to splurge on a Dream Machine or multi-needle machine yet!
Now, if you’re looking for an embroidery machine with a free arm to embroider tubular items like cuffs and sleeves as well as pockets and even small onesies without having to move the fabric out of the way, consider the Brother Persona PRS100 embroidery machine.
It’s a single needle embroidery machine, so you will still have to change threads after every color. However, that beautiful space under the embroidery hoop is what allows you to embroider on parts of shirts you wouldn’t be able to access without this free arm. Compared to Brother’s multi-needle embroidery machines, this one is MUCH less expensive but still offers most of the other fun functionality of a multi-needle machine.
The max embroidery area is a square 8″x8″ and 405 designs, 20 fonts, and 6 alphabet designs are included. It also stitches up to 1,000 spm to complete projects much faster than many other embroidery machines.
|Embroidery Designs||100 designs|
|Stitch Options||120 stitches|
|Maximum Sewing Speed||850 stitches per minute|
|USB Connection||No, but add designs with EverSewn Pro App.|
The Sparrow X sewing and embroidery machine is produced by EverSewn, a company that prides itself on technologically-advanced sewing and embroidery machines. Hence, the “next-generation” in the name.
As an advanced machine (for its price point), the Sparrow X does away with USB import of designs and instead uses their free EverSewn Pro app. With the app, you edit and transfer designs using any wireless device. Instead of making minor edits on a small embroidery machine screen, you edit on a larger computer or tablet screen. Furthermore, there’s no need to sit next to your machine while waiting for thread color changes. You can monitor progress from your phone, for instance, from another room. Since this is a technologically-advanced machine, just remember you do need a WiFi connection and need to be a bit tech-savvy.
In terms of built-in features, you’ll find 100 embroidery patterns and 120 stitch options. The maximum embroidery area is 4.75″ x 7″, which is comparable to the Brother PE800’s size.
As with comparably-priced embroidery machines, the Sparrow X features automatic needle threading and automatic tension adjustment.
(Best combination t-shirt embroidery machine for home business)
|Embroidery Designs||138 designs, 11 fonts, 10 frames with 14 borders|
|Stitch Options||240 stitches, 10 buttonhole options|
|Maximum Sewing Speed||850 stitches per minute|
|USB Connection||Built-in USB port|
The Brother SE1900 combination machine is both a sewing and embroidery machine. In terms of embroidery features and specs, it is identical to the Brother PE800. However, what differentiates the two machines is the SE1900 is both a sewing machine and an embroidery machine. This is a nice feature if you’re wanting to save space with just one machine.
In terms of sewing, it includes 7 sewing feet and 240 built-in stitches. You have the option to import designed stitches or save stitch patterns you create by combining stitches on the machine. It also features a knee lifter, which is a fancy addition allowing you to raise or lower the presser foot using your knee rather than having to remove your hands from your sewing project.
The sewing machine is more feature-rich than regular Brother sewing machines, as it offers things like automatic thread trimming and automatic reverse/reinforcement stitching. The advanced needle threader is also much simpler to use and less likely to break than the one on basic Brother sewing machines. This is almost a self-threading sewing machine it’s so easy to use!
Read my full Brother SE1900 review to learn more information. (It’s my newest home embroidery machine!)
You can also purchase this machine at Sewingmachinesplus.com, which often sends a 10% discount if you sign up for their emails.
(Best affordable multi-needle shirt embroidery machine for home use)
While the Janome MB-4S is not as involved as many available commercial-use shirt embroidery machines, its price is in the 4-digits rather than the typical 5-digits.
What makes this single head, multi-needle embroidery machine awesome is you do not have to rethread between thread colors. For any design, you can thread up to 4 colors at a time for the machine to embroider with. No user interaction needed between those thread changes.
As with most other embroidery machines for shirts and hats, the Janome MB-4S offers design transfer via USB. Edit designs on screen as well.
There are 50 built-in designs and 10 monogramming fonts to use with the 9.4″ x 7.9″ maximum embroidery area.
The maximum embroidery speed is 800 spm. While this isn’t lightning fast, the time saved from having to manually change threads is huge!
As with most Janome embroidery machines, the MB-4S includes helpful and time-saving features such as adjustable hoop positioning, automatic jump thread trimming, auto-return post-thread break, flexible stitch traveling, and presser foot and upper thread sensors.
If you want even more options, consider the Janome MB-7, which is a 7-thread embroidery machine.
(Best budget embroidery machine for putting logos on shirts)
|Embroidery Designs||80 included|
|Stitch Options||103 stitches, 10 buttonhole options|
|Maximum Sewing Speed||710 stitches per minute|
|USB Connection||Built-in USB port|
If you’re looking to only monogram shirts or add small logos that are 4″x4″ or less, consider the Brother SE600 or Brother SE625 sewing and embroidery combination machines. I started with the SE625 before upgrading to the SE1900 and loved it! It’s not as quick or as automated as the rest of the t-shirt embroidery machines above, but it’s going to be the least expensive one by far. (If you don’t want the sewing aspect, its embroidery machine companion is the Brother PE535.)
