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How to Choose the Best T-Shirt Material for Your Design

How to Choose the Best T-Shirt Material for Your Design

How to Choose the Best T-Shirt Material for Your Design

It’s hard enough perfecting your custom t-shirt design—and now that you’ve finally got it all squared away, you still have to decide on which fabric shirt to print it on. It may feel a bit daunting at first (I mean, what the heck even is a tri-blend, and why should you care?!)—but in this guide, we're going to break things down to the point where you'll be able to identify the fabric makeup of a shirt in your sleep.

So read on to get up to speed on everything you need to know about choosing the right fabric for your custom t-shirt—and how different fabric blends can impact the look of your final product. Let’s get to it!

100% cotton t-shirt fabric

Cotton t-shirts have a lot going for them. They’re usually the most economic option and on top of that they show colors off really, really well. Your colors aren’t going to pop on any other fabric the way they will on an 100% cotton t-shirt.

Cotton t-shirts, however, are the least soft of the options, but still there’s no need for your 100% cotton shirt to be uncomfortable. At Real Thread, we don’t sell shirts that we don’t think you’ll like. But that being said, there’s always going to be a difference in comfort between 100% cotton and a tri-blend t-shirt.

Also, not all cotton shirts are the same. There really is a noticeable difference between one t-shirt company and the next. This shirt from Next Level has it all (just read the reviews), and if you’re looking for an economic option, it’s hard to compete with.

100% cotton t-shirts have been around for as long as there have been t-shirts, so I’m guessing that you know how it feels already. You probably already own a few, so let’s move on to polyester-cotton blends.

Polyester and cotton t-shirt blends

Coming in just a little softer than 100% cotton t-shirts are poly cotton blends. Polyester is produced through a chemical process, so you won’t find much polyester growing outside — at least not the type that will be woven into your t-shirt. Polyester is often more heat-resistant, water-resistant, and wrinkle- and tear-resistant than 100% cotton t-shirts. They also give the t-shirt a little more stretch, which feels pretty nice.

Polyesters are used in a wide range of everyday items like bottles, film, and tarpaulin. They’re also a major component of many wood finishes, especially for those found on guitars, pianos, and boats. Though plastic doesn’t sound like the most comfortable material, it’s a highly versatile material that’s used in a bunch of places you may not have thought to look.

If you haven’t tried on a t-shirt with polyester (it’s surprising how many t-shirts have some polyester in them), then it might be time to see how durable and comfortable they are. If you’re looking for a recommendation, American Apparel offers one of our most popular sellers for cotton-polyester blends, as does the Next Level 6210. They are going to cost slightly more than a cotton t-shirt, but if softness is what you’re going for, then it will be worth it.

Tri-blend t-shirt fabric

Hence the name, tri-blends are a blend of three materials: cotton, polyester, and rayon. Rayon is the real magic here. It’s a manufactured material, but it’s not considered synthetic because it’s made with an organic material, wood pulp. Through different manufacturing techniques, rayon can feel like silk, wool, linen, or cotton. It’s pretty amazing that you can do so much with some wood!

If you don’t currently have a tri-blend t-shirt, we’d highly recommend you discover how comfortable one of these shirts can be. This Next Level t-shirt really takes things to the next level. It’s hard to find a product anywhere that gets 4.9 stars. Just a heads up, tri-blends are usually the most expensive of the three options. But if you haven’t tried a tri-blend t-shirt and you want the comfiest t-shirt in the world, then it’s well worth the price.

Alternative t-shirt material options

You now know almost everything you need to know connected to the fabrics we offer at Real Thread. There are a couple more options if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary. Because these options are more limited than the first three choices, they are going to be a little more expensive. But they also offer some very unique benefits, especially if you’re heading somewhere cold or you need something to keep you cool during a tough workout.


Bamboo is becoming more popular as a material for t-shirts because of its anti-bacterial and moisture-wicking qualities. These t-shirts are a good choice for a workout or run. They can keep the temperature down and make a hot summer day a little easier to bear.


Viscose is a type of rayon, so it’s produced from wood pulp. It has some of the same qualities as rayon, but it’s also similar to bamboo in being great for a workout because of its natural moisture-wicking qualities. We offer women’s tank tops from Bella+Canvas that are made out of poly-viscose blends if you’re looking to try on a viscose shirt.


Hemp has been around for a long time, but hemp apparel is just beginning to take off –– and for good reason. Not only is hemp insanely comfortable to wear, but it's also actively saving the planet by absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide. We recommend checking out this t-shirt from Royal Apparel if you're looking to try a hemp t-shirt.

Print results

Another thing to know about cotton, cotton/poly, and tri-blend fabrics is that they all print differently. Assuming you want to throw a custom design on your shirt, the print results of the fabric is something to think about. We won't get into it too much in this post, but our team would love to help guide your selection process based on the result you're hoping to achieve.

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