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1. Fiber vs. fabric

A guide to polyester, cotton, and blended fabrics

Cotton polyester blends have become popular fabrics for shirts, pants, and other clothing items. They combine some of the best qualities of polyester with some of the advantages of cotton. However, they also share some drawbacks of these fabrics, and some shoppers may prefer pure cotton or polyester. If you sell clothes online, you must know which fabrics your customers prefer and what benefits appeal to them. Read our guide to learn the differences between cotton, polyester, and blended fabrics and what to look for when selecting materials.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Fabrics such as cotton and polyester are made up of fibers that determine their properties.

  • Cotton is soft, biodegradable, and easy to print on, but it dries slower than polyester and can wear out faster.

  • Polyester fabrics dry faster than cotton and last longer, but they're sometimes more expensive, can be less comfortable, offer more limited printing options, and aren't biodegradable.

  • Polyester cotton blends combine the softness and affordability of cotton with the quick-drying durability of polyester. Still, they can cost more than pure cotton, and they share the drawbacks of polyester.

  • When selecting fabrics for clothing products, consider the clothes' purpose, the fabric's fiber qualities, fabric weight, clothing design, and environmental sustainability.

Fiber vs. fabric

fiber vs fabric

Cotton and polyester are made from fibers, which are long, thin, tapering threads of material possessing elasticity, flexibility, and tensile strength. They can be twisted into yarn and then knitted, woven, or felted together to form cloth. The resulting cloth provides the material and structure for textile fabric.

Different fibers give fabrics different textures and looks based on the underlying material. Fibers fall into two main categories of materials:

  • Natural fibers

  • Synthetic fibers

Natural fibers come from plants, animals, and minerals:

  • The most common plant fiber used for fabrics is cotton. Other plant fibers are flax and burlap.

  • The most widely used animal fiber is wool. Silk is another popular animal fiber.

  • An example of a mineral fiber is asbestos.

Synthetic fibers come from artificial sources. Synthetic fabrics are manufactured from materials such as petroleum-based chemicals (petrochemicals), cotton linters left over from cotton ginning, and wood pulp left over from lumber products:

  • Polyester is a petrochemical. Other common petrochemicals include nylon, acrylic, and olefin.

  • Examples of fibers made from wood pulp are rayon, acetate, and triacetate.

Polyester blends may combine polyester with natural fibers such as cotton, synthetic fibers such as rayon, or both.

Several different methods can be used to make fabrics from fibers. The two most common are:

  • Weaving

  • Knitting

Weaving creates fabrics by taking two sets of yarn and crossing them over and under each other in a crisscross pattern. This crossing pattern gives woven fabrics warmth, stiffness, and resistance to stretching.

Knitting creates fabrics by attaching a single yarn to a needle, forming loops, and linking the loops together. Compared to woven fabric, knit fabric is cooler, more elastic, and more resistant to wrinkling.

Understanding the three most popular types of fabric

The three most common types of fabric used for clothing are:

  1. Cotton

  2. Polyester

  3. Polyester cotton blends

Each fabric type has its characteristics, pros, cons, and best uses.

1. Cotton fabrics

cotton fabric

Cotton fabrics used in clothing come in various forms made from different fibers. The characteristics of cotton vary with the type of fiber used. Cotton fibers differ in softness, comfort, durability, and environmental friendliness. Cotton has the edge over other clothing fabrics in softness, comfort, sustainability, and ability to support a broader range of printing methods. It often costs less than polyester, although this varies with the cotton type and market conditions.

Cotton's most significant drawbacks come from its propensity to absorb moisture. Cotton takes longer to dry than other fabrics. It wrinkles and shrinks more easily, and patterns printed on cotton t-shirts fade faster than designs on polyester.

Kinds of cotton

Cotton clothing, such as t-shirts, can be manufactured from various types of cotton. Popular kinds of cotton used for fabric include:

  • Ringspun cotton

  • Combed and ringspun cotton

  • Slub cotton

  • Pima cotton

  • Pique cotton

  • Organic cotton

Ringspun cotton is produced by a spinning process that straightens and thins each fiber. This produces softer, more durable cotton. The process of producing ringspun cotton makes it more costly than regular cotton.

