Introduction to designing socks for Knit-in graphics

Sock design is very different than designing other types of merchandise. Most graphic designers work only with vector formats, which can be scaled up or down without losing any resolution. This is great for most things, but it does not translate to sock design. The machines we use to knit the designs into your sock, require the artwork to be in bitmap format. Bitmap format is much more limited that vector formats, and requires a little more finesse to get right. In this article, we’ll go through some tips, and best practices you can use for designing your socks.

Design Limitations

Firstly, it’s best to think of all sock designs as pixelating. Most of the machines use to knit your socks will use 168 needles; the higher the needle count, the higher the resolution (For easy reference, think of a needle as a pixel).  So, 168 will be the max amount of horizontal pixels available to design your socks. Your design will only be as detailed as you can make it using those 168 pixels. You can see below what happens to vector artwork once it pixelates… it loses some of it’s smoother edges, crispness and font structure. This will happen to all artwork, so keep that in mind when thinking about what kind of design you want to put on your sock.

sock source logo. custom socks manufacturere

sock source logo pixelated. Custom sock design logo

Because of this distortion that happens when the design is pixelated, there are a few common things we advise clients not to go for on their design:

  • complex fonts
    • typically, there is simply not enough resolution to represent complex font’s accents. If it is absolutely necessary, it’s best to take up as much space on the sock as possible with the font. Another option would be to move those fonts to the packaging, instead of the sock itself.
  • color gradients
    • since colors cannot blend well in bitmap format, gradients typically do not come well once knit. For this reason, we advise against them.
  • high complexity logos
    • logos with shadows, small definition points, gradients. If you’ve ever seen the original Apple computer logo, this would be a perfect example of a logo that would not work on a sock. (see below)

apple company logo


Color Limitations

The array of colors you see when looking at a knit sock are actually the different colors of each individual yarn used. This means that the colors available to use your for your sock design, are only as expansive as the color of yarns that we stock. Luckily, we stock over 50+ dyed yarn for you to use to design your sock with. If you have not yet received it, please ask for our color guide and we will happily provide it so you know what colors are available to use.

Typically, we do not custom dye yarns for clients to match a certain pantone as this adds cost and extra time. However, if you are not on a strict timeline, and are ordering over 1000 pairs, please discuss this option with your sales rep if it is necessary.

The other main limitation when it comes to colors is the amount of different colors you can use on each row. Each row, or course, of your sock can only use 6 different colors. This has to do with know many thread feeders are used on each machine. The fewer feeeders, the fewer amount of different color yarns you can use per course.


Physical Features Limitations

There are certain features on socks that do not lend themselves towards displaying designs correctly. For example: our athletic cushion chassis has ribbing through the leg, and an elastic arch support band in the foot. These features are great for comfort, but can distort logos if too complex. The flat knit dress chassis has no ribbing, which would display the design in it’s purest form with little to no distortion.