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What to look for in a used commercial or professional embroidery machine.

It’s so tempting. You’re in the start up or expansion phase of your new embroidery business, looking for the right machine to power your future success, and you go to any list of commercial embroidery equipment and immediately sort by “price”, lowest to highest.

You could be looking on eBay, or Amazon, or you end up on Alibaba, and the array of different brands, needles, configurations, software, and warranty is daunting. That’s not even including the new vs. used decision you have to make!

In the next few paragraphs we’ll outline the pros and cons of buying a used embroidery machine for your business – and having taken in hundreds of embroidery machines on trade over the years, having sold professional embroidery machines, new and used, in the thousands since 1999, ColDesi has developed some real expertise in the area. Hopefully, the information provided will guide you to the best way to start your new embroidery business.

Professional Machine Features

The first thing that you must do when looking into a used machine, or new for that matter, is make a clear differentiation between professional and consumer. Here are some of the characteristics of a professional unit:
  1. Robustness – commercial quality means that the machine will run all day, every day and not wear out or break down. Consumer machines aren’t made to run larger designs, or multiple designs, that may take 2-6 hours to embroider in one stretch. You can usually just “feel” this – just like closing the door on a high end vehicle, you can tell when there’s quality.
  2. Multi-needle – You may be used to a high end home embroidery machine, and what you can accomplish with a good one is pretty impressive. BUT, if you are going into business you simply must be able to produce a multicolor design or logo as quickly and efficiently as possible, and even a $6,000 consumer single needle machine just won’t cut it.
  3. Large Sewing Field – the sewing field is the size limit to the design you can embroider, or if you’re creating patches it is the number of them you can produce in one job. A small sewing field will rule out larger, more profitable jacket back designs, custom handbag designs and more.
  4. Training and Support – when you go into business, you can’t afford to leave questions unanswered or open your doors unprepared. When you purchase a commercial embroidery machine product the dealer/vendor/manufacturer understands that this is a business and you can’t be down. Because of this, you typically get a better educated, better prepared person on the other end of the phone when you need help.
  5. Auto Trim, large design memory, limitless number of stitches, warranty are all less obvious, but equally important differentiators between consumer and professional systems.
Don’t be fooled by big LED control panels, onboard fonts or just plain good looks of a high end consumer machine!

What Is Included With The Machine

Most people are surprised, if they have never been in the embroidery business, at the impact and the cost of accessories and software. When you’re running an embroidery business, you’re going to want 2 of each kind of hoop; one to sew on, and one to load while the other one sews so there’s no down time between jobs. You will also want the RIGHT sized hoop for the job, so that means at least 10 hoops in your inventory. Hoops range from about $30 to $90, so that can quickly add another $400 – $600 to your costs if they don’t come with the machine.

Does the used embroidery machine come with hoops?
The other thing that’s vital to running your business is the digitizing software or embroidery software. There are a wide variety of applications on the market that allow you to create files on your computer that you will be embroidering for your customer’s jobs. The software applications all have slightly different features, and possibly huge differences in capabilities. In addition, some software applications are difficult or even impossible to transfer from one owner to the next.

Does it come with transferable digitizing software?
Custom caps and hats are a hot business in the embroidery world! You cannot go to a mall without seeing a custom cap shop or kiosk, and caps are a huge market for businesses as well. Did you know that not all professional embroidery machines do caps well? And your used machine may not come with the “cap drivers” (hoops) to embroider on hats. This would represent a huge hole in  your potential sales and profits!

Will it do Caps, and come with the right drivers?
Supplies and sundries can not only add up in costs, but NOT having all that you need in the beginning can slow your growth and delay profitability. When you purchase a new piece of equipment from a reputable dealer or manufacturer it almost always comes with a large enough supply package to do your first few jobs.

The scenario you will want to avoid as a new business is to get that first order, then realize you don’t have the right kind of backing or toppings on hand and not fill it on time! Even the Essentials Kit from Colman and Company, which is the minimum you’ll need start, is $299 and the Popular Embroidery Kit is $499 – both are a great deal, but you need to keep that cost in mind when you’re comparing a new embroidery machine vs. used.

We’ve seen that it’s clearly not just enough to purchase the machine itself. When you’re comparing new vs. used, make sure you find out what comes with it.

Best Value For Start Ups

Starting an embroidery business requires knowing which type of machine best fits your needs.

How Old is the Machine?

There are hundreds of SWF, Tajima, ZSK (compare the top 5 machines here) and other solid brand embroidery machines that were first sold in the early 2000s or earlier that are still going strong. But there are several things that they may not, or simply cannot have that will make a significant difference to your business.

  1. Floppy drives – on many professional systems you do your design work on a PC, then carry your files to the embroidery machine, load them up and go. Up until just a few years ago machines came with 3.5” floppy disc drives to transfer those files. Floppies are getting harder and harder to find, replace or repair. Modern systems use a USB.
  2. Memory – newer machines have built in memory in addition to being able to use external storage, that way you can keep your regular customer’s designs right on the machine, ready to go at any time.
  3. Display control panel – current systems have a visual display that will let you SEE the design before outputting. Just to make sure you have the right one!
  4. Maintenance options – regular maintenance procedures have been streamlined over the years due to automatic oiling systems. Older ones may take you a little longer.
  5. Parts – the older the machine, the less likely you’ll find new factory parts if you have an issue.

Will the Used machine come with Training, Warranty, Support?
This set of reasons is why, if you do purchase a used embroidery machine, you simply must do it through a qualified dealer!

  1. Do you already know how to use the digitizing software, hoop a cap, change from flats to caps, which backing to use for which garment?
  2. Where will you go if you have technical problems?
  3. What to do if the machine keeps breaking needles, or just stops working?
  4. Are there training videos? Someone you can call?
  5. What if you expand and need to train someone new?
  6. Can you afford a major repair right after you purchase?

Buying Used can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in the initial machine cost, but it may cost you thousands more in lost productivity, repair costs or just lost business because you’re not prepared. If you are considering a used commercial embroidery machine, make sure you review the points made in this Buyer’s Guide, then talk to a professional about your options.

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