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A group of friends wearing cotton and polyester blank apparel walking outside.

Which is Better - Cotton vs Polyester?

By ShirtSpace | Aug 23, 2019 |  Updated Jan 25, 2024


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.

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 screen printers and other decorators. Brands such as Bella+Canvas create their cotton apparel with airlume combed and ringspun cotton, expanding on just how soft cotton fabric can be made.

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. 

What is Polyester?

Polyester is a synthetic material that was created in the 1940s and is known for being moisture wicking. Like cotton, it is an increasingly popular option in the apparel industry. Polyester apparel is more wrinkle-resistant than cotton, fades less, 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 this shirt is 100% polyester but feels like cotton, which is the best of both worlds. On the flip side, 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: 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 (i.e., water based 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 and Cons of Cotton Material T-Shirts and Hoodies
Pros and cons of polyester material t-shirts and hoodies.

Bottom Line: Is it Polyester fabric OR 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.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q: Is polyester breathable?

A: Polyester fabric is lightweight and water-resistant. Due to these factors, it will not absorb moisture, but instead moisture will be evaporated. Athletic apparel is often made from polyester fabric because of its breathability and lightweight factors.

Q: Is polyester soft?

A: Polyester is smooth and soft in a “silky” manner. Depending on the quality of your polyester garments, they can have a more of a coarse texture vs. smooth. 

Q: Is polyester comfortable?

A: One factor that should be considered when choosing polyester apparel is that it is made up of synthetic fibers. Because, polyester is not naturally made, it can cause irritation to sensitive skin. However, most people find polyester to be comfortable and a great option when it comes to athletic apparel.

Q: Is cotton breathable?

A: Cotton is known for being one of the most breathable fabrics. It is made from natural fibers, which gives it breathable features as well as being soft. To ensure that your cotton apparel is breathable, make sure to check the weight of your garment. The more lightweight, the more breathable the fabric will be.


Astyork11/07/2023 12:33 pm

This blog post is a valuable resource for those pondering the choice between cotton and polyester fabrics. It's an enduring question, and the post does an excellent job of presenting the pros and cons of each option, helping readers make informed decisions. The update in August 2023 indicates that the information remains relevant and up-to-date, ensuring the post's continued usefulness. Whether you're a seasoned fabric enthusiast or a newcomer, this post is a great starting point for understanding the distinctions between these two fabric types.


ShirtSpace11/07/2023 06:11 pm

Hi, Astyork! We appreciate you taking the time to read our article about the differences between cotton and polyester. Thanks again for the support.


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William02/08/2023 03:11 pm

Why can't mills produce 100% grey tees or fleece? They all appear to be a blend of 50/50 or thereabouts.


ShirtSpace02/08/2023 05:03 pm

Hi William. This is a great question and a smart observation. There are a few factors that come into play to answer this question in full. From a production standpoint, it's easier for mills to produce heathers for gray shades since there are so many hues of gray and more inconsistencies in shade matching. Exact shade matching with gray can be challenging for a consistent run of shirts, and having a heather gray with varying shades throughout the fabric can be a lot more forgiving. Gray colors like "sport gray", "athletic gray", "graphite" and "ash" are often always heathered colors and have a blend of cotton/poly (sometimes even a third material, making it a triblend). But, that is not to say that there are not 100% cotton, or 100% polyester tees and sweatshirts on the market. In fact, we carry a selection for each category. Just make sure to read the product descriptions to ensure that the color you are choosing is in fact the material makeup you desire - 100% cotton gray t-shirts: 100% cotton sweatshirts: 100% polyester gray t-shirts: 100% polyester gray sweatshirts: We hope this helps clear up the confusion with gray t-shirts and their fabrication. Thanks for reading our blog!


Amy Saunders01/05/2023 04:02 am

Hmm... okay. It never crossed my mind that cotton t-shirts tend to be way more affordable altogether. My husband is in Pittsburgh right now and he wants to buy some souvenirs for his office mates. This info is something he should consider so that eventually he can make some worthy purchases.


vidhant24 on-demand services 07/25/2022 11:27 am

Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:48 pm

Hi! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!


Barkat Attire06/01/2022 12:15 pm

very useful words


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:49 pm

Hi Barkat! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!


rich john weishaar09/16/2021 07:14 pm

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


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:50 pm

Hi Rich! Thank you for taking the time to read our blog and comment!


donald robinson08/28/2021 08:22 am

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.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:51 pm

Hi Donald! We are so happy to hear you are pleased with our content! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!


tiana burtch07/30/2021 10:05 am

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.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:52 pm

Hi Tiana! We are so happy to hear that you found our blog useful! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!


Moe07/23/2021 11:16 am

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


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:53 pm

Hi Moe! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!


Shammy P05/14/2021 07:23 am

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.


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:54 pm

Hi Shammy! We are so happy to hear our blog was useful to you and your boss! Thank you for reading!


Diana Rodriguez-Amador10/24/2020 04:25 pm

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


ShirtSpace08/18/2022 05:20 pm

Hi, Diana. If you bought a shirt that has material that feels silky and cool to the touch, you most likely have a polyester or poly blend on your hands. This isn’t to say that polyester fibers cannot be made into a soft knitted sweater, it is a versatile fabric. Polyester shirts are often light and thin, super stretchy, wrinkle-resistant and very strong. These materials are typically made into performance apparel and activewear because it is so flexible and wicks moisture away from the body. If you have any more questions about shirt materials, our Customer Service Team is very knowledgeable and ready to help!


Abdul Hameed 06/02/2020 08:34 am

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...


ShirtSpace10/12/2022 06:47 pm

Hi Abdul! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! You can email us at this address [email protected]


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