The coolest thing about hats is that everyone can use one, and almost everyone loves to wear a high-quality decorated hat. A well-constructed hat (like this new snapback trucker from Pacific Headwear) can earn 3,400 brand impressions over its lifetime, and that’s on the low side. The secret to success is matching the right hat, artwork and decoration type to your client’s company or marketing intention. That’s why we asked four talented decorators to share their most unique headwear creations. You’ll be inspired by laser-engraved leatherette patches, sublimation, direct-to-film transfers, PVC patches, puff embroidery and more on all different types of hats.
Laser-Engraved Leatherette Patches Give Hats Life
Online auction house Auction Gang wanted patch hats, so the Visual Identity Vault team elevated that look by doing a contour cut around the logo. “The color we chose went well with their corporate branding color of copper,” says Tanya Doyscher, co-owner and graphic designer at The Visual Identity Vault. “These hats look fantastic paired with their shirts that we used copper foil from Stahls’ on!”
Then, the JR’s Confinement Repair team wanted corporate branding outside of traditional embroidery for their hats. “They loved the look of the leatherette patch that we engraved to a silver color,” Doyscher says. “We added embroidery that said ‘For all your hog barn needs’ to the back for a custom look for JR’s giveaways and workwear.”
For leatherette work, The Visual Identity Vault team often needs to work with the art they’re provided to get it work as a one-color laser patch. “The leatherette gives a unique look that’s elevated,” Doyscher says. “It’s another great decoration option in our arsenal to give customers choices for branded headwear.”
Soft Foam & Sublimation Get Noticed Coming and Going
The Visual Identity Vault created these unique caps for a local sports team. The dimension of the “F’s” soft foam gives a different look and the sublimated cardinal on the back allows for a completely different look.
“The soft foam and sublimation has been popular,” Doyscher says, “and we’re working on new designs all the time with these techniques. This hat came out of our team seeing what we could do with the processes.”
DTF Steps Up Headwear, Big Time
If you haven’t considered using direct-to-film (DTF) transfers on headwear, we’re about to convince you it’s a smart idea. The Visual Identity Vault started DTF on lots of wearables, including headwear, with great success. “DTF has been a game-changer for us in our business, and our customers love it. I love the added flexibility it gives to caps,” Doyscher says. “We push the envelope with direct-to-film, and small and fine details. If you do this, be prepared for trial and error.”
“When you’re embroidering 3-D puff designs, always remember there will be an extra step after the actual embroidery. Cleanup is the final step for quality 3-D puff designs. You’ll always need to tear away the excess foam.” Justin Armenta, JA Digitizing
Doyscher’s team had been working with Dale’s on Lake of the Woods, a year-round fishing resort. The Visual Identity Vault fulfills and runs Dale’s successful webstore that’s stocked with logoed apparel. Dale’s orders from the site regularly promote it to their guests for all types of branded merch. “We’d been using DTF on their shirts, so we expanded it to headwear,” she says. “Their guests report that they enjoy wearing their branded apparel to show that they went fishing at Dale’s!”
One of The Visual Identity Vault’s graphic designers has a side hustle called Zach’s Toys. He created his own logo and loved the DTF look on hats. “He wears these hats to toy shows and gives them away as gifts,” Doyscher says.
DTF on hats take a little bit of practice at first. “I press the hats and let them cool completely,” Doyscher says. “If there’s fine detail, I rub the transfer and peel slowly to ensure I’m not going to lose any of the design, and then do a quick second press to make sure everything is down. Once you get in a rhythm, the process goes quickly.”
Trucker Caps & PVC Patches Fit a Brewery’s Patrons
These eye-catching trucker caps and knit beanies are a great example of must-buy-and-wear merchandise for a local brewery. The Envision team created this unique merch for Dimensional Brewing Co. “We used a PVC patch that allowed us to achieve dimensionality,” says Tom Rauen, CEO. “The best way to create these patches is to either use a post-bed embroidery machine or to contract them to a decorator who specializes in patches.”
For the brewery, the Envision team chose different hat styles and colorways to appeal to many different patrons. The logo and patch stays a basic black and white, so it works across all the hat types and colors. “For the hat colors, we’ll change them seasonally with local and state college or pro sports team colors,” Rauen says. “We’ll offer green for St. Patrick’s Day, earthy colors for the fall, and red, white, and blue for summer and Independence Day.”
Rauen points out that people who wear hats often prefer a certain fit or style. “If you’re working with a company that wants to sell logoed merch, it’s best to offer a wide variety of hat styles, from flat brim to the classic dad hat,” Rauen says. “If the style doesn’t fit their customers, they won’t buy it or wear it. The other part is that people like good-quality hats. They’ll throw out cheap ones, or they just won’t buy them. A good hat in the right style that fits the client gets worn hundreds of times.”
A Passion for Puff Embroidery on Headwear
There’s passion, drama and lots of money to be made in puff embroidery on hats. Justin Armenta, owner of JA Digitizing Studios and moderator/educator at The Embroidery Nerd Group on Facebook, decided to create three standout concept designs using puff embroidery on headwear to educate the “Embroidery Nerd” audience. While Armenta’s efforts started out as friendly competition with Embroidery Nerd Group founder Jeff Fuller as they created “dueling designs,” the results are spectacular. Armenta used Wilcom E4.5 software to digitize each design.
