Cellular differentiation is associated with changes in transcript populations. Accurate quantification of transcriptomes during development can thus provide global insights into differentiation processes including the fundamental specification and differentiation events operating during plant embryogenesis. However, multiple technical challenges have limited the ability to obtain high quality early embryonic transcriptomes, namely the low amount of RNA obtainable and contamination from surrounding endosperm and seed-coat tissues. We compared the performance of three low-input mRNA sequencing (mRNA-seq) library preparation kits on 0.1 to 5 nanograms (ng) of total RNA isolated from Arabidopsis thaliana (Arabidopsis) embryos and identified a low-cost method with superior performance. This mRNA-seq method was then used to profile the transcriptomes of Arabidopsis embryos across eight developmental stages. By comprehensively comparing embryonic and post-embryonic transcriptomes, we found that embryonic transcriptomes do not resemble any other plant tissue we analyzed. Moreover, transcriptome clustering analyses revealed the presence of four distinct phases of embryogenesis which are enriched in specific biological processes. We also compared zygotic embryo transcriptomes with publicly available somatic embryo transcriptomes. Strikingly, we found little resemblance between zygotic embryos and somatic embryos derived from late-staged zygotic embryos suggesting that somatic and zygotic embryo transcriptomes are distinct from each other. In addition to the biological insights gained from our systematic characterization of the Arabidopsis embryonic transcriptome, we provide a data-rich resource for the community to explore. Overall design: mRNA-seq libraries were generated from three biological replicates of 50 Col-0 (wild type) embryos at eight different developmental stages (i.e. 8-cell/16-cell to mature green). Additionally, mRNA-seq libraries were prepared from total RNA isolated from 50 bent-cotyledon staged embryos and then diluted to 5, 1, 0.5 or 0.1 nanograms prior to library construction with three different library preparation methods.