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If you’re interested in learning to embroider, one decision you must make before starting your new hobby or business is the type of embroidery machine you want.
Single-needle machines, multi-needle machines, and multi-head machines all produce embroidered items as an end result, but the pros, cons, use, and even price differ between the three options.
Learn more about the different types of embroidery machines and which will fit your needs best!
Types of Embroidery Machines
The types of embroidery machines I’ll be describing are computerized embroidery machines, which means they take an embroidery design file and stitch the image on fabric.
While there are sewing machines that can do free-motion embroidery, the result depends on how the user moves the fabric to “draw” stitches with the needle and thread and does not involve a pre-digitized image. I won’t cover this type of machine here, as most simple sewing machines can be coaxed to free-motion stitch.
1. Single-Needle Embroidery Machines
Single-needle embroidery machines are most common for home-based enthusiasts and fledgling business owners on a budget.
As their name implies, single-needle embroidery machines have one needle, which must be rethreaded by the user with each thread color change.
For designs with many color changes, the time required to stitch out a project can thus be high. Not to mention that the average stitching speed of single-needle embroidery machines is already less than that of commercial varieties.
So, why do so many home embroiderers prefer single-needle embroidery machines?
- Single-needle embroidery machines are cheaper than the other types, and single-needle hoop sizes are larger at similar price levels.
- Most are easier to thread, set up, and use for beginners.
- They’re perfect for in-the-hoop projects (like making bags, quilts, and stuffies) that require stopping every thread color change anyway to clip or place fabric.
- They can be a combination machine that sews and embroiders–yay for space saving.
- These entry-level machines can be bought online from retailers like Amazon or in person from craft shops.
- More authorized dealers and sewing shops offer classes and maintenance locally for hobby machines.
- Single-needle machines are lighter, smaller, and more portable than commercial embroidery machines, which can weigh 200+ pounds and require at least a 3 ft x 3 ft floor footprint.
- Depending on the machine, the sound is also less with single-needle embroidery machines.
Single-needle embroidery machines can be further broken down into single-needle flatbed embroidery machines and single-needle embroidery machines with a free arm.
Most single-needle embroidery machines are flatbed, meaning the embroidery surface the hoop moves over is flat.
To embroider on layered items, you must thus isolate a single layer by bringing the excess fabric out from under the hoop and over the sides.
You also can’t easily embroider rounded items like baseball caps and must find a way to flatten them.
While rare, a few single-needle embroidery machines with free arms do exist, which makes embroidering tubular items more accessible and more possible with them.
Free-arm embroidery machines like the Brother PRS100, Brother PRX1, Baby Lock Alliance, and Baby Lock Capella have a small arm with an open space under the embroidery area where extra layers of fabric can hang.
This means you don’t have to work to bring the fabric back around the hoop, and it’s much easier to embroider tubular, circular items like pockets, onesies, shirt sleeves, and jeans legs.
Unfortunately, the maximum embroidery area on these machines isn’t as big as on high-end single-needle machines or on the larger multi-needle machines.
2. Multi-Needle Embroidery Machines
If you want to start an embroidery business based on efficiency, a multi-needle embroidery machine is ideal if you have the capital.
Once you thread all the needles with the colors you’ll need, you can step back and let the embroidery machine stitch the embroidery design while automatically switching colors.
The number of needles (and thus colors stitched without user input) can start as low as 4 in the case of the Janome MB-4s and increase to 15+.
Other perks of multi-needle embroidery machines include:
- All multi-needle machines have free arms, making setup easier for tubular items.
- They’re made with more metal parts than single-needle embroidery machines and will last longer.
- Multi-needle machines can also stitch for more hours daily, which is essential for businesses that run machines all day.
- Embroidery on caps is easier for machines with compatible cap drivers and accessories (though not all multi-needles are cap-friendly for embroidering on all sides of the caps.)
Multi-needle embroidery machines are more expensive than single-needle machines, and there are two “broad types” of multi-needle embroidery machines.
First, there are semi-professional or semi-industrial multi-needle machines like the Brother 6- and 10-needle embroidery machines or the Janome MB series of machines. These are for home-based enthusiasts and small business owners.
Then, there are the full-industrial or professional embroidery machines that are all metal parts and are made to last forever. They can also rev up to high stitching speeds and stitch more quickly.
Brands of industrial embroidery machines include Tajima, Barudan, ZSK, Happy, Toyota, Melco, etc.
3. Multi-Head Embroidery Machines
A multi-head embroidery machine is simply a line of 2 or more multi-needle embroidery machines that stitch simultaneously.
These machines are ideal for factories or large embroidery businesses that stitch bulk orders needed promptly.
If you only take small orders, a multi-head machine is a waste for your business as most can’t run independently (i.e., stitching a dog on a hat on one machine and a cat on a shirt on the one next to it.)
Also, they require a large footprint, so you’ll likely need a shop location NOT in your home to house these machines.
While the cost of a multi-head embroidery machine is the highest of the three types mentioned here, the cost per head decreases as you add more to the line.
For example, if the first head costs $12,000, the next may only cost $9000, and the one after that $6000.
Brands that sell commercial-grade multi-needle machines also offer multi-head machines.
When looking to purchase a multi-head machine, questions to ask include:
- If one machine in the line isn’t working, will the others still stitch?
- Can you add or remove a machine to the lineup later?
- Is there a computer interface connecting the machines, or do you have to connect directly with your own computer?
- How is regular maintenance or repair conducted? (Is there support for in-home fixes?)
- Do they ship and set up the machine for you?
Whichever type of embroidery machine you choose, just remember that there’s a learning curve, but in time, you’ll be creating stitched projects like the pros!