Any apparel decoration business that has a need for short run, high end customization is a natural fit for a single head commercial embroidery machine.  Screen printers who generally farm out their embroidery can benefit from having a single head machine in house to do one-offs, samples and the ever-dreaded short-run re-order (you know the guy who orders 144 and then comes back 6 weeks later and needs 3 more!).  We are also seeing more and more uniform shops bringing embroidery in-house to not only reduce costs, but also to keep control of the process from beginning to end.  Turnaround time can be reduced when you have the equipment in house. 

Generally, any business that does apparel decoration can benefit from a single head machine.  Even large embroidery houses need a single head machine to do name drops and customization.    

A single head embroidery machine has a few of benefits over a multi-head machine.  First off – the obvious – cost of equipment.  A good single head commercial embroidery machine can be purchased for $10-13,000.  Whereas quality two head machines will start at about $20,000 and go up.  Some companies offer aggressive guaranteed trade-up programs that make it easy to transition from a single head to a multi-head machine should your business merit the upgrade.  Secondly, space can be a major issue.  With the compact commercial machines on the market today it is feasible to have a full powered commercial embroidery machine in a space only slightly larger than a tall filing cabinet.  Even the smallest of multi-head machines will take up three or more times the space.  Lastly, if a fair amount of your business is custom one-off type of work, you will be wasting energy and cash by running your multi-head with one or more of the heads turned “off”. 

Most commercial embroidery machines can sew at between 1000-1200 stitches per minute.  Most operators will run the machine at about 75-80% of potential meaning an average of 750-1000 spm.  This does not necessarily mean that you can count on your machine producing 15 – 3000 stitch designs per hour.  Efficiency in digitizing, number of color changes, trims etc. will ultimately determine your productivity.  The average corporate logo on a polo shirt will run 5-7,000 stitches and will generally sew in 8-10 minutes when it is all said and done.  This is the reason that embroidery is generally priced based on stitch count – stitches = time, time = money.

I’m often asked when it makes sense to consider upgrading to a multi-head machine.  Most good commercial embroidery machines will work harder than you will.  When proper daily maintenance is done on a commercial embroidery machine, it will work 3 shifts a day.  Problem is – most folks don’t want to work 3 shifts a day!  When you are working more hours than you want to – that is the time to look at adding more heads to your operation.  If you are currently running your single head machine 10 hours a day, it is safe to assume that you can do the same in a little over 5 hours with a two head (assuming that most of your work is in multiples of two).

The apparel industry lines are becoming blurred as we proceed into the 21st century.  Companies that were historically called embroiderers or screen printers are now known as apparel decorators.  Why let your customer walk down the street to get his embroidery because you are “just a screen printer”?  That company down the street that offers embroidery may have added screen printing to their line and you may end up losing that customer’s screen print business as well.

The promotional products industry has for years been divided into three fairly distinct groups – manufacturers, embellishers and retailers.  We are now seeing more and more retailers adding equipment to do their short run decoration – this includes single head embroidery machines and direct to garment printers.  The average promotional products reseller is a small home based business that lends itself well to a single head embroidery machine – as they take up little space, require only a moderate amount of training to be very functional and actually produce output while the operator goes about his normal work routine.

Single head machines are most commonly used in small businesses (mom and pop type) as well as businesses that offer embroidered items, but it is not their chief focus.  In today’s marketplace the most common uses for single head machines would be short run corporate identity (golf shirts, baseball style caps and the like) as well as for one-offs and name drops.  There is also a move by some larger consumers of embroidered items, hospitals and the like, to put their own embroidery equipment in house.

A new application we are seeing single head machines used for is for mixed media or multimedia type decoration.  Embroidery mixed with digital printing (DTG), screen printing and/or rhinestone/spangles.  By mixing these types of decoration the decorator can set himself apart from the crowd. 

Although the amount of embroidery actually done in the US has declined in the past decade (due largely in part to a lot of the larger orders going overseas), the demand for short-run, more custom, work has grown.  With this growth has come a resurgence in the demand for single head embroidery machines which are better equipped to handle this type of work. 

A single head embroidery machine is a good tool to add to any apparel decoration business that either does not offer embroidery or farms out their embroidery.  It allows for quick turnaround, quick fill-in orders as well as the ability to produce samples prior to taking a large order.  In fact, having a sample in hand when bidding a job can be a deal clincher in many cases.

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