How to choose the best fabric for your printing job

Fabrics are to garment manufacturers 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 material. This is why it is important to pay attention to fabrics.

In this post, we’re going to talk about fabrics and what the best choices are for each printing techniques. But first, let’s go through some basic concepts.

Types of fabrics

Fabrics fall into two or three types depending on whom you ask: natural, synthetic or a blend of the two. Let’s take a look at some of the properties of the two primary ones.

Natural Fabrics
Among them are cotton, wool, silk and linen. As the name suggests these are made out of natural elements such as plants and animals. Wool comes from sheep coats, while silk is extracted out of fibres of the silk-worm and cotton is made out of the cotton-plant seed pods. Thanks to their natural properties, this types of fabrics tend to outshine their synthetic counterparts in the most basic of functions. For example, wool does a better job at keeping you warm and there’s no fabric that transpires better than cotton.

fabrics printing

Synthetic Fabrics
Nylon, spandex and polyester are some of the most common. Nowadays synthetic fabrics have become really good at imitating natural fabrics, sometimes the only way to tell the difference is by touching them. Such is the case with rayon which is a man-made substitute of silk. This type of fabric doesn’t breathe as well as their natural counterparts, which is why they tend to be blended with cotton. But they do stretch well, which is why they are often found on sports clothes.

Types of Printing Techniques

While we’ll briefly explain the different printing techniques here, I’d suggest that if you would like to go more in-depth check out other posts we’ve written on the subject.

Screen Printing
A technique which consists of applying ink through a silk screen onto the fabric. The ink will only go through the permeable areas leaving the desired composition on the material.  

DTG (Directo to Garment)
Much like your office’s printer, this method injects ink directly, but instead of paper, it does so into the fabric. It is recommended for complex designs that require high levels of detail and shading.

Transfer Printing
Also known as heat transfer printing, this procedure involves high temperatures and pressure to pass the design from a special kind of paper to the final piece.

Cad Cut Vinyl
Even though it is included on this list, it does not feature any printing. Cad cut vinyl involves a computer that cuts a self-adhesive plastic in the desired shape and it’s then glued onto the garment.  

Embroidery
Much like your grandmother’s hobby, except this kind is done on a machine that works with many needles at the same time.

The relationship between printing and fabrics

When it comes to printing, natural fabrics seem to do better than synthetic ones. The first absorb water better and since ink is a liquid, it behaves in a similar way. The second group is usually made out of plastic and oil, which if you recall your chemistry lessons, have a tendency to repel water. Since they are very small particles, you’d still be able to print somewhat onto them, but the result won’t be as spectacular as it could be.      

fabrics printing

If you don’t know what kind of fabric to pick, stick to cotton. It is the absolute king. Understandably, you won’t always be able to use 100% cotton since they’re the most expensive of garments. It is expected that you may want, from time to time, keep costs down. Then your second best choice would be a blend of cotton and something like polyester. 80% – 20%, 70% – 30%, 50% – 50% — the more cotton it has, the better the end result will be.

Fabric properties

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.

A special word about embroidery

Since it’s not a printing technique — it’s actually embellishment, embroidery has got 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 “embroidery” process. It may sound silly, but not every material can resist the simultaneous drilling of several needles. The tighter the weave of a fabric is, then the better suited for embroidery it is — so says Yoda.

Pretreatment

Keep in mind that pretreatment is part of the process and can greatly affect the final result. Different techniques require different types of treatments for the design to fully print, but most of these consist of layering a coat of special chemical on the garment.

printing compatibility, fabrics, printing techniques

Experiment, experiment and experiment

We hope this post gave you an idea of what types of fabrics to approach for your apparel printing projects, but even with this information, a little experimenting is required. Even with t-shirts of 100% cotton, results may vary depending on the supplier. Try it out with many different brands until you find the proper one.

What kind of printing techniques and fabric match-ups have you tried? Please, let us know in the comments below or reach us via any of our social media outlets. We always love to hear from you! In the meantime, keep reading the Printsome Blog for more awesome content.


Printsome is a T-shirt printing agency in the UK based in London that delivers all across the UK, from printing T-shirts in Brighton to York and anywhere in between. So, if you’re after a T-shirt or custom clothing, get in touch for a quote and indulge yourself in some awesome customer service.


  1. I have a large abstract painting , I would like to print on fabric for a dress jacket a casual pant.
    What would me the best material. I was told polyester
    Not so happy

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Jeroen,

      More than the design, what ultimately defines the kind of fabric you use is the printing technique. If your abstract painting has got many colours and/or intricate details, then in our experience the best way to go would be either screen printing, DTG or sublimation. For the first two, cotton is always a safe choice (100% or a mix). And as for sublimation, only synthetic materials would do because of how the technique works (they basically melt the colour into the plastic).

      Good luck with your project, Jeroen!

  2. Hi can I While cotton to print on a I have Roland 540 printer
    It is 54 inches wide
    Or you can ring me on 0861968285
    I want to make cushions for

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Mark,

      Please, give us a call at 0203 598 2599. One of our printing experts may be able to help you.

      Cheers,

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