How to Choose the Best T-Shirt Material: A Complete Guide
When perusing t-shirts, you might not know what your preferred material is, nor what makes up the majority of your clothes. We tend to pay more attention to details like handfeel and fit, so we touch and try on t-shirts without necessarily being aware of what we’re looking for at a fabric level.
Of course, the material makeup is on the t-shirt’s tag, but, oftentimes, we really only check out the tag to read the washing and drying instructions. The truth is there’s no right answer when it comes to t-shirt material. Everyone has a different interest and preference, with variables such as shirt usage and skin sensitivity.
Whether you’re looking to wear, make, or print t-shirts, we figured it’d be helpful to break down what goes into a t-shirt. So here’s a quick rundown of the most common materials and blends for t-shirts out there!
Cotton is the most popular fabric for t-shirts, since it’s affordable and agreeable. Although "100% cotton" sounds lovely and evokes imagery of sleeping on a field that looks like a cloud, it doesn't actually make for the softest of t-shirts — though it is gentle on the skin. So while cotton is often considered the standard, its t-shirt output can be quite sturdy in its build. There are ways to make cotton t-shirts more wearable, though. Ring-spun cotton, for instance, is cotton that's undergone a manufacturing process that pretty much straightens all the cotton yarn in order to flow in the same direction, thus making it more lightweight and breathable. Likewise, cotton can be combed as well, where the cotton fibers are combed to remove any impurities. Combing ring-spun cotton is like making the great better. So cotton can indeed be soft, but it’ll likely need to be rung-spun and combed to get the handfeel you’re after. Of course, there's always pima cotton, which is more of a high-end offering that's smoother, softer, and more durable.
A common synthetic fabric, polyester can take a beating, making it ideal for athletic wear. Easy to wash and fast-drying, polyester is totally lightweight and yet it can really withstand the elements (and wrinkles). Not only does it keep itself in tact, polyester maintains its shape, all while being harder to stain than other t-shirt fabrics. Given that polyester can do all this, the material's not exactly a go-to for comfiness. It goes hard, so it’s best to not expect softness.
Rayon is a shiny, drapey semi-synthetic shapeshifter when it comes to shirt material. It’s breathable and majorly adaptive, as it can feel like anything from cotton to silk. Since it's sourced from regenerated cellulose / purified cellulose fibers, often from woods such as bamboo or beech, and then put through an extremely intensive chemical process, rayon’s able to be readily applied to substantially different fabric goals. You can choose accordingly; the three main types of rayon are viscose, modal, and lyocell. Known for its breathability and absorbency, rayon is typically used for athletic gear and more flowy tops.
When combined, cotton and polyester prove to be a lightweight, durable blend that delivers the best of both worlds. Cotton-poly blends bring in the comfort, breathability, and softness of cotton and incorporate the dynamic performance features of polyester, such as moisture wicking and dimensional stability. That’s why StratuSoft, the proprietary fabric of Fresh Clean Tees, is a cotton-poly blend. It has a buttery soft feel that lasts dozens of washes, so of course we slapped a 100-day guarantee on our tees.
Cotton, Polyester, and Rayon (Triblends)
In triblends, you get something akin to divine material teamwork. Cotton, polyester, and rayon come together to craft a super-soft shirt that lasts and lasts. For the most part, triblends are half polyester, a quarter cotton, and a quarter rayon, and, although they’re quite the blessing, triblends can add up price-wise, given that it’s combining the best of three worlds.
Each year, the t-shirt industry expands its research and development, with some companies experimenting with cheaper material sources and some companies pursuing more sustainable t-shirts. At Fresh Clean Tees, we’re always exploring new materials while dropping new styles, including our recently launched line of polo shirts and our revamped tank tops, once 100% cotton and now made with our cotton-poly StratuSoft fabric.
— Jake Kilroy
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