How 3D puff caps are made
Ever gazed at the New York Yankees on field baseball cap and wonder how they made the stitches so thick and raised like that? The concept is pretty simple. A piece of puffy foam is laid over the cap and the design sews out on top of it. Every time the needle goes down and penetrates the foam and hat, it creates a tiny hole in the foam. After making several thousand of these tiny holes, the edges of the artwork are perforated and the excess foam is relatively easy to tear away, leaving behind the foam underneath the stitches.
That’s the short story version of how 3D puff caps are made. In actuality, a lot more is involved. This article is meant to give an overview of the process because unfortunately, it would take many volumes of books to cover the topic to properly teach you how it’s done.
Ask anyone who does embroidery for a living (or for fun) about 3D puff hats. 9 times out of 10 they’ll wish you never brought up the subject. And for good reason. Making good quality raised embroidery on caps is very challenging.
Things that make 3D puff embroidery a nightmare
The fact is it takes a lot more work and time than anything else in the embroidery industry. It starts off with the artwork. In order for The Puff Technique to work, your artwork can’t have any thin lines/objects/text. There’s a minimum width that they all have to be in order for the technique to be pulled off. Also, when converting your jpeg or vector file into a file that the embroidery machine reads, special adjustments need to be made.
And although there are some rules of thumb to follow, a lot has to do with the time and devotion the artist puts into the process of converting the artwork. We all know that time is money. However, in the embroidery industry, time is everything. Which is one of the main reasons why many embroidery shops refuse to do 3D hats even if they knew how to make them.
Another factor is that 3D or raised embroidery on hats is so unappealing to both the shop owner and the person making the order is that these jobs tend to have more stitches. Basically, an embroidery machine has a limit as to how many stitches it can make per minute. And since shop owners only earn revenue when the machine is actually running and producing, the number of stitches is one of the main factors in determining the price for a job. And since more stitches equals more time to fulfill an order, the person making the order is usually repulsed by the higher price. This usually causes the person to think the price is outrageous and it creates animosity towards the shop owner.
10 times out of 10, the shop owner is under charging you when you consider the amount of work that is involved.
Another thing that makes 3D caps cumbersome to work with is that there’s extra time spent on pre and post production. For instance, the puffy foam that’s used to give the raised effect have to be individually cut by into squares or rectangles, depending on the size and shape of your artwork. Quite frankly, the time spent on cutting the foam isn’t being compensated for. Afterall, who wants to pay extra for someone using a pair of scissors, except if a barber is involved? Industrial puff foam isn’t cheap (sure Walmart has them for a bargain but you get what you pay for). So, shop owners are incentivized to minimizing wasted material . Therefore, extra time is taken to measure before cutting.
Besides requiring a talented artist to create the embroidery file, it requires someone who really understands embroidery to run the caps flawlessly. Because most embroiderers will tell you that the main reason they don’t like working with puffy foam is that there is a much higher spoilage rate than any other type of embroidery work. This is because a lot of times the upper thread get caught in the rotary hook (the part that houses the bobbin case) and the machine halts abruptly. This causes the hat to get stuck on the embroidery machine without a millimeter of wiggle room.
Now the operator has to stop production and work on trying to free the hat from the stranglehold that it’s in. Keep in mind, at this point, the hat is stuck in that position, meaning the embroidery machine can’t rotate in any direction. Attempting to continue production will cause damage to the embroidery machine. This is that part where 99% of the caps get damaged because most of the time, the operator has no choice but try to free the cap using a box cutter by reaching between the back of the hat and the needle plate and cutting the thread, also called a bird’s nest.
So by now you can see what a headache it is to work with 3D puff. Sometimes, it can take up to half an hour or more of downtime before production resumes – often with one less cap on that particular run because, as previously mentioned, most caps that get stuck, end up in the waste basket. Keep in mind, during this time, the business is making no money, the overhead is still there, and production is being delayed – meaning other orders are getting pushed back. This causes other customers to feel like their order is on the back burner or that the embroiderer is lazy and isn’t working as hards as he or she should; therefore, decreasing customer satisfaction and the overall customer experience.
But wait, there’s more! And more details are outlined below but the gist is there’s post production cleaning to be done. Again, no one wants to compensate the embroider for all this extra work. Hence, these are the main reasons a lot of embroiders won’t touch 3D puff with a 10 foot pole. Simply put, due to the lack of understanding of the process, most customers don’t see the value in paying extra. And even if they’re hell-bent on getting 3D puff caps made, they usually price shop all over town and end up with something that even the flea market would be appalled by. Quality requires time and expertise.