Tips on Embroidery Digitizing Lettering for Caps

Decorators: follow these best embroidery practices for sewing on structured or unstructured headwear

By Jeff Fuller, Contributing Writer

When sewing on the left or right front panel, I prefer to start lettering embroidery on the center seam side and work toward the outside seam, pressing the material away from the center seam.

June 9, 2020

As an embroiderer, you must consider many aspects when it comes to lettering on headwear. From 3-D puff to outlined text, the game changes when embroidery is done on a cap.

Lettering can go on any area of a cap: the front, left panel, back, closure strap or side. It also can go on the keyhole, which is the void area above the closure strap. Text generally is curved to match the contour of this void.

Hooping for the keyhole usually is done with a standard embroidery hoop. The bill also can be embroidered, but it needs to be done before the hat is assembled via a flat panel program.

However, when it comes to embroidery digitizing, each placement location has its own considerations. First, it’s important to think about the cap’s attributes. For example, is it structured or unstructured? The former has buckram, which stiffens and stabilizes the front panels, allowing it to stand on its own.

Profile height — low, medium or high — and hooping method also must be considered. The profile dictates the design’s height. If hooped in a flat hoop, there will be more even tension on the cap’s fabric and the stitching order will be less important for good results. Unstructured hats or the back of caps can be hooped flat. A cap hoop holds the hat by the sweatband so it’s most stable near the brim.

Center-Seam Placement

Let’s start with the most common placement location for headwear lettering: the center over the seam. When using a cap hoop, the lettering needs to be ordered so that it sews from the center of the design and outward. I prefer to digitize the tie-in or lock stitch with a center-run underlay to control the location in which the letter begins to stitch. The objective of the design is to smooth the fabric from the brim of the cap and upward, and from the center seam and outward.

Manually digitizing underlay allows you to control the tie-in stitch; secure the fabric to the stabilizer; secure the center seam and bridge it if necessary; and allows the thread to stay tight on the fabric, resulting in clean and crisp letters. Bridging is when you sew across the seam, keeping stitches from falling into it. This only works if the letter will fully cover the center seam. If the edge of a satin stitch falls on the seam line, adjust the kerning — space between letters — to shift the satin stitch to either fall directly over the seam or off to either side. If this adjustment isn’t made, the stitches will disappear into the seam, giving the letter an uneven look.

Panel Placement

When sewing on the left or right front panel, I prefer to start lettering embroidery on the center seam side and work toward the outside seam, pressing the material away from the center seam. If sewing on the side of the cap past the brim using a cap hoop, remember to secure the fabric to the stabilizer to ensure smooth stitching. This area has no structural reinforcement; thus, securing it to the stabilizer will prevent movement and loss of registration.

I typically lay down a manual center-run underlay to control the tie-in point, then do a contoured or edge-run underlay to secure the edge, followed by a zigzag or double zigzag to add loft to the lettering. Again, the order must proceed from the center and outward in this situation, as the fabric is only held tightly by the cap-hoop band, which is pressed into the sweatband where the cap material and brim meet.

Profile height will dictate lettering height. For example, a design digitized at 2 inches tall may be too big for a low-profile hat; similarly, a low-profile cap design will look too small on a high-profile cap. A design that’s too large will cause the material to stretch on the end of the stitching arm and throw off registration.

Wider lettering tends to sew better than thin lettering. The extra width allows for more underlay stitching to attach the fabric to the stabilizer, which results in better registration.

Stitch Type and Size

The majority of lettering on caps, including 3-D puff, is done using satin stitches. Fill and run stitches sometimes also are used. When digitizing small text for a cap, a center-run underlay is almost always needed. The underlay’s stitch length needs to be short — about 1mm — to ensure it doesn’t poke outside of the finished satin.

I don’t digitize satin text smaller than 5mm, or with satin columns narrower than 1mm. Anything smaller will prove difficult for producing clean, legible text. If embroidering a fill-stitch letter, plan on outlining it using a satin stitch, which gives the fill’s edge definition.

If you use a contrasting thread for the outline, it can help make the text stand out against the background fabric. Keep in mind that the satin outline should be at least 1mm wide. Set your lettering up to run one complete letter — the inside and the outline — to maintain registration. When doing an outline on 3-D puff text, it’s better to do the outline first and the puff text second. This will keep the outline from distorting the puffed letters’ edges.
These are the many things to consider when digitizing for embroidery on caps. The design dictates the sewing order, but using these methods ensures a successful finished product.

Jeff Fuller is the owner of Fuller Embroidery Works LLC and helps run embnerd.com. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jeff at jeff@fullerembroideryworks.com.

Article updated Nov. 10, 2023