I have talked with multiple dealers and they all seem to point to these five elements as being the most critical when deciding which machine to buy; amount of work space, ease of use, connectivity, versatility, and service after the sale. Let's look at each individually.
If you are purchasing an embroidery/sewing machine, you need to know what you plan to sew. Are you going to be quilting, creating clothes for children, adding decorations to existing garments, producing home decor products, or even sewing hard to sew fabrics, like leather? Each of these dictate the amount of work space you will need. In most cases, more is better. At an absolute minimum, you need a machine that offers embroidery areas (and associated hoops) that are 5 in x 7 in. These work well for children's clothes and pocket designs. If you have the budget, I would recommend investing in a machine with larger embroidery areas, such as 6 in x 11 in or even 9 in x 12 in. This will give you the option to expand to larger projects, such as Jacket backs or Linens.
The next element to consider when comparing machines is the ease of use of the machine itself. As the dealer is demonstrating different models, consider the intuitiveness of the machine's controls. Are the controls easy to find on the screen? Does the machine have a color screen? If the machine uses a start/stop button, is it easy to find? Can you edit designs on the screen (such as resizing, combine multiple designs, etc.)? How large is the screen? Is threading the machine easy or complex? You are going to be much happier if you select a model with a larger screen that has an easy to navigate menu structure, and the functions that you will use most often located in prominent, easy to find locations. Having a color screen is a huge plus and you will be glad you spent the extra money in the long run.
While most machines come with on board memory and preloaded embroidery files and fonts, the machine you choose will be of no use if you have no way to load designs that you want to use. This is why manufacturers provide external device connection ports in their machines. Some use proprietary cards and readers, others incorporate USB drives, and still others allow you to connect your machine to a computer in order to load additional designs. It is up to you how you want to connect to your machine, however it is wise to consider what purposes you plan to use your machine, and whether or not you will being using your machine at location where you cannot connect to a desktop or laptop.
If you want to do more than decorate a garment, home decor item, or accessory, such as actually producing the garment or other item. If this is the case, then you should take into consideration the number and type of stitches, as well as the inclusion of appropriate sewing feet, that are available with the machines you are considering. Also, the sewing guides and measurement tools that are built into the machine are something you will want to consider. Finally, some of the higher end machines include laser dot and/or camera placement assistant devices that show you exactly where the needle will penetrate the cloth being sewn.
Finally, ask your dealer about their service after the sale. Do they offer repair and maintenance servicing, training, supplies, and/or future trade-in programs. Some dealers even align their post sale services to the machine itself, so if you ever sell your machine, the new owner can take advantage of the same dealer services that you receive buying it new.
Please share your experiences with purchasing Embroidery Machines or Embroidery/Sewing Combination Machines in the comments section below. Your experience and opinions are invaluable to others seeking advice.