← Back to Blog Home
pexels-photo-102303

Ecommerce Printing Guide: Top 5 Quality T-shirts For Your Store

By Elina Bumbiere - Reading time: 5 minutes

You might think that launching an online business is difficult, but selecting the products you want to display on your store is no child’s play either – especially for a newbie. The #1 thing everyone’s after is quality, but it’s definitely not the only thing that can make your product line stand out. There are multiple factors that can affect how well-liked your brand is and sometimes they’re not a part of your getting started kit.

The one downside to print-on-demand services is that you don’t get to see or feel what your chosen t-shirt looks and fits. And you can only tell so much by reading the product descriptions. We get it and we want to make it easier for you. We did all the research, compared products and narrowed down your top choices so begin your sample tests with these. This is what our top 5 looks like – American Apparel 2001, Bella + Canvas 3001, Anvil 980, Gildan 2000, Next Level 3600.

The 3 main categories we’ll be looking at in this post are fabric weight, fit and transparency. Before we get to the more in-depth comparison, let’s go through this basic checklist for each of the garments:

basic_checklist

This basic checklist test may have already pointed out some potential winners for you, but we have a few more tricks up our sleeve to give a better comparison of these garments. First up – fabric weight.

Fabric weight

One of the most important factors to consider is the weight of the fabric. Fabric weight is the outcome of how a fabric has been woven, its finish and sometimes the fiber type.

GSM and OZ

In the US, the fabric is measured in ounces per square yard (oz/yd2), but everyone else out there might have an easier time understanding the metric unit– grams per square meter (g/m2). G/m2 and Oz/yd2 shows how much 1 square meter/yard of fabric weighs, and the higher the g/m2 or oz/yd2 number, the denser the fabric will be.

Let’s take a look at the fabric weight for our top 5 t-shirts:

fabric_weight

Back in the day, there was a close connection between weight and quality – heavy shirts were good, light shirts were cheap. That’s not the case these days. A lightweight shirt can be just as good when it comes to quality as a heavier one. What’s the difference, then? Well, just like big, furry boots are made for winter and breezy flip-flops for summer, a heavier shirt is more durable and warmer than a lightweight one which, on the other hand, is a better layering piece and a hands-down winner when it gets warm and sunny.  

Fun fact: A lighter weight shirt is typically associated with a more youthful audience. It will have a cleaner fit.

The fabric and the fit

All of our top 5 tees are made of cotton, yet they’re not all the same. If reading product descriptions is a part of your daily routine, you might have noticed a few different types of cotton. The first is the Plain Jane aka cotton, followed by it’s prettier cousin ring-spun cotton, and finally, we have the queen of the ball –  combed cotton. Let’s figure out what each of these ladies represents.

Regular Cotton

The processes for creating regular cotton, ring-spun cotton and combed cotton are definitely not the same. Regular cotton is made from soft vegetable fibers that are twisted together to make yarn, which is then woven to make the material. The regular cotton t-shirt is the industry standard. It is less expensive to make, which means it’s a big seller.

Which of these shirts is regular cotton:  Gildan 2000

Ring-spun Cotton

The yarn for ring-spun cotton is made by twisting and thinning the cotton strands to make a very fine, strong, soft rope of cotton fibers. They’ve been through a spinning process that softens and straightens each fiber. Ring-spun cotton t-shirts are more durable and last longer than their regular counterparts, but will also be a bit more expensive, too.

Which of these shirts is ring-spun cotton: Anvil 980

Combed Cotton

Combed cotton is a kind of cotton that has been combed to make the yarn stronger and softer. This combing process also rids the batch of shorter fibers and impurities, which results in a finer, stronger and more compact cotton. Combed cotton is considered higher-quality and softer than cotton that hasn’t been combed.

Which of these shirts is combed cotton: American Apparel 2001

Ring-spun Combed Cotton

It’s a step up in quality as it is even more refined. The reason why it is a step up is because after the cotton fibers have been spun, they’re combed to remove any impurities or imperfect strands.

Which of these shirts is ring-spun combed cotton: Next Level 3600 and Bella + Canvas 3001

But enough about cotton, let’s figure out how these babies fit. The longest tee of our top 5 is the American Apparel 2001 at 29 ⅜ ”. The shortest one – Anvil 980 at 28”. The rest of the garments are your standard 29”. Now the other important measurement is the width. This American Apparel model tends to run small and it might be smart to size up when ordering it. The widest of the bunch would be the Next Level 3600 tee. It’s a good half an inch bigger than the other shirts.  So if you’re looking for something form-fitting, the American Apparel is a good choice. If you prefer a looser fit, consider the Next Level.

There’s something for everyone and this is definitely not the case of one shirt being ultimately better than the other – it’s more about finding what fits your needs. A good quality standard shirt that allows for more profit can be a better match for you than a tee that’s made of top notch fabric and costs a bit more.

How sheer is it?

We’ve looked at the fabric weight, the basic checklist and all the different types of cotton. Here’s what we haven’t done yet – a photo test to see where each of these top 5 tees land on the see-through scale. Here’s what we did. We placed a Printful logo in-between the two sides of the shirt and photographed them under the same lighting to see which one will show through the logo the most. Click on the photos to enlarge the image. 

American Apparel Bella + Canvas Anvil
Gildan nextlevel

A more lightweight shirt is also going to be a bit more sheer than a classic cotton one. You can see the difference when comparing the NL and the Gildan – one is standard cotton and the other one is ring-spun combed cotton. It’s all about knowing what your customers prefer.

