When it comes to T-shirt printing customisation, not all fabrics are created equal.
In this updated post, we’re going to talk in detail about fabrics and what the best choices are for each printing technique. Also, we share our bestseller brands for the types of fabric and the fabric’s ethical certifications. Because going sustainable in the T-shirt printing industry has become A thing so we couldn’t avoid sharing. Let’s see how to choose fabrics for a good printing experience.
Fabrics are to printers what canvases are to artists. A bad canvas can ruin a beautiful painting and the same can be said about a T-shirt made out of a poor-quality material. This is why it is important to pay attention to textiles. But in order to understand the delicate relationship between fabrics and printing, first, we must understand how fabrics are categorised.
Part 1 – Types of Fabrics
Generally, fabric is an umbrella of two main categories: Natural fabrics and Synthetic. Natural fabrics are made with fibres extracted from natural resources such as animals and plants. Some of the most popular natural resources are Abaca, Bamboo and Cotton (for plant-based ones) and Cashmere, Wool and Silk (for animal-based ones). Synthetic fabrics, (also known as man-made) are famous for their high elasticity and impermeability, which makes them perfect for sportswear. Some of the most popular synthetic fabrics are Nylon, Polyester and Spandex/Lycra.
However, when it comes to wholesale T-shirt printing customisation, the classification slightly differs depending on how the garments are produced. The printing industry works best with cotton-based garments and polyester-based garments. The classification of the fabric differs from ‘Cotton-based’,’Blended’, ‘Organic’ and ‘Recycled’. Now let’s take a deeper look at this.
Best types of fabric for printing customisation
Cotton is a natural fibre with a soft and fluffy texture, which grows around the seeds of the Cotton plants. Depending on how you process the Cotton, the texture and persistence of the fabric differ. There are 4 main subtypes: Cotton, Combed-Cotton, Ringspun Cotton and Organic Cotton. These fibres are often combined together. For example, the combination of ringspun and combed-cotton makes an amazing quality fabric ‒ regardless if it is organic or not.
The most basic Cotton is made in two steps. First, soft vegetable fibres are twisted together to make a yarn. Then, the material is constructed by weaving the yarn together. This material is relatively cheaper than other subtypes, which makes it popular among Fast Fashion manufactures.
Combed Cotton goes through extra combing processes before the yarn is constructed. The combing process removes all the short fibres, which are prone to breakage. As the fibres are longer, it allows the Cotton to be more robust with longer life.
Ringspun Cotton is made by spinning, twisting, and thinning the Cotton strands. This procedure produces soft, durable and extremely fine Cotton.
Organic Cotton is, as you can guess, processed without using any synthetic agricultural chemicals ‒ such as pesticides that harm the environment and moreover our health. Organic Cotton differs from Non-Organic Cotton in that the seed is treated during the harvesting process.
Blended fabrics refer to a unique kind of fabric, created using a mixture of two or more different fibres. One of the most common combinations is hybriding natural and synthetic fibres.
As you can see from the name, Polycotton is a blend of Cotton and Polyester. The combination helps iron out the kinks, you could say, of each material. While pure Cotton shrinks or changes shape and pure Polyester lacks breathability, Polycotton is the more durable and breathable lovechild of them both. The ratio of natural to synthetic varies. For example, normally the combination is 50/50, but when the proportion of Cotton is higher, it becomes the perfect canvas for printing!
Triblend is made by adding an extra fibre, called Rayon, to the Polycotton blend. Rayon is a semi-synthetic fibre and by adding it to the combination of Polyester and Cotton, the material becomes much softer. That being said, the combination of the 3 fibres lessens the boldness of colour when printing. However, nowadays, newer fabrication techniques put the cotton in the upper layer, and as the ink fixes on the Cotton, this colour problem is solved.
Polyester and Spandex are both synthetic fibres. Combining the stretchiness of Spandex and the durability of Polyester makes the mixture perfect for active sportswear.
Organic Fabrics (Besides Organic Cotton)
We call a fabric ‘Organic’ when it is grown in the earth without the use of any chemicals such as pesticides, for at least three years. There are several types of fabrics that apply to this section.
Quite obviously, made from the Bamboo plant, Bamboo fabric is highly breathable and often stretchier than Cotton. This fabric is popularly used for garments that have direct skin contact as its texture is soft.
Lyocell is a form of Rayon, whilst Tencel is a branded Lyocell fibre that is produced from wood pulps. This type of fibre is strong, great at absorbing moisture and smooth. It combines well with other fibres such as Cotton, Polyester and Wool.
