The Secrets of T-Shirt Fabric!


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Everyone loves t-shirts, and most of us own dozens of them. Some of them are blank and some of them are screen printed with exciting graphic designs, funny slogans, or company logos. How much do you know about this casual wardrobe staple? This guide will help you distinguish one t-shirt from another and choose the right shirt for a screen printing or DTG project.

Fabric composition: cotton, poly, and more

  • 100% cotton made up the first t-shirts, and it’s still the classic choice. Usually preshrunk, cotton fabric may still shrink when you wash and dry it.
  • 52/48 blended cotton/polyester has a lower chance of shrinking when washed and dried. Also a great substrate for heat transfers or sublimation.
  • 50/25/25 cotton/poly/rayon fabric is often called “tri-blend.” The addition of rayon makes the garment drape and stretch nicely, and its often given a heathered look.

Cotton preparation: all about thread

  • When cotton is picked from the field, it has to be “carded” before it’s spun. This removes tangles from the fiber. Some cotton goes through an extra step called “combing,” which aligns the fibers for an even smoother thread and fabric. A combed cotton shirt will feel much nicer against the skin, and will show detailed screen printing better.
  • Most cotton thread is spun in an “open-ended” fashion. This produces a nice thread, but it’s not as strong or smooth as it could be. Higher quality is achieved with ring-spun thread. Many retail t-shirts are ring-spun, and the difference is clear when you touch the shirts.
  • Another factor is the thickness of the thread. This is measured in “singles,” and the bigger the number, the thinner the thread. A budget t-shirt might be 18-singles, while a high-end retail t-shirt is more likely to be 30-singles or even 40-singles. Thinner thread means the surface of the garment will be smoother, and the screen printing will turn out better.

Fabric thickness: a weighty matter

  • 6.1 oz. t-shirts are made of fabric that weighs 6.1 oz per yard. These are the thickest jersey t-shirts you can usually find. Their thickness makes them stiffer, with very little drape.
  • 5.5 oz. shirts are made of slightly lighter fabric. Midweight shirts have less cotton in them, which may make them less expensive. They drape more on the body, making them more popular among women.
  • 4.5 oz. shirts are the latest retail trend. They are quite thin while still being opaque, so you cannot see the body through the shirt.
  • 3 or 4 oz. t-shirts may be sheer rather than opaque. Wearing layered “tissue jersey” shirts is a current fashion trend for women.

As you can image, these features have a big impact on the cost of a t-shirt for screen printing. The cotton market has been unstable and elevated in 2011, making 100% cotton shirts more and more expensive. Combed cotton is more costly than cotton that has just been carded, and ring-spun cotton t-shirts are pricier than the traditional spinning methods. Counterintuitively, thinner shirts are usually more expensive than thicker ones. Your screen printed t-shirt project will probably need to strike a balance between budget and fashion.

By Chris Arranaga from Yahoo VoicesÊÊÊ