So You Want to Design a Bucket Hat
I spent some time in my last post, What Do Magnum PI, Ricky from the Trailer Park Boys, and Hunter S. Thompson Have in Common? talking about the Hawaiian shirt and how I like it as a potential product that I can work with. In this article I'm examining the other strong candidate for creative and commercial attention - the bucket hat. I'll discuss the hat and why I like it, and spend far too much time getting into the weeds of how to design a bucket hat using a couple of different print-on-demand platforms. But first, what is a bucket hat?
(The) bucket hat made its debut in the early 20th century and was worn primarily by fishermen and farmers in Ireland to protect against the rain. They became a part of mainstream fashion during the 80s and 90s, thanks to skate and hip hop subcultures, and are now a popular choice for fashion lovers. The style of the hat is distinctive, with a wide, downward-slanting brim and a flat top. You can find them with shorter sides, and thanks to its flexible fabric construction, you can flip the brim... (50 Best Bucket Hats for Men in 2022, TheTrendSpotter)
Made of fabric that usually is some variation on twill (What Is Twill Fabric? Definition and Characteristics of the Popular Twill Weave), they are pliable, flexible, and foldable. These qualities make them great for traveling and storage, as they can be balled or folded up and then taken out and beat into shape again. Depending on the fabric and its treatment, they can be worn as protection from the rain, the sun, or both, with the brim somewhat sheltering the face and the neck. Currently, all of the big design brands such as Nike, Fendi, Adidas, and even Gucci produce a bucket hat as part of their line up with the company logo prominently displayed. They're not extremely popular at the moment, but they are certainly not going away and will always enjoy traffic because of their utility and versatility if nothing else.
Bucket hats came to my attention recently because of my research into print-on-demand/dropshipping services that offer a lot of print-all-over products. Two of the companies I found, HugePOD and InterestPrint, include a print-all-over bucket hat in their catalog and I was immediately intrigued. I could see right away that it would be an interesting and novel shape/surface to work with and there were a lot of possibilities in terms of applied and graphic design.
Another appealing aspect is that I think they have been underutilized as a piece of tourist swag, specifically for tourists in my neck of the woods, Vancouver. The Lower Mainland and surrounding areas are notorious for rain and unpredictable weather; yesterday went from showers, to sunny breaks, to warm and clear to pelting monsoon within about 6 hours, as can be typical. I imagine many occasions when a visitor to our city is caught by the weather and needs something better than a newspaper to cover their head, or realizes they're going to be walking around in full sun all day and need some UV protection. Either way, I'm thinking the impulse-buy factor is relatively high. I should mention here that I'm bringing up appeal to tourists because that is a direction I want to head in as I try to establish a work-from-home income stream. See The Next Design Series: British Columbia for more details.
Arguing further for the bucket hat is the price point. They are relatively inexpensive compared to other print-on-demand/print-all-over products. InterestPrint has them at a "reseller price" (i.e., sold online through a storefront) of $10.99 USD, and HugePOD has them at $11.21 USD, which are pretty good prices. I haven't run any numbers yet, but I can guess that they would comfortably retail somewhere around $25, maybe even a little higher given the right circumstances.
My current goal is to develop a number of designs with a Vancouver/BC/Southwest Coast aesthetic that evoke this part of the world without being too overt about it or kitschy. In other words, I will be staying away from beavers, Mounties, and maple syrup. I will likely also not be plastering them with city names and such because I would like to appeal to locals as well. I'm less certain about this last point, so we will have to see how it works out.
The shape of this particular kind of hat is distinctive and can be broken down into three main components - the crown (a disc), the bucket (a gently tapered cylinder) and the brim (a cross-section of a shallow cone) The bucket and the brim generally are cut in two halves, for a total of five pieces of fabric. Here's what the design tool showing a template from HugePOD looks like:
Here's the design interface at InterestPrint:
The shapes of the various pieces are more-or-less identical across the two platforms, although they differ in the way each interface accepts images. With HugePOD, you can drape one image over the whole template or float tailored layers over each section. With InterestPrint, dropping an image into the crown will spawn copies of that image for each subsequent section, each one with the same orientation and scale; if necessary, you can then add tailored images to the other sections. I realize that's a bit confusing, so I put together some examples. Here is the HugePOD design tool with one image draped over the whole template:
One of the really superb things about this design tool is that it has a real-time 3D preview window that you can spin around to see all sides; I've included three snapshots of this preview. The unfortunate thing is that this preview is small and fairly low-res, and the previews/mock-ups generated by the site after you save a design are not at all great:
Using Photoshop, Gimp, or similar, you can create a PNG that fits the shape of any piece of fabric and place it where you want it on the template. For example:
On the left is a gallery of the images I've uploaded, the middle is the 3D preview, and the right has the template with one single image draped over the whole thing, as well as one floated image layer for one half of the bucket. You get the idea, I hope.
One thing that I really like about the HugePOD option is that you can pick the colour of the hat, which is then the colour of the hat's interior and also any unprinted areas on the hat's exterior:
Having that choice of base/interior colour is a great asset from a design perspective, diminished somewhat by the limited number of colours available. Still, having 19 options isn't bad. InterestPrint provides even more with 27 colours to choose from, but their previews/mock-ups only show a black interior. I have to assume this is a mistake, and that their pre-printed hats aren't one colour on the exterior and only black on the interior. This could result in my first interaction with their customer service...
The design interface at InterestPrint operates a little differently, allowing you to add an image (or images, as they support layering) to each section of the hat individually:
In the above screen grab, you can see a gallery of my uploads, the piece currently being worked on (the crown), a menu providing access to the other pieces of the hat, and a real-time preview window. There's also a preview menu on the far right, and you can switch to any of those angles at any time. Notably, those previews are exactly the same as the mock-ups that are generated when you save the design. Those previews/mock-ups are not bad - a decent resolution at 1600x1600, they show off most sides of the hat very well, and they will look good in an online store. As always, though, I wish there were more to choose from.
The main difference in the design interface is that each section of the hat is oriented the same way, rather than laid out in a pattern as with HugePOD. One benefit to this approach is that you don't have to be as finicky when creating an image for a particular section; HugePOD requires you to create (e.g.) a brim piece image that is exactly that shape, whereas here you can use a rectangular image that is somewhat larger than the desired shape, and move, resize, rotate or flip it as needed. Combine that with the ability to add text and layers, including transparent PNG layers, and you have a pretty powerful design tool
I selected the tree trunk image in the above examples because of its strong vertical orientation and changed the hue on the left side to give it horizontal orientation as well. This lets you clearly see how the sections in the design interface are assembled to construct the hat. It also helps illustrate the challenges those seams present if you want a seamless-looking design. The different ways that issue can be handled are very interesting to me and could easily be the subject of an entire article, but this particular article is getting long enough. I'll close with an example of a hat I designed that attempts to have seamless transitions across seams, and another example of how you can sidestep this whole issue by using a random/chaotic pattern.
Here is an attempt at seamlessness:
That took a fair bit of work to blend the transitions across the halves of the bucket and, especially, the brim. If you don't feel like doing that work, just avoid the problem by using an image that is random, or chaotic, or patterned in such a way that seams aren't noticeable. For example:
So, there you go. Make yourself a bucket hat, and if you use HugePOD you will get the $11.21 USD price without jumping through any "reseller" hoops. I will be ordering one for myself very shortly, possibly a version of the Misty Forest Ridges design shown above.