Great printed designs make shirts look good, but the fabric is what makes consumers want to use them again and again. The feel of a shirt and the comfort it gives are important to customers. After all, it is something they wear next to their skin for extended periods of time. The better the feel, the more likely they are to enjoy the product and make another purchase in the future.
Thus, as a merch store or print-on-demand business owner, familiarizing yourself with the different t-shirt fabrics is yet another way to give your customers the best possible experience, while potentially boosting your sales in the long run. And in this article, we’ll discuss EVERYTHING you need to know about the best t-shirt fabrics and when you should use them.
Why the Fabric Type Matters
One of the things online merch store owners typically overlook is the importance of t-shirt fabrics. Once they’re satisfied with their designs and the quality of their printing, the work is considered done. But the truth is, the type of fabric you use for your shirts says a lot about your brand.
Apart from the look, the first thing customers will notice when they receive their shirts is how the fabric feels. And if it’s not comfortable, it doesn’t matter how good the design is; they’re not going to wear it. Furthermore, the fabric will affect how the shirt looks after being worn and washed a few times. A shirt made with low-quality fabric will lose its shape, fade quickly, and generally fall apart after a few washes.
On the other hand, shirts made with high-quality fabric will keep their shape, colors, and overall design for a long time. These shirts will also be more comfortable to wear, which encourages customers to buy them again in the future and give them the impression that your brand only offers high-quality products.
Things To Consider When Picking a T-Shirt Fabric
Now, before we get into the nitty-gritty of t-shirt fabrics, there are a few things you need to take into consideration.
While most shirts are actually made to be worn all-year-round, some fabrics are better suited for specific types of weather. Will be you launching your shirts in a chilly, winter season or a hot, summer one?
The answer to this question will help you determine which fabric truly is best for your shirt. You wouldn’t want your customers to buy a shirt made with a thin, light fabric only to find out it’s too flimsy and see-through to wear in the cold weather. The same goes for a shirt made with a thick, heavy fabric; it will be too hot and uncomfortable to wear in the summer.
Price & Sustainability
While working with a print-on-demand partner like Awkward Styles lets you sell custom shirts without spending a lot of money on inventory and capital, you still need to make a profit. This is why it’s important to find a balance between the quality of the fabric and the price you’re willing to sell your shirt for.
You might also want to take into account how sustainable the fabric is. How eco-friendly and ethical is the manufacturing process? Is it sweatshop-free?
Who will use your shirts? Do you plan on selling them to athletes who will wear them during their workouts? Or are they meant for people to wear to music festivals? The purpose of the shirt will also help you decide which fabric is best.
For example, if you’re selling shirts to athletes or people with an active lifestyle, you’ll want to use a fabric that’s durable, moisture-wicking, and breathable. On the other hand, if you’re selling shirts people can wear to casual events, you can focus on finding a fabric that’s softer and more comfy.
Let’s cut to the chase and start with the most popular t-shirt fabric: cotton.
You’ve probably seen (and worn) a lot of shirts made with cotton fabric, and there’s a good reason for that. Cotton is soft, comfortable, and durable, which makes it ideal for both casual and active wear. Furthermore, cotton shirts are one of the best canvases for printing, which is why most custom t-shirts you see on the market are made with this fabric.
Different Kinds of Cotton Shirts
While cotton shirts are the easy, go-to choice, it gets a little more complicated when you start looking at the different types of cotton shirt fabrics like the following:
Airlume Combed and Ringspun Cotton
These are among today’s most popular t-shirt fabrics and for good reason. The airlume combing process removes impurities and short, weak fibers from the cotton yarn which results in a much softer fabric. This kind of cotton is often used for more expensive, high-quality shirts just like the Bella+Canvas – 3001.
Carded-open End Cotton
Far opposite from the airlume combed cotton, the carded-open end is a lower quality cotton fabric. The shorter fibers are not removed during processing and as a result, the fabric is less soft and more likely to pill.
As the name suggests, organic cotton is grown without the use of any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. This makes it a more sustainable option and it’s often chosen by eco-conscious brands.
This is one of the go-to choices for people who are looking for a softer, more durable fabric that’s less expensive than combed and ringspun cotton. The yarn is twisted as it’s spun which results in a softer feel.
Combed and Ringspun Cotton
Think of this as the middle ground between airlume and ringspun cotton. The fabric is made by first combing the cotton yarn to remove impurities and short fibers and then spinning it to make it stronger. This results in a softer, more durable fabric than carded-open end, and ringspun cotton but not as soft as airlume combed cotton.
Are Cotton Shirts for You?
