The Ultimate Guide to T-Shirt Fabric and Quality

Guide to t-shirt fabric and quality

When it comes to wardrobe staples, few items are as versatile and universally loved as the humble T-shirt. Whether you're buying for yourself, or as a stock for your business, it's helpful to know how different fabrics influence comfort, durability, and aesthetic appeal.

This guide will tell you all about the most common T-shirt fabrics, their characteristics, and the factors contributing to their quality.

1. Different Types of T-Shirt Fabrics

Depending on who will wear it and the purpose it will serve, choosing the "simple" tee can be quite complicated. Factors to consider when buying a T-shirt include:
  • Who is it for – your own casualwear or an organization?
  • How it will be worn – uniforms or giveaways at an event?
  • Is it suitable for sport/working out?
  • Color – if necessary, can it absorb dye well?
  • Is the fabric suitable for screen printing or vinyl transfers if you need to customize it?
  • Season – some fabrics are better suited to summer or winter T-shirts.
  • Comfort
  • Durability
  • Cost

1.1 Cotton

Cotton is one of the most popular T-shirt fabrics thanks to its breathability, softness, and versatility. It is a natural fiber derived from the cotton plant, which is known for its comfort and hypoallergenic properties. 100% cotton T-shirts are seen as more environmentally friendly because they use fewer chemicals than synthetic materials. However, there are various types of cotton available.

  • Combed cotton undergoes an additional process that removes impurities and short fibers, resulting in a smoother, more refined fabric. Combed cotton T-shirts are softer, more durable, and less likely to pill. This type of cotton is one of the best options for screen printing.
  • Ringspun cotton is manufactured by twisting and thinning the cotton strands to create a finer, stronger yarn that is durable and soft.
  • Pima cotton is the best type available and, consequently, also the most expensive. Its fibers are extra long, making the fabric exceptionally soft and durable.
  • Organic cotton is manufactured from plants not treated with fertilizers, pesticides, or other chemicals. It is eco-friendly but more expensive than regular cotton fabrics.

1.2 Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic material that's well-suited to athletic T-shirts. Although it's less breathable, it has moisture-wicking properties, dries quickly, and keeps the wearer comfortable and cool. Polyester is very durable and has excellent shape retention.

The downside to polyester is that it's not eco-friendly. It uses a vast amount of chemicals and natural resources in its production. Once its lifespan is over, it takes ages to decompose in landfills and can leak chemicals into the ground.

1.3 Cotton/Polyester Blends

A cotton/polyester blend is an ideal fabric for most types of T-shirts. You get the best of both worlds here – the advantages of both fabric types with few drawbacks. The cotton makes it soft and breathable, while the polyester leaves it durable, wrinkle-resistant, and wicks moisture from the wearer's skin.

1.4 Tri-Blends

Tri-blend fabrics are a combination of three fibers: cotton, polyester, and rayon. It offers the benefits of all three fabrics, combining the softness of cotton, polyester's durability, and rayon's drape and breathability. Tri-blend materials are popular for their unique texture, lightweight feel, and shape retention despite repeated washing.

1.5 Rayon

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric manufactured from a combination of natural resources like wood pulp and chemicals, rendering it not eco-friendly. Rayon T-shirts have a luxurious, silky feel, making them very comfortable. They need delicate care and tend to wrinkle and shrink easily. Additionally, they may not last as long as cotton or polyester.

1.6 Linen

Linen is a natural product derived from the flax plant. This fabric is perfect for warm weather, being lightweight, breathable, and durable. Unfortunately, it wrinkles and shrinks easily and is less cost-effective than cotton.

1.7 Bamboo

Bamboo T-shirts are becoming highly sought-after these days as they’re considered a more eco-friendly, sustainable option. Bamboo fabrics are moisture-wicking, antibacterial, and environmentally friendly. It has a soft, silky texture and offers excellent breathability, making it a great choice for sportswear.

1.8 Hemp

Hemp fabric is hypoallergenic, durable, antimicrobial, provides natural sun protection, and is one of the most eco-friendly fabrics available and its softness increases with every wash. Because it has so many benefits and is somewhat difficult to grow, it is usually more expensive than other T-shirt fabrics.

2. Factors Contributing to T-Shirt Quality

The fabric alone can't account for the quality of a T-shirt. Various other contributing factors can help you decide on the best type to buy for your purposes.

2.1 Fabric Weight

Fabric weight is measured in GSM (grams per square meter) and determines the T-shirt's thickness and durability. Lighter-weight fabrics are generally cooler and more breathable, while heavier materials offer more structure and longevity.

2.2 Stitching and Construction

Pay attention to the stitching and construction of the T-shirt. Quality items typically have double-needle stitching, which enhances durability and prevents unraveling. Reinforced seams and neat finishing are indicators of a well-made shirt. The seams should not fall forward or move when you wear the shirt, as it's unappealing and will not fit comfortably.

2.3 Shrinkage and Colorfastness

The best quality T-shirts are preshrunk or made from a fabric with a minimal shrinkage rate, ensuring a consistent fit even after multiple washes.

Colorfastness refers to the fabric's ability to retain its color without excessive fading or bleeding. Strong, durable materials like cotton, polyester, and rayon are usually colorfast.

2.4 Print and Embellishments

If your T-shirt features prints or embellishments, ensure they are applied using high-quality techniques. Screenprinting, heat transfers, and embroidery are typical methods that withstand regular washing without deteriorating.

Fun Facts about T-Shirts

  • T-shirts were first used as promotional items in 1939 for the Wizard of Oz production.
  • Six miles of yarn is required for one t-shirt, but 1 acre of cotton plants can produce almost 1200 shirts!
  • June 21st is International T-shirt Day.


All T-shirts are not created equal. They come in an endless variety of colors, styles, and fabrics. Selecting the right T-shirt material and quality is essential for comfort, style, and longevity. But there's no "right" fabric for every T-shirt, as each suits a different type. However, understanding their properties and quality levels will help you choose the right shirt for every wearer's purpose.

PS: If you are interested in setting up a T-Shirt manufacturing business, read this book 'Kick Start Your T-Shirt Business' by Prasanta Sarkar. 

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