Garment choice: Finding the best customizable t-shirt for your needs
There's a bewildering array of fabric and t-shirt style options out there. Finding the right fabric option that works best for your t-shirt design ideas can be a little daunting. Before you choose a style of garment to print, think about your end goal. Knowing what the end goal is will help you find your top choice garment for each project.
Important custom t-shirt questions to consider:
- Are you purchasing shirts as a promotion or a give-away?
- Are you purchasing uniforms for a business or a school?
- Do you have a unique design, and want to resell the shirts?
- Is staying cool in warm temperatures important?
- What is the activity level of the person wearing the garment?
Knowing the what, who, and why details helps narrow down your potential fabric options and simplifies finding the right choice garments for your project.
The right shirt fabric depends on the customization
Some fabric options are definitely better suited for t-shirt design and printing applications. Some materials are easier to print on and do a better job of displaying your logo, message or graphic design. Making the right decision is the first important step to get your new uniform, t-shirt line or customized gift just right.
100% Cotton T-shirts that do not call out "ring-spun" are generally knitted with fabric using an "open end" or "carded" yarn. T-Shirts made with this type of yarn will have a lower cost and will be less soft. Shirts made with this type of fabric are the most common variety used for basic custom printed cotton t-shirts because of the lower cost.
- Preshrunk doesn't mean that the garment will not shrink. It means that the fabric was compacted to reduce shrinkage, twisting, and torquing when laundered. All major mills make garments to accommodate the shrinkage expected to occur during the recommended care (see the instructions on the label).
- Ring-Spun Cotton means the fabric was knitted with ring-spun yarn. Ring-spun yarn is made by a spinning technique that stretches the yarn between the spindles. T-shirts made with ring-spun yarn are softer, more expensive, and create an ideal platform for screen printing.
- Combed Ring-Spun Cotton is a step up from regular ring-spun yarn. During this process, cotton fibers are spun then combed through to remove impurities while ensuring the fabric stays soft to the touch. Fewer impurities means a smoother surface to print on. These are also softer, lighter, and on the more expensive end. This type of fabric is usually used on retail-style shirts.
50/50 Blends are knitted from a yarn that's half 100% cotton and half polyester. The result is a fabric that feels a bit lighter. Some customers also note 50/50 blends feel more breathable and a bit softer. This was the original t-shirt fabric and used to be the most popular selling style (due to cost). However, as the customer demand has moved to 100% cotton, prices can be a bit higher. This fabric is preferred for t-shirts used as uniforms (ie, a polo shirt with a design logo or custom shirts) because it's easy to care for and less prone to wrinkling. It's most commonly used by community sports leagues/teams and small businesses such as landscaping companies, construction companies, trade service companies, and restaurants.
Tri-Blend is exactly what it sounds like, a fabric created by blending three different types of thread. This ingenious material has the durability of polyester, the comfort of cotton-printed shirts, and the drape of rayon. These benefits allow manufacturers to offer a higher-quality, super-soft, well-fitting tee. This material is even softer, lighter, and comfortable than combed ring-spun cotton shirts (and is more expensive).
Performance Fabric is designed to wick moisture away from the body. These are 100% polyester and are mostly used as athletic shirts. They're easy to care for and don't need to be ironed. 100% polyester shirts won't shrink and mostly have a silky texture. They do require a specific method of printing and are more commonly used as an active shirt, both for indoor and outdoor use. Perfect for high-intensity activities, these shirts will keep your body dry longer than regular cotton printed and DryBlend shirts. Because it's on the more expensive end, this type of fabric isn't usually picked as a give-away shirt.
Once you pick the right material, you should consider the cut of the shirt. Basic cotton printed t-shirts such as BD54, 5000, BD55, and 8000 will usually be on the boxy side. These will run true to size and some styles are a bit over-sized to accommodate the shrinkage, which can be up to 5% on a 100% cotton t-shirts.
Choose the best fabric and surface texture for your next custom printing or embroidery project.
As a general custom apparel rule:
Smooth, flat surfaces are ideal for screen-printing.
Textured, thicker fabrics are ideal for custom embroidery.
Custom tee fabrics fall into two main categories:
Knit Fabrics are made of yarn that is looped continuously producing a braided look.
Knit fabrics are more stretchy.
Woven Fabrics are created on a loom made by interlacing two or more threads at right angles, like a basket weave. Woven fabrics are not stretchy and have little give.
Jersey fabric shirts:
a knitted fabric = basic t-shirt material.
Variations: content, weight, thread count, and yarn type.
T-Shirts, Polo Shirts & Tank Tops are often made with Jersey Fabric
100% Cotton shirts:
Knitted with 100% cotton yarn
Best Selling in this category.
Garments are expected to shrink; they are roomier to accommodate shrinkage (even when the label says pre-shrunk).
Ideal Embellishment: Screen printing
Embroidery is okay on a heavier dark garment.
100% Ring-spun Cotton
Common t-shirt weights:
Lightweight: 4.8 oz or less
Heavyweight: 5.3-5.6 oz
Super Heavyweight: 6.1 oz
What are the custom t-shirts for?
Are these work shirts? If so, then you should take into consideration whether the employees are constantly moving, if they are outdoors or indoors, and the workplace's dress code. Shirts made of polyester or polyester blend are a good fabric choice for anyone who moves a lot or works outside. This type of fabric will be more breathable than 100% cotton printed shirts and feel lighter in the heat.
If you're not concerned about the heat and comfort is your top priority, you may go with a ring-spun cotton printed shirt that will keep your employees comfortable at all times.
For give-aways and gifts, the basic cotton t-shirts are usually the go-to fabric since they keep the cost low. With that, you can order a bulkier amount of shirts and spend less money compared to ordering a different type of material.
For those who are selling the shirts or starting a new t-shirt line, it's all about comfort and looking nice. Retail styles tend to go for a super soft, light fabric with a "retail cut" to make the shirts more fitted. Ring-spun cottons and tri-blends have a similar cut. The main difference is the weight of the shirts and their softness (tri-blends are softer and lighter), as well as the cost of each item.
Pick a customizable shirt color, any color
Now that you have a clearer idea of which type of shirt to pick, it's time to choose a color and start designing your printed t-shirts.
For your next custom printed t-shirt project, there are a crazy number of shirt colors to choose from. With the addition of print color(s), the color combinations are truly endless.
Without a doubt, you can design a cool t-shirt that's truly one-of-a-kind.
If you're struggling to make the final decision or want to stay mainstream, here's a list of top selling colors by season:
Top Selling Shirt Colors Year Round
By far the top selling shirt colors are black, white, red, royal blue and athletic gray (also called heather gray, sport gray, or athletic heather).
Top Selling Spring and Summer Shirt Colors
Top Selling Fall and Winter Colors
In fall and winter deep, rich colors in all color families (dark gray, cardinals (or maroons), navy, and dark greens) are on-trend.