While starting a clothing brand may rely heavily on your designs and branding strategies, at the end of the day, it all boils down to fabric choice and quality. Thus, in this article, we’ll explore the three most popular fabric types that custom apparel makers rely on—cotton, polyester, and blended fabrics. By the end, you’ll know exactly what fabric to use for your custom apparel and why.
Defining Cotton, Polyester, and Blends
First things first, let’s get to know the basics about each of these three fabric types.
As you may have known already, cotton is the most popular natural fabric used in the apparel industry. It’s an incredibly versatile material that comes with great breathability, softness on the skin, and optimum durability. Cotton fibers are known to be extremely absorbent and can both hold as much as 27 times their own weight in water. Thus, it’s no wonder why cotton fabric is mostly used in hot and humid regions.
This fabric is always among the top choices of custom apparel makers due to its easy availability. It’s also an incredibly versatile material that comes in various weights and styles, including jersey knit, flannels, twill, and more.
On the polar opposite of cotton is polyester. Polyester is a type of synthetic fabric that is made from petroleum. Nowadays, there are also polyester fabrics made from recycled plastics including water bottles and agricultural waste. They are commonly used in custom apparel because of their immunity to shrinking, wrinkling, and fading over time.
Contrary to popular belief, polyester by itself isn’t really elastic or stretchable. It needs a bit of help from elastane or spandex fibers to be stretchy. Nonetheless, it’s among the most durable fabric choices in the market and its ability to keep moisture away from the skin makes it a great pick for outdoor activities.
Choosing between the two, plus other fabric types, can be quite difficult. This is exactly why blended fabrics exist.
As you may have guessed, blended fabrics are a combination of different fiber materials, such as cotton and polyester. They are available in many forms and combinations, such as cotton-poly blends, tri-blend fabric, and poly-viscose. Oftentimes, blended fabrics are more affordable than pure materials, but they also possess qualities from both sides.
For example, a cotton-poly blend will have the breathability of cotton and durability of polyester. Therefore, it’s a great choice for those who are looking for an affordable and versatile fabric option to use in their custom apparel.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Cotton, Polyester, and Blends
Of course, each type of fabric comes with its own pros and cons. Here, we’ll outline the advantages and disadvantages of cotton, polyester, and blended fabrics to help you make a more informed decision.
The Pros and Cons of Cotton Fabric
Let’s start with the most popular one—cotton. Here are just some of the advantages and disadvantages of cotton fabrics.
Cotton is always one of the top choices when it comes to comfy, breathable clothing. It absorbs moisture quickly and keeps your body cool, making it perfect for hot summer days. This advantage is also what makes cotton fabrics a great pick for light outdoor activities or casual wear.
Low Retention of Odors
Cotton fibers don’t cling to odors easily, making them ideal for those who are sensitive to smells. This is especially great when you’re wearing clothes for long hours, since odors are less likely to build up.
Soft on the Skin
Cotton is naturally soft and feels comfortable on the skin. It’s perfect for those who have sensitive skin, as well as babies and toddlers. Unlike synthetic fabrics, cotton is much gentler on the skin and is not prone to causing any allergies or skin irritations.
A Sustainable Option
Generally, cotton is the most sustainable choice among the three. Because it is a natural fiber, it can biodegrade and decompose easily. Most of the cotton fabrics used today are also organically grown, meaning they are free from harmful pesticides and chemicals.
Can Easily Shrink and Fade
What makes cotton so special also makes it slightly difficult to maintain. Because of its natural composition, cotton fabrics are prone to shrinking when washed and dried on high heat settings. Moreover, the fabric’s color can easily fade over time due to exposure to direct sunlight.
Nonetheless, there are preshrunk 100% cotton shirts like the Gildan – 5000L women’s t-shirts which are made to maintain their size even after multiple washes.
Prices Fluctuate from Time to Time
Because cotton is sourced from natural materials, its prices are expected to be a bit lower than synthetic fibers. However, this doesn’t stay the same all year round. The prices of cotton fabrics can change due to market forces, such as global demand and supply. Plus, environmental factors that could affect the production of cotton can also cause sudden price increases.
