It may be obvious, but commercial embroidery on caps is different from sewing on shirts, jackets and other garments.
Avoiding the problems specific to sewing on caps and other headwear will save you grief during production, as well as keep your customers happy.
Understanding the key differences in commercial embroidery for caps, and why it is not sold in the same way as shirts and jackets, will save you a lot of production headaches. For example, it would be extremely difficult to place high-stitch designs (say, over 15,000 stitches) with tiny lettering on the front of a cap.
The main challenge in making your commercial single head embroidery machine work well with caps. Most machines are designed to produce flat designs, and need special care to work on the 3D curvature of a cap. With newer technologies, drivers, quick change cap systems and more, creating intricate designs on caps is easier than ever, but still there are a few restrictions.
You do not need a lot of technical information about the limitations of commercial embroidery on caps to sell them properly to your customer. Often, a simple grasp of the basics will be enough to teach your sales staff, as well as your customers.
To make the best products, and a thoroughly satisfied customer, here some tips to sewing on caps. Use them as a guideline, to help your clients choose the cap right design.
Basic cap construction: structured versus unstructured
Most recent ball caps are made with six panels; often there will be a seam running down the middle of the front. The range of construction methods, such as material thickness and stiffness, can leave some of the seams thick and cumbersome to work with. This can be a factor that determines what design will work best.
Customer-supplied artwork with small fonts and several outlines may not work well on a cap. As the commercial embroidery expert, you are the one to work with your client, educating them on what will (or will not) render properly. If text cannot be separated, a filled background behind the text might be in order.
Structured caps are with a solid construction, having a rough plastic backing of fused buckram or freestanding buckram behind the front panels. These caps will keep their own shape. Structured caps are easier for commercial embroidery.
Unstructured caps, when worn, conform to fit the wearer’s head. This type of cap still requires a backing, digitizing and proper hooping. Unstructured caps tend to shift during sewing, so careful hooping is essential.
When using backing long enough to cover two-thirds of the cap, you will have better stability during sewing. Clamping the cap with clips will also help secure it while sewing.
In some cases, the backing is glued into the cap using spray adhesive before hooping. A little silicone spray on the backing can reduce thread breaks caused by contact with the adhesive.
Small Fonts and Details
Consider the thick and heavy seams when determining the amount of detail that can be sewn on a cap.
Logos with tiny fonts, extra-small details or multiple outlines can cause skipped stitches or needle breaks, especially when sewing just over the seam. Reducing detail and tightness in the top layers may help prevent these problems.
Sprayway’s Dry Silicone Spray is also helpful. Use it to lubricate each stitch, which will reduce thread and needle breaks. Spray the silicone inside each cap or on the backing, when either hooping or framing.
Hooping Tips for Commercial Embroidery of Caps
Most cap systems have a maximum sewing area of between 2” and 2 ½” tall. The closer your commercial embroidery machine approaches the outer limits, the more you run the risk of distortion.
Many hooping systems and cap frames will have a band to lock in the bill of the cap, allowing it to “float.” This floating may cause the fabric to push or pull stitches. When a cap is sewn from one side to the other, the fabric is slightly pushed in that direction. Pushed far enough, the fabric could begin to fold or “flag.” This effect is also known as “birdnesting.”
When the next portion or color is sewn on a flagged cap, there could be registration problems. This can be prevented by programming your digitizing software to sew the image from the inside out. This will evenly push the fabric.
Underlay stitches are also a way to avoid problems with flagging. Short stitches, placed in a lattice pattern, can be used to secure the cap to the backing, preventing shifting. This can be good for both caps and left pocket logos. Set up your system to sew the bottom line first, then stitch each line from the center out.
Always make sure the cap is hooped accurately, since most commercial embroidery operators use a slight angle when sewing caps. Test the straightness of the hooping by placing a piece of masking tape on either side of the cap, before putting it in the hoop. The tape should be perfectly straight and align with the bottom edge of the cap, running about 1 ½” to 2” from the edge.
Then hoop the cap as usual by attaching it to the machine. Slowly rotate it from left to right to make sure the presser foot will draw a straight line across the tape. If when you move the presser foot right-to-left and the tape is not aligned, take some time to practice hooping the sides to get it entirely straight. If necessary, you can adjust the angle of the side designs on the machine.
There is a matter of the need for backing for commercial embroidery of caps. Backing is a must, especially for caps with a rough buckram! Backing will create a smooth and uniform surface for the hook, bobbin and needle, preventing seams from dragging across the needle plate, as well as maintaining the correct tension for both thread and bobbin.
Remember, the right design for a cap may make all the difference in the finished product, in addition to proper backing and needles. With all of that in mind, you will be able to make high-quality and profitable commercial embroidery caps that your customers will wear proudly!
For the best results on caps and other garments, you must choose the right thread and supplies such as bobbins, needles, backing and more! Colman and Company—suppliers of Royal, Madeira and Firefighter polyester threads and supplies—is the ideal place to start. Visit ColmanAndCompany.com today or call 800-891-1094.
Do you have a commercial embroidery tip for caps that makes your job easier? We would love to hear it! Tell us in the comments.