When I started at Sock Club in 2019, I thought, “What did I get myself into?”. I was fresh out of college and scared to death of starting a new job. I completed my Bachelor's degree in Graphic Design and was thrilled to start using my education in the real world. However, the thought of actually applying my skills scared me.
Sock Club was the first job I had applied for right out of college. I was familiar with Sock Club because my university had designed custom socks with logo with them that I had always thought were so cute.
I didn’t hear back from them for about 5 months until I got an Instagram DM from one of my old college classmates saying, “Hey girl, I saw that you had applied for a sock designer position at Sock Club, are you still interested? I currently work there as a custom sock designer.” I immediately said yes, went through the interview process and was hooked.
I could custom design socks for some of the top music artists in the country? For some of my favorite brands? I was sold. I interviewed with some of the senior designers who seemed like the coolest people I had ever met.
I was also extremely intrigued that the socks were fully knit and the design challenges that posed. I walked out of that interview thinking, “Wow, I want this job so bad”.
Designing for Print vs. Designing for Knitting
A few of the designers in the interview had explained to me that designing a fully woven sock was a bit different from my traditional graphic design background. Graphic design is already an extremely broad term covering many different techniques and practices, but for the most part, graphic designers work in vector artwork.
Vector artwork is art that's made up of vector graphics. These graphics are points, lines, curves, and shapes that are based on mathematical formulas. To put it in layman's terms, a vector is a shape that you can manipulate and scale freely without the resolution of the object decreasing or degrading.
There are few limitations to designing in vector format which is why most graphic designers use it, particularly in Adobe programs such as Illustrator and Photoshop. I was most familiar with Illustrator as that had been the program I primarily used in my college education.
The branded socks designers in the interview continued to explain that designing socks with logos requires a different type of artwork – bitmapped artwork. I had never heard of a bitmap before until they said, “think of a Nintendo video game. All those pixel characters and scenery? That’s in an 8-bit design format or what we call bitmapping.”
They go on to explain that that’s how they design the fully knit socks and that the designers are more like Production Artists. They translate all the artwork given to them by the client into a bitmapped version as one single pixel is equal to one stitch of yarn.
I remember sitting there trying to wrap my head around the concept. It seemed simple in theory, right? That is, until my first week at Sock Club.
Think about this – I had gone from four years of learning how to design vector artwork which is scalable and much more fluid to a very rigid and finite method. Designing in pixels limits a designer in ways that vector artwork doesn’t.
There’s also limitations to how many colors and how much detail you can stitch into a sock as it’s a knitted garment. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit daunting that first week reprogramming my brain on how to design in this new way, but the more I practiced, the more I fell in love with the challenge.
Fast forward to my four years at Sock Club, and I’m dreaming in pixels, looking at billboards thinking, “that would be fun to bitmap”, and even doing my own personal pixel art outside of the office. There is something so satisfying when you can turn a logo or an image into a pixel version that translates well to the viewer, especially when it’s on a physical item like a sock.
How To Put A Logo On Socks In Stitches
Now that I’ve been a designer at Sock Club for some time, I’ve become somewhat of an expert designing socks. I’ve been fortunate enough to train our new hires on all things sock design and my favorite part is teaching them how to bitmap as most people don’t have that skill.
The first thing I do is set up a Photoshop document with a few simple logos (we work primarily in Photoshop for all of our bitmapping as it allows us to save the correct production files that we send to our mills). I then use the pencil tool to essentially trace over the logo with a color that contrasts against the logo. I’ll then later replace those colors with our yarn colors that match the branded colors of the logo.
You’ll notice that the logo I’m tracing over looks quite blurry. Our job as sock experts is to trace over those edges as precisely as we can and make adjustments so the final bitmapped logo looks as accurate to the original logo as possible. This takes custom sock manufacturers lots of practice to get good at!
Something I try to teach everyone I train is that symmetry is your best friend when bitmapping. If there are symmetrical shapes such as the two same sided curves on the logo border, you only need to bitmap one side, replicate it and flip it. You will see me do this several times throughout the video. Another version of this is copying parts of the “E” and making the “B” out of that shape.
The design team gets very familiar with the shapes and how we can bitmap a logo as efficiently and quickly as possible as logos typically take us the longest to translate. Not all logos translate into stitches well, either.
Logos that have words on a curve, that have a lot of detail/colors or small letters (such as taglines) typically have to be edited so that they can be legible in a knitted format.
That’s why getting the hang of bitmapping is so important because it’s easier to make those tough calls when we have a bit of a tricky logo. You’d be surprised how quickly we can make the highest quality design that is eye-catching and and still honors the brand’s identity once we are experts in bitmapping!
Bitmapping is the entire technical foundation of how we design custom logo socks here at Sock Club. All of our designers have innate creative abilities, but the technicality of bitmapping is something that is practiced, learned, and earned.
Once a designer has really gotten the hang of bitmapping, we can then focus on all the limitations that sock designing presents such as, number of yarn colors on a sock, the level of complexity in a logo or pattern, logo placement/size, whether it’s crew socks or athletic socks, brand identity, etc. I’ll save those trade secrets for another time though ;)