When Is Puff Embroidery Feasible?


Puff embroidery, also called 3D embroidery, is an effect achieved by placing a piece of foam on a garment as it is being embroidered.  When everything is done correctly the foam remains expanded under the stitching, which creates a 3D, raised, or tactile effect to the embroidered design.  This can really make the right kind of logo pop!

That must make it ideal for every design, right? Wrong. Puff embroidery is an effect that is requested more than it is realistically possible to do. So when we found ourselves answering a series of e-mails related to a customer inquiry last month, we realized we should find a way to set expectations.

Yes, an embroiderer can throw foam down on any garment. However, the foam alone is not the trick to creating a desired puff effect. Good puff embroidery requires:

  1. That the beginning and the end of the stitched threads be sufficiently far apart that the foam is left to rise behind the thread.
  2. That the stitch length not be too long. If the stitch length is too long, the threads are at risk of being cut or torn as the garment endures the abrasions of normal wear and tear.
  3. That additional design effects not be placed on top of the thread that is supposed to be raised.
  4. That the design be properly digitized for puff embroidery.

That seems pretty simple at first glance.  But if you think longer about requirements #1, #2, and #3, you will begin to imagine some designs that would not be suitable.

Puff embroidery works best behind something like wide lettering that is maybe 0.25 to 0.33 inches wide (see the photo below and the Humane Society image in our Examples of Embroidery Work).  For a large area like an embroidered image of a hamburger bun, however, it’s going to fail.  Why?  because in order to places stitches across a wide area, the stitch length needs to be broken into smaller stitch lengths in order for the thread to not split or break apart.  This  has the effect of compressing the very same foam that you wanted to have raised behind the thread.  In addition, design elements that are added on top of the large area will also compress the foam.

The best illustration of this comes from a puff embroidered cap that one young intern insisted we purchase for him when we were in New York City.  The photo clearly shows how well the foam worked behind the lettering.  But study closely the basketball.  You can see from the edges that that stitching is raised above the cap.  You can also see how the stitched “seams” of the basketball compress the foam across the raised orange stitching.  That works well here, creating a nice rounded effect for the embroidered basketball.  But if you go back to the hamburger bun example, any sesame seeds added to the bun will add stitches that will compress the foam much like your fingers will compress an actual hamburger bun.



Both the orange lettering and the orange basketball have foam behind them, but the foam can rise higher behind the letters.


So what’s the lesson here in terms of expectations?  Puff embroidery is not a viable solution for every design, but can work amazingly well when it is used to enhance specific elements of a design that meet the right conditions.  If you are still at the stages of having your logo designed and puff stitching is a “must” in your mind, have your graphic design folks talk to an embroidery shop about whether and how 3D stitching could work for you.  Or call us.  We’ll be happy to take a look at your design and talk with you about your options.




Comments 4

  1. I have a puff embroidery logo digitized and am sewing it on a flex fit hat the logo is A’s the down stick of the A will not sew on the seam. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’ve loosened tension ran machine slower moved over off of seam. The A also has 2 borders then I put the puff down then sew center of A. It sews flat nicely. Any advice. Thanks Patti

    1. Post

      Thank you for your question! If the embroidered design is sewing flat nicely, that leads me to ask whether the digitized design was digitized FOR the purposes of puff embroidery. The digitizer should have modified the design somewhat for that purpose.

      But your question seems to be more about the mechanics of sewing across the seam. I don’t know how to answer that for you except to suggest that you explain the issue to your digitizer and see if he/she/they can make an adjustment to the file. We don’t have a ton of issues with cap seams; however, the issues that we do have with caps tend to be thread breaks or occasional needle breaks that usually coincide with the seam.

  2. Is there any body that teaches 3d puff embroidery digitizing…having trouble digitizing…..foam coming out on the sides

    1. Post

      Good question! We’ve had lots of conversations on this matter with subject matter experts we know. Even though our digitizer had some experience with puff embroidery, it’s still a little bit of a trial-and-error process for any given design. What we’ll usually do is offer a client a stitched proof with puff embroidery and one with regular flat stitching. Then they can decide how they want to proceed.

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