This list is a starting point. You may decide that some factors are more important than others. You may have a specific budget, or want to do specialized work. You may want to avoid a computerized system, or you may be looking for one that has certain functions. I would recommend that you make your own list. Or if you print use this list, it may help you think of additional items that you need to add.
Here's what I considered when purchasing my longarm.
Choosing a Brand/Dealer
Location- Is the dealer local or can be reached easily? This is going to be a long term relationship, so you need to know that you can contact or visit your dealer. Are you comfortable with an online relationship, or is it important for you to deal with someone directly face to face?
Reputation- Does this brand/dealer have a good reputation? Google them, read every review you can find. More importantly, do quilters go back to this brand or switch to it from other brands? There are going to be negative comments about every machine out there, but reading lots of reviews with show you a broad perspective.
Relationship- You are going to be dealing with this brand/shop owner/ dealer for quite some time. Do you like them? Do you find them irritating? Do you feel like they are honest and trustworthy?
Value- Even if finances aren't your first concern, consider the value you are getting for the product and service. Would you rather save money and set up the machine yourself or pay a bit more and have installation included? Do you need some hand holding or are you confident to tackle any situation that may arise?
Technical Service and Support
Set Up- Get all the details about what is or is not included in delivery and set up of the machine. This will involve several large boxes that are too heavy for one person to move. Will your machine need to go up or down stairs? Will there be any sort of delivery guarantee? When will the set up be scheduled? What sort of training is included with set up?
Maintenance and Repair- Find out who will be servicing your machine. What is the maintenance schedule and the approximate cost for service? How are repairs handled? Ask other quilters how they feel about their maintenance person/options.
Warranty- Find out the details of what is covered or not in the warranty. These differ greatly from brand to brand, so don't assume anything. Some brands require registration, some do not. Be sure to follow the specific instructions needed for the brand you choose.
Training Classes- Does your brand offer training sessions locally? Are there special events held with training sessions in other locations that you can attend? Is there good written information in addition to hands on training? How frequently are these offered and are they affordable for you to attend?
Online Education- Are there online videos that teach a variety of lessons about your machine and how to use it? Does the manufacturer have a Youtube channel? Do other quilters offer online video or live chats? Are there message groups for asking and answering questions? Is there are place on the manufacturers website that allows you to easily contact them via phone or email?
Think about how you plan to use this longarm and what functions will be most useful to you. How do you see yourself using the machine and/or the computer? Those answers will dictate what features you need to focus on and prioritize.
Size- What size frame will actually fit in your room. Map it out on the floor of your room and consider electric outlets, as well as room to move around the frame. What size machine do you need? Will you need the largest throat space or will you prefer a smaller one. I am short and have short arms, so I needed an adjustable frame with a machine that was only 20". A larger one would be too difficult for me to reach. As it is, I have to walk around to the back of the machine for lots of things anyway.
Style- Have you tested different styles? Do you want to avoid basting your quilt? Do you plan to do multiple quilts a week, or do you want more of a leisurely experience (perhaps a sit down machine is for you?) Do you need to be able to move your machine? I had my installed with casters for rolling. Think about how your machine will function in and fill up your space.
Computer- Do you want a computer system? This is a big choice. There are several systems and they are all different and offer different options. Look at online training videos to see how they work and if the system looks user friendly for you. What's right for you might be different that what's right for other quilters you know. Also, what kind of training and support are offered to go with the computer system. What is the warranty for the computer? Do you need your own tablet or is one included? What are the restrictions or limitations?
Local- Are there local guild's or support groups that meet and discuss/ offer education information on your longarm, or any longarms in general? Connect with other local longarm owners and ask where they turn to for support or to get answers.
Online- Social media is a great place to start looking for support groups. Check facebook, Instagram and any other social media you use for groups that include longarm quilters or brand names that you choose. I've joined four facebook groups so far, one for beginner longarmers, one for the brand, one for the model and one for general sharing. Also check Youtube videos for longarm lessons and information. There is so much information available online, just google any question you have!
What did I choose?
I purchased the HandiQuilter Amara with ProStitcher Premium. I did not purchase the Art and Stitch program. I can add that later if I decide to. This is NOT a sponsored post and I am in no way affiliated with or getting any compensation from HQ.
I'm needy, I know that, I chose a local shop with a supportive staff. My good friend chose to purchase online because she can do anything herself without getting rattled. The only right choice is the one you are most comfortable with.
Go with your gut. What's most important to you? Start with what's most important and work your way from there. There are some great machines available and you will find one that's right for you.
I hope these tips help you to ask the right questions and get the answers you need to make the best decision for you.
Enjoy every stitch!