Sergers (aka overlock machines or merrow machines). If you're wearing clothing bought from a store, you merely have to look inside your garment to see what a serged stitch looks like. These machines are more complicated in that they use 3, 4, or 5 threads, as opposed to the standard 2. The wonderful thing these machines do, is they cut as they sew, so you get a perfectly clean, finished seam. They're also the machine of choice for sewing knits (the seams stretch).
Industrial Sewing Machines (aka commercial machines). These are the superfast machines used in production work. They are dedicated to producing one type of stitch, but you can be sure, it'll do it well. There are industrial machines for straight stitch, zig-zag, serging, blind hems, buttonholers, rufflers and more. They're very expensive, but if you're sewing for a living, they may be well worth the expense.
Used vs. new sewing machines If you're buying a consumer model, it's always more fun to have something brand new out of the box. That said, I've made many a cute outfit with an ancient Singer machine that only did straight stitch (granted, I didn't make any stretch outfits with that one). However, modern sewing machines usually have some very cool decorative stitches and can be great fun to create with.
As for commerical sewing machines, it's quite common to buy a used model, as these are very expensive machines and because they're only required to perform one type of stitch unerringly, they can generally be counted on to last a long, long time.
How do you know which sewing machine to buy?
My advice is to read up on the web, find sewing forums and ask questions. If you have a good sewing store in your city, pick their brains (though I always prefer user opinions to salespeople talk).
Decide what you'll be primarily sewing as that can also make a difference. For instance, you can sew some knits on a regular machine, but if you're going to be making bathing suits or workout gear, it's best to go with a serger.
Whatever type you eventually settle on, you're in for some fun creativity ahead!
By Emily Parker