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Which Is Better - Cotton vs Polyester?

By Shirtspace | May 12, 2016 |  Updated Nov 15, 2021

Aside from the age-old question “What is the best shirt to buy?” the second most frequent question we hear is, “Which is better - cotton or polyester?”

Below we've provided some general information regarding the 2 different types of fabrics, including pros and cons, so that you can choose which option is the best for you.

Cotton vs. Polyester: What is Cotton?

It's the battle of the best, polyester fabric vs. cotton! Let's take a look at this durable and well-known material that has stood the test of time. Cotton has been around for hundreds of years, and it’s popularity in the apparel industry isn’t going away. Not only is cotton a natural material, it is also a softer option than polyester. Furthermore, ringspun vs. conventional cotton is the softest option of all and is wildly popular among screenprinters and other decorators.

Pictured above: 100% Cotton T-Shirts by Gildan

When considering polyester vs. cotton, some pros of cotton are that the material is breathable (not to be confused with moisture wicking), comfortable, and is currently the more affordable option. Cotton is a commodity and can fluctuate in price, but it currently beats polyester in price. Our favorite 100% cotton t-shirt style is the Bella+Canvas 3001C. Cotton is also a great option for those with sensitive skin, as organic cotton is made without the use of insecticides, pesticides, and chemicals. For many, the upsides to using cotton far outweigh the downsides, such as post dry shrinkage, washing color loss and locking in sweat. 

Polyester vs. Cotton Shirts: What is Polyester?

Polyester is a synthetic material that was created in the 1940s. Like cotton, it is an increasingly popular option in the apparel industry. Polyester apparel is more wrinkle-resistant than cotton, fades less, is long-lasting and durable. It is a great option for a restaurant worker who needs a tough shirt to withstand lots of wearing and washing, and because polyester is less absorbent than cotton, it is more sweat stain resistant too. There are multiple moisture wicking options available for performance and athletic wear, that simply aren’t available in 100% cotton. One of our most popular 100% polyester styles is the Jerzees 21M Adult 5.3 oz. DRI-POWER® SPORT T-Shirt. On the flipside, polyester is more likely to have runs and pulls, but in terms of durability, it is optimal.

Pictured above: G424 Polyester long sleeve by Gildan

Cotton vs. Polyester Thread: the 50/50 Blend

Some say the best of both worlds is a blend of 50% cotton and 50% polyester. These 50/50 blend shirts are generally less expensive than 100% cotton, yet still have the softness that you find in 100% cotton apparel. Even better, because these shirts are 50% polyester, you will find increased durability and a longer lasting garment. Our top-selling 50% cotton 50% polyester style is the Jerzees 29M Adult 5.6 oz. DRI-POWER® ACTIVE T-Shirt.

Pictured above: 50/50 fleece crewneck by Gildan

If you’ll be selecting apparel for your screen printing needs, one thing to keep in mind is what type of ink will be used. Not all inks are created equal, and as such, you need to determine whether your ink is compatible with your apparel.

A good rule of thumb is that 100% cotton shirts can be printed using most textile inks (ie. waterbased and plastisol). But, if you’ll be printing on polyester or polyester blends you will need to check with the manufacturer of your ink or your screen print supplier to make the material will take on the ink.

Breakdown: Pros and Cons of Cotton vs. Polyester 

Pros of Cotton Material T-Shirts and Hoodies

  • Breathable 

  • Comfortable 

  • Cheaper, for now, as it fluctuates in price. 

  • Organic cotton is good for sensitive skin, as its is made without the use of insecticides, pesticides, and chemicals. 

Cons of Cotton Material T-Shirts and Hoodies

  • Can shrink in the dryer 

  • Washing causes color loss 

  • Locks in sweat

Pros of Polyester Material T-Shirts and Hoodies

  • Wrinkle-resistant 

  • Fades less in the wash

  • Long-lasting and durable

  • Withstands lots of wearing and washing

  • Because polyester is less absorbent, it is more stain resistant too 

  • Moisture-wicking, which means it is better for performance and athletic wear since it absorbs and dries out sweat stains. 

Cons of Polyester Material T-Shirts and Hoodies

  • More likely to have runs and pulls

  • Limiting with apparel decorating types (ex. you can’t tie-dye polyester)

  • Synthetic material - so it’s creation bad for environment, and it can’t be recycled 

In the End, Is it Polyester fabric vs. Cotton?

If you are shopping for blank t-shirts, the question of polyester vs. cotton shirts might come into play. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what is the “best” material for apparel. It boils down to what type of apparel decorating you are using, or the purpose of the shirt. Since there are multiple pros and cons to each type of garment, it’s a matter of weighing what’s most important to you. Make a note of what you like and dislike about a particular garment or brand to keep track of what works and what doesn’t!

In the world of blank apparel, and its infinite options, having a general understanding of the differences between cotton and polyester will save you many headaches in the future.

Comments

rich john weishaar - Sep 16, 2021


Cotton Forever!!!!! polyester is uncomfortable. It does not breathe. It also feels itchy like wool. 100% cotton or nothing!!!!

donald robinson - Aug 28, 2021


We read your blog and it is very beautiful and the content is also good, you have well-described about the fabric and I liked it so thank you, Polyester is heavy and much less breathable that's made via way of means of guy made materials while cotton is breathable and light-weight herbal product however each is a cloth that's used to make clothes. Polyester is artificial and resists shrinkage however cotton is herbal and reduces and stretches.

tiana burtch - Jul 30, 2021


Hii A few weeks ago I was in doubt about whether to pick a cotton shirt or polyester and your blog really helped me, I then bought a cotton-polyester blend shirt, and it's really nice, after that.

Moe - Jul 23, 2021


Problem with 100 cotton it fades and looks like used . Better 80 cotton and 20 polyster

Shammy P - May 14, 2021


You got me when you say that a blend of 50% cotton and 50% polyester is generally less expensive but still has a softness that you can find in 100% cotton. This is something that I will share with my supervisor at work since he is thinking of ordering workwear and PPE uniforms that would secure our safety while working. Since he considers the budget well, I will share this with him.

Diana Rodriguez-Amador - Oct 24, 2020


Is it sweater material of shirt material I bough one it was like silky

Abdul Hameed - Jun 02, 2020


Hi. I hope that you & the family are all well and healthy. Thank you for the information. I'm a man who lives in Miami/ FL and tired in this city that I never could help to make the ends meet! I decided to start a T-Shirt business so I bought two Heat Press machines and some tools I may need. I'm asking for a life favor if you plesse, can send me an e-mail to contact you. I o LY have few question to guide me. Thanks a lot...

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