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The Best Way to Use Puff to Advance Your Designs

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Puff is making a comeback—here's what you need to know about using this effect in your designs.

While we’re no Vogue or Vanity Fair, we try to keep a finger on the pulse of apparel/fashion trends—because we think incorporating current trends into your designs (for custom t-shirts and beyond) can make a huge impact for your brand. 

One thing we’ve been seeing a ton more of lately: puff, everywhere. From puff screen printing to puff embroidery, texture and dimension have seen monumental growth lately. We touched on it in a recent blog post on Winter fashion trends—but since publishing that piece, we’ve had multiple puff orders come in and felt that it may be worth diving into a little bit more. So with that: here’s everything you ever wanted to know about puff, and how to incorporate it into your next design. 

What is puff ink? 

Puff ink is a type of screen printing ink that has been mixed with a heat-activated foaming agent. The ink gets printed on flat, just like a standard print—but then, as the garment goes down the dryer, the ink expands and begins to puff upward. This puff method is especially effective on custom t-shirts, hoodies, and crewneck sweatshirts. 

How to use puff ink in your next design

Puff ink printing works pretty similarly to standard printing (and you can use it on most base garments/fabrics), up until the drying process. However, it presents some unique opportunities for customizing your design. Let’s say you have a 2-color design—perhaps you choose to print one color in standard water based ink, and the other color in puff for emphasis/impact. Contrasting your puff design with other flat elements can make the puff elements stand out even more! 

A good rule of thumb when it comes to puff ink is the bigger/thicker the better. Puff shines in larger applications—chunky text with heavy lines, larger design elements, etc. Smaller elements and thin lines may be more susceptible to warping, and won’t have as much 3D impact as a larger design. The rewards of printing puff on a fine-line design may not outweigh the risks. 

One additional (potential) challenge to note regarding puff ink: color-matching. The additive that makes your design puff up off of the fabric can also slightly alter the color of the ink—making it hard to create a perfect Pantone match in some cases (although it’s still really close).

What about puff embroidery? 

A puff embroidered look is accomplished through the use of a foam cut-out in the shape of your design, covered in a thick layer of embroidery using standard thread in the color of your choice. The thread weaves over and around the foam, covering it completely and creating a sleek 3D effect. This method is especially impactful on custom hats, polos, and zip-ups.  

How to use puff embroidery in your next design

The same advice that we give for puff ink usage applies here as well—the thicker the lines, the better. We also find that using puff embroidery in small doses tends to achieve the best results—think the front of a hat, the left/right chest of a shirt or sweater, etc.—although we’ve produced custom sweatshirts with full-front designs in puff (like the hoodie pictured above), as well! 

Why puff? 

  • Bold & unique - In a world where competing to stand out is harder than ever, puff is perfect for statement pieces and for taking a simple design to the next level. 
  • Minimum effort, maximum impact - The fact that simple designs thrive in puff ink applications is great news for you (and your design team). You’d be surprised at how much wow factor puff adds to even basic block text across the chest of a t-shirt or sweatshirt. Save yourself the stress of having to create a totally unique design, and instead let the puff take care of turning heads. 
  • Get ahead of the wave - Puff in apparel has been around for a while but is growing in popularity currently—and that growth is only expected to continue. Incorporating puff into your design now will help you get ahead of the inevitable wave of puff that we’ll see in the next 6 months.   

Taking care of your puff design 

With all specialty customization methods, we recommend special care for puff designs—both printed and embroidered. 

To take care of your puff print and make it last as long as possible, we recommend washing it inside out in cold water. Applying any kind of high heat to the garment (standard tumble drying, ironing, direct steaming, etc.) could alter the puff effect, so drying on a cool setting or hang-drying will go a long way in increasing longevity. 

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