What are the Best T Shirt Brands for Printing? A quick (but detailed) guide

What are the Best T Shirt Brands for Printing? A quick (but detailed) guide

How much thought do you put into t-shirt brands? Do you stick with a few favorites? Or do you just pick whichever has a style or print design you like?

When it comes to custom t-shirt printing, a lot of people don't have a preferred brand. The question you might be wondering right now is, "Should they?"


Which brand puts out the best t-shirts? It depends on what you're looking for -- whether it's a specific fabric, a soft touch, relaxed fit, vintage look, or a modern fit


Do t-shirt brands matter with custom apparel?   

The short answer? It depends.

Here's a little secret -- Bolt Printing only stocks quality t-shirts. You don't need to worry about any of the t-shirts we sell just falling apart or the design vanishing after a few washes.

However, that isn't to say t-shirt brands don't matter. Your blank t shirt's brand can matter a lot depending on how you intend to use those custom t-shirts.

For example, if you're trying to start your own clothing line, you're going to want something a little higher quality -- at least a carded ring-spun cotton, if not a combed ring-spun cotton -- in a retail fit.

But if your t-shirts are going to be used for a giveaway, you might be looking for low cost options. In that case, you'd be less concerned about fit and fabric.


For a giveaway, the best t-shirts might be a regular cotton instead of a shirt made from a fancier fabric


 The elusive nature of quality when it comes to custom shirts   

Quality can mean very different things to different people. For some, it might mean a strong value -- such as a lot of bang for your buck (ie, a low-cost, extremely durable garment). Others might see it as a consistent product (whether it's the exact same measurements, an identical shade of color, or simply being defect-free). And then still others might look for specific traits, like durability or a certain preferred fit.

However, there are some markers usually associated with higher-end shirts. For instance, a higher yarn count produces a finer, lighter-weight garment. More stitch-work doesn't just improve t-shirts' durability, but it also has a cleaner look.


 Why customizable t-shirt features matter   

T-shirts are generally sold by features, which relate to a want or need. Somebody who wants a performance tee will be unhappy with a 100% cotton shirt. And someone who wants a thick, durable shirt won't like a fashion style.

Ultimately, the 'quality' of a t-shirt comes down to its utility. The best shirt for one activity very well may be the worst for another -- for instance, it's difficult (if not impossible) to have a t-shirt that both keeps you warm and cool. And the more specialized a shirt is in one area, the worse it'll perform in other areas.

When choosing a custom tee, always keep a list of features in mind.


 The impact of custom t-shirt fabric   

Fabric types and fabric composition can also make a difference. Regular cotton t-shirts, for instance, are made with an open-end yarn; although lower in cost, they're not as soft or light. Ring-spun cotton t-shirts use a cotton yarn manufactured through a spinning process that stretches the yarn between spindles. As a result, it's softer and a bit more expensive.


What's the best fabric? It depends on how the t-shirt will be used. However, a ring-spun cotton shirt is always popular (or a combed cotton)


Although a cotton t-shirt is a great choice for most uses, other kinds of fabric also have their advantages.

A 50/50, for instance, holds up better with multiple washings. (Because of the polyester, it shrinks less. Meanwhile, the cotton reduces the pilling you'd normally get with polyester.) It also carries some wicking properties, helping it dry faster.

And then a tri-blend combines the advantages of three fabrics -- providing some of the perks associated with cotton, polyester, and rayon.


 A few other customizable shirt considerations   

There's a natural temptation to pick the cheapest option -- and, on a certain level, it seems to make a lot of sense. But take a moment to really think about why you're ordering custom t-shirts in the first place. If you're promoting an event or your brand, how much good will it do if nobody wants to wear those tees?

There's a certain minimum comfort threshold with t-shirts. No matter how much somebody likes a print design, odds are they aren't going to wear a shirt they find uncomfortable. So while you could go as budget-friendly as possible, there's a point where you're hurting yourself.

Likewise, there's a style factor -- even if a t-shirt is super-comfy, it won't get worn around if the print design is ugly (although it'll likely get worn around the house). So, you could pick the highest-quality t shirts -- the absolute best-quality t-shirts out there -- and if people really dislike your design, it won't matter.

A sometimes-less considered aspect is the clothing brand itself. Some brands carry a perceived value completely independent of a shirt's actual features -- for example, you might have people who want to wear a Bella+Canvas simply because it's a Bella+Canvas.

If you're just looking for a bargain, check out Bolt Printing's best deals section -- we have some incredible offers if you don't care about custom t-shirt brands. However, for a little bit more, you could go from good quality t-shirts to great quality t-shirts. And, depending on how your shirts will be used, that little extra can go a very long way.



 Notable custom shirt brands   

There are a great many blank t-shirt brands -- far too many to list in one article -- so instead let's take a look at several of the most popular t-shirt makers and their prominent offerings.



 Gildan (a great choice for promotional t-shirts) 


When it comes to consistent quality, Gildan produces the best t-shirts -- they handle cotton every step of the way


Gildan is one of the world's leading manufacturers for blank t-shirts and other apparel.

The company's most notable trait might be its incredible consistency. Because Gildan is so vertically integrated (meaning it directly controls its supply chain), it's able to maintain highly-consistent production standards.

And because Gildan's manufacturing tends to be centralized around certain areas, small details -- like a water's pH level -- remain consistent, which in turn leads to greater consistency with their t-shirts.

Custom t-shirt printing companies love Gildan because you always know what you're getting.

