Picking the Right Fabric for Your Custom T-Shirt Order


If you’re about to decide on your clothing strategy and want to brush up on the basics of fabric selection then you’re in the right place. Fabric selection can make the difference between a T-shirt favorite and one that never gets worn. The key is knowing your event or audience and fabric suits them.

Fabric Types You Can Consider:

100% Cotton Shirts (Long Fiber)

Heavy Cotton shirts are a great choice for most projects in the sense that they’re durable, economical and will hold up even decades later if cared for correctly. The downside to them is that they can be down-right hot to work in during the summer heat and, while they’re not “scratchy”, they’re the closest to unrefined cotton you can buy.

Most shirts sold are Long fiber because they’re the most economical option out there.

100% Cotton Ring-spun or Combed T-shirts (Short Fiber)

Short fiber cotton, or ring-spun cotton, is a softer, cooler fabric. Despite being 100% cotton the tighter thread density means the fabric will feel better on the skin in heat. Think of high thread count bed sheets – the more threads it has, the better it feels.

Ring-spun cotton is a higher value product and many high-end fashion brands use shirts made of ringspun cotton. They can be a great option for merchandise, as potential customers will notice the difference in feel.

50-50% Cotton/Polyester Blend T-shirts –

A recent addition to the fabric lineup and often labeled “Dry-blend” or “Dry-fit” by T-shirt clothing manufacturers, a 50-50 blend is a great shirt if you need a cooler shirt without breaking the bank. It won’t match the moisture-wicking properties of a 100% polyester shirt but can be a great choice when ordering 100’s of shirts for a sporting event or run to keep participants cool when money is tight. Restaurants often use these for kitchen staff too.

100% Polyester Shirts-

Polyester shirts are the standard for intense outdoor work or activity. If you’ve ever had the chance to do a workout in a polyester shirt you’ll know the difference is very real. Employees, event attendees or customers will appreciate the feel of the fabric and these, unlike the 50-50 Cotton/Polyester blend, are true moisture-wicking shirts. 100% polyester shirts can feel very different between each other, depending on the ounce weight of the shirt fabric. 

Also, if you plan on using the sublimation process instead of screen-printing to decorate your shirt you’ll need to use 100% polyester.

Tri-blend Shirt Fabric –

A tri-blend is typically Cotton, Polyester and Rayon and these blends can run in different blend percentages for different feels. The primary difference with a triblend compared to a Cotton/Polyester blend is that the rayon will give the shirt a silky feel that some people can’t do without once they’ve experienced it. Tri-blends are not cheap however, and a decision to use a tri-blend is primarily a fashion/personal choice.

Which Custom T-shirt Blank Shirts have the best Shirt Fabric Quality?

Each clothing brand has it’s own unique sets of fabric, weights and quality depending on where it’s produced and what the shirt producers philosophy is. 

Each shirt manufacturer has different strengths and weaknesses!

When picking a brand of t-shirt be aware that more expensive isn’t necessarily better.

As mentioned above different fabrics have different uses, but even further is that some brands just have their fits and fabric figures out.

Anvil for example has a great Tri-blend T-shirt (one of the best value in the custom shirt industry) and it’s not terribly expensive.

For cotton poly blended t-shirts, we’ve found M&O knit has awesome value in their 3540 line. The shirts are incredibly soft, a nice weight and almost never wrinkle after a wash. 

At the high end of 100% cotton we find American Apparel, Alstyle, and Bella + Canvas have exceptional products that feel extremely soft. For 100% cotton T-shirts at the low end (heavy cotton T-shirts), many companies shirts feel identical or very similar.

The ATC 1000, Gildan 5000, M&O 4800 and even Fruit of the Loom’s basic Tee all feel very similar (sorry shirt companies but it’s true).

If building out your brand is a long-term vision I’d highly suggest taking the time and expense to test out different shirts from different clothing producers.

On your next order, replace a few shirts from your regular order with some new brands and shirt models. This will allow you to test and feel different fabrics with your artwork without needing to do an entire wholesale order with a shirt you’ve never felt. Beyond just the feel on the rack or out of the box, you’ll also get to see how the shirt performs after a few washes and some wear. Sometimes a shirt will get better and broken in with wear, other T-shirts start their best and it’s downhill from there. Some fleece products, like custom hoodies and sweater blanks can see a lot of fleece loss after a wash. 

The best way to identify all these factors is a combination of asking for professional advice from shirt printers (they know their products well) and to always add a few shirt blanks into each wholesale order and keep testing as you go. 

In our experience it never hurts to have back-up T-shirt fabrics, brands and styles tested and ready to go in case you want to make a change.



Ultimately, the right choice of fabric is really based on what you’re trying to achieve and your budget.

Don’t think that the more expensive product is always better – sometimes ordering more of the economical shirt / fabric choice will get you price breaks on your print volume that really make the choice a no-brainer in terms of value per dollar.

Also – if you use more economy oriented shirts you’ll get more of your branding out into the community faster. 

Let the use you’ve got planned decide the fabric! If you’re thinking economy – go with a heavy cotton. If you’re thinking fashion, athletic, or another specific use – upgrade according!


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