When you’re trying to produce socks with intricate designs, there are really only two ways to go: either the design is knitted into the socks at production (like our Dreamer Jacquard Flower Vine OTKs), or it’s added later through some form of printing. Today, we’re going to look at two of the crispest printing techniques: Sublimation Printing and 360 Degree Digital Printing.

The term sublimation is used in chemistry to describe the transition of a substance directly from solid form to vapor, without going through a liquid phase. In printing, this refers to the ink, which begins as a solid substance on transfer paper, and is pressed into the fabric at a high heat, causing it to bond with the fibers and infuse the fabric. This creates a hardier, deeper print than with processes such as screen printing, which only leave color on the top surface of the fabric. Sublimation printing creates richer images that are closer to photographic detail, and which aren’t in danger of cracking or rubbing off. This is especially important for socks, since they go through so much daily wear and tear.

In order for this process to work, the fabric must be synthetic, which is why you’re unlikely to see this kind of crisp print on cotton or other natural-blend socks. You see it used a lot on trouser socks and synthetic tights and leggings.

Most sublimation printing is done using flat surfaces. This allows for a lot of surface coverage, but does create very defined “seam” lines. That doesn’t mean that it can’t lead to great products, but it does mean that there are restrictions when it comes to what type of pattern or image you can reproduce.

The Cat & Music Crews by Wendy Costa are a great example of Sublimation. With bright colors and an intricate, whimsical design, the seams are barely noticeable, and the effect is lovely.

Another great use of Sublimation is in the Black Rose Printed Footless Tights, which use the crisp printing to look almost like tattoos.

Sublimation printing is used in clothing production for polyester shirts, leggings, and even hats, but is also used for banners and flags. Once you know the signs of sublimation printing, you’ll start seeing it everywhere!

Recently, a few companies have adapted the 360 Degree Digital Printing technique. With this method, the sock is stretched around a cylinder, which allows the printer to lay out the image with virtually no visible seam. We found a really cool video of the technique, here.

K.Bell has really been making use of this technique, with some lovely new socks like the Peacock Feathers Knee Highs.

Their Colorful Cats Midcalves are another great example, with vibrant colors that are hard to beat.

Just look at those beauties! So far we’ve only seen a few companies utilizing the new 360 Degree technology, but we’re excited to see more manufacturers take up this technique. With all the advancements in printing technology, there are sure to be even more possibilities in the future!