Hats are one of the hardest things to embroider, and many people who are new to the embroidery hobby quickly find that their machine is just not up to the task. So, before we proceed, what KIND of hats do you want to embroider on?
Structured vs Unstructured Hats
Pretty much ANY home embroidery machine can embroider on unstructured hats. That’s because these hats can be smashed down flat and placed in the hoop. This definition applies to things like baseball caps, dad hats, beanies, bucket hats, etc.
A structured hat needs to be embroidered on without it being flatten, otherwise embroidery quality suffers and the hat won’t retain its shape afterwards. This includes flex fit hats, and other high-profile hats that require reinforcement inside of them for the hat to be shaped correctly.
How Do You Embroider On Structured Hats?
If you want to embroider on structured hats, then you will need a machine which has a free arm setup rather than a flatbed one.
Unfortunately, these machines are not ever cheap. You’ll be paying thousands of dollars to get this kind of functionality. So, if you’re looking to embroider hats on a budget… stick to dad caps, bucket hats, beanies and similar models.
However, if you’re starting a business and you’re willing to invest… a free arm machine is fantastic to have. They allow you to have complete control of the embroidery process, which you can see above. You’ll be able to embroider all the way across the front of the hat, creating a high-end embroidery that flat bed machines just can’t compete with.
OKAY, now that we’ve got that out of the way. Here are our top picks for both kinds of machines!
Flatbed Machines (Most Budget Friendly)
Brother PE550D – $439.99
Looking for the cheapest embroidery machine you can get your hands on? The Brother PE550D is it. This cute little machine will cost you just $439 brand new, making it one of the most affordable machines on the market!
This is a Disney branded machine, and it includes 125 built-in embroidery designs (including 45 free Disney embroidery designs). However, even if you’re not a Disney fan – this machine is an exceptional deal and it’s a great starter machine.
This machine also features 9 built-in fonts, including 3 Japanese fonts for personalizing your creations! You’ll also get an automatic needle threader, needle up/down, and a 3.2 inch color touch screen – which is honestly a lot of great features for the price point of this machine.
The included USB port makes it easy to upload custom designs and start embroidering your creations. In the above video, you can see how the process works. Fortunately, this machine is very user-friendly.
So, what’s not to love about the Brother 550D? Well, you’ll be limited to a 4″ x 4″ embroidery area. For hats, this is fine, but if you plan to make items with larger designs later, like hoodies or sweatshirts… you may want to upgrade to a machine with at least a 5″ x 7″ embroidery area instead.
Brother PE800 – $899.99
The Brother PE800 is a great little machine, but ONLY if you want to embroider on unstructured hats! It offers a generous 5″ x7″ embroidery area, it’s very easy to use, and there are tons and tons of tutorials for it on Youtube, because it’s one of the most popular models around!
If you think you’d like to expand beyond hats in the future… I’d recommend this model over the PE550D. Having a 5″ x 7″ embroidery field will offer you a lot more options, and it’s better to spend the extra money if you think you’ll want to make larger designs eventually.
As far as embroidery machines go, it’s actually very affordable for everything it offers, has great stitch quality, and the on-screen editor is very easy to use for swapping thread colors, rotating designs, etc.
It also includes excellent premium features: like an automatic needle threader, USB port for uploading custom designs, 138 built-in designs, 7 embroidery fonts, and a jam-resistant bobbin.
On the negative side, it doesn’t come with digitization software (for making designs), and it’s a tad slower than pricier machines at 650 stitches per minute, but should be fine for most people.
Brother NS1150 – $899.99
This is a newer machine that is very similar to the PE800. However, this machine has more fonts (including Japanese fonts) and adjustable speed. Though its max is still 650 stitches per minute like the PE800).
You won’t find quite as many tutorials for it on Youtube compared to the PE800, but it operates in a similar manner and availability for this machine seems to be a lot better.
In the above video, you can see a tutorial of how to embroider on a hat using this machine.
Baby Lock Alliance – $4,999
While the Baby Lock Alliance doesn’t look affordable at first glance, it really is for a machine in its class. This is one of the only home machine you’ll find that truly allows you to embroider on hats the way a professional machine would for a fraction of the price.
A professional machine for free arm hat embroidery would run you $10,000 or more, but the Baby Lock Alliance is a single-needle machine aimed at consumers, or people who want to run a small Etsy-style embroidery business out of their home.
The free arm you saw in the first part of the article is from this machine! As you can see, it rotates freely across the entire front of the hat – giving you coverage options a flatbed machine simply can’t.
This machine also not only allows for hats, but it also embroiders on pretty much anything else you can imagine like bulky bags, jackets, etc. Because you’re not limited by the hoop like flatbeds are.
The Baby Lock Alliance also stitches at 1,100 stitches per minute, and it automatically cuts all of your jump cuts – so there’s no clean up work for you to do like with most flatbed machines.
In short, if you’re looking to start a home-business, the Alliance is a fantastic machine, that’s actually a good deal for everything it does. However, if you’re looking for a personal use machine, it’s probably out of the price range you’re looking for.
Brother SE625 – $369 (Refurbished)
Okay, but what if you need a REALLY cheap embroidery machine for hats. Well, that’s probably the Brother SE625. It can be had for as little as $369 refurbished.
So, what’s the catch? Well, this is an older model and availability for the machine is kind of spotty. You will likely need to find a used model and they are not always available. If you don’t want to wait or if you want a new machine, then I’d recommend the newer 550D instead.
However, if you need a cheap embroidery machine that also sews and you can afford to wait… this machine is an exceptional deal.
You’ll also have to deal with being limited to a 4″ x 4″ embroidery area, but the quality of the machine is great, especially for the price.
This is plenty big enough to do flat hat designs, pocket tees, etc. but if you’re looking to do bigger hoodie and sweatshirt designs – you’re going to cap out creatively here pretty quickly.
If you think this would be the case for you, then I’d spend a bit more on the Brother 1150 for the larger 5″ x 7″ embroidery area.
Tanya is a stay at home mom who blogs online to earn a bit of extra income from her hobbies. She also loves working on projects which she can involve her two kids in and teach them the valuable life-skill of sewing.