Typical fabrics used in garments
Cotton is a soft, natural fiber. Garments made from cotton typically come in many colors. Basic cotton garments are usually the least expensive option. However, cotton is also more prone to wrinkling and shrinking than other fabrics. Other variations of cotton include ringspun cotton and Pima cotton which are softer than basic cotton but cost more.
Decorating cotton – Cotton is a very versatile fabric when it comes to decorating. Screen printing, heat transfer materials, and direct-to-garment printing can all be used.
Polyester is a man-made fiber. Garments made from polyester may not have as many color options as cotton, but they do not shrink and they resist stretching and wrinkling. So, they keep their shape better than cotton garments. Polyester garments are typically more expensive than cotton ones. Some polyester garments will have coatings to help with moisture-wicking and even have anti-bacterial properties to reduce odors. Because of these properties, performance gear uses polyester.
Decorating polyester – Blank polyester garments are typically dyed and when heated, this dye can migrate out of the garment and into your artwork. So, decorating polyester garments can be a little more tricky than cotton. However, with proper heat settings and slight adjustments to the decorating process, screen printing and heat transfer materials can be used. Newer inks and additives are also making direct-to-garment printing possible on polyester garments. A common technique used to decorate white and light-colored polyester fabrics is dye sublimation. In dye sublimation, the ink in the artwork is made from special ink which, when heated, vaporizes and is transferred into the polyester fabric. Dye sublimation produces the softest artwork on a garment as the ink becomes part of the garment – you can’t feel it.
There are many options for blended fabrics. Most blends consist of a mix of cotton and polyester. Other blends will add other fabrics such as rayon or Lycra depending on the need. Rayon is silk-like which gives the garment a smooth feel. Lycra provides some stretch to the garment. Due to the garment being blend, they tend to hold their shape better than 100% cotton garments. Blends can also be much lighter in weight than their cotton counterparts. Many fashion garments are now blends such as tri-blends (cotton/polyester/rayon).
Decorating blends – Most blends can be decorated using screen printing, heat transfer materials, and direct-to-garment printing. Blends containing at least 50% polyester can also be sublimated, although the colors will be less bright due to dye sublimation ink only being transferred to the polyester.