Combed and ringspun cotton: This type of cotton uses a combing process to remove impurities. Combing makes the ringspun cotton fabric even softer. It also reduces the risk of fraying or unraveling and forms a smoother surface for printing patterns. The additional combing process makes this fabric more costly than ringspun cotton.

Slub cotton: Slub cotton is made by knotting and twisting the fibers. This gives the fabric a textured feel and appearance. The textured design lets the fabric breathe and reduces cling. Slub cotton is slightly more expensive than standard cotton.

Pima cotton: Pima cotton uses long fibers. This makes it extremely soft and smooth. Pima cotton resists wrinkling and lasts longer than regular cotton. It is an expensive, high-quality cotton.

Pique cotton: Pique cotton is woven in parallel cords or geometric shapes, giving it a raised look and feel. This adds texture and durability. Pique cotton is commonly used for polo t-shirts. It can be made from Pima cotton. It costs more than most types of cotton.

Organic cotton: Organic cotton is produced using sustainable methods that don't use synthetic fertilizers or harmful pesticides. It is designed to be environmentally conscious. Organic cotton can be softer and more durable than standard cotton. It costs more than regular cotton.


Cotton fabric enjoys several notable benefits:

  • Cotton clothes such as t-shirts feel soft.

  • Cotton fabric feels comfortable to wear.

  • Fabrics made from cotton feel gentle against the skin.

  • Cotton breathes well, keeping it from clinging.

  • Clothing made from cotton is durable.

  • All cotton is biodegradable, and organic cotton uses eco-conscious production methods.

  • Cotton is easy to print designs on.

  • Cotton absorbs wetness, making it a slow-drying fabric.

  • Cotton clothes tend to wrinkle and shrink, although preshrinking can help prevent this.

  • Color printed on cotton t-shirts fades through washing over time.

  • Cotton clothes are easier to damage or stain.

Use cases

Because of its pros and cons, cotton is best used when you want soft, breathable, environmentally conscious, and easy-to-print clothing. For example, cotton is a great choice for custom t-shirt printing.

2. Polyester fabrics

polyester fabric

Polyester possesses hydrophobic properties, repelling moisture. This quality makes it dry faster while resisting stains, odors, wrinkling, and shrinkage. Poly fabrics also direct sweat away from the skin toward the fabric's surface to evaporate, a property known as moisture-wicking.

Polyester fabric can cost more than cotton, although this varies. Polyester doesn't breathe as well as cotton. It is prone to static cling. Polyester fibers irritate the skin of some wearers. It is not biodegradable. For t-shirts, polyester fabric works better with direct-to-garment (DTG) and sublimation printing methods than silk screening.

  • Polyester keeps sweat away from the skin.

  • Poly fabrics dry fast.

  • Fabric made from polyester doesn't readily absorb stains or odors.

  • Polyester fibers resist wrinkling and shrinkage.

  • Polyester fabric sometimes costs more than cotton.

  • Polyester doesn't breathe as well as cotton.

  • Fabric made from polyester picks up static cling.

  • Polyester irritates some people's skin.

  • Clothing made from polyester isn't biodegradable.

  • Silk screen printing doesn't work as well with polyester as it does with cotton.

Use cases

Polyester is most suited for uses requiring moisture resistance or durability. For example, it's a good fabric for athletic wear or outdoor gear.

3. Blended fabrics

Polyester cotton blends are designed to combine the benefits of these two fabrics. For example, adding cotton cuts the cost of polyester while adding softness. Polyester makes cotton dry faster and last longer.

Poly cotton blended fabrics also add the drawbacks of polyester to cotton. They pick up the static cling, irritate the skin of some wearers, don't work well with silk screening, and can cost more than cotton. Poly cotton blends with high cotton content are more prone to shrink than pure polyester.

Poly cotton blended fabrics come in various types defined by the proportions of polyester and cotton they use:

  • 90% cotton/10% polyester: This fabric is soft and breathable. It shrinks more than high-polyester fabric blends but less than pure cotton.

  • 65% polyester/35% cotton: This is the most popular blended fabric for clothing, such as t-shirts. Polyester adds shrink resistance, while the cotton content lowers the cost. This blend costs more than cotton and shares polyester drawbacks, such as static cling. This blend is popular for sportswear.