1. Multi-Layered 3-D Puff Bear Design
Talk about 3-D ferocity! This realistic, roaring, 11,972-stitch bear came to life thanks to four layers of digitizing and three layers of foam. The first layer on the bear’s ear is made up of a group of flat stitches. “This layer establishes a global underlay to stabilize the hat, along with the fur-like background of the mane and detail in the ears and eyes,” Armenta says.
The second layer, as in the cheek, is the first layer of 3mm dense foam from Gunold. Armenta used a satin stitch to contour and carve the outline of the shape of the face and mouth, cutting the foam. With blending techniques, he used two different shades of brown thread to layer over this foam to create the fur-like texture. He also sewed the scary teeth in this layer.
The third layer is the second layer of foam. Using 3mm regular foam from Madeira, Armenta chose this slightly softer foam since it sewed on multiple layers. “This layer is adding another level of dimension,” he says. “This gives the effect of the snout and mouth being closer to the viewer.”
The 60mm-high-by-51mm-wide bear’s final detail is the third layer of 3mm Madeira regular foam. It’s just the tip of the bear’s nose to give the design a last bit of dimension for a striking look up close or far away. “The final stage is cleaning up the 3-D foam,” Armenta says. “You can easily clean up using tools like the 3D PuffPro Tool and a heat gun.”
2. Multi-Layered 3-D Puff “JA” Design
This initial design used two layers of 3-D foam with added motif stitches for texture. The first layer of foam is the background layer, with a fill stitch with a satin border to cut the 3mm dense foam from Gunold. The outer satin border has a motif running stitch pattern for added texture and decoration. The second layer of foam is the “JA” letters, also sitting atop the 3mm dense foam from Gunold.
Finally, Armenta used a light-density zigzag patterned stitch over the puff “JA,” to give the letters a netted look and a unique look. “After you use the foam under the initials, you need to tear away the excess foam from the embroidery, prior to sewing this netting stitch,” he says. “Sewing this element without removing the foam will result in the zigzag stitch taking down the outer edge of the foam, and not allowing you to pull it away cleanly, thus damaging the stitches.” This 8,426-stitch design is 60mm high by 51mm wide.
3. 3-D Puff Twisted Dragon Design
This cool 57mm-high-by-67mm-wide, 5,853-stitch dragon design sits on one layer of 3-D foam with split-stain puff and added twisted satin stitches for dimension. Armenta strategically added a few flat elements, like the fire, teeth and tail tip, to add depth.
“The 3-D foam element includes the dragon’s body and head,” Armenta says. “The body is made of a split-satin stitch, adding dimension to the 3-D look.”
“If you’re working with a company that wants to sell logoed merch, it’s best to offer a wide variety of hat styles from flat brim to the classic dad hat. If the style doesn’t fit their customers, they won’t buy it or wear it.” Tom Rauen, Envision
The red elements on the dragon’s body were sewn over the 3-D puff segments using the technique of a twisting satin stitch, making an “X” pattern to add an extra layer of eye-popping dimension.
Top Puff Embroidery Tips for Headwear
Armenta offers these on-point tips for creating stellar puff embroidery on headwear:
1. When you’re creating or sewing 3-D puff designs, be prepared to sample and edit the digitizing until you get it right. “Three-dimensional puff embroidery isn’t an exact science and may need adjusting to accomplish a quality end result,” he says.
2. Choose a hat and/or placement that works well with the decoration choice. There are some six-panel hat styles that have a thicker or denser center seam. “Designs with multiple layers of 3-D foam will run better when avoiding a seam,” Armenta. “Picking a five-panel hat, or placing the design on the side front panel of a six-panel hat, can save thread and needle breaks from trying to embroider through so many layers. Plus, you’ll be way less frustrated!”
3. Cleanup is the final step for quality 3-D puff designs. When embroidering 3-D puff designs, always remember there will be an extra step after the actual embroidering. “You’ll need to tear away the excess foam,” Armenta says. “You’ll probably have small bits of foam that protrude from your embroidered area. You can poke these pieces back under the embroidered stitches using a pointed but blunt object, like the 3-D PuffPro tool.”
Alternatively, you can carefully pass a heat gun or hair dryer over the embroidered puff area to help shrink the tiny foam areas that still might be visible. “The heat will shrink the foam a little, making it go back under the embroidered stitches,” Armenta says.
What to Do Today
Take inspiration from the amazing array of decoration options we’ve shown here. It’s a relatively simple equation: Match the right hat, to the right artwork, to the right decoration. That way, your client will love the result, and their employees or customers will do, gaining them lots of brand impressions.
“DTF has been a game-changer for us in our business, and our customers love it. I love the added flexibility it gives to caps.” Tanya Doyscher, The Visual Identity Vault
Artem Ionitsa, president of Logo Unlimited, shows off three totally different, but equally impressive, ways that you can approach decoration on hats for your clients.
A hat for a local college, Lonitsa’s team placed 3-D embroidery on top of 3-D 4mm foam for the black background and 3mm foam for the top embroidery. This striking alligator decoration, which comes in at more than 25,000 stitches, looks great up close and far away, and netted a great profit for the shop.
For an Alaska-based fishing company, Logo Unlimited created this three-layer woven patch that’s sewn on top of a two-layer, laser-cut felt base. This look is very cool, and retail-ready, which means these hats get worn 24/7.
This edgy “Building the Future Hat” for a local construction company is a great example of a multimedia design. The crane is laser etched and the text is embroidered, for a presentation that people will remember.
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Laurie is part of the marketing team for the leading supplier in the industry, alphabroder. During her free time, Laurie likes to ride horses, sail and spend time with her husband and her two children. Reach her at Lprestine@alphabroder.com