Viscose Lenzing Ecovero
Viscose is another type of Rayon fibre made from natural sources. Viscose Lenzing Ecovero, also known as Lenzing Ecovero branded viscose fibre is sustainable and has a low environmental impact as it´s made of sustainable wood and pulp.
The Fast Fashion industry generates a lot of textile waste, which takes a serious toll on the environment. Using biodegradable fabrics is one way to solve this, but we can also create a better and more sustainable solution by recycling the materials.
Used Cotton fabric is shredded down to the Cotton fibre to be re-used in other textile products. The shredded Cotton is sorted into colours during this process, rendering it unnecessary to redye the final fabric. The shredding process shortens and weakens the fibres, which makes it difficult to recycle several times over.
Recycled Polyester (Blended with Organic Cotton)
While Polyester is known for being a strong and durable material, it is not so eco-friendly (unless it is blended with Organic Cotton) as it is made out of plastic, which degrades with difficulty. By recycling them, we can reuse the plastic waste that would have ended up in the landfill! However, it must be said that recycling Polyester can be complicated, as it is usually already blended with other materials.
Part 2 – The Relationship Between Printing and Fabrics
When it comes to printing garments, natural fabrics seem to be fairer than synthetic ones. Simply because they are superior at absorbing liquids. The latter is usually made out of plastic and oil, which if you recall your chemistry lessons, have a tendency to repel water.
That being said, there are certain printing techniques which actually require synthetic fabrics in order to work.
There are countless printing techniques. It’s as if every day there’s a new one! Each one interacts with fabric in a different way, which is why it is important to know how they work.
Note: While we’ll briefly explain the different printing techniques here, I’d suggest you to check the other more specific posts we’ve written on the subject.
What is the best fabric for screen printing?
A technique which entails applying ink through a silkscreen onto the fabric. The ink only goes through the permeable areas. More often than not, screen printers use water-based inks and these work like wonders on Cotton.
Preferred Fabric: Cotton
What is the best fabric for DTG printing?
Works just like an office digital printer, but minus the paper, plus the fabric. It´s recommended for complex designs that require high levels of detail and colour variation. Unlike screen printing which can use different inks, DTG works exclusively with the water-based kind. In order to get the best results with this technique, use a 100% Cotton garment.
Preferred Fabric: Cotton
What’s the best fabric for transfer printing?
There are many kinds of transfers, these include CAD-cut vinyl, which is a type of transfer that uses a computer to cut a design out of a self-adhesive vinyl. For the most part, these use heat to transfer the design from a special kind of paper to the garment.
Transfers are the most versatile of printing techniques and they work on almost any material. But just because any fabric goes, it does not mean they all work the same. Because most transfers are essentially plastic, they attach pretty well to synthetic fabrics.
Preferred Fabric: Polyester
What’s the best fabric for sublimation?
Sublimation is one of the most revolutionary printing techniques out there! Since, unlike the others, it doesn’t just print, but melts pigment into the fibres. Instead of adding an extra layer to the garment. This is the type of method used for overall prints.
Due to the way sublimation works, it can only be used on synthetic fabrics — specifically Polyester. In other words, the colour wouldn’t attach to another kind.
Preferred Fabric: Polyester
What is the best fabric for embroidery?
Since it’s not an actual printing technique — it’s actually embellishment. Thusly, embroidery has different requirements. In this case, instead of absorption, we’re looking for sturdiness. The stronger the fabric, then the more chances it has of surviving the process. Not every material can resist the simultaneous drilling of several needles. The tighter the weave of a fabric, the better it will work.
Preferred Fabric: Anything that’s sturdy enough
Part 3 – Bestseller Brands for each type of Fabric
We just had a look at the different types of fabrics and the most commonly used printing techniques related to the fabrics. Here are some of the most popular brands for each type of fabric.
|TYPE OF FABRIC
|2000Gildan Ultra CottonAdult T-Shirt
Men’s / unisex classic jersey t-shirt
B&C Inspire Plus T
|Ring Spun Cotton
|64000Gildan Softstyle® Adult T-Shirt
Canvas Unisex Poy-cotton
Unisex Triblend S/S Tee
|JustPolos y AWDis
Men’s Bamboo Jersey T-shirt
|EarthPositive by continental
Women’s Tencel Blend Sleeveless Top
|Viscose Lenzing Ecovero.
Unisex Ecovero Jersey T-shirt
|Salvage by Continental
Unisex Classic Fit T-shirt
|Écologie by AWDis
Ambaro Recycled Sports Tee
Part 4 – Fabrics Ethical Certifications
It is a competition for the Fast Fashion industry to satisfy their customers in a swifter way. However, unfortunately during this process, not only the environment is affected, but also human lives. During production, human rights are often violated as countless fast fashion industries manufacture their products in extortionate working conditions, without a care in the world for their cheap labourers.
