A t-shirt is a t-shirt, right? Not quite. When selecting a blank garment to print