If you’re looking for a versatile, durable, and comfortable fabric, cotton is a good choice. It achieves that perfect balance of being soft enough for comfortable everyday wear but also durable enough to withstand multiple washes.
However, one thing to note about cotton fabric is that it’s made of natural fibers, which makes cotton shirts prone to shrinking after a few washes. This is why you’ll find shirts labeled “pre-shrunk” or “pre-washed” like the Gildan-2000. These shirts undergo a special shrinking process to make sure that their look and size stay as they are even after multiple washes.
Similar to cotton, linen is made of natural fibers, particularly the flax plant. This fabric is known for being absorbent and breathable, which makes it ideal for warm weather. Linen shirts are also known for being durable and getting softer with each wash.
Are They for You?
While the comfort they give is quite difficult to beat, linen shirts come with a few downsides. Firstly, the fabric is quite expensive and secondly, it’s prone to wrinkling. Linen shirts are also very likely to shrink after a few washes so you’ll have to take extra care of them.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have polyester t-shirts. Polyester is a synthetic fabric made of petroleum-based products, which makes it very different from natural fabrics like cotton and linen.
One of the main benefits of polyester shirts is that they’re very affordable compared to the cotton and linen ones. They’re also known for their durability and ability to stretch without losing their shape.
Most polyester shirts are also wrinkle-resistant and quick-drying, which makes them ideal for activewear or travel.
Are Polyester Shirts for You?
Polyester is a good choice if you’re looking for an affordable and durable fabric that can hold your printed designs well. However, many polyester shirts are not as breathable and comfy as cotton shirts, which makes them less ideal for everyday wear.
They’re also non-biodegradable given that they’re made of petroleum-based products, which makes them not the most sustainable option.
The Blended Fabrics
Now that we’ve gone over the three most popular fabric choices, let’s take a look at some blended fabrics. These are fabrics that are made of two or more different materials, mostly to achieve a certain desired effect.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. Polycotton shirts are made of a blend of polyester and cotton fibers. The most common ratio is usually 65% polyester to 35% cotton but it can also be 50-50.
The main benefit of polycotton shirts is that they’re more affordable than pure cotton shirts while still being softer and more comfortable than polyester shirts. They’re also quite durable and easy to care for.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric made from cellulose fibers, usually from wood pulp. It’s often blended with polyester to create a fabric that’s softer and more absorbent than polyester on its own.
Tri-blend shirts are usually made of a blend of polyester, cotton, and spandex or rayon. The most common ratio is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon but it can also be 40-30-30 or even 37-13-50.
The main benefit of tri-blend shirts is that they’re stretchy and durable, while still being soft and comfy to wear. They’re also quite affordable given that they’re made mostly of synthetic fibers.
Are They for You?
If you have specific fabric requirements or if you’re looking for a certain effect which cotton or polyester fabric alone can’t provide, then a blended fabric might be the way to go. Because they are a mix of both synthetic and natural fibers, they’re also usually less pricey than 100% cotton shirts.
Some Other Things To Take Note of When Choosing a T-Shirt
Found your shirt? Well, you might want to take note of a few other things before you make your final decision. Here are some of them:
The Shirt’s Thread Count
The shirt’s thread or yarn count defines how many threads there are in one square inch of fabric. The higher the thread count, the finer and softer the fabric will be.
The shirt’s weight is measured in GSM (grams per square meter) and it defines how heavy or light the fabric is. While most consumers won’t really care about the GSM, it’s something to take note of as a seller because it can affect the packing and shipping cost of your shirts.
Furthermore, how comfy and drape-y a shirt feels is also affected by its GSM. Heavier shirts with a higher GSM tend to be warmer while lighter shirts are more breathable, making them ideal for summer wear.
The Cut & The Fit
The fit is often determined by whether the shirt is tubular or side-seamed. The former is usually less expensive to produce but it doesn’t contour as well to the body, resulting in a boxier fit. The latter is more fitted but it’s also often more expensive to produce.
As for the cut, that refers to how the shirt is shaped and whether it has a contoured or a straight fit. Contoured shirts are usually more figure-hugging while straight fit shirts are looser and have straighter lines.
Ready to Pick Your Next Best-seller?
Knowing your shirt fabric can be tricky but once you get the hang of it, it’ll be a breeze. We hope this guide has helped familiarize you with the most popular shirt fabrics you can use for your next amazing designs!
And if you’re looking for a place to get started, check out our extensive catalog of shirt styles and colors. We offer the highest quality shirts so rest assured that your customers will be getting only the best possible purchase experience!