Advantages and Disadvantages of Cotton and Polyester Fabrics

Filed in Apparel Fabrics, Custom Transfers by on November 2, 2016

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The quantity of options available to apparel decorators for t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and sweatpants is countless. As our client’s ask for advice and our professional opinion in which type of products to use to create their custom apparel, it’s important us garment decorators know the advantages and disadvantages of the most common fabrics, cotton and polyester, and of course the cotton/polyester blended fabrics. Of course there are pros and cons to both types, however depending on your client’s needs, you can help them narrow down which fabric type is best for them.

Cotton is the most widely used natural fabric for apparel manufacturing across the world. Being a natural fiber, cotton is a renewable resource and is biodegradable. Natural fibers as opposed to synthetic like polyester tends to be more expensive and isn’t the best option when trying to keep costs down for promotional items. But the greatest advantages of cotton is it’s breathability and in hot weather, it’s a great option for keeping your body cool. Even though it may hold moisture longer than polyester, in hot weather, this becomes a way to keep your body cool.

When choosing this fabric for your, also keep in mind it’s intended use. Are you decorating for athletes who need a breathable, flexible fabric? Or are you decorating for electricians or welders who need a fabric that will not melt to their skin if it comes in contact with sparks? You will find that cotton is the best option for these professions.

Also, because we mentioned Cotton can hold it’s fair share of moisture, this can be a problem for heat applied transfers. The reason is because that moisture is released as steam as the heat press heats it to a high temperature. Not removing enough of the moisture will cause the adhesive to not attach to the fabric fibers properly. Your solution is to pre-press your fabric a little longer than normal to ensure all moisture is removed from the fabric before applying your transfer.

Advantages of Cotton

  • Natural fibers free of chemicals
  • Breathable – Great option for hot weather
  • Hypoallergenic and does not irritate skin
  • Burns as opposed to melts like Polyester

Disadvantages of Cotton

  • Expensive
  • Natural fibers wear down faster
  • Holds moisture longer (can be an advantage in hot weather)
  • Prone to shrinking

Polyester being a synthetic fiber is a less expensive option and has many benefits that cotton does not. It has strong fibers that do not wear down as quickly while being flexible and resistant to wrinkles and shrinking. Unlike Cotton, Polyester dries quickly which makes it perfect for colder weather and sports where you don’t want moist fabric against your skin.

Polyester is very popular among athletes for it’s moisture-wicking properties, strong fibers, and light weight feel. For heat printers, taking precaution when decorating polyester is a must. It is usually temperature sensitive so low temp heat transfers like Elasti Prints are needed to reduce or prevent scorching. Also polyester has the tendency to cause dye migration between the fabric dye and the decoration.

Advantages of Polyester

  • Strong
  • Flexible
  • Dries quickly
  • Resists wrinkles and shrinking
  • Inexpensive

Disadvantages of Polyester

  • Tends to stick to perspiring skin
  • Not as breathable
  • Temperature sensitive
  • Subject to dye migration

And then of course, you have the popular mixture of the two! Cotton/Polyester blends are the best of both worlds. Take the breathability and natural feel of Cotton and mix it with the strong, flexible and more cost effective properties of Polyester. No wonder a 50/50 shirt is the most popular choice among garment decorators. A nice 50/50 cotton/poly shirt like Port & Company Core Blend Tee PC55 or Gildan DryBlend 50/50 t-shirt 8000 will offer you a great quality t-shirt with the benefits of both Cotton and Polyester fabrics.

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