100% Cotton fabric has several benefits in the custom apparel industry. T-Shirts made with 100% Cotton are typically less expensive, and have a greater selection of styles, sizes, and colors available. Most of the typical screen printing inks are best suited for cotton fabrics. However, over the last several years, trends have definitely been dominated by Poly-Cotton (50/50), Triblend, and 100% Polyester. Why?
Poly-Cotton, or 50/50 as it is also known, is made up of 50% Cotton and 50% Polyester. You really do get the best of both worlds between the two fabrics. You get the cotton feel in the fabric while adding in some of the beneficial performance properties of the polyester such as being a more light-weight, flexible but strong fabric, resistant to shrinking and stretching, and wrinkling compared to 100% Cotton. 50/50 t-shirt also tend to hold their color better compared to 100% Cotton. There are 50/50 shirts in basic styles like Gildan or Hanes that feel very similar to a Cotton t-shirt, and there are more fashion forward styles like American Apparel and Bella+Canvas that have a super soft feel and are really lightweight. They are very comfortable to wear. There is a potential risk when printing on a 50/50 t-shirt for a phenomenon called dye migration. This happens when you print a light print color, such as white, over a dark shirt color. The dyes in the shirt can slowly leech into the print and tint it. We use special inks that block that process, to keep prints as bright as possible, and there are several new styles of t-shirt available that have special bleed-resistant fabrics such as Sport-Tek’s Posicharge® technology. This is not an issue with lighter shirt colors that get a darker color print.
Triblends have been one of our fastest growing areas in the last few years. The fabric makeup does vary depending on the brand, but brands like American Apparel and Bella+Canvas have a 50% Polyester/25% Cotton/25% Rayon blend. Some have a slightly higher Cotton ratio compared to the Rayon. Either way, it is a truly unique fabric. Most Triblends will naturally have a heathered color look, though they are making some solid colors now. This has made them very popular for the vintage look trend. The material is very soft with some stretch, and is great for performance wear. These t-shirts also benefit from the special dye migration blocking inks when printing lighter print colors on darker shirt colors. I think, however, these fabrics are best with a darker ink color as they are typically a lighter layer of ink and you maintain the best features of the fabric itself.
100% Polyester t-shirts are made for performance. They are lightweight, quick drying, resistant to shrinking and wrinkling, flexible, and hold up well after washing. You’ll know 100% by it’s feel. It typically has a shiny, silky texture. 100% polyester is commonly used for sports jerseys, warm-up shorts, and fitness apparel, but is definitely making it’s way into mainstream apparel. Special care needs to be taken as these 100% polyester materials are the most at risk for dye migration.
So what is the best fabric for you and your project? It depends. We work with each of our customers to make sure that the t-shirt style, artwork and shirt/print colors are all compatible so that the end product is as good as it can be. Sometimes even a simple change can make all the difference. We think the details are important, and we’ll work with you to make sure every detail of the job is perfect!
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