Note: From time to time we like to feature guest posts from people who really know their stuff. This post is written by Katie Wubben from Trouble Me Knot Embroidery. Many of you may know Katie from her fabulous seminars at the DAX Shows. Katie also sells Melco embroidery machines, and offers training on those machines, so she knows her stuff. You should definitely contact her if you are looking to purchase an embroidery machine.
Part 2 of this series deals with the features a machine may offer, and how to decide what you need.
Every embroidery machine will stitch. There are many factors that you need to analyze to determine which capabilities you require and which ones you can let go of in light of budget. Ask what the top running speed of the machine is, then follow that by asking what speed you can expect to fun on average and on caps. Just because a machine is capable of 1,000 stitches per minute does not mean you can get away with that speed all the time. If the sales person does not give a variation of speed for certain items (or at least mention one item that requires a lower production speed) they likely are not being realistic.
Next, you need to identify what the sew area is on the machine and what hoop styles can be used with it. I personally feel magnetic hoops are the cream of the crop and are a must in any shop stitching on blankets, jackets or other thick items. They are also faster and easier to use than traditional hoops you need to set tension on. Think about what type of fabrics and items you’ll be stitching. A quilt show will want a larger sew area than a production business hoping to run thousands of left chest polos. If ever you want to stitch on a jacket or blanket, you’ll want a fairly large sew area to do so with ease.
How many thread colors can the machine hold at one time? It doesn’t seem like you’d need many, but does any mind having more than they need? To help determine what you will need, take a look at some of the designs you hope to stitch for the market you’ll be serving. Nature and wildlife designs have an incredible amount of colors to achieve shading. By identifying your market and looking at designs, you can easily get an idea of how many colors are involved.
Also keep in mind that just because a machine doesn’t have enough spaces doesn’t mean you can’t sew the design. You can take the time to rethread during a design; but then you’re simply selling out your sanity unless you have far more time than I do. If you plan to only stitch left chest logos all day long in the corporate world, maybe you don’t need a machine with as many needles as the lab at the local hospital. The ease with which you can change these colors out is an important thing to consider as well. Some machines require a space behind them to get to while others have you climbing on a ladder to reach them. Look at the thread path as well. If the threads are not protected, they may be more likely to become tangled and cause thread breaks.
Know how the design will be communicated with the machine. Some machines require you to save the finished file on a flash drive and physically put that in the machine while others will communicate with a free standing computer connected by a cable. Keep in mind, every time you need to make a size adjustment or anything of that nature you will likely need to go back to your design software and then save it again to transfer it back to the machine. Some machines have a stitch count limit per design as their memory cannot handle very high stitch counts. To work around this, you would save part of the design as one file and another part as the other. This would take additional time and that comes additional stress as well.
Another question to ask is if the machine has a computer attached to it or if it will be connected by a cable. There are pros and cons either way. Having a computer on a machine comes with the risk of something going wrong with the screen or the hardware in the computer and a technician being required to fix it. That comes with cost and down time. Knowing what type of computer requirements are needed from a computer will help you make a good purchase so that the machine runs without glitches. You will likely need a free standing computer either way to run your design software.
Keep in mind that knowing what type of software comes with the purchase is another critical factor. Decide what you need, then make sure your purchase includes those things. Even if you don’t want to do all of your own digitizing, you may want to be capable of altering the density, pull compensation and underlay values to stitch the same design very well on multiple garments. Also understand that auto digitizing features may be o.k. in some cases, but manual digitizing will, almost always, yield better, more professional results.
Last, but not least, make sure you understand the special features and capabilities each machine has to offer. The ability to trace the design is helpful for placement. Being able to adjust a pressure foot may yield better results on various fabric thicknesses. A rounded needle plate will stitch on caps easier than a flat needle plate. I love being able to advance my design to any point within the design, which is a feature I would not have received with a used machine, as it was only added recently.
In the end, the important thing is to identify your situation. What type of products do you plan to stitch? What type of order quantities can you expect? What type of designs will you use? How much time to have to invest in learning the machine? Once you’ve answered those questions, the goal is a decision that leaves you pleased with the outcome rather than filled with regret.