The Brother SE600 features 80 built-in designs and 103 stitch options. It has a fairly slow sewing and embroidery speed compared to higher-priced machines so it isn’t well suited to mass production of t-shirts. However, it is GREAT for the hobbyist who doesn’t have thousands of dollars to spare.
(As an aside, the Brother SE625 is almost the identical twin of the SE600. Instead of a silver faceplate, it is gold, and it includes an additional CD with 200 more designs.)
Tips for Machine Embroidery on Shirts
My bread and butter embroidery projects are embroidering on t-shirts and onesies. With two young daughters, I LOVE embroidering cute, personalized clothes for them. (Read my full tutorial for how to machine embroider a t-shirt for all the details!)
If your embroidery machine isn’t embroidering on t-shirts like you would like it to, it might be user error rather than the machine. I speak from experience here as someone who jumped into embroidery with very little research into the proper way to embroider! Just like with sewing, there is so much more behind a successful project than just putting your foot on the pedal to sew a stitch.
There’s also more than one way to skin a cat and more than one embroidery combination, but here’s my go-to onesie and t-shirt embroidery method that works great with my home Brother embroidery machine. I hope it helps you with troubleshooting!
Hooping the Shirt
I always pick the smallest hoop size that I can get away with. This means less stabilizer used, and the shirt is easier to line up. For small items like onesies, a small hoop stretches them out less as well. Most machines will allow you to purchase smaller hoop sizes, so check to see what you can find.
And if your hoop is not square, it’s ok to hoop the shirt or onesie at a 90-degree angle to accommodate a rectangular hoop with a larger height than width measurement. Just make sure to rotate your design 90 degrees as well.
Thicker shirts will be a pain in the rear to hoop, and the hoop may leave creases. I have no reservations completing my project outside the hoop if I have to. If this is the case, I always use a temporary adhesive spray to stick things well, possibly consider a basting box, and I’ll either pin or use painter’s tape to secure the sides of the shirt out of the way of the hoop. Either that or use a fusible stabilizer.
For thin shirts and onesies, I usually do try to hoop the fabric first. When hooping, you have to make sure that only one layer of the shirt is hooped. You will have to move the back of the shirt out from under the hoop. If you don’t, well, you’ll stitch both sides of your shirt together. Been there, seen that, done that, and never did it again! With a shirt, at least.
Choosing the Best Shirt Stabilizer
You also have to pick the correct stabilizer to match your fabric and use a size bigger than your hoop size. A stretchy t-shirt fabric needs a stabilizer that’s going to, for lack of a better word, stabilize it during embroidery. As such, pick either a cut-away stabilizer or PolyMesh stabilizer. The beauty of PolyMesh is it’s light and soft and going to be less visible through the front of white shirts.
While PolyMesh stabilizer comes in fusible or nonfusible, I prefer to use adhesive spray to attach nonfusible stabilizer to the back of the fabric. That way I can reposition if needed before embroidering. I also like to minimize iron usage because it’s a pain to set up my ironing board, and I don’t like having a hot object near my girls. One perk of fusible, though, is there’s less movement and the edges adhere to fabric outside of the design.
I strongly recommend against only tearaway stabilizer for t-shirts. It’s convenient, I know! However, when you go to tear it away, you risk stretching your fabric or tearing your delicate stitches. You can use tearaway in addition to a PolyMesh if you need extra support, but try not to use just tearaway.
And, while on stitch-heavy designs on squishier fabrics, I will add a layer of water-soluble topping to the top of the fabric inside the hoop. This helps to keep stitches from sinking into the fabric. When embroidering towels or fleece blankets, for instance, you’ll find yourself lost without water-soluble topping! Once your done machine embroidering your shirt, just dip the shirt in water to remove the topping.
Thread and Needle Choices
You also cannot embroider with the same cotton thread you may use to sew with. Polyester and rayon threads are your best choices. I’ve actually had great luck with BroThread on Amazon. It’s affordable and works great with my Brother embroidery machine as well as the Janome I work on at the library. I use prewound bobbins as well to save some time when the bobbin thread color doesn’t matter too much. For most projects where the back isn’t visible, it’s ok to use white thread for everything. Save yourself some time and not rethread the bobbin as well as the upper thread every thread change!
Also, make sure to pick an appropriate embroidery machine needle to match your fabric type. Using a one-size-fits-all universal needle may not give you the best stitches on some fabrics. In many cases, you’ll benefit more from a ball-point needle for knit fabrics. This all depends on your chosen stabilizer and if you add any topping, of course. Just when troubleshooting shirt embroidery problems, don’t rule out the needle as a possible culprit!
For onesies, I like to attach a layer of soft backing to the back of the embroidered area. This keeps the hard stitches from rubbing delicate baby bellies and leaving marks. My go-to is Sulky Tender Touch Iron-On Backing.
Best Embroidery Machine for T-Shirts: Conclusion
I hope these shirt embroidery machine reviews have given you a starting point for picking the best machine for your needs. If you have any questions or need clarification, please let me know in the comments! And if you’re trying to figure out what else you need to get started embroidering shirts, I’ve written an entire post on what you need to get started embroidering.