  • 60% polyester/40% cotton: This uses less polyester than 65%/35% blends, reducing the risk of shrinking while increasing the price.

  • 50% polyester/50% cotton: This blend is more breathable than 65%/35% blends, making it popular for activewear.

  • 52% cotton/48% polyester: This blend is more breathable and less costly with slightly more cotton than 50%/50% blends.

  • 25% cotton/50% polyester/25% rayon (tri-blend): This alternative to 50%/50% blends trades off cotton for rayon, a synthetic fiber from cellulose sources such as wood pulp. Some rayon fibers feel like silk, giving clothes a smooth and drape-like quality. Tri-blend combines the benefits of cotton and polyester but can cling and irritate the skin.

Polyester cotton fabric blends with 65%/35%, and 50%/50% blends are the most common combinations for clothing items such as t-shirts.

  • Polyester cotton blends combine the benefits of both fabrics while reducing the cost of pure polyester.

  • Blended fabrics share the soft comfort of cotton.

  • Blended fabric t-shirts share polyester's fast-drying properties, resistance to shrinking, and durability.

  • Polyester cotton blends can cost more than pure fabrics.

  • Blends with high cotton content shrink more than blends with high polyester content.

  • Blended fabric isn't biodegradable.

  • Blends with high polyester content aren't well-suited for silk-screen printing.

Use cases

Blended fabrics can be a good choice for sports and exercise wear.

What to consider when choosing the perfect fabric

How do you decide which fabric to use when producing clothes to sell online? Five critical criteria are:

  • Purpose

  • Fiber

  • Weight

  • Design

  • Environmental sustainability

Let's look at each of these variables:



The intended purpose of your fabric plays a critical role in making the proper selection. Consider:

  • What type of clothing will the fabric be used for? For example, will it be used for a t-shirt, a hoodie, or pants?

  • How will your buyers use the clothing item? For example, are they using it for casual wear or exercise?

  • What season and weather will the clothes be worn in?

Select a fabric with the right qualities for its intended purpose.



Your fabric's purpose directly bears on what type of fiber you should select. In general:

  • Natural fibers offer greater softness and comfort for casual use, breathe better for sports and hot weather, and are easier to print on for t-shirt designs.

  • Synthetic fibers dry faster and resist wrinkling after sports or outdoor wear, offering greater longevity for rougher use.

Select a fiber suited to your fabric's purpose.


Fabric weight also relates directly to your fabric's intended use:

  • Heavier fabrics provide more warmth and durability, making them suitable for colder weather and rougher use.

  • Lighter fabrics minimize heat, making them suitable for hotter weather and exercise.

Choose a fabric weight suited to your clothing's purpose.


If you intend to print a pattern on an item such as a t-shirt, design becomes a key consideration:

  • Is the fabric compatible with the printing method you want to use? For example, cotton works better for silk screening than polyester.

  • Will the fabric display your design pattern and color well? Polyester requires special treatment to avoid distorting colors.

  • Will your design's pattern and color survive repeated washings? A heavier fabric that resists fading will preserve your design longer.

Choose a fabric compatible with your design.

Environmental sustainability

Finally, there's the issue of environmental sustainability. Cotton is more environmentally friendly than polyester, especially organic cotton. However, some types of polyester are more eco-friendly than others.

Create comfortable custom clothes with Gelato

Cotton, polyester, and polyester cotton blends have pros and cons that appeal to different market segments. Cotton offers comfort and flexible printing options at a low cost to the buyer and the environment. Polyester dries faster and offers durability. Polyester cotton blends combine cotton's comfort and affordability with polyester's durability. Consider what your target market wants when you're selecting fabrics.

Gelato helps you meet all your customers' demands by letting you sell customized clothing in various fabrics for apparel, from t-shirts to hoodies. Gelato enables local, on-demand production on a global scale through the world's largest print on demand (POD) network. Gelato produces personalized products in 32 countries, enabling creators and ecommerce sellers to scale their business and reach customers faster while reducing waste, costs, and carbon emissions. Sign up for free to start selling comfortable, customized clothes today.


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