What is 3D Puff Embroidery and How to Do It Like a Pro

Have you seen ballcaps with raised embroidery? Although intimidating to some crafters, this is called 3D embroidery, puff embroidery, or sometimes foam embroidery. The raised, 3-dimensional look is achieved by placing foam under the fabric of an embroidery design. 

embroidery design

What is 3D Embroidery (Puffy Foam)

Embroidery, meaning to sew embellishments onto fabric, is a popular craft for decorating clothing. Traditional embroidery techniques involve creating a flat design where the thread lays directly against the cloth. Puff or 3D embroidery is a technique where the thread is sewn over a foam piece to create a raised design.

Many embroidery shops offer puffy foam for embroidery on ball caps and other garments that are washed infrequently. Puff embroidery is not well-suited for clothing that is regularly washed or dry-cleaned. The heat cycles will cause the foam to break down.

3D embroidery requires more materials, special skills, and more time, so there is typically an additional cost for these designs.

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How to Choose a Design for Puff Embroidery

With a 3D embroidery design, you need up to one inch of additional length on your stitches, so you can only use designs that are specifically digitized for puff embroidery. Puff embroidery works best for designs on hats because washing exposes the foam to high heat temperatures less frequently. 

Baseball Hats


Due to the small space available, puff embroidery also works best with simple designs like block letters. It also works best on a sturdy backing like thick canvas ballcaps. Simple designs with bold, wide satin stitches will work with puff embroidery. Satin stitches are preferred as they do not compress the foam as much, allowing for more dimension in the finished design. 

Proper 3D puff embroidery digitizing requires more coverage density, adding stops for your machine, and capping for satin stitches. While many experienced crafters have been able to rework their old patterns, you can save a lot of time using puffy embroidery software.

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What Do You Need to Create a 3D Foam Embroidery?

If you are looking to expand your embroidery business, the good news is that 3D Foam embroidery uses the same tools and machines that you already own. You will need to choose the right foam to work with and get a little practice in before you open up your shop, but it should be fairly easy to implement.

You will need:

  • A computer with graphic design software to digitize your designs
  • Embroidery Foam
  • Commercial Embroidery Machine
  • Embroidery Hoops
  • Embroidery Thread

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What Type of Foam Works Best?

For foam embroidery, you want to work with a sturdy material to hold up to regular wear. However, very dense or thick foam is hard to sew and may not perforate well. High-density embroidery foam is relatively thin and easy to work with. It is similar to craft foam, but you won't risk buying something with backings or adhesives that make machine embroidery difficult.

Embroidery Thread

Why Do You Need a Commercial 3D Embroidery Machine?

Commercial machines can handle high-volume output while turning out the highest quality designs. If you are operating an embroidery business, you will need a commercial-grade machine. If you haven't already invested in one, the addition of foam embroidery will be more tasking on your current machine and may require longer needles, so now is a good time to upgrade.

How to Sew a 3D Embroidery Design

Sewing a puff embroidery design is similar to traditional embroidery, with a few notable changes to account for the foam insert.

  1. Digitize your logo or letter using graphic design software.
  2. Set up your embroidery machine on manual mode, setting the orientation and thread color.
  3. Position your garment on the embroidery machine.
  4. Embroider all flat pieces.
  5. Embroider a border around your puff design to create a base layer.
  6. Place your foam piece directly over the embroidered outline and tape it to the garment.
  7. Embroider the puffy foam piece.
  8. Remove excess foam pieces.

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Tips to Get Started with Puffy Foam Embroidery

Although it is similar to other techniques, puff embroidery hats take a little practice to get used to sewing with a dimensional design. Here are some quick tips to skip some of the frustration that comes with trying something new.

  • Make sure you are working with digitizing software specifically for puff embroidery.
  • Allow extra time for trial and error with new designs. Differences in the digital file, machine settings, and materials can slow things down.
  • Use sticky tape when applying foam to your design. The tape will hold it in place while the machine sews.
  • Embroider all of the design's flat parts first, add a stop to the machine, then the outline and another stop, and last, the raised design.
  • Remove excess foam after stitching the outline. The outline stitches will perforate the foam and make it easy to separate, leaving only your design on the project surface.
  • Keep a pair of nippers and a heat gun handy. If you have any stragglers or ill-fitting foam pieces, you can clean those up after the machine sews the stitches.
  • Stick with satin stitches across the foam.
  • Use a sharp needle with foam embroidery to pierce the extra foam layer easily for a clean design.

Foam or 3D embroidery is a technique to create a raised or dimensional design. Using embroidery foam, your machine can create longer stitches to embroider a design over a raised surface. This technique does not work well on t-shirts but is common for hats, bags, or any surface that can provide a sturdy backing.

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