The Pros and Cons of Polyester Fabric
Now, moving on to polyester. Here are some of the pros and cons of using this synthetic fabric.
Because polyester is man-made, it is a lot easier to produce than cotton fabrics. This makes it more widely available than other natural fibers. Furthermore, polyester can also be processed more quickly, allowing manufacturers to create garments much faster.
Durable and Resilient
As mentioned earlier, polyester is known for its durability and resilience. It is much less likely to shrink or fade than cotton fabrics, making it a great choice for long-term clothing items. It does not lose its shape easily, so even after many washes and wears, you can expect your shirt to maintain its original form.
Lightweight and Water-Resistant
Polyester is a light fabric, making it perfect for activewear such as the C2 Sport – 5600. Its ability to repel moisture also makes it great for outdoor activities and sports.
Unlike cotton, polyester isn’t susceptible to market changes. This makes its prices more stable throughout the year. It tends to be cheaper than 100% natural fabrics, making it a great option for budget-conscious shoppers.
Not as Breathable as Cotton
One disadvantage of polyester is its lack of breathability. The synthetic fibers don’t absorb moisture as easily, making it somewhat uncomfortable for those who sweat a lot. While it’s a popular choice for activewear, those with more sensitive skin may find it a bit too abrasive and suffocating.
Another downside of polyester is its tendency to retain odors. It clings easily to sweat and other smells, making it less suitable for those who need to remain odor-free during long hours. It may also require special washing cycles to ensure that odors are removed.
Static-Prone and Prone to Pilling
Because polyester is a synthetic fabric, it is prone to static and pilling. It tends to cling to the body and produce an electric charge, making it uncomfortable to wear in cold weather. Additionally, the fabric’s fibers are prone to pilling, which causes it to form tiny balls that may look unsightly.
Not as Eco-Friendly as Cotton
Of course, another disadvantage of polyester is its lack of eco-friendliness. Unlike cotton, it does not decompose as easily, so it tends to stick around in landfills for a long time if not disposed of properly. It can also release harmful chemicals into the environment during its production.
The Pros and Cons of Fabric Blends
Finally, we have the fabric blends. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a blend rather than 100% cotton or polyester.
Best of Both Worlds
As mentioned, people often opt for blends because of their ability to combine the best features of both fabrics. For instance, a poly-viscose shirt like the Bella+Canvas – 8882 cropped tee has a flowy drape of viscose with the durability and wrinkle resistance of polyester.
Wide Variety of Combinations Available
There are countless combinations of fabrics available in the market today. You can find blends that combine natural and synthetic fibers for a unique look, or mixtures composed solely of natural fibers. Some of the more popular combinations include rayon-cotton, bamboo-cotton, and cotton-polyester.
More Affordable than Pure Materials
Because some natural fabrics like linen and silk are relatively expensive, blending them with cheaper synthetic materials helps to reduce costs. This makes blends a great choice for those who don’t want to spend too much on fabric.
Could be Less Durable and Resilient than Pure Fabrics
Unfortunately, blends may not be as durable or resilient as fabrics composed of pure materials. For instance, a fabric blend made of more cotton than polyester might not be as wrinkle-resistant or long-lasting as an all-polyester fabric. Also, some blends may shrink in the wash, especially if they contain more natural fibers.
Tends to be Less Comfy than Pure Fabrics
Blends also tend to be less comfortable than fabrics made of pure natural fabrics. Some combinations that use more synthetic fibers may feel harsher and abrasive against the skin. Thus, it’s important to check the fabric content when buying a garment made of blend material.
May Require Special Care
Because different blends are composed of different materials, they may require special care when washing and drying. For instance, fabrics made up of more natural fibers will need to be washed in cool temperatures and hung to dry. Whereas those composed of more synthetic fibers can be tossed into the washing machine without any extra precautionary measures.
How to Care for Cotton, Polyester, and Blended Fabrics
Since we are on the subject of wash and care, let’s take a look at the proper care routine for cotton, polyester, and blended fabrics.
When it comes to washing, both cotton and polyester would require cold water and mild detergents. Because the former is prone to shrinking and the latter is made with synthetic fibers, it’s important to avoid hot water that can damage the fabric. As for the washing machine settings, it’s best to opt for gentle or delicate cycle when cleaning cotton shirts. Polyester, meanwhile, can be washed with regular cycle and wouldn’t usually require any special precautions.
For blended fabrics, the care instructions will depend on the type of fibers used. It’s best to check the label for specific washing guidelines to prevent any damage. For instance, a shirt made of rayon-cotton blend would require gentle cycle and cool to warm water temperature.
Cotton shirts should always be hung to dry, as this will help to prevent any further shrinkage. Putting a 100% cotton shirt in the dryer can result in its fibers becoming stiff, especially if it is tumble-dried at high temperatures.
For polyester and blended fabrics, some can be tumble-dried on low heat, but it’s always best to check the care label first. This can help prevent any accidental damage such as discoloration or fading due to excess heat.
Ironing and Steaming
Ironing and steaming are two of the most popular methods used to remove wrinkles and help garments look neat. Cotton can be unwrinkled by just using iron and setting it at a low to moderate temperature. Doing this while the shirt is still damp or slightly humid can further help to achieve a wrinkle-free finish.
Polyester, on the other hand, requires low heat while ironing so as to prevent any burns. Steaming is also a great way to get rid of wrinkles from polyester and blended fabrics, especially those that contain stubborn or delicate fibers like silk, wool, and rayon.
The Best Uses for Cotton, Polyester, and Blended Fabrics
Now, which shirt fabric is best for your custom clothing brand? Here’s a quick guide to help you decide.
Cotton is best for everyday, casual shirts since it’s lightweight and breathable. When it comes to printing, those who use DTG or direct-to-garment and screen printing methods would benefit most with this fabric as it absorbs the inks better, resulting in clearer and sharper prints.
Some of our best picks when it comes to 100% cotton shirts are the following:
- Gildan – 2000 Unisex Ultra Cotton T-Shirt
- Next Level – 3900 Women’s Boyfriend T-shirt
- AS Colour – 5001 Staple Tee
Polyester, meanwhile, is better for those who are looking to create more athletic or performance-based shirts since this fabric is quick drying and moisture-wicking. It’s also wrinkle-resistant so you won’t have to worry about constantly ironing your garments. A great fabric for print on demand powered stores or custom shirt businesses that mostly use dye-sublimation or sublimation printing.
We recommend this polyester shirt for your custom clothing needs:
Depending on your unique needs, you can always choose to design shirts with blends. For example, tri-blend shirts made with polyester, cotton, and rayon would be perfect for both casual and athleisure wear. These are also great for printing as they have a vintage, distressed look that adds character to any print or design.
The printing method suitable for blended fabrics may vary depending on the ratio of fibers used. For instance, you can use both screen printing and DTG for 50/50 poly-cotton blend shirts.
A couple of our favorite blended fabric shirts are:
Which T-Shirt Fabric Is Best for Custom T-Shirts?
Now, which shirt fabric is best for custom t-shirts? Well, as you may have learned, it all boils down to your unique needs and preferences. If you’re looking for an everyday, leisure-style shirt, then cotton is your best bet. For more athletic or performance-based shirts, polyester is the way to go. Blends are great for those who want to achieve a specific combination of comfort and style.
Your printing technique should also be a factor when choosing the right fabric. For instance, if your store or print on demand partner mostly uses dye-sublimation, then polyester would be the most ideal fabric for your custom t-shirts. But if your go-to printing technique is DTG, cotton and cotton blends are your best options.
Starting a custom clothing business can be daunting, but with the right fabric choices and a reliable print-on-demand partner, you’ll be able to create unique and stylish shirts that will make your customers come back for more.
So before you even start designing your custom shirts, take the time to research and understand your fabric options. Take note of their unique characteristics such as shrinkage rate, breathability, absorbency, and wrinkle resistance. All of these factors can make or break the success of your custom clothing brand.
If you’re looking for a reliable print on demand partner, at Awkward Styles we have over 150 customizable products ready to ship worldwide. Sign up for free today and easily connect your Etsy, Shopify or WooCommerce store to start selling any of the products mentioned above!