Adding Embroidery to Your Shop?

Should You Purchase Embroidery Equipment?

So you have been in the screen printing business for a few years, and you have sent quite a few good-paying embroidery jobs to your local embroidery shop and haven’t seen a dime from it. You finally say to yourself, “Self, you should get a piece of that pie!” and you say back to yourself, “You are right, Self. Let’s sell embroidery ourselves and pay another shop to embroider our stuff!”. So you change your yellow pages ad from “SCREEN PRINTING” to “SCREEN PRINTING & EMBROIDERY.”

The calls start coming in, and you are getting quite a few orders for embroidery. You have already written your tenth check to your contract embroiderer and realize you could have bought a used motor scooter six times with the profit your contract embroiderer is taking from you. So you say to yourself again, “Self, I want a used motor scooter!” and you say back to yourself, “Self, if you get a scooter, I’m not riding on it! You drive crazy! But you are right. Let’s buy some embroidery machines and keep the profit for ourselves!” Then, you second guess yourself…

Are you are, or are you not an embroiderer?

Heck Yes! A screen printer CAN learn embroidery, and as you now know, it mates very well with screen printing. That is why all your existing customers are asking you for it. The embroidery itself, along with machine maintenance (and even machine repair!), fits entirely into the realm of a screen printing shop owner’s “Can Do” book.

Hire a Technician

Believe it or not, I didn’t always own my shop. I used to run a shop for a guy who didn’t know anything about screen printing. He was a businessman, and I learned how to print. While running that shop, we went through almost the exact scenario as the two Selves in the intro above. I finally convinced him that we needed a machine, and we took the plunge.

The best thing we did in the start-up process was to hire a technician. We bought a used single head Brother machine from the bank. We rolled it into the front room and looked at it. Threads were hanging all over it, MILLION levers and knobs and loops for the line to go thru and nine needles! We knew we didn’t even know how to turn it on, so we called Brother.

We paid a Brother certified technician a couple of thousand bucks to Drive in from Memphis and hook us up. We paid him 80 dollars per hour, and that included one-way driving from Memphis! When they told me that, I thought, “I want to be an embroidery machine technician when I grow up!”. But it was worth EVERY penny.

He showed us how to set up the machine and turn it on. Showed us how to thread the machine. Showed us how to load a design on it. It showed us how to adjust the tension. Then showed us how to run it; he even gave us lessons in essential maintenance and minor repair and showed us how to do basic digitizing on the software that came with the machine. (I don’t recommend trying digitizing until you are a MASTER at embroidery. Pay a professional a few pennies to do it for you.)

The cool thing was that we filmed the whole thing. If I had questions or forgot something he said or showed us, I had the tape. It worked awesomely. By the time he left us at the end of the day, I could hoop a shirt or hat and embroider it from start to finish. Worth every single cent!


After using the machine enough to ask some educated questions, I enrolled in a few classes at the ISS Show in Dallas, TX. I learned a few slick tricks and tips on what was causing all my thread breaks and stuff like that. I also took some classes that got a little deeper into machine maintenance and repair. 

Just Do It!

Man, get your feet wet contracting out some embroidery jobs, then, by all means, BUY THAT MACHINE!

Get a used machine if you are worried about the cost of the device. When I finally got out on my own in my shop, I bought a very used Brother single head on eBay. The thing was a wreck, and the guy that was selling it knew it. It broke down on him, so he called the technician. Sometimes the tech can walk you thru fixing your problem. I have had a tech walk me thru some MAJOR machine problems all over the phone. After talking to the tech, this guy decided the machine was toast and sold it for parts.

I bought the machine, got it in my shop, and called the same tech that helped us set up the machine in the other shop. He came by and spent half a day getting the machine running. I bought the machine for $600 on eBay and paid the technician about $1000.00 to fix it. $1600.00 for a used embroidery machine is pretty good! I would NOT recommend buying a wreck like this for your first machine. If you buy used, make sure it is in good condition. Watch the thing run.

After a year on that machine, I decided to buy a new one. I started by selling the used one on eBay again. This time the device brought me $3500.00! I made a profit! I decided to purchase a start-up kit from SWF Mesa. It came with a single head machine, digitizing software, all the tools and supplies you need to run it, and an excellent thread selection. I can’t remember what I paid for the whole ball of wax, but I think it was under $10,000.00. 

Used or New Machine? 

New! I would recommend buying a new machine as part of a starter kit like the one I stated above. You get a lot of stuff you don’t even know you need, and most of the time, they offer to train you. If they offer to teach you, take them up on their offer to pay a little more money and have someone come to you. This is good for several reasons. One, you get to stay at your shop and even keep it open for business most of the time. Two, you learn in your environment ON YOUR MACHINE! I can’t tell you how important it is to be taught on your machine. It is one thing to take a class that teaches you theories on embroidery, but to learn those same skills on the device you will be using is priceless. 

What Brand of Machine

I have only used two brands of machines: Brother and SWF. I have done a LOT of reading and taken a LOT of classes on the subject, and it all boils down to the embroidery head on the machine. Tajima is the leader in embroidery machines, but they cost a FORTUNE! Most of the big machine manufacturers have either copied the Tajima’s head or have used an actual Tajima head on their machines. I would look for something with a Tajima’s head.

Every new embroidery machine drops in value as bad as a car after you buy it. Tajima drops but will hold its value as a used machine, so if you can find a used Tajima for a reasonable price, go for it. You will most likely be able to get your investment back out of it when it is time to resell it. If you go new, then go with something like the SWF. The initial cost is much lower than the others but with excellent quality and excellent over-the-phone tech service. Ask them whose head they use.


Take the plunge! You won’t regret it. The profit you make from doing your embroidery will more than pay for the new machine. If you don’t believe me, hire a contract embroiderer for a year and see how much you pay them in that year. Buy a machine, take some classes, join online forums, and become an embroiderer!

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