Polyester Vs. Cotton: What Are The Main Differences

The humble T-shirt is a simple, classic staple that remains more popular than ever. Everybody loves a well-designed, well-fitting T-shirt. However, it’s a highly oversaturated market with thousands of options- between the hundreds of styles, dozens of major brands, various fabric types, and new blends coming out every year, there’s a lot for suppliers to handle. 

So how did the T-shirt become so complicated, and how do you choose the right material for your T-shirts? This article discusses different shirt fabrics, their pros and cons, and recommendations for each shirt fabric. 

Related: How To Start A Swimwear Line

The Three Most Common T-Shirt Fabrics

You can technically make T-shirts out of almost any material, from human hair to tiger skin. Still, it’s safe to assume most manufacturers aren’t in the market for human hair T-shirts. Instead, there are three main fabric categories (or types) used to make the majority of t-shirts today, which are discussed below to help you make an informed decision. 

100% Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic, durable fabric that is exceptionally resilient. Polyester’s low level of moisture absorbency allows the material to dry rapidly; a quality referred to as “moisture-wicking.” Polyester is so non-absorbent that it’s known as being “hydrophobic.” Polyester always keeps its shape, so there’s a minimal amount of shrinking or stretching, no matter what kind of extreme wash and dry cycle the material is subject to. Its resiliency to water and heat makes the dri-fit fabric a staple for athletes and outdoor adventure types who sweat a lot and regularly subject themselves to extreme conditions. Although you may not think so when sniffing around the local gym, polyester also boasts a certain amount of odor resistance since odor-causing agents tend to leave with evaporating sweat. On top of all these great qualities, polyester doesn’t stain as easily as other common T-shirt materials. Polyester is so popular for a reason!

100% Cotton

a 100% cotton t-shirt


Cotton has remained the most popular and common fabric for T-shirts since they were invented. Cotton is a natural, fluffy vegetable fiber extracted from a cotton plant’s seed pods. The fiber is generally spun into yarn or thread and then woven into the breathable, soft fabric everybody knows and wears. Most of the T-shirts you own are probably cotton, or at least partially cotton. Cotton is so widely used globally due to its low cost of production, versatility, and breathability. This fabric is also hypoallergenic, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin. Humans have been using cotton to make fabric and clothing for thousands of years, with the first cotton fabrics dating back to prehistoric times!

Blended Fabrics

As you might infer, a blend is a fabric or yarn composed of more than one kind of fiber. Blends are trendy right now and comprise a significant percentage of the T-shirt market- and for many good reasons. Blended fabrics can offer the best qualities of both types of materials or tr-blends, the best of all three fabric types. There are three main categories of cotton/polyester blends:

  • CVC- Chief Value Cotton is a majority-cotton blend
  • 50/50- Also referred to as cotton/poly, a 5/50 blend is half polyester, half cotton
  • TriBlend- Usually composed of polyester, cotton, and rayon

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The Right T-Shirt Material For Your Needs

So which material should you use for the t-shirts in your apparel business? Like most questions in the custom apparel business, the answer depends on a variety of factors. When it comes to which t-shirt material is best for you, the answer depends on your specific needs:

  • The qualities you prioritize for the specific t-shirt design: Breathability, softness, structure, moisture-wicking, etc.
  • How much you’re willing to pay: Your maximum budget for the order per item
  • The print method you’re using: screen printing, direct-to-garment, embroidery, etc.
  • The ideal wearer: style, age range, activity level, expectations
  • The purpose of the shirt: sporting uniform, promotional merchandise, work shirt, casual

Looking for premium apparel manufacturers? Work with POND Threads today!

Which Fabric Is Right For Your Tees?

woman's shirt hanging on a clothes hanger

If You Go With 100% Cotton

100% cotton shirts are breathable, soft, comfortable, non-clingy, very gentle on the skin, and are easily customized with any printing method. Some cons of 100% cotton include:

  • 100% cotton tees can stain, wrinkle, and shrink a bit. 
  • They also tend to absorb moisture and hold it, rather than letting moisture roll off and evaporate like polyester. Pretty much everybody, everywhere, wears cotton tees, so it’s always a safe bet.

If You Go With 100% Polyester

100% polyester shirts are:

  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Silky smooth
  • Resistant to fading or shrinking
  • Resistant to absorbing water, allowing moisture to evaporate quickly

Some cons of 100% polyester shirts include:

  • Polyester is not as breathable as cotton, which can be irritating to the skin
  • Polyester can be clingy
  • Only certain printing methods can be used on polyester
  • The price of polyester can be higher, depending on the brand

If You Go With A Blend

If you’re looking for the best of both (or three) worlds, a blend may be the right choice. The poly-cotton 50/50 came out as the first major blend, but recently the tri-blend, which adds rayon for extra drape and softness, is becoming increasingly popular. There is also the CVC, which is a predominantly cotton blend. Tri-blends are the most versatile and retain the best qualities of different fabric types but tend to be priced higher.

Which Fabric Makes The Softest T-Shirt?

a soft fabric white t-shirt


Tri-blends are much softer than all other common T-shirt fabric types. The effective integration of cotton, rayon, and polyester fibers creates a powerful fabric that offers an extreme softness that makes you want to wear it repeatedly. Tri-blends have only been on the market for around 14 years; during its short period of arrival, it’s rapidly turned into one of the most popular fabrics used in the T-shirt business. Most people say their favorite T-shirt is a Tri-blend, and there aren’t many downsides to Tri-blends as a T-shirt fabric. However, here are some qualities of Tri-blends that you may want to keep in mind:

  • T-shirts made from Tri-blends run a bit smaller than their counterparts, which is known as a “fashion fit.” If Uncle Darius typically wears a medium, order him a large. 
  • They are lightweight, so an excessive amount of ink printing will weigh the fabric down. Give it a soft hand with direct-to-garment printing (DTG), regular screen printing with no under base, or water-based discharge. 

Related: Pattern Making: Everything You Need To Know

Taking Your Brand To The Next Level With POND Threads

Which fabric you use for your t-shirts depends on your specific priorities, target customer, and needs. POND Threads is a customer-integrated purchase-activated apparel manufacturer. We manufacture premium athleisure wear as fast as customer demand and take care of every aspect of the process from inception to shipping. Work with POND Threads to take your brand to the next level! 

Looking for premium apparel manufacturers? Work with POND Threads today!