Did you know that roughly 80% of profit-making embroiderers digitize on caps? Caps are not only a staple of the embroidery business, but they are also among the many clothing articles we embroiderers get to have fun and be creative with. Why not take the time to learn how to embroider on them, whether for business or pleasure.

zsk cap desktopzsk cap mobile

Generally speaking, embroidering on beanies or toques is similar to embroidering on any other piece of fabric, so this article will specifically narrow in on embroidering on caps.

This article will teach you what you need to know to embroider on hats and caps properly. We will discuss different hats for embroidery, what you will need to embroider on your hats regarding placement and stabilizers, provide a guide for proper hooping, and discuss digitizing tips to give you the best-embroidered results. Let’s dive in!

Choosing Your Cap Hat for Embroidery

Ball caps are all about variety. You look at a cap catalog or website and there are hundreds if not thousands of choices. You have your choice of color combinations, material, the height of the crown, type of bill, back closures and the list goes on and on. While there are hundreds of different hat styles and manufacturers out there, most hats generally fall under 3 main categories:

1. OPF (One-piece front) hats for embroidery

one piece front hats

OPF usually categorize as “trucker/farmer” hats. These hats have one piece of foam laminated backing (gives the hat structure), and the rest of the hat is more of a mesh material. OPF hats are usually pretty easy to hoop and embroider because of their laminated backing, and there is no center seam in the hat.

2. Varsity/collegiate hats for embroidery

varsity hat

Varsity hats tend to fit a little closer to the head because they do not have any laminated backing (structure) on the front of the panel. Because of this, these hats do tend to move a little bit, which is why making sure hooping is done properly is so important.

3. Sports caps for embroidery

sports cap

Sports caps are generally the most popular style of hat, especially for embroidery. This hat has a center seam down the middle of the front panel (Aka: the Bermuda triangle of embroidery. You generally tend to lose stitches in the center seam) and a laminated backing giving it structure.

How To Embroider Cap Hats

It stands to reason that when embroidering on caps, there would be a variety of placement options. Some options are limited to being embroidered before the manufacturing process (example: the bill). But there are plenty of options for an embroiderer to consider. Most multi-needle embroidery machines can handle the front, both sides, the back of the cap, and even most places in between.

It should be noted that embroidering a hat on a single-needle or flatbed machine is extremely difficult. You will need a cap frame & preferably a multi-needle embroidery machine such as a ZSK embroidery machine to easily embroider caps. If you’d like to learn more about which machines we suggest, check out our What is the Best Embroidery Machine for a Home Business article.

The most common area embroidered is the front of caps. Even the most basic cap frames are designed to do the front of caps. Today, most commercial embroidery machines utilize wide angle cap frames designed to go most of the way around the cap, typically 270º of rotation. This will handle not only the front of the caps but also the sides. That leaves the back for which most embroiderers use a traditional round hoop.

hooping hat on machine

Here we want to look at each location and see what needs to be done for the best results. While the cap’s makeup does play a big part in how each cap is framed, the basic principles will work regardless of the type of cap. Let’s start with the front and center.

Machine embroidering the front and center of hats

hat stabilizer for embroidery

The front of a cap is the most common placement and probably the easiest placement to sew. As mentioned, all cap frames are designed to embroider the front of the cap, if nothing else. The main variance with ball caps is whether or not the front panels are structured or not. Structured caps typically have a fused buckram backing inside, making the crown of the cap stand up. Unstructured (varsity & collegiate style hats) do not have this and tend to be more floppy.

For unstructured caps, it’s important to use cap backing (stabilizer). Cap backing is a stiff and heavy tear away. It provides stabilization for the fabric for unstructured caps and helps hold the shape of the cap while it’s embroidered. Structured caps don’t need the backing as the fused buckram acts as the stabilizer.

hat stabilizer for embroidery

Then you have some in-between styles like soft buckram or even foam-backed caps. For caps like these, using a piece of cap backing is recommended and yields excellent results.

When doing front only placements on structured caps, it’s not always necessary to put the back clip on the frame of wide-angle caps frames. In fact, for larger designs, it’s often advantageous to leave the back clip off for these types of caps. It gives a little flexibility to the cap and prevents distortion of the design at the top of the design.

cap hooped

Machine embroidering the side of hats

For side placements, you must utilize the back clip. The primary purpose of the back clip(s) is for side placements on caps. Wide-angle cap frames vary from brand to brand. The main difference is the back clips, as some have one large clip or one on each side of the back. Most brands use multiple clips that look a lot like binder clips from an office supply store. Whatever the type of clip, it’s important to use them when sewing side placements on caps. Otherwise, the design will look like it’s running downhill.

While cap backing may be optional for front placements on certain caps, it’s a necessity for side placements. There is no fused buckram on the sides of caps and, therefore, must be stabilized. For normal twill caps, a single piece of cap backing will work just fine.

