Introduction: Making a Leather Patch for a Trucker Hat
In this Instructable, I'll show you how I made a few personalized trucker hats with some leather, glue, and the laser cutter at my local maker space.
If you'd rather watch a build video before jumping into the Instructable, be sure to watch the full video above. If you like it, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so I know this is the type of project people enjoy learning how to make themselves so that I can make more videos like it in the future!
I've included links below to the hats and leather I used, but you can use any blank hat and any leather you want (provided it's real leather – read on for more info)!
Step 1: Gather Materials and Supplies
The materials for personalizing a trucker hat with your custom leather patch are pretty basic. Just a blank trucker hat, a piece of leather, and some glue. You'll of course also need a digital file of the design you want on your leather patch and access to a laser cutter – I used the one at my local maker space, and if you're located anywhere near a decent sized city, there are likely similar maker spaces near you that you can join.
Many universities and libraries also have lasers that may be available to you!
I actually made two different hats in this Instructable – one with brown suede leather on a black hat, and another white leather on a light grey hat. I've included links to both below if you want to check out what I used.
- Laser cutter
- Painters tape
Step 2: Be Safe by Avoiding Fake Leather
I had only briefly experimented with leather on the laser when I made these, but one thing they drill into your head when taking the initial laser training class at the maker space I attend is that you can only cut and etch real animal-hide leather on the laser.
That is to say, no faux leather. The reason is because faux leather is often made from a type of PVC, which, when cut with the heat and energy of the laser releases chlorine gas.
That’s not only bad for you, of course, but it’s also highly corrosive to the laser internals. So don’t try it, even if you have really good ventilation!
Step 3: Prep Your Design for the Laser
Before etching your logo or other design, you'll probably want to do a little file prep on the design.
I learned long ago that designs with super fine details in the black portion of the design – that is, small areas that wouldn’t be etched surrounded entirely by areas that would be etched – sometimes need to be “beefed up” when laser etching to compensate for the laser beam charring the area around them.
To beef them up, open the logo in Adobe Illustrator, select the affected paths, and then perform an offset paths operation. This effectively expands the bounds of the selected path by whatever measurement you enter. I selected 0.05 inches, which is about 1.5 millimeteres for my metric friends out there.
In the clip above, I show what mine looked like before expanding, and after. It’s very subtle, but it helps make the thin strokes buried in a sea of black look how they’re supposed to look.
And one last note about this operation is that it’s something you’ll want to do after sizing your artwork to the size you plan on cutting it, not before, otherwise the 0.05 inches measurement for offset will be way too big or way too small, since it’s a relative offset based on your artwork’s current size. I had scaled my logo to 2.5 inches which I determined was a good size for a circular patch on a trucker hat, so my offset was relative to that.
Step 4: Tape and Mask Your Leather
If you're etching away large portions of leather (i.e. your design has a lot of black in it) it's probably a good idea to mask your leather with painters tape to prevent smoke and other residue from marring the surface that isn't etched. I ended up doing this with my white leather but not my brown, suede leather, which I'll explain later.
Step 5: Laser Etch Your Patches
Lasering leather is pretty straightforward, and a low power setting on the laser is all that is required to etch the surface. The cutout pass requires a bit more energy, and it's best to do the cutout in a few faster, less powerful passes than one stronger pass.
If you're simply etching details rather than etching around details, you can perhaps avoid the masking in the previous step. In the images here, the white leather job was etching all the areas around the words in my logo, where the brown leather was etching the inverse version of my logo, and the words themselves were being etched. Play around and see what works best for your design, and possibly invert the artwork if needed.
A cautionary tale about laser etching leather...
Real leather is quite literally, cow hide. Have you ever scorched your knuckle hair while messing with fireworks or toasting marshmallows over a campfire? If so, you’re familiar with the putrid smell that is burnt hair. Well bad news – hair and skin are both made up of similar proteins, such as keratin, meaning laser etching leather smells like burnt hair. It stinks, suffice to say!
The patch will stink for a few days but it dissipates rather quickly.
Step 6: Clean Up Your Patches
After the laser is done doing all the hard work, it's time to clean up the leather!
If you masked your design, you're going to need to remove all the itsy bitsy pieces of tape. To make this step easier on yourself, I recommend taping down a piece of painters tape, adhesive side up, to hold your patch and then use pieces of a stronger tape to rip off the various pieces of tape trapped in your design.
If there is any smoke residue, a paper towel dampened with rubbing alcohol wipes this right away.
If you etched away a particularly large amount of leather and you have access to one, I recommend using an air compressor to blow any fine dust out of your design. A can of compressed air would work as well!
Step 7: Apply Glue to Your Patch
With our patch(es) made, it's finally time to get them adhered to our hat!
I’m not sure what the big wigs in the custom trucker hat industry use, but after a little research, I decided to use clear E6000. It’s an all-around good all-purpose adhesive that can be used on fabrics, and when it’s fully cured it’s still somewhat flexible, meaning it won't cause the hat to be overly stiff or rigid where the patch is applied, allowing it to still follow the curvature of the hat.
Apply a heavy layer of the E6000 onto the back side of the leather patch, then use a scrap piece of wood, toothpick, or chopstick and spread the adhesive evenly all over the back to fully saturate it.
Step 8: Apply Patch to Your Hat and "Clamp"
Wearing rubber gloves, carefully lift your now very sticky patch and apply it to your hat.
After its in place, use a few pieces of painters tape to hold it in place. This tape doesn't need to be holding down the patch fully, just enough to not let it slide around.
To fully hold the patch down to the surface of the hat, we're going to get a little creative. I decided to place the hats patch-side down on the edge of my table with a heavy quart mason jar of home-canned chicken stock placed inside to hold the surface of the hat flat with the patch as the adhesive cured. You obviously don't need to use exactly that, but anything heavy like a jug of water that can fit inside the hat while the adhesive cures is all you need. Leave to cure for at least 24 hours.
Step 9: Add More Glue, If Necessary
After curing, inspect your patch to see if its fully adhered. I didn't get enough glue in a few areas so it peeled up in spots, so I applied more by masking nearby areas and applying it to the underside of the patch.
Remove the tape before allowing to cure again otherwise the tape could get stuck permanently to the hat.
Step 10: Show Off Your New Hat
That's it! I’m absolutely thrilled with how these hats turned out, and I can’t wait to wear them in my future YouTube videos and around the shop. I hope you enjoyed my write-up about the project!
Be sure to watch the video above for more details, and if you like it please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel for more projects like this.