Custom embroidery machines give you both a fun hobby, and the opportunity to make extra money from home. Or, you could even turn your side-hustle into a full-fledged business with one!
In this article, we’re going to be talking about the best embroidery machines for custom designs, BUT first – it’s important to know what kind of machine you need. Ask yourself this:
Do you need a home-use or professional machine?
While a home machine can be used for both personal projects and maintaining a small Etsy store, you may find that you quickly outgrow the machine’s capabilities as orders ramp up.
That’s because while home machines do have good stitch quality, they aren’t made to operate 24/7 like a commercial machine – which puts a lot of stress on the motor.
They also have smaller embroidery areas, and are typically NOT multi-needle. This means that you will need to manually change out the thread color for EVERY color in the design.
For light use, this isn’t too bothersome – but if you have to make a lot of bulk orders, you’re going to quickly tire of babysitting and micro-managing the machine.
While a multi-needle machine is more expensive – it handles more of this work for you, offers a larger embroidery area, and allows you to embroider on objects that home machines can’t – like hats.
If you do plan to go with a home-machine – we’d recommend getting one that has:
- 5×7 or larger embroidery area
- Automatic thread cutter for jump cuts
- USB port (For uploading custom designs)
Having these features will help you a lot, even if you can’t afford to go multi-needle just yet.
What about embroidery software?
While you would think that a machine which costs thousands of dollars would come with software for making custom designs – many of them unfortunately, do not! So budget accordingly.
Software for creating your own designs can be expensive, and if you can’t swing it – then you can always get your designs digitized by somebody else and upload them into the machine via USB.
It’s a decent option if you need limited custom digitized designs for personal projects, or if you can bake it into the sale price for the items which you are making for your customers.
AND, while plenty of home software does automatically digitize for you – it doesn’t always do a fantastic job. Creating custom embroidery designs is an art-form all its own, and making good design choices goes a long, long way in creating a professional looking product.
OKAY, now that we’ve got that out of the way – on to our Editor’s pick!
Single-Needle Custom Embroidery Machines
These machines are single-needle. This means that whenever your design requires a new thread color, the machine will stop and you’ll need to manually swap out the thread for the next color.
Brother PE800 – $849.99
The Brother PE800 is a fantastic, capable, and affordable embroidery machine for beginners, AND it features a generous 5×7 embroidery area – allowing you to take on most projects with it.
This includes patch making, sizable t-shirt designs, and even hats if you get yourself a hat hoop! (But keep in mind the hats must be flattened for embroidery – so it won’t work for structured hats.)
Plus, not only does the PE800 offer exceptional stitch quality, but it also has great features which make it a very easy machine to learn to embroider with if you are new to the hobby.
Above, you can see the interface. The preview screen helps you to plan our your design, change out thread colors, see the estimated stitch time, and adjust things if they didn’t come out as planned!
This machine also has some great premium features like an automatic needle threader, jam-resistant bobbin, USB for uploading custom embroidery designs, 138 built-in designs, and 7 embroidery fonts.
The only negatives for this machine is that it does NOT come with embroidery software, and that it only stitches at about 650 stitches per minute, which is a bit slower than more expensive machines.
OR, if this wasn’t the machine for you – check out our comparison table below to get a side-by-side view of features for our top 3 consumer machines to see what’s what!
|Brother PE800||Brother NQ1600E||Baby Lock Alliance|
|Embroidery Size||5″ x 7″||6″ x 10″||8″ x 8″|
|Speed||650 SPM||850 SPM||1,000 SPM|
|Auto Cut Jump Stitches||NO||YES||YES|
(Get Best Price)
(Get Best Price)
(Get Best Price)
Brother NQ1600E – $1,499.99
Need something with a little more embroidery space? If you can afford to up your budget, you can upgrade to the NQ1600E and get a 6″ x 10″ embroidery area, and a speed upgrade to 850 SPM.
The NQ1600E also comes with some premium feature upgrades that make things a lot easier, including the ability to automatically cut jump stitches to save you from tedious clean-up work.
This machine also handles the thread tension for you automatically, whereas with the PE800 you’ll need to decide how to set this yourself – which can be tough for beginners and cause thread breaks.
The larger hoop size will allow you to take on larger projects than the PE800, but it has the same problem with structured hats, because all flat-bed machines require you to smash the fabric flat!
While the features this machine offers are great, we feel the price could be a bit lower when compared to the equally capable Brother PE800, BUT if you plan to do a lot of embroidery – the automatic jump stitch cutting alone will save you a ton of time and may be worth the price.
Baby Lock Alliance – $4,999
If you really need to be able to embroider on flex fit and other structured hats, then you might want to take a look at the Baby Lock Alliance – which is a single needle machine that’s NOT a flatbed!
While it looks pricey, it’s much more affordable than a commercial machine, and a lot more user friendly too. It also allows you to embroider on a lot of stuff you couldn’t with a regular home machine – like these hats!
That’s because this machine has an open arm, which means you can get anything under the needle. That means structured hats, bulky bags, jackets, and even stuffed toys are easy on the Alliance.
The on-screen editor is also very easy to use, allowing you to quickly alter designs, change thread colors, view the stitch time, and even go through the on-screen manual if you need help with anything.
It’s also got a heavy-duty all steel rotary system, a commercial hopping foot that makes it easy to embroider on heavy material, works with metallic and textured threads, a laser pin-point system for lining up your designs, and it automatically snips all your jump cuts – leaving you with zero clean up!
Honestly, the Baby Lock Alliance is so cool that’d it’d probably be our top pick, but it’s just too expensive for the average user. It’s a FANTASTIC pick if you want to SELL embroidered items though.
