Blog / Beginner's handbook / Guide to Cotton, Polyester, and Blended Fabrics
Starting an online clothing store is fun, but it’s not always easy. Among the many choices you have to make, deciding which types of fabric to use for your products is one of the most important ones.
If you’re just starting out, you might be tempted to use the cheapest canvas for your designs, but don’t rush the decision. Think about your audience and how you’re presenting your brand. And don’t forget that the fabric of your garments has to go well not only with your chosen niche, but with your designs too.
Every apparel retailer should be familiar with three primary fabric types: cotton, polyester, and blended fabrics. In this blog post, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of them to help you decide which fabrics are the best for your store.
Cotton is the most widely produced natural fiber on the planet. As a fabric, it’s known for its comfort and durability, which makes it one of the most popular fabrics used in apparel.
Cotton is a versatile fiber that can be woven or knitted into many different fabrics like denim, flannel, jersey, and more. Each of which, of course, has a slightly different feel and wear.
All cotton fabrics are soft and breathable, which makes them perfect for warm climates and hot weather, and for people with sensitive skin.
Lastly, cotton isn’t clingy. So if you don’t want to sell form-fitting clothes on your store and prefer a looser fit, choose cotton. But keep in mind 100% cotton dries slowly, so it’s probably not ideal for activewear.
Cotton makes a great surface for DTG printing. So if you want your design to be opaque and crisp, pick a garment made from 100% cotton. Just keep in mind that DTG prints don’t come out as solidly on thick cotton clothing (e.g. sweatshirts) as they do on t-shirts.
Popular 100% cotton products available on Printful:
High-quality cotton is super durable, which makes it less prone to accidental rips or tears. However, cotton isn’t as durable as polyester or cotton/polyester blends.
Just like most natural materials, it can shrink when subjected to high temperatures. So when washing a cotton shirt, use cold water and avoid adding too much detergent as doing so can affect the wear and tear of the material. Choose a delicate cycle setting on your washing machine to prevent color fading.
Keep in mind that, because of different manufacturing techniques, products can feel different on your skin, even if they are all 100% cotton. You can see this in action in our People Test T-Shirts video:
Polyester is a man-made fiber that is synthesized from petroleum-based products. Polyester cloth was invented in 1941, so compared to cotton, this fabric is a fairly new player in the game.
But despite that, polyester is becoming an increasingly popular option in the apparel industry. Polyester is especially valued by those who are looking for a fabric that withstands a lot of wearing and washing.
Let’s look at what polyester is like when wearing it and more specifically—how polyester fits.
Polyester is lightweight and has a slightly silkier feel to it than cotton does. It’s also perfect for sports. Apparel made from polyester traps the sweat against the skin. This means that polyester shirts may feel slightly clammy in warm weather, but warm in cooler weather.
Polyester shirts are usually light and thin and they may cling to skin a little. For those with extremely sensitive skin, polyester may cause a small irritation, but it isn’t as common when polyester is blended with other fabrics.
Is polyester stretchy? 100% polyester is not stretchy at all due to the lack of elasticity in this fiber. Polyester can be made more stretchy by blending it with other stretchy fibers like elastane.
Does polyester shrink? Polyester doesn’t naturally shrink and 100% polyester won’t lose its shape even after a good deal of wear and tear. It’ll snap back into shape pretty quickly.
If you own a clothing store, you’re probably wondering what kind of material is polyester when it comes to printing.
For some time, printing on polyester was quite a challenge. But thanks to special dyes and advanced printing technologies, achieving high-quality prints on polyester fabrics is no longer a worry. Printed colors are vibrant and unlikely to fade with time.
However, since printing on polyester garments is more difficult than on cotton or fabric blends, polyester products are usually more expensive.
Popular 100% polyester products available on Printful:
Polyester is very durable, more so than cotton and most blended fabrics. It’s also difficult to stain permanently because polyester is less absorbent than most fabrics.
Polyester fabrics are also known for their resistance to wrinkling, shrinking and fading when properly taken care of. That said, it’s recommended to machine wash polyester garments in warm water with all-purpose detergent, then follow up with tumble-dry at a low-temperature setting.
Most Printful products have detailed care instruction on the product pages.
Now that you’re familiar with both fabrics let’s go through the cotton vs. polyester comparison checklist to see what are the characteristics that set them apart.
This comparison table may already give you an idea which fabric suits your needs better. But before you make a final decision, take a look at what fabric blends have to offer.
As you can probably guess, fabric blends are created when two or more different kinds of fibers are combined together to create a new type of textile with unique properties.
Throughout the years, blended fabrics have been developed to cater to specific needs, like improving the texture, durability, feel of the material, or even reducing the cost of apparel production.
Today there are hundreds of fabric blends available in the market, but the more popular blends for printed apparel are:
If you can’t decide between cotton or polyester, combine the best of both and go for a cotton-polyester blend.
Cotton-polyester blends are versatile and are used to make everything from bedding to shirts. Because polyester doesn’t shrink or change shape like cotton does, this blend is easier to wash and dry. And thanks to the cotton component in the blend, garments made from cotton-polyester blends are more breathable compared to pure polyester products.
Best part, this blend makes a great canvas for bright, colorful designs.
Popular cotton-polyester products available on Printful:
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber that combines just the right amount of polyester, cotton, and rayon. Apparel made from this fabric is soft and stretchy, yet durable. This famous tri-blend makes perfect fabric for loose fit apparel, and are loved for their snuggly feel.
Due to the looser weave and combination of fabrics, DTG prints on tri-blends will have a so-called vintage feel. It’s because the fabric of the garment slightly shows through the ink.
Popular tri-blend products available on Printful:
Spandex, also known as elastane or lycra, is a synthetic fiber best known for its elasticity. When combined with cotton, spandex makes a perfect fabric for clothing that is soft to the touch and durable. Most commonly, polyester-spandex blends are used in activewear as spandex is stretchy and can retain its original shape—and polyester is durable.
Popular polyester-spandex products available on Printful:
All three fabric types have their advantages and disadvantages, so it truly comes down to a personal preference. But as a store owner, you need to think about the fabric and products you choose, because it reflects on your brand. You should also let your customers know the fit, feel, and care instructions of each fabric garment so they last longer.
During her time as blog manager at Printful, Giedre learned the importance of content localization. Now she uses this knowledge as International Content Marketing Manager to overlook Printful’s communications in all languages but English.
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