To repair this, some fashion industries are moving to another level, instead producing their garments in a decelerated, sustainable, and ethical way. And same with the sustainable garment printing part.
Ethical clothing, or so-called ethical fashion, focuses on improving the working conditions of labourers ‒ along with the environmental impacts. Nowadays there are certifications that help to prove that the fabric is made in an ethical and sustainable way. Here are some certifications that you might want to know.
GLOBAL ORGANIC TEXTILE STANDARD (GOTS)
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is one of the world’s leading processing standards. It stipulates requirements throughout the supply chain, for both ecology and labour conditions in textile and apparel manufacturing and sourcing organically produced raw materials.
OCS BLENDED – ORGANIC CONTENT STANDARD
The Organic Content Standard applies to any non-food product containing 5-100 percent organic material. It verifies the presence and amount of organic material in a finished product. The goal of OSC is to ensure trust in organic content claims.
SOIL ASSOCIATION ORGANIC STANDARD
The Soil Association is the UK’s largest organic certifier that offers a huge range of organic and sustainable certification schemes from food to textiles and more. It is involved in certifying the two internationally-recognized independent organic standards mentioned above-GOTS and OCS.
FAIR TRADE FOUNDATION
The Fair Trade Foundation is an independent non-profit organisation that aims to give a sustainable livelihood to the workers involved in all aspects of the production of goods. The mark of this organisation guarantees that, from the production of the raw material all the way to the finished product, the workers have been treated fairly.
FAIR WEAR FOUNDATION
Fair Wear Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization striving to improve working conditions in the textile industry. The foundation is an initiative of trade organizations from the textile sector, trade unions and NGO’s.
THE CARBON TRUST STANDARD
The Carbon Trust Standard provides certification to organisations that excel in measuring, managing and reducing environmental impact. The organisation offers carbon trust standards for carbon, water, waste, zero waste to landfill, and supply chain.
PETA / VEGAN CERTIFICATION
PETA/Vegan certification recognises that the product is animal-free! This means it does not contain any leather, fur, wool, skin, exotic skins or any other animal-derived fabric. PETA (the world’s largest animal rights organisation) approves if it meets these conditions.
ORIGIN AND COMMODITY CODES
Garments are provided with a declaration of origin and the trade commodity code that accredited it. For example, all of Continental Clothing garments specify the origin and the trade code.
LIVING WAGE FOUNDATION
The Living Wage Foundation sets an hourly rate that employees should earn to ensure that they live poverty-free.
Sedex is an ethical data exchange, non-profit organisation and is dedicated to showing a transparent, responsible and ethical supply chain.
WORLDWIDE RESPONSIBLE APPAREL PRODUCTION
Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) is an independent, non-profit team of global social compliance experts. Their main aim is to visit facilities that are involved in the production of clothing and certify the facility complies with local laws, workplace regulations, universal workers rights and environmental regulations.
GLOBAL RECYCLED STANDARD
Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is a certification that ensures that the materials claiming to be recycled would have definitely gone into the solid waste stream.
OEKO-TEX® consists of independent research and test institutes in the field of textile and leather ecology. The labels of OEKO-TEX® are available for textile and leather products that have been tested for harmful substances.
Skal provides organic certification to farms and businesses that meet their organic standards. It helps make the reliability of organic products visible to the consumers and buyers. The object of the Skal foundation is to offer consumers certainty that a product with an organic label/logo really was produced organically.
Part 5 – Conclusion
If there’s only one thing you remember from this blog post, let it be this: When dealing with transfers and sublimation, stick to Polyester. If it’s another printing technique, then choose Cotton. They are the ultimate hero of the fabric world.
Understandably, you won’t always be able to use 100% Cotton. In that case, your second best choice would be a blend of Cotton and something else. 80% – 20%, 70% – 30%, 50% – 50% — the more Cotton it has, the better the end result will be.
However, even if you use 100% Cotton, the end result may vary depending on the consistency of the fabric. Thicker materials are heavier and tend to absorb more ink, resulting in rich colours that will outlast thinner materials. Finer and shinier fabrics absorb less ink, which results in a “washed out” print.
Pay attention to the Pretreatment
Keep in mind, pretreatment is part of the process that can greatly affect the final result. Different techniques require different treatments for the design to print fully, but most of these consist of first layering one coat of a smart chemical on the garment.
Experiment, Experiment and Experiment
Even with the same fabric and printing technology, results may vary depending on the supplier. Try it out with many different brands until you find the ideal one for you.
Print Organic T-shirts in the UK with Printsome
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