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Blog / Beginner's handbook / Guide to Creating Perfect Embroidery Files

Beginner's handbook

Custom Embroidered Hats - the Guide to Creating a Design and Embroidery File

Custom Embroidered Hats - the Guide to Creating a Design and Embroidery File
Julia Gifford

By Julia Gifford

9 min read

You know what’s beautiful? A crisp, concise bold message on a hat, the accessory that pulls your entire look together.

There’s no denying that a classic, sleek hat brings an entirely new level of badassery to a look, and certainly will add character to your ecommerce store product range.

We’ll go through the entire process of creating your own custom-embroidered hat from beginning to end – from choosing a hat type and making embroidery-friendly designs to creating an embroidery file and, perhaps, even ordering a sample hat for yourself. What’s more, there are some free downloadable embroidery graphics at the end to get you started. We’ve also written a blog post about cool embroidery ideas for you to get inspired.

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Choose the right hat

You probably know that not everyone can pull off wearing a top hat. And, honestly, there’s no need – there are plenty of hat options for you to choose from. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones, and the reasons why it might be the right hat for you and your store.


So, what exactly is a snapback? Well, the main thing you should know is that it’s one of the most popular hat types out there, so it’s well worth considering for your store or wardrobe.

Source: Printful

Snapbacks are five or six panel hats with a wide, flat brim and an adjustable snap on the back (hence the name). Their ancestor is the baseball cap, but nowadays snapbacks have evolved into a symbol of urban culture and youth style.

And your designs should definitely take this association into account. What’s more, snapbacks usually have a high profile (more on that a bit later), which usually allows a higher design.

Dad hats

If youth culture is not your target audience, there’s a less in-your-eyes version – the dad hat. These caps usually have a rounded brim, and a lower profile for your designs.

Source: Printful

This is a hat that’s a favorite with different types of people, and it’s definitely one of the biggest bestsellers here at Printful. So there’s no intrinsic target audience. Just pick the designs you like and get started.

Trucker caps

Trucker hats usually have a mesh paneling and a high dome area, as well as a flat brim. This cap actually has a fascinating history, since in the beginning they were mostly used as promotional hats given away for free at various events.

Source: Printful

But since the early 2000s the cap has entered mainstream fashion circles. So while the correlation with a freebie has been broken, companies still tend to use trucker caps to promote their businesses. And that’s always a great opportunity for bulk orders!

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Bucket hats

When the world got a little tired of the seemingly million types of baseball cap variations, they turned to… the fishermen community!

Source: Printful

Yup, that’s right. The bucket hat started as an accessory to fisherman, but now has taken the world by storm and is worn by celebrities and models all over the world. What’s more, the trend is predicted to continue to rise in 2019 as well.

So if your customers like to mix it up a little, this is the go-to hat to put your custom embroidered designs on.


For those of us living in the colder climates, comfort sometimes has to take precedence over style. But why not have both? After all, that’s what beanies are for.

Source: Printful

Beanies are warm, comfy, and you can really play with your designs throughout the year, since they make the perfect Christmas gift. Besides, you can always engage with your customers by starting the great “pom pom or no pom pom” debate.


Another sporting community favorite – the visor. Most often associated with tennis and other outdoor activities, this crownless hat is best known for its functionality, since it protects the face from the sun.

Source: Printful

That’s why design-wise it makes sense to stick with sports-themed graphics which would appeal to outdoor activity enthusiasts.

Still not sure which hat to choose? In the end, it all boils down to your own preferences, your brand image, and, perhaps most importantly, that type of hat that best suits your designs and target audience.

Make your designs embroidery-friendly

Or rather, how to design a super cool custom-embroidered hat.

Many store owners make the same mistake, over and over again. They take one of their designs (that maybe worked really well on t-shirts), and they try to put it on hats. But depending on the design, it can be a big mistake.

Embroidery is an entirely different beast compared to direct-to-garment printing. For that reason, it requires an entirely different approach to creating a successful design. Here are some key elements to keep in consideration when designing your custom hat embroidery designs. 


As always, keep in mind that your designs have to follow our Acceptable Content Guidelines.

Go minimalist

A minimalistic design can have a striking impact. Simple designs are easy to embroider and have a finished look with nice, tight lines. For example, a basic design with minimal details can look striking with a white thread against a black cap.

It’s best to avoid small, detailed designs, as those are difficult to embroider. For flat embroidery, the minimum thickness for shapes is 0.05″ (1.3 mm). We use satin stitch for all shapes that are from 0.05″ (1.3 mm) to 0.5″ (12.5 mm) thick and tatami stitch for shapes thicker than 0.5″ (12.5 mm). For 3D puff, the minimum thickness is 0.2″ (5 mm) and the maximum is 0.5″ (12.5 mm). There should also be a space of at least 0.07″ (1.8 mm) between 3D objects.

Our free Design Maker allows you to create text-based designs for flat embroidery. You can choose from more than 25 fonts, and the Design Maker will warn you if the lines in your design become too small.