It makes for a great hat and shirt embroidery machine, because of the rotating hoop and if you’re serious about selling embroidery products – it’s one of the most economical picks.
Multi-Needle Custom Embroidery Machines
These machines are multi-needle. This means you don’t need to change out the thread for each and every color. They’re way more efficient if you want to start a home embroidery business.
Juki Tajima Sai 8 Needle – $9,999
Need a serious embroidery machine for a small business? The Tajima Sai 8 has everything you need and more. Not only does this machine offer exceptional stitch quality, but it also includes software!
With the included software you can create and digitize designs for your customers. It also offers a very generous 7.8″ x 11.8″ embroidery area for standard items, AND 3″ x 11.8″ for the hat hoop.
Plus, unlike most machines – this machine embroiders structured hats. Cheaper machines force you to smash hats flat for embroidery, which means no flex fits! BUT, with this machine you’ll be able to do highly desirable puff-style embroidery on structured caps for your customers.
It’s an 8 needle machine (8 colors), which will stitch at 800 SPM, and it comes with some pretty great features. This includes a laser cross-hair for lining up your designs perfectly on garments, easy to use touch screen operation, on-screen editing, and 1,000 built-in embroidery designs.
The machine is capable, and compact – making it a good choice for a home-based business or even a small brick and mortar shop. Though it does weigh 82 pounds – so hauling it to events is not ideal.
However, it’s a fantastic pick if you’re looking to get started with selling custom embroidery, or even if you’re looking to expand an existing t-shirt business and want a high-quality machine. While the Tajima Sai looks pricey, it’s actually VERY affordable when compared to other professional machines.
Not the machine for you? Well, we’ve got 3 more multi-needle picks! But first, here’s a quick comparison table so you can see their differences at a glance to help you understand what’s what.
|Tajima Sai||Janome MB7||Melco Bravo X|
|Embroidery Size||7.8″ x 11.8″||9.4″ x 7.9″||17.25″ x 11.25″|
|Speed||800 SPM||800 SPM||1,100 SPM|
(Get Best Price)
(Get Best Price)
(Get Best Price)
Janome MB 7 Needle – $6,599
If the Tajima Sai 8 is a bit out of your price range, then the Janome MB7 may interest you. This machine is several thousand dollars more affordable, but still very capable for a home-business.
While it is classified as a home machine, it offers 7 needles (7 colors), keeping you from needing to manually change the thread colors out, and it can embroider on most items you need it to.
BUT, this machine requires you to smash hats down flat. That means it works great on baseball caps, but not for structured hats. In addition, the stitch quality, while good, is not as good as the Tajima.
An MB7 offers 9.4″ x 7.9″ of embroidery design space, and will sew at 800 SPM. This makes the MB7 a great machine for starting a home business when your need a heavy-use machine on a budget.
The machine is also very light-weight at just 50 lbs. – making it a great choice if space is limited, OR if you need something to take on the road to craft fairs or convention booths to do custom work.
Though the best feature of this machine is likely how easy it is to use. It features a large touch screen that gives helpful on-screen prompts every step of the way, and one-touch button controls.
You’ll also enjoy time-saving features like the automatic thread cutter, on-screen editing, auto return on thread break, and the ability to assign the order of needles and colors for optimum efficiency.
The machine will also alert you before the tread runs out, trim threads for your automatically, return to its place if the thread breaks, estimate the stitch time for each design, and allow you to wind your bobbins without needing to stop the machine.
You can also network up to 3 machines as your business grows, and they can all be embroidering different designs, giving you the ability to scale up your productions as you can afford it. However, this machine does NOT include software – you must buy your own.
Melco Bravo X 16 Needle – $13,495
If the 8 needle Tajima is not enough for you, then consider the beloved Melco Bravo X. For a few thousand more, you can invest in this 16 needle (16 colors) custom embroidery machine.
Like the Tajima, this version of the Melco also comes with its own digitization software – offering you a complete package to begin serving your customers immediately, AND it’s REALLY great software.
With 16 needles and professional grade software at your disposal, the Bravo X lets you create HUGE, intricate, custom designs that home-users can only dream of – with a embroidery field of 17.25″ x 11.25” at its max size – great for doing high-dollar custom jacket embroidery!
The software is surprisingly easy to learn, and offers both auto-digitization and the ability to fine tune your designs to get them just right – including a highly realistic mock-up of the finished design.
Melco’s Design Shop will help you automatically select the right stitch, based on the chosen garment, and you can even use a simplified menu to make things even easier. It also features puff alphabets, 1,000 stock designs, 175+ fonts, and it automatically adjusts thread tension for you to avoid breaks.
It’s also a good deal faster than the Tajima, stitching at 1,100 SPM! You’ll also be able to network up to 4 of these machines if you decide to later scale-up your embroidery business.
In short, the Melco Bravo X is a serious, professional custom embroidery machine that can handle anything you throw at it. While it is an investment, it’s certainly a worthwhile one, and anybody who has used a Melco raves about it.
In closing, plenty of machines can act as an embroidery machine for custom designs. Knowing exactly what it is you need in a machine is the key to saving yourself a lot of money.
While pretty much any machine can make patches. If you need something to act as a t shirt embroidery machine for sizeable art – you’re going to have to pay more for a larger design field.
It’s always better to have more than not enough, and if you plan to sell your creations – investing a bit more in a machine with higher quality features will help you get paid much, much faster.
Tanya is a stay at home mom who blogs online to earn a bit of extra income from her hobbies. She also loves working on projects which she can involve her two kids in and teach them the valuable life-skill of sewing.