If you’re like a lot of people you probably don’t pay a great deal of attention to the actual construction and fabric content of a t-shirt. Rather you rely on how it feels, looks, and wears over time. There’s quite a lot of science behind the construction of fabric which dictates the cost, how long it will hold up, and the probability that you’ll want to wear it again and again over time.
The cost of a garment is often dictated by factors other than the quality of the fabric. This may include the popularity of the brand. T-shirts that are marketed by designers have been known to fetch hundreds of dollars simply because the item is branded with their name, but an equivalent quality t-shirt could be purchased at a department store for $10.
If you’re a fashion conscious consumer, there will be no substitute for famous name brands, but if you’re looking to discern high quality t-shirt garments over poorer choices we’ll identify the key characteristics for the purpose of making decisions when having custom t-shirts printed.
The base component of a t-shirt is of course the fabric. Construction of the actual garment is an integral factor in quality but without a high quality foundation, which is the fabric, expert stitching isn’t going to mean a lot.
In terms of cotton t-shirts, the denseness of the weave is a quality signal. Loosely woven material requires less material and thus costs the manufacturer less to produce. Cotton that can be tightly woven typically consists of yarn made from longer fibers. The length of these fibers determine how smoothly the yarn can be spun, shorter fibers are more difficult because they have a tendency to poke out akimbo.
The thickness of a t-shirt isn’t always a sign of quality. Some very fine materials can be quite high quality and generally feel much better. Pilling is a hallmark of poor quality t-shirts. If you’re looking to do a high volume run of custom t-shirts, we recommend you order samples of the t-shirt products you’re considering. If there is the start of pilling on any sample, this is a warning sign that the product will not hold up well over time and likely look cheap in no time.
100% cotton tees are definitely a favorite amongst screen printers, that’s because the prints on this fabric look great and the printed design will hold up perfectly over time. Some performance wear and poly-blends are problematic because of the processes synthetic material is subjected to in order to achieve a certain color or performance property such as moisture wicking.
Preshrunk t-shirts are essential for fit over time. Although it’s likely that even pre-shrunk t-shirts will still experience a small amount of additional shrinkage, this can be minimized by washing in cold water and avoided the dryer altogether. The weight of the wet garment hung up will help prevent most shrinkage. Pre-shrunk t-shirts are not actually washed and dried. The process of pre-shrinking cotton material is called sanforizing. The material is actually conditioned by being steamed, and stretch by warp and waft, and then shrunk so the material is in a state where it will be less likely to react naturally to regular wash and wear.
Pre-shrunk cotton t-shirts are wildly popular because there is less likelihood of a tragic laundry incident. A pre-shrunk t-shirt is not likely to be rendered unwearable if you happen to wash it once or twice in hot water. High quality pre-shrunk t-shirts also make it possible to re-shape the tee if such an accident should occur. Although the FTC doesn’t require manufacturers to label pre-shrunk t-shirts as such, many will do so anyway because of the confidence it inspires in consumers.
Federal guidelines do require the content or content blend be clearly defined so you can make a judgment call even without a sample product to examine in person. If a t-shirt isn’t labeled, not only is it illegal, it’s likely to be made from subpar materials or blends regardless of retail price.
Have you ever noticed that one of your t-shirts looks like a shar pei dog coming out of the dryer while other tees come out smooth? This is a signifier of quality. Cotton t-shirts that wrinkle very easily do so because the weave of the material is looser. Densely woven materials allow for less movement of fibers when being subjected to moisture and heat. Over time, some wrinkles can become semi-permanent like the dreaded hem flip on cheap tees. An easy test when examining a t-shirt product is to clench the fabric for a minute in your fist. The warmth from your hand and the natural humidity can simulate the conditions of washing and drying. If the material holds the wrinkles from your grasp well, it’s likely to be a cheaper material. If the wrinkles smooth out, you’re looking at a higher quality product.
Lastly the way in which a garment is sewn together reveals its quality and the life expectancy of the garment. There is essentially two ways a t-shirt is constructed, either a tubular construction or side seams. While tubular is ideal for certain custom prints like side prints, some have a preference for side seams because the t-shirt drapes better.
Bulging, mismatching, or puckering seams are a red flag for t-shirt quality. If a t-shirt is constructed with visible seams on the collar where the shoulders meet, the collar was added after construction and is likely a lower end product.
T-shirt hems must be stitched loosely enough to withstand stretching of the fabric but no so loose as to show gaps at a casual glance. Certainly there are mistakes during manufacturing but if it appears to be sloppily sewn all around, the product should be avoided.
While quality is highly subjective and compromise often is the result of the cost involved, we hope this tutorial with help when evaluating t-shirt products for your next custom t-shirt order.