Tip: Flexfit and other stretch-to-fit caps require at least 2 pieces of backing, if not a cutaway backing.

The same goes for a mesh cap. Yes, it’s possible to sew on mesh caps with the proper stabilization. The backing provides the necessary material to hold the stitches together. For this reason, we recommend a cutaway stabilizer.

It can sometimes be tricky to get the backing to stay in place on the side while hooping the cap. The tendency would be to tuck it under the frame. While that holds it in place while on the framing device, the backing will fall right out afterward as it is not being held in place by the frame. The cap has to be hooped with the backing on top of the frame.

One way to overcome this hassle is by placing a piece of double-sided tape (such as carpet tape found at most home improvement stores) on the side of the cap frame. Then peel the backing paper off and stick the cap backing onto the tape. This will secure the hold the backing in place long enough to get the cap hooped but pulls off easily from the frame.

If you’d like to learn more about different stabilizers, when and where to use them, check out our Complete Guide to Machine Embroidery Stabilizers by clicking here.

Embroidering the back of hats

Placements on the back of caps are relatively straightforward. There are several attachments on the market to assist with this placement, but a simple solution to cap back is to use a conventional small round hoop. Most machines come with a 12cm or 4.5 round hoop, which is the perfect size to fit the back of a cap, especially those with openings. The back of a cap can be hooped on a table corner if necessary, eliminating the need for any special hooping devices.

hooping cap back

To align the back, use the marks that are typically molded into the hoop. The center seam aligns with the marks at 12 and 6 o’clock. The edge of the opening aligns with the other marks.

To stabilize the back, be sure the piece of backing covers the entire hoop. The cap back will not cover the whole hoop, but it needs to cover the whole hoop for the backing to provide great stabilization.

Hooping For Hat Embroidery

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To start embroidering on your hats and caps, they will need to be hooped properly. Whether you’re new to embroidery or an experienced embroiderer, I’m sure we can all agree that hooping caps can be difficult, especially without proper instructions. I frequently see people post about their failed embroidery hat projects, asking what went wrong, and often end up blaming their machines. Little do they know that if their cap isn’t hooped correctly, it can lead to disastrous results. As with any embroidery project, if your hooping isn’t clean, your embroidery won’t be either.

Let’s go over a hooping technique for caps/hats that the Embroidery Legacy used on our caps while running two of North America’s largest embroidery production factories in the 1990s. Follow these steps to ensure your cap is hooped properly. Before we get started, it’s important to understand that you will need a cap hooping accessory. This accessory consists of 3 main components:

  1. Driver: the driver fits right over the top of the arm of the machine.
  2. Cap frame: the cap frame is what your hat will be attached to.
  3. Jig: the jig attaches the cap frame for more accurate hooping.

1.Driver: the driver fits right over the top of the arm of the machine.

embroidery driver

2. Cap frame: the cap frame is what your hat will be attached to.

embroidery cap frame

3. Jig: the jig attaches the cap frame for more accurate hooping.

embroidery jig

How to hoop your hat

Reminder: One of the most important things to remember when hooping your cap is that the center seam of the hat lines up to the center mark on your cap frame.

center mark cap frame

Step 1: Making sure your cap frame is properly secured to the jig. You will know it’s secure because it will click into place and will have no, to hardly any, wiggle room.

cap frame secured to jig

Step 2: We want to get the cap frame into position for our hat. We’ll start by moving the peak mount out of position as well as the band.

cap frame moving peakcap frame moving peak 2

Step 3: Now that the jig is ready for hooping, we need to prepare the hat itself. We’ll start by moving the band on the inside of the cap out of the way, as the band will be placed underneath the plate on the jig. (Be sure to try and align the red line to the center seam)

moving band inside hatcap embroidery platecap machine center

Step 4: As our hat is on the cap frame and the band of our hat is securely in place, we’re going to take the cap frame band/strap and secure it so the teeth of the band lines up to the base of our cap. Once in position, push the strap down to lock it. Be sure there is no excess space where the peak of the hat meets the crown. 

cap secured on embroidery machinestrap hat on embroidery machine

Step 5: For our final step, we’re going to start by placing material over the peak of the hat to avoid unwanted markings on our cap (hats are generally one of the hardest materials to get hoop burn out of). Once the material is in place simply engage the peak mount to ensure the peak of the hat won’t hit the machine while it’s embroidering.

material on hat embroidery machinepeak mount cap embroidery

Your hat is now successfully hooped.

Embroidery Designs for Hats and Caps

Always remember, a hat needs to be hooped properly to run successfully on a machine. But what is equally or even more important is that the embroidery design is digitized specifically knowing that it will be embroidered on a curved surface.

