Before purchasing or manufacturing custom t shirts its always super important to know what they are made from and why they are made the way they are. The last thing you will want, is to associate your brand with poor quality t shirt fabric that looses shape or deteriorates easily.
Additionally, if your customers receive comfortable high quality t shirts, there’s a good chance you will create raving fans and they will be back for more.
This article will give you a comprehensive understanding of t shirt material options along with the associated pros and cons.
In addition iff you haven’t already selected your style of t shirt and need some inspiration, check out this complete list of t shirt styles.
Cotton has been used in clothing for just about as long as history records. According to Science Daily, the oldest piece of cotton fabric found dates back over 6,200 years ago.
Today, cotton is the most used fabric on earth and for good reason. It’s economical and assessable. The cotton plant is native to the Americas, Egypt, Africa and is now cultivated all over the globe.
The soft and fluffy natural fiber is extracted from cotton seed husks. The fibers are then spun into yarn and used to weave or knit fabric.
List of cotton fabric types:
- Combed Cotton – Goes through a secondary process before being spun into yarn. Fine combs brush out small fiber strands. They also straighten long fibers making the finished fabric softer, smoother and stronger. Combed cotton is also less likely to pill easily.
- Supima/Pima Cotton – Is the most superior cotton of all. It is also the most expensive due to premium qualities. The fibers are naturally longer meaning the fabric is softer, stronger and can retain color better.
- Organic Cotton – is grown free of synthetic chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. Organic cotton is more expensive than other cottons due to its natural growing process and the certification that must accompany it for sale. *Our pick for a cotton t shirt.
- Slub Cotton – Is a textured cotton that has slight lumps woven through it to create a unique aesthetic look. Slub cotton tee’s are usually made from light weigh fabric meaning they are cool and airy to wear and don’t require ironing.
Pros – Cotton jersey is perfect tee shirt fabric due to its softness, breathability and comfort. The fibers are porous which draws sweat away from the body. Naturally grown and sustainable.
Cons – 100% cotton fabrics are more expensive than other fabrics. The fabric is also prone to shrinkage and loose of shape. However this can be overcome by purchasing quality fabric that is pre-shrunk.
- Hand wash or very gentle machine wash
- Warm water and add fabric softener during final rinse stage
- Machine dry-able at very low temperature, remove as soon as dry.
- Dry flat out of direct sunlight
- Do not wring, gently squeeze out water
- If ironing is necessary, use warm gentle iron
Bamboo fabric is a semi-synthetic fabric. Leaves and pulp derived from naturally grown bamboo trees are most commonly processed using strong chemicals that extract cellulose and are turned into fibers. Chemical extraction techniques have improved with 95% of chemicals
There is also an alternative mechanical process used which is how organic bamboo is made. It is far more labour intensive, more expensive but doesn’t use chemicals.
Bamboo has been around a lot longer than most people realize. Patents on the fabric were submitted as early as 1864 however bamboo has really only became popular in recent years.
Pros – Bamboo is a sustainable fabric and its processing methods are improving with time. Many chemical process’ now run off a closed loop system which retains 99.5% of chemicals for reuse. Bamboo is a very durable fabric but soft to touch at the same time.
Bamboo fabrics also have antimicrobial properties that are great for people with sensitive skin. These properties also help to fight off bad odors.
Cons: Bamboo fabric is quite expensive due to its labour intensive processing. It is also prone to piling more easily than cotton. Bamboo fabrics also have antimicrobial properties that are
- Wash in cold or warm water
- Gentle detergent
- Do not bleach
- Gentle machine wash
- Do not tumble dry
Hemp is one of the most misunderstood natural wonders of this world. There is a common misconception that hemp and marijuana are the same thing. Although they are from the same species they do not posses the same qualities. This has affected the adoption of this incredibly versatile fiber.
Hemp is one of the strongest and most sustainable fibers on earth. It has triple the tensile strength of cotton and can be easily blended with more refined fibers to add softness whilst maintaining its strength.
- Incredibly strong
- Light weight
- UV & mold resistant
- Expensive due to being a niche fabric
- Is not soft
- Tends to crease
- Lacks color richness
- Wash cold
- Remove stains by pre-soaking or adding detergent to stained area
- Do not iron stains
- Do not tumble dry
- Avoid creases setting by hanging or ironing after drying
- Avoid chlorine bleach
Polyester fabric is a very generalized term that is used to describe a wide range of different fabrics that are made with polymer fibers. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyester for short is a made made synthetic fibre created in the 1940’s. It is essentially a type of plastic.
100% polyester for t shirts is most commonly used in sportswear or in fabric blends. Below is a list of polyesters properties.
- Resistant to shrinkage
- Doesn’t require ironing
- Heat and water resistant
- Strong color fastness
- Can be made from recycled plastic
- Is not biodegradable
- Does not breath unless it has moisture wicking construction
- Not soft
- Is flammable at high temperatures
- Machine wash on cold cycle only
- Do not soak
- Wash with like colors only
- Do not bleach
- Do not tumble dry
- Dry away from direct sunlight
- Cool iron only
Cotton Poly Blend
You may have seen a blend t shirt of 2 or 3 different types of fabric being blended, but why do they do it? Well, there are 2 reasons.
1. To save cost. Natural fibers are more expensive due to labour intensive farming, in contrast synthetic man made fibers are very cheap. By blending a cheaper fiber with a more expensive fiber, manufacturers can dilute their costs whilst gaining more profit for a “similar” product.
2. To gain more functionally from the fabric. Natural fibers tend to crease and wrinkle very easily. By blending wrinkle resistant polyester to the natural fiber solves some of this problem. For this reason cotton poly blends are also more structured and tend to keep there shape better than 100% natural fibers.
Additionally synthetic materials are a necessity for cold and wet climates as they repel moisture and insulate heat.
It is worth noting that if you are environmentally conscious, it may be worth avoiding poly blends when possible.
Below is a list of common cotton poly blends you may see:
- 80% cotton 20% polyester
- 60% cotton 40% polyester (CVC)
- 65% polyester 35% cotton (TC)
- Many 50/50 blends are also common
- Keeps structure
- Wrinkles less
- Keeps shape
- Resisits moisture
- Not environmentally friendly
- Lower quality
- Machine wash cold water, delicate cycle
- Mild detergent
- Do not bleach
- Tumble dry on low
- Warm iron
Although you wont see many shirts made from 100% elastane, it is however a key component in many fabrics. Elastane or polyether-polyurea copolymer is also a synthetic fiber created around the same era as polyester.
Elastane was created as a replacement for rubber. It has extreme elasticity and can be stretched up to 80% before reshaping with ease. It can also stand relatively high heat which has made it very useful in clothing and accessories.
Elastane is used in t-shirt in the same way polyester is but with added features. When blended with natural fibers it allows the fabric to return its shape. Common amounts of elastane in fabric compositions range from 3%-12%. Having such a small percentage of elastane in fabric blends give garments the features without the synthetic feel.
But this wonder fabric does have its pitfalls. It is made using completely inorganic and harmful chemicals. As a result, elastane is not bio degradable. For now, there is no alternative however with large amounts of finance pouring into research and development perhaps a more environmentally friendly alternative is just around the corner.
Creating or even just understanding what makes a perfect t shirt is a science in itself. There are many considerations which include function, aesthetics, comfort and environmental impact. This guide should equip you with enough information to find a balance and give your customers the best t shirt fabric available.
If you need further guidance on fabric selection or need to find a t shirt manufacturer then check out Yoke.