Source: Printful

The main take-away? Use minimalist, bold designs with thick lines.

Take limited colors into account

When developing embroidery designs, you should note that the number of thread colors you use will impact the look of the hat.

If you choose to use multiple colors, make sure they have large enough details to be able to sew well. Like these letters and forms in this hat.


Keep in mind that there’s a limit to how many thread colors you can use. We offer 15 different colors, but you’re limited to 6 thread colors per design for all embroidery types.

Pick an embroidery type

You can choose to print your design using flat embroidery or 3D puff embroidery (image courtesy of Rhinodillo Designs).

3D puff embroidery is when you see the raised embroidery threads. In the image above, it’s the white embroidery. It costs an extra $1.50 if you decide on this option.

Flat embroidery is when the thread lays flat on the hat. In the image above, it’s the red thread.

Stick to symmetry

A good hat design has a good balance.

One rule of thumb is to have your design focused on the middle bottom, and have it span out from there. Centering your design is a must, as most people don’t want to seem lopsided when wearing their hats.


Dabble in side embroidery

For a really polished look, you can add a small logo of yours on the side of the cap. Ideally, you would add either a logo, your company initials, or something else that’s small and can fit in the side space. You can only use flat embroidery for sides – no 3D puff.

It’s available on both sides of the cap, or just one. Or you can also skip the front embroidery altogether and just design a cap with side embroidery. Here’s how the pricing breaks down:

  • Just one side (no front embroidery): base price
  • Both sides (no front embroidery): base price +$3
  • Front and one side: base price +$3
  • Front and both sides: base price +$6

Create an embroidery file

Embroidery sewing machines “read” designs entirely differently than printing machines. For that reason, creating an embroidery file is an entirely different system.

Remember about digitization

Before the embroidery process can begin, we need to convert your file into a format that our embroidery machines can read. This process is called digitization.

Submit your design to Printful as a vector file (preferably in AI or PDF formats, though high resolution PNG also works), and we’ll digitize it for a one-time fee. But note that each style of embroidery requires a separate digitized file. So if you submit one design for 3D puff and later want the same design for flat embroidery, you’ll have to digitize that too.

You can also get free digitization for all your design files in a single order if you order 25+ embroidered items at once. That way, you’ll be able to test out different products with different designs and get digitized files you can reuse at no extra cost.

Know your embroidery area

The size of your design will be based on the available embroidery area of the hat you choose. Some hats have a higher profile and therefore can print a higher design. Whereas there are low profile hats, like the 5-panel hats, which have a lower available height.

Here are the size dimensions for printing on caps and beanies:


Don’t forget to take a look at all of our hats. The price you see includes the embroidery, just remember that 3D puff and side logos cost a little extra!

Use our mockup and embroidery file generator

How do you create your embroidery file? Use our Design Maker’s mockup feature!


Printful has developed the first-ever mockup and embroidery file generator, which will make your life a whole lot easier if you’re into hats. And as we mentioned before, it has a unique text tool that allows you to create text-based flat embroidery designs without leaving the generator.

And finally, we suggest watching our embroidery design tutorial video below and checking out embroidery guidelines.

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How to order a custom embroidery hat

Before you place an order with Printful you’ll have to create an account first. You can make an individual order, or start your store and then make an order.

  1. Go to your Printful Dashboard and click “New order” in the top right corner.
  2. Choose “sample order”. Those will get you 20% off and free shipping to select destinations.
  3. Choose your product. In this case, it will be hats.
  4. Choose your model.
  5. Choose your color.
  6. Upload the design you’ve created, or create one in our text tool. You can also use a design from our sample graphics library. Drag it around, size it, and position it the way you like. Pay attention to the DPI – make sure it shows as “good”!
  7. Select if you want it to be all flat embroidery or 3D puff embroidery.
  8. Choose your thread colors.
  9. Click “continue” to confirm the order, check the shipping address, and submit the order.

If you haven’t used one of our sample graphics which are already pre-digitized, your order will have a digitization fee. The digitization fee depends on the type and placement of your design:

  • Standard digitization fee for most designs: $6.50 (€5.75) per file
  • Designs created in our mockup generator’s text tool: $3.95 (€3.70) per file
  • Designs on the back or sides of a hat: $2.95 (€2.50) per file

Afterward, the digitized file will appear in your library, and you’ll be able to make future orders with no repeated digitization costs.

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Learn More: How to Start an Embroidery Business: 5 Steps to Success

Rock them around the city

Now that you’ve made your order, all that’s left to do is to wait for your custom embroidery hat to arrive in the mail. Once you’ve checked the quality, we’re sure you’ll have no qualms about putting it up for sale on your own online store. Read more about starting your own online garment store here.

Have you tried out embroidery? What do you think? Anything we left out?

This article was originally published in July 2016; it has since been updated.


By Julia Gifford on Jan 15, 2019

Julia Gifford