In the 10 years I have been producing custom designed hat wear for various customers, I have come across many different design ideas from a lot of highly creative people. There are many ways of reproducing a design on a hat. Some ways may be more suitable than others for any particular design. Here are the factors that determine which method is appropriate:
1. If your design consists of only line art:
Note: A line art is a design image that has only solid color lines and solid color areas. If there are people in the artwork, they would look like cartoon characters, instead of a photographic image. If there were any words, they would be solid lines and colors without any half tones, shading or fade-away effects.
In general, line arts are the easiest to reproduce on hats. You can screen-print the design provided the hats don’t have a front center seam as the printing might crack in the middle. If you want to print on a 6-panel hat, you would have to use a method called puff printing. The design is slightly raised from the hat surface and it has a plastic appearance. The colors are very vivid. You can off course embroider your designs, which has a very rich appearance. If you only have thick lines in the design, you might also be able to do 3-D puff embroidery on the hat. This is a very expansive decoration method, and few vendors in the US can do it well on pre-made hats. If you are making your hats from scratch, then this might be an option you want to consider.
2. If your design is a photograph:
Surprisingly, embroidery can reproduce many photographic designs fairly well, say the face of a dog. I would not recommend embroidering the face of a person, say from a family photo, unless you first reduce the complexity to a line art form. For a design with various shading areas and half tone colors, various puff-printing methods are best. You can either print directly on the hats, or you can print the design on a separate fabric, then sew it onto the hats. These methods are usually done overseas in Asia, and therefore require a higher minimum quantity, say 600 to 720 pieces. There is usually a high setup charge involved as well if there are multiple colors, half tones, shadings etc.
3. If you design is made up primarily of words:
This would be similar to line art. However, if you want to embroider your design, keep in mind that there is a minimum size restriction. Imagine the embroidery needle sewing out a word. The needle can only register details to a certain extend. And the smaller the alphabets, the more difficult it is for the needle to register a line clearly. Also, the font you use in the word affects the outcome of the embroidery process greatly. If you choose a thick, chubby, or blocky font, it is much easier to embroider than say a delicate script font. Keep each alphabet as big as possible, the minimum size being 3/16 of an inch wide.
4. If your design has combinations of the above mentioned elements:
You can always combine different methods of decoration on a single hat. However, this will greatly impact your production costs and you would need to pay setup for each of these processes. If you plan product thousands of the same design, this might be feasible. But if your quantity is in the hundreds, this will likely double your production costs as compared to a single method of decoration.