Which is the best t-shirt?

So who wins the ultimate battle of the tees? Well, based on all the criteria, it’s either the Next Level or Bella + Canvas one. You can customize the labels, it’s made of the best quality cotton and it fits a bit looser than your average tee. But, simply put, the real winner is the one YOU choose for your customers. We’ve said this a few times in this post, but the perfect tee for you is the one you know your customers are going to love. If you’re looking for something more unique, head to our products and pricing page to find the shirt that matches your vision! If you’re looking for something different, check out our product list – it’s a big one.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to updates

Get actionable drop shipping advice in your inbox

You can unsubscribe at any time with a single click
  1. Lisa D

    This is *great.* I have 3 size L sample shirts I bought from Z*zz**. One fits tightly on my size 2 friend, one long-sleeved one labeled women’s L turned out to be “unisex” i.e. men’s and goes down to my knees with sleeves designed for gorillas, and the other fits fairly well but is a bit too short. (Not to mention the differences in quality and weight.) I will keep this info for when I order my samples from you! Everyone who sells t-shirts online should include width and length in the basic description!

  2. Lisa D

    But then . . . I just went and looked at your Ladies’ Next Level. It is described as slim fitting, and the reviews confirm that it is. This is a good reason why including the measurements of the shirt in your listing would be helpful. Clearly your comments above about the fit of the Next Level refer to the men’s shirt.

    1. Elina Bumbiere Post author

      Hey Lisa,
      You’re right – the women’s tee is described as slim fitting and we are looking at the men’s shirts here. The basic checklist simply points out which of these top 5 tees also has women’s models.

      However, the Next Level 3900 is still half an inch wider than American Apparel. We have a sizing chart available for each model on our products and pricing page and it’s always a good idea to check it out. 🙂

      1. Alex

        Is the NL 3600 for men not also fittted? That is what it states in the description. I have ordered some samples purely on the fact it says it is fitted.

        1. Elina Bumbiere Post author

          Hey, Alex!
          The NL 3600 is a fitted shirt, however, the American Apparel 2001 definitely fits more snug and is more body-hugging. We compared the same size shirts and the NL size M is wider than the AA 2001 one.

    1. Elina Bumbiere Post author

      Hey, Craig!
      These are the top 5 because they all have outstanding printing results. Knowing that the other factors such as fit, fabric, and weight are the ones you need to consider when selecting the right garment for your brand.

    1. Elina Bumbiere Post author

      Hey Nathan,
      There was some conflicting info on different product description pages. We got to the bottom of it and turns out Bella + Canvas 3001 is also combed cotton. We’ve since edited our description page. Thanks for catching this one! 🙂

  3. cat bishop

    You guys are providing such such great content for online shops. I’m considering adding t-shirts this year and this is SO helpful. Keep up the great work!

    Thanks,
    Cat Bishop
    Beach4Good

  4. Adrian Sane

    I normally use American Apparel’s 2001 but have been considering using a different brand to offer bigger sizes in my store. I’d also like to offer as close to as many colors that AA offers to any new brand I introduce to my product line. I ordered a BC sample to see what the quality was like and it felt too light for my taste. A few friends and family confirmed this for me as well. Looks like the clear winner for me is going to be Gildan 2000. Awesome info, great article. Thanks!!!

  5. Edwin

    Amazing post Elina!
    We’ve recently made the switch from American Apparel 2001 to Bell+Canvas 3001. The option to print custom inside labels on Bella+Canvas 3001 sold us :). Plus, their fabric seems to bee a little softer than American Apparel 2001.

  6. Adrian Sane

    Any word yet on when you’ll be adding new colors to the Bella+Canvas 3001 line? This is what I’m using to replace ALL of the AA items in my store and, I have to admit, the available colors is kinda disappointing in comparison with what AA offered me. Not to mention that B+C colors look kind of dull by comparison. Thanks!

  7. Louise Buth

    Comment:
    For ease of use,…please create an all inclusive “graph” on a single sheet for convenience!
    Would appreciate if you’d add to your “basic checklist” chart, your figure/descriptions for…
    – Cotton content/variety……ex. Cotton: Ring-spun, or Cotton: Combed etc.
    – Sheerness…….maybe a % to differentiate between your various t-Shirt Brands

    – At the bottom of the page include a list of “definitions” for the various cotton varieties
    – & how % of sheerness can be used to compare varieties of T’s
    Thanks

  8. Mike

    One of the issues I always have with t shirts is the neck size. I hate getting and even selling a shirt with a wide neck, they just looked stretched out. Many makers seem to default with a larger neck. Can neck size be included with the chest and length measurements in the descriptions? It sure would help me and others narrow down what brands to sample. The AA triblend shirts have a great fitting neck, but now that they’re sold to Gildan who knows if they’ll be around much longer….

  9. Joe

    I totally agree with your recommendation of Next Level. Unfortunately Printful only offers 8 of the 30 colors in their 3600 Style. Otherwise, they’d be my go-to tee. With American Apparel’s future uncertain, I would love to see Printful offer more colors and styles from Next Level.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Thanks for the suggestion! We’re adding more colors to some of our most popular t-shirt models to make up for American Apparel discontinuations, but I’m not sure what’s planned for the 3600 specifically.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      We want to continue stocking them! Right now the ball is in Gildan’s court – once they decide what to do with American Apparel products, we’ll have a better idea of where we stand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published