Designs need to be digitized specifically for caps for best results. Most experienced digitizers will take into account a design that is size friendly for a finished hat and digitize it accordingly.

Digitizing Embroidery Designs for Cap Hats

If you don’t find the design you’re looking for or don’t want to spend the money outsourcing your designs, why not digitize it yourself?  If you’re unfamiliar with embroidery digitizing, check out our What is Embroidery Digitizing Article.

When digitizing designs for caps and hats, there is one rule you should always follow.

The rule when it comes to digitizing caps: always start bottom-up and center-outward.

You always want to start digitizing from the bottom up (from the peak of the hat, up to the crown); otherwise, your stitching will buckle over, and you will get poor results. You also want to start digitizing from the inside out (start from the center of the cap and proceed outward), ensuring no buckling will occur. 

There are many other things to consider when digitizing a cap, such as changing the underlay, why you need to overlap satin stitches, fixing hat embroidery designs, separating and gaps between objects, and sew much more. 

To get answers to all these questions and more, check out our Youtube video tutorial on digitizing hats and getting help with your hat embroidery. Click here to watch now.

Although the front of a cap is usually most popular, what about when you want to digitize the back of a cap? You want your lettering to line up just perfectly, but with different styles of hats, what can be done? Watch the video below as we explain a few simple steps to follow so you can create a template and create your perfect design. 

Which embroidery digitizing software can I use with hats?

If you’ve researched digitizing software, you’ve probably come across Hatch embroidery software. We strongly believe Hatch is the best embroidery digitizing software for the home embroidery industry. It has multiple features, an easy to use interface, and has a great price point. If you are looking into embroidery digitizing software, I highly suggest you check out our What is the Best Embroidery Digitizing Software article.

We always tell our customers to try before you buy. For a free 30-day trial of Hatch software, click here. You’ll see why thousands of embroiderers world-wide love this software, as the quality of the software and support will speak for itself.

If you’re interested in purchasing Hatch embroidery software, be sure to purchase through Embroidery Legacy to experience our quality support and receive our exclusive bonuses (worth an extra $235!). Click here to find out more about our exclusive bonuses.

Remember how I said Hatch has a ton of cool features? Well, if you’re using Hatch embroidery software, there is a feature I suggest using to help make this process easier. Under the “lettering” properties, use the “inside-out” feature when creating designs for caps. It will automatically create your design inside-out; this will help prevent buckling and give you the best stitch out results possible. 

cap hatch digitizing

Check out our video below as I show you how to layout a design using only ESA keyboard fonts, so it is machine-friendly for finished caps. I’ll also briefly cover the “bottom-up” and “inside-out” embroidery digitizing rules. Plus just to be sure nothing is traditional, let’s throw a bit of “Mylar Magic” and a “Hatch Smash” knock-down stitch into this embroidery design. Stick around until the end of the video to see the stitched out results!

Don’t Have A Multi-Needle Embroidery Machine or Cap Attachments? You Can Still Embroider Hats!

If you have a flatbed or single needle embroidery machine, you might be wondering “can I still embroider on hats”? The answer is yes! With this creative workaround. Why not instead use custom embroidery patches and attach them to the cap?

Click here to see our new patch-making methods to help you easily create custom patches and get the best results possible.

tacky patch fusible patch

Patches include a crisp merrowed edge, mimicking using a “merrow machine.” Inside these merrow edges, you can insert designs or lettering to easily create a personalized patch with any material of your choice. These patches can then be easily attached to your cap when using Post-Patch Iron-On Seal. Click here to see our suggested supplies and materials to use to create unique professional-looking patches for the best results on your caps.

Conclusion: Embroidering Hats Is Easy Using These Tips & The Right Software

Embroidering on hats can be both fun and profitable. Don’t forget it’s easiest to embroider on a cap when you have a cap frame and multi-needle, such as a ZSK embroidery machine. Utilizing the sides and backs of caps can provide coverage around the cap. That should satisfy even the most demanding of customers. Just be sure to follow the tips outlined above. As we know, hooping a cap can be difficult, but using the proper hooping accessories will make a world of difference! Follow our steps, and it’ll take away your frustration. 

Remember the most important aspect of embroidering a hat -the embroidery! Make sure the design you stitch out is created for hats to avoid any troubles. If you want to create your designs, don’t forget to use the bottom-up, center-forward rule. Creating designs for caps has never been easier with the use of Hatch embroidery softwares amazing features. Click here for a free 30-day trial to help transform your dreams into reality with professional results. 

Please note: This article was written by both John Deer & Steven Batts. Steven Batts, a consultant with more than 23 years of experience in the embroidery industry, owns Righteous Threads, Greensboro, N.C., which offers digitizing, embroidery, and machine maintenance services. Steven regularly leads seminars at ISS shows and is an industry speaker and consultant.