Ultimate Breakdown of T-Shirt Fabric Types: Sustainability, Purpose, and Printability

T-shirts are the bomb diggity of any wardrobe, and obviously the cornerstone of any screen print shop. With so many t-shirt fabric types out there, it’s tough to narrow down blanks that are just what you need to make a sustainable difference in production, while still churning out an incredible end product.

If you’re wondering what blanks we get behind every day of the week, check out our “Best T-Shirt Blanks for Sustainable Printing” blog. If you are ready to go into the reason those blanks work so well, and actually understand what difference the type of fabrics used in each blank make in the screen printing process, this article is for you.

Most people think t-shirt material starts out on spools and the only thing left to do is to cut and sew… but any good screen printer (and smart consumer) knows that A LOT more goes into getting fabric onto that spool and that not all processes tip their hat to mother earth, some give her the finger instead.

If you are on our site here at Superior Ink, we are confident you care about making a difference, so let’s get right into what makes a great fabric type, and why you would choose one over the other on your screen printing adventure.

1. Cotton

Cotton fabric is perhaps the most common used for t-shirts. It's soft, breathable, and generally affordable. However, not all cotton is created equal. Here are the different types of cotton fabric used in cotton t-shirts, and their unique abilities:

Upland Cotton:

Egyptian Cotton:

Pima Cotton:

Sea Island Cotton:

Asiatic Cotton:

Organic Cotton:

Recycled Cotton:

Methods Of Processing Cotton Fibers:

Ringspun cotton is a method that involves continuously twisting and thinning the cotton strands, creating a very fine, strong, and soft rope of cotton fibers. The process of ring spinning makes the yarn more durable and soft, making it ideal for high-quality fabrics. This also contributes to a longer lifespan.

Carded cotton is a method of preparing cotton fibers for making yarn. The fibers are aligned to make manufacturing easier. However, this process might leave impurities and result in a coarser yarn. It could also mean the fibers aren't as strong, so the garment may not last as long.




Renewable and versatile, cotton is a truly sustainable resource. Its seasonal growth and ability to be replanted annually make it a renewable source of fabric. Thriving in sunny regions with moderate rainfall, cotton is adaptable to various climates. Thanks to advancements in agricultural techniques and technology, cotton production has become more efficient and environmentally friendly. Pest-resistant varieties and precision farming methods minimize the use of water and harmful chemicals, reducing the environmental impact. Source: U.S. COTTON A GLOBAL LEADER IN SUSTAINABILITY

Cotton also plays a crucial role in crop rotation systems, helping to break disease and pest cycles. What's more, every part of the cotton plant is utilized, leaving no waste. The fibers are transformed into textiles, the seeds are used for cottonseed oil and livestock feed, and the stalks and leaves are returned to the soil as organic matter.

Although there are some environmental challenges associated with cotton production, the potential for improvements in farming techniques makes cotton a sustainable choice.

Even when disposed of, cotton quickly decomposes in landfills. In addition, its absorbent qualities make it suitable for repurposing in various household uses, giving it a whole new life.

Printability Rating:

Cotton, including Pima and organic, is the best substrate to print on, particularly for water-based and discharge inks due to its superior reaction to the discharge agent, allowing pigment replacement with ink pigment. Pima cotton gives better print results due to its higher caliber and longer strands when woven, providing more surface space.

Organic cotton has similar printability to conventional cotton. The difference is more about sustainability than printing.

Fabrics with 40 knit singles and above offer superior print due to a more robust surface area for the ink to sit on. The tighter the weave and better the cotton, the better the print result.

2. Polyester

Polyester is a manmade, synthetic fabric known for its durability and resilience. Because of its versatility polyester fabric comes in many forms:

Microfiber Polyester

Polyester Fleece

Polyester Knits

Polyester Tricot

Polyester Canvas

Repreve® Polyester




Polyester is essentially plastic, making it nonbiodegradable. However, recycled polyester is a more sustainable alternative because it saves plastic water bottles from the fate of a landfill.


For garments with over 50% polyester, water-based printing doesn't yield great results. However, polyester fabrics can be printed with plastisol ink or HSA water-based ink. Printing on polyester requires careful temperature settings due to its plastic composition, which can cause production slowdowns. Not ideal for any company or brand looking for a truly sustainable option from fabric to ink.

3. Fabric Blends

Blends combine the qualities of two or more materials.

The most common is the cotton/polyester blend, providing the softness of cotton and durability of polyester.

Poly-Cotton Blend (50/50)

Tri-blends (Cotton, Polyester, Rayon)




The sustainability of blended fabrics depends on the fabrics being combined. For example, a blend of organic cotton and recycled polyester would be more sustainable than a blend of conventional cotton and standard polyester.

Printability: Tri-blends (cotton, polyester, rayon) can be tricky to print on. They work well with HSA and plastisol ink but not with discharge inks. The percentage of cotton in the shirt often determines the opacity of the ink.

Modal is an alternative to rayon. It's a more sustainable option in a blend, but it's still not cotton, so printing could be challenging.

Decision Time!

Finding the perfect fabric for your t-shirt might seem complicated, but don't worry - we've got you covered! By understanding the characteristics, sustainability, cost, and printability of different materials, you can make an informed decision. Whether you value the breathability and comfort of cotton, the durability, and resilience of polyester, or the versatile qualities of fabric blends, each option has its own unique benefits.

Consider your needs and the strengths of each material, and remember that your choice doesn't just affect the final product, but also the environment. In today's ever-changing world, there's never been a better time to make a conscious choice, print effectively, and wear responsibly.

Happy fabric hunting, and if you need any assistance along the way, feel free to reach out to us here at anytime!

More From Superior Ink
Ready to get started?
Superior Ink Screen Printing Denver Logo
Our Shop
2650 W. 6TH AVE
DENVER, CO 80204
(303) 761-4106
©2023 Superior Ink Printing.  Optimized by Connor Walberg