Exploring Innovations in Custom Patches

Exploring Innovations in Custom Patches

Published Aug 18, 2023 by Rick Cundiff

When it comes to embroidered and woven patches, it might seem like there’s nothing new under the sun. After all, there’s nothing really complicated about a piece of cotton twill backing and some thread, right?

Think again. In recent years, there have been a number of innovations in patch types, accessories and materials that have changed the patch landscape.

Some changes, such as PVC and reflective patches have been around for a while. Others, including LED patches, interactive patches and QR code patches are new, products of the digital revolution. Let’s examine some of the big ideas in  the world of custom patches, and how your organization can benefit.

Patches 101 – Some History

Before considering the new, let’s review patch basics. You know patches themselves are nothing new. Custom patches have been around for more than 100 years.

While they used to be hand-stitched and typically a one-at-a-time proposition, high speed embroidery machines introduced in the last century enabled mass production. That resulted in an explosion of custom patches of all kinds. Name patches, military insignia patches, snarky morale patches, you name it and it turned into a patch.

Embroidered vs. Woven

There are a few differences between embroidered and woven patches, which can affect the look of your patches. Embroidered patches feature embroidery thread on a twill backing material. Woven patches use thinner thread, generally without a twill backing, making them able to include more detail than a woven patch can at a given size.

PVC Patches

One of the biggest innovations in custom patches, particularly for military patches, was the creation of PVC patches in the mid-20th century. Made from a soft, rubber-like plastic, PVC patches offer significant advantages over traditional embroidered or woven patches.

For starters, PVC patches are rugged enough to withstand difficult environments. That makes them ideal for military deployments in harsh climates, battlefield conditions and rough terrain.

Unlike embroidered or woven patches, PVC patches hold up to rain, sun, wind and heat without fading, fraying, cracking or peeling. They’re also easy to clean.

One major advantage to PVC patches is that they can feature much more detail than other patch types. They can even have a 3D effect. That makes them ideal for promoting bands, brands and organizations with intricate logo designs.

The Computer Era 

By the late 1980s, microprocessors made patch production even easier and faster. Computer controlled machines could take a digital image and turn it into a single patch or a hundred thousand, all produced to precisely the same standard.

Newer patches today take that precision to an even higher standard, and make many of the innovations we note below possible.

Digital Printed Patches

With the advent of digital printers in the late 20th century, printing on paper became fast, easy and cheap. As technology advanced, those printers were able to be used on fabric as well.

By the early 2000s, it became possible to print full-color, top-quality images directly onto fabric. And the digital printed patch was born.

Digital printed patches allow for greater detail and more color than any other patch style. That’s made them increasingly popular in recent years among bands, companies, schools and other groups.

Digital printing allows for color gradients, something that’s not effectively possible with other patch types. That offers more color flexibility for intricate designs and logos.

In comparison, PVC patches, while offering far more detail that woven or embroidered patches, allow much less detail and color variation than digital printed.

On the other hand, PVC patches tend to be much more durable and able to withstand harsh conditions than the digital printed style. PVC patches also offer a 3D option, something not possible with digital printing.

LED Patches

Another new innovation is the creation of LED patches. These incorporate small, battery-powered light emitting diodes into the patch. The glow from the LEDs adds a dramatic, eye-catching appeal. While relatively rare, these are popular for concerts, special promotions and events.

Interactive Patches

Interactive patches are the newest innovation in custom patch types. These patches can feature a QR code or bar code that can be read with a smartphone. The code can open a website on the viewer’s phone for information or sales.

It can also be programmed to show wearer information that could prove valuable in an emergency – blood type, identification, home address and other data. That makes it a useful military tool.

The QR code patch – which can be embroidered, woven, PVC or digital printed – requires certain characteristics to be readable. It must be large enough to contain the desired information. It must display the code clearly and legibly. A distorted, inaccurate or blurred code won’t scan properly, wasting the effort and resources put into it. For those reasons, it’s important to test any such code before implementing it.

Once the code is properly tested, it can be put to use in the field. The military benefits are obvious, but private organizations also can benefit. The codes can enable customers to claim discounts or find out more about a product. Bands can use the codes to showcase new music. Colleges and universities can offer information for prospective students on custom t-shirts with the code on a sleeve.

Integration is the Key to Success

That’s just a sample of the many innovations in custom patches in recent years. We’re confident custom patches will find more new styles, materials and functions in coming years. Patches are versatile enough to represent many innovations and new ideas at any given time.

There’s no downside to innovating with patches as a part of your overall marketing strategy. Even so, it’s worth remembering the value of classic patches as well. There’s no need to go high tech every time.

A well-designed and properly manufactured traditional embroidered or woven custom patch can still effectively convey your message. Whether new or time-tested, keep in mind that patches work best as part of an integrated, multi-faceted marketing strategy. In a highly competitive market, you can’t go wrong with using custom patches of all kinds to boost your market presence and brand awareness.