What's the best fabric for t-shirts when selling shirts online? The t-shirt fabric you choose affects how your design looks, how your shirts feel, and how long your t-shirts last. Quality fabric can increase customer satisfaction and sales, while inferior selections can cost you business. Here's a guide to what you need to know to choose the best fabric for t-shirts for your print on demand business.
The best fabrics for t-shirts include cotton, polyester, and cotton/polyester blends.
Cotton t-shirt fabric is soft, comfortable, biodegradable, and easy to print on. On the other hand, it takes a long time to dry and shrinks in the wash.
Polyester t-shirt fabric dries quickly, resists wrinkles, and stays durable. However, it's more expensive than cotton, it can irritate some wearers' skin, it isn't biodegradable, and it limits t-shirt printing options.
Cotton/polyester blends cost less than pure polyester, share the softness and comfort of cotton, and share the quick-drying durability of polyester, but it can irritate some wearers, it clings, it isn't biodegradable, and it limits t-shirt printing options.
When selecting t-shirt fabrics, consider comfort, weight, fit, longevity, climate sustainability, and cost.
Cotton is superior in quality and comfort, but polyester dries faster.
The most popular t-shirt fabric materials are cotton, polyester, and cotton/polyester blends. Each type of material has its own pros and cons. Cotton has an advantage in comfort, environmental friendliness, and cost. Polyester dries faster and lasts longer. Cotton/polyester blends combine the strengths of both materials with the weaknesses of polyester. Below we'll delve deeper into each material, its characteristics, and its pros and cons.
Cotton is a natural fabric. It comes in several main varieties that vary in softness, comfort, durability, and sustainability. Cotton has the advantage over other t-shirt fabrics in softness, comfort, environmental friendliness, cost, and t-shirt printing options.
Cotton's main weaknesses stem from its tendency to hold moisture. Cotton can take a long time to dry. It tends to wrinkle and shrink and fades in color over time.
Cotton t-shirts can be made from several types of cotton, including:
Combed and ringspun cotton
Ringspun cotton: Ringspun cotton goes through a spinning process that straightens, thins, and softens each fiber. This makes it softer, more durable than regular cotton, and more expensive.
Combed and ringspun cotton: Combed and ringspun cotton adds a combing process to ringspun cotton. This removes impurities and makes the material even softer and less likely to fray or unravel. It also creates a smoother surface for printing designs. The additional processing increases the cost, making it more expensive than ringspun cotton.
Organic cotton: Organic cotton uses sustainable production methods, avoiding toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. It offers an eco-friendly alternative to regular cotton that can be even softer and just as durable. It costs more than standard cotton.
Slub cotton: Slub cotton is produced with knots and twists, giving the fabric an uneven look and feel. This creates an appealing appearance and texture while making t-shirts more breathable and reducing cling. Slub cotton costs slightly more than regular cotton.
Pima cotton: Pima cotton has a longer fiber than other types of cotton. This gives it an ultra-smooth, ultra-soft feel, along with resistance to wrinkling and fading and longer durability. Pima cotton is considered one of the highest quality kinds of cotton, making it more expensive.
Pique cotton: Pique cotton uses a weaving style that gives fabric raised designs in parallel cords or geometric shapes. This creates a textured look and feels along with durability. Pique cotton often serves as fabric for polo t-shirts. It can be woven from Pima cotton. It costs more than some other types of cotton.
Cotton offers several advantages that help make it one of today's most popular t-shirt fabrics:
Cotton t-shirts feel soft to the touch.
T-shirts made of cotton are comfortable to wear.
Cotton feels gentle against the skin.
Cotton t-shirts breathe and don't cling.
A cotton t-shirt is heavier than a polyester t-shirt, a pro for users who want a heavy shirt.
T-shirts made from cotton are durable.
Cotton is biodegradable, and organic cotton is especially eco-friendly.
Cotton t-shirts hold moisture, making them slow to dry.
T-shirts made of cotton can be more prone to wrinkle and shrink, although preshrinking can reduce this risk.
Colors on cotton t-shirts tend to fade over time.
Cotton t-shirts are easier to stain and damage.
For wearers who want a lighter shirt, the weight of cotton can be a con.
Polyester is a synthetic fabric, usually made from plastic. It repels water and moisture. This makes it quick to dry and resistant to stains, odors, wrinkles, and shrinking. Polyester is moisture-wicking, meaning it moves sweat away from the skin to a t-shirt's surface, where it evaporates quickly.
Polyester t-shirts cost more than cotton t-shirts. They don't breathe as well as cotton t-shirts. They pick up static easily, making them prone to cling. Some wearers find polyester irritating to their skin. Polyester is not biodegradable. Polyester t-shirt material works better with direct-to-garment (DTG) and sublimation printing methods than with silk screening.
Polyester's moisture-wicking properties help move sweat away from the body.
Polyester t-shirts dry quickly.
T-shirts made from polyester don't absorb stains and odors as easily as other fabrics.
Polyester t-shirts resist wrinkling and shrinking.
Polyester t-shirts cost more than cotton shirts.
T-shirts made from polyester don't breathe as well as cotton shirts.
Polyester t-shirts tend to cling.
Polyester can irritate some people's skin.
T-shirts made from polyester aren't biodegradable.
Silk screen printing can be hard to apply to polyester.
Cotton/polyester blended t-shirts combine some of the benefits of cotton and polyester while facing some of the same limitations as polyester. Like cotton, they're soft and comfortable. Like polyester, they're quick-drying, resistant to wrinkles and shrinking, and durable. They cost less than pure polyester.
However, like polyester, cotton/polyester blends can cling and irritate the skin. They support a more limited range of printing options than cotton. They cost more than cotton. Blends with high cotton content may be more prone to shrink than pure polyester.
Cotton/polyester blend t-shirts come in several varieties, each with its own characteristics:
90% cotton/10% polyester: Containing predominantly cotton content, this blend is soft and breathable. It is less prone to shrink than pure cotton but less shrink-resistant than high-polyester blends.
65% polyester/35% cotton: This is the most popular blended t-shirt fabric. It contains enough polyester to deliver the shrink resistance of that material but enough cotton to offset polyester's higher cost. However, it still costs more than pure cotton, and its polyester content is high enough to cause clinging, promote skin irritation, and limit printing options. This blend is widely used for sports and exercise.
60% polyester/40% cotton: A variation on 65%/35% blends with less polyester and more cotton than that blend, making it more prone to shrink while lowering costs.
50% polyester/50% cotton: Half-polyester, half-cotton blends are more breathable than 65%/35% blends. This makes them a popular option for sports and exercise.
52% cotton/48% polyester: A variation on 50%/50% blends with slightly more cotton. This makes the fabric more breathable while cutting costs.
25% cotton/50% polyester/25% rayon (tri-blend): This variation on 50%/50% blends splits cotton's share of the mix with rayon, a semi-synthetic fiber made from cellulose sources such as wood pulp. Some types of rayon imitate the properties of silk, providing t-shirts with a smooth feel and drape-like fit. Tri-blend shares the advantages of cotton and polyester, but they can cling and irritate the skin like polyester.
Fabrics with 65%/35% and 50%/50% compositions are the most common cotton/polyester blends for t-shirts.
T-shirts made from cotton/polyester blends combine some of the strengths of both fabrics at a lower price than pure polyester.
Blended-fabric t-shirts offer the softness and comfort of cotton.
Blended-fabric t-shirts dry quickly, resist shrinkage, and provide durability like polyester.
T-shirts made from cotton/polyester blends cost more than pure cotton.
Blends with high cotton content may shrink.
Blended fabrics aren't biodegradable.
Cotton/polyester blends with high polyester cotton don't work well with silk-screen printing.
What criteria should you use to select the best fabric for t-shirts for your company? These are some of the most critical considerations:
Here are some factors to consider when reviewing these areas:
Cotton feels more comfortable than polyester to most people because it is soft and breathable. Some people may find that polyester and cotton/polyester blends irritate their skin.
Cotton and polyester come in different thicknesses and weights. Sites that sell t-shirts usually tell you whether a fabric is thick or thin.
Polyester doesn't shrink as much as cotton, so it retains its original fit better. However, it also can cling.
Because it resists moisture absorption and shrinking, polyester generally lasts longer than cotton. Different types of cotton provide different levels of durability. Heavier cotton fabrics stay more durable than lighter ones.
Polyester costs more than regular cotton. This can be mitigated by using cotton/polyester blends. However, high-quality cotton fabrics such as Pima can be expensive.
Cotton is more climate-friendly than polyester. Organic cotton is more sustainable than other types of cotton.
When choosing the best t-shirt fabric for your clothing brand, your leading options are cotton, polyester, and cotton/polyester blends. Cotton offers softness, comfort, eco-friendliness, and support for multiple printing methods, but it takes longer to dry and shrinks more easily. Polyester dries faster and lasts longer, with the tradeoff of being more expensive, potentially irritating for some customers, less eco-friendly, and less versatile for printing options. Cotton/polyester blends combine the softness of cotton with the moisture-resistant properties of polyester, delivering these benefits at a lower cost than pure polyester but with the same drawbacks in areas such as skin irritation, clinging, and lacking biodegradability.
When selecting t-shirt fabrics, consider comfort, weight, fit, longevity, climate sustainability, and cost. How you evaluate these factors depends on your market and your needs. Different consumer segments buy all the types of fabrics discussed here, and there's no one-size-fits-all fabric for all markets. Tailor your selections to your customers.
Gelato makes it easy for you to meet your customer's needs by providing you with high-quality cotton, polyester, and blended t-shirts you can print on demand with our direct-to-garment (DTG) printing services. We empower local, on-demand DTG t-shirt production globally through the world's largest network for production on demand. Our network produces customized products in thirty-two countries, allowing t-shirt creators and ecommerce sellers to scale up their sales and reach customers faster while cutting waste, costs, and carbon emissions. Our selection includes organic cotton t-shirts that are friendly to the environment. All our production and shipping methods reflect our commitment to sustainability. Sign up for Gelato to start printing your designs on the best fabric for t-shirts available today.
Cotton offers the most quality in terms of comfort, while polyester provides more quality in terms of drying quickly and lasting longer. For customers concerned with comfort, cotton is soft and breathable. For customers who want quick-drying, durable t-shirts, polyester has an advantage. How you measure quality depends on your market's priorities, which may vary if you cater to multiple market segments. On your sales pages, emphasize the qualities that are most important to your customers.
Cotton and cotton blend t-shirts provide the most comfort. Different types of cotton provide different degrees of softness and comfort. The most comfortable type of cotton is Pima cotton. Tri-blend fabrics also offer superior comfort.