And even if you're not familiar with Gildan, you might recognize American Apparel -- in fact, you might've even bought something from the American Apparel website in the past. Gildan purchased American Apparel in 2017 and has since taken over manufacturing garments for the popular clothing brand.


A cotton t-shirt with a simple graphic and message.


(Above is an example of a screen printed design on a Gildan blank t-shirt.)

Gildan also owns Comfort Colors, a popular t-shirt brand beloved by the resort market and fraternities. Despite Gildan being known for its consistency, Comfort Colors is famous for its "color blast tees" which CC advertises as no two being the same.


 Popular Gildan t-shirts   

5000 - regular

2000 - thick & heavyweight t shirt

8000 - a 50/50 blend


 Where do Gildan shirts rank?   

Gildan runs the gamut from opening price points (meaning very budget-friendly) to higher-end offerings that rival brands known for their quality t-shirts.



 Bella+Canvas (great for shirt designers looking to sell a custom design)


Need a retail-style t-shirt? B+C produces a great combed cotton and ring-spun cotton t-shirt


Another popular t shirt brand used in the custom t-shirt industry is Bella+Canvas. The company is interesting in that its founders -- Danny Harris and Marco DeGeorge -- got started in screen printing. Upon being disappointed by a lack of "great-fitting and feeling" garments, the two shifted to producing blank t-shirts and other garments. (Or, in other words, they went from shirt-printing to shirt-manufacturing.)

Bella+Canvas sticks to producing higher-end t-shirts, like their combed, ringspun cotton v-neck tees and crew neck t-shirts. They also have an extremely popular tri-blend tee.



Some of their tees use superior airlume combed and ringspun cotton.


Popular Bella+Canvas t-shirts   

3001 - regular (features a ton of color choices)

3001CVC - heather colors


 Where do Bella+Canvas shirts rank?   

As noted, Bella+Canvas tends to be on the higher-end of blank t-shirts. It enjoys a very high perceived quality -- thanks to the company's great brand recognition -- which makes Bella+Canvas's apparel something people want to wear.



 Next Level Apparel (another maker of stylish custom clothing)   


Next Level makes some of the best t shirts. They use tri-blend fabric to keep the fabric weight down on each t -shirt


Next Level is a maker of stylish apparel. The company is big when it comes to fabric blends (including a lot of tri-blends) and prides itself on having apparel with a finer fabric weight.

Fabric composition is a big deal at Next Level, which blends fabrics to achieve a soft feel, provide a better printing surface, and other effects.


 Popular Next Level t-shirts   

6410-Sueded T-Shirt


 Where do Next Level shirts rank?   

Next Level produces what's widely viewed as a very high-end product and is known for making incredible tri-blend t-shirts.

While not something you'd want to use for a giveaway (unless you were promoting a luxury product or brand associated with quality), these are among the best t-shirts out there.



 Sport-Tek (great for team shirts and moisture-wicking clothing)


Sport-Tek makes great blank athletic apparel -- including tank tops


As the name suggests, Sport-Tek focuses on high-performance athletic apparel. Thanks to its moisture-wicking fabrics, Sport-Tek's garments are breathable, manage moisture, and reduce odor.



 Popular Sport-Tek t-shirts   

ST640 - polo

ST350 - short-sleeve tee

ST350LS - long-sleeve tee


 Where do Sport-Tek shirts rank?   

Sport-Tek is a premier provider of athletic wear. If you're looking to outfit a local sports team (and don't need to customize names or numbers), Sport-Tek is a great choice.


 Does screen printing vs digital printing matter? Are screen printed t-shirts usually better?     

The short answer? Once again, it depends.

Although it makes the most sense to screen print when possible (because it offers more vibrant colors and can be done at a lower cost), digital printing has some advantages.


Most t-shirts look better when embellished with a screen print rather than a digital.


Digital printing -- also known as direct-to-garment (or DTG) printing -- is effectively a print-on-demand solution. While orders need to be a certain size for screen printing (given the set-up), a digital print can be done with an order of any size (although it's mostly saved for smaller orders).

The other big advantage with DTG printing is that it handles certain kinds of designs -- like photographs -- better than screen printing.


 "Why don't companies just digitally print all their custom tees?"   

So why isn't digital printing the industry standard for custom t shirts? Why don't all custom apparel companies focus exclusively on print-on-demand business? Why hasn't it become the only t-shirt printing method?

First, there's the cost -- when ordering in bulk, it's cheaper to screen print. Second, the colors on a digital print tend to look a little muted. Third, digital printing has a lot of limitations when it comes to style, fabric type, and ink.



 Which custom apparel brand is right for you?   


Can't pick the best t-shirt for your graphic design? We have many of the best blank t-shirts, with some avaiable at low cost


Still making up your mind? Be sure to check out our online catalog or give us a call. You'll find additional details about the t-shirts offered by these different brands, including information on pricing.

Bolt Printing carries many of the top custom apparel brands. Whether you're looking to get a ringspun cotton t shirt, a tri-blend, a combed cotton t-shirt, or just a plain old regular cotton tee with short sleeves, we have you covered.


 When in doubt, you can always order a sample (ie, either a blank custom tee or one with a generic design)   

Picking the right shirt can be hard -- we get that. It's why we let customers order blank t-shirt samples so they see the fabric for themselves.

We want you to be happy with your t-shirt purchase. At the end of the day, the best t-shirts are the ones you absolutely love and enjoy wearing.


 Start designing custom t-shirts today!   

If you're looking to try your hand at designing a custom t-shirt, try out our online design studio. You can test various combinations of artwork (we have a large clip art library) and fonts.

And if you're not ready to order today, you can always save your design for later.