Spotlight on T-Shirt Fabric

Throughout an average day, we get numerous quote requests for screenprinted t-shirts. We've noticed something: When we ask "What kind of t-shirt would you like?" the reply usually involves blank stares and silence. Many folks are not aware of the variety of t-shirts on the market and the subtle differences among them. Or they know there are options out there, but it's all pretty overwhelming. Here are some of the key features that distinguish one t-shirt from another.

Fabric Makeup

  • 100% cotton: the original t-shirt fabric. Cotton fabric is easy to care for and holds color very well, but it is prone to shrinkage.
  • 50/50 cotton-poly blend: much less likely to shrink than 100% cotton fabric. It also has some moisture-wicking properties.
  • 100% polyester: perfect for the all-over printing process known as dye-sublimation. It can offer exceptional moisture management.
  • 50/25/25 Tri-blend: adds rayon to the cotton-poly mix. Popularized by American Apparel, it stretches and drapes beautifully.

Spotlight on T-Shirt Fabric Blue Tee

Cotton Thread

  • Carded or combed: refers to the process of preparing the cotton for spinning. Carding cotton removes the tangles from the fibers, but it does not ensure that all of the fibers are going in the same direction. Combing is an additional step that aligns the fibers, producing a smoother thread and softer fabric. Smoother fabrics make a better canvas for screen printing.
  • Open-ended or ring-spun: describes the spinning method. Open-ended thread is cost-effective and produces a fairly soft and sturdy fabric, while ring-spun thread is smoother, tighter, and softer.
  • Singles: the gauge of the thread. As the number gets bigger, the thread gets thinner. An 18-singles fabric is made of fairly thick thread, while a 40-singles fabric is made of very fine thread. Thinner thread makes the fabric (you guessed it) smoother and softer.


Fabric weight tells you how thick the shirt is. Promotional t-shirts are often 6.1 oz., meaning they are fairly heavy. Some examples of 6.1 oz. shirts include the Hanes Beefy T, the Fruit of the Loom Lofteez, and the Gildan Ultra Cotton. Another common weight is around 5.5 oz. The latest retail trend is for fine jersey, weighing in around 4.5 oz., and even lighter tissue jerseys that are sheer rather than opaque. The lighter the shirt, the better it drapes on the body.

Spotlight on T-Shirt Fabric Yellow Tee


  • Organic cotton: Like organic fruits and vegetables, organic cotton is grown without the most harmful pesticides. Some t-shirts are made of transitional-organic cotton, meaning the farm is in the process of going organic but has not yet achieved certification.
  • Recycled cotton: generally made from scraps left over from the garment-making process. The fabric is shredded, carded, and turned back into thread.
  • Eco blends: Organic or recycled cotton may be combined with recycled polyester for those who prefer a blend.

How does all of this affect price? Usually, the least expensive t-shirt is going to be a mid-weight 100% cotton shirt, made of open-ended 18-singles cotton that wasn't grown organically and wasn't combed before spinning. One example of this is the Gildan Heavy Cotton t-shirt. As you add more features and the shirt gets softer and smoother, the price goes up.

We love our basic, budget t-shirts and think they're great for lots of promotional projects. But sometimes you want to give something exceptional. Maybe you want to really impress a client or communicate how much you value an employee. Perhaps you're trying to create a shirt that will be worn again and again, and know that retail quality is a must for maximizing impressions. If your brand is high-end, only a high-end t-shirt will do.

Contact us today and we'll help you select the perfect screen printed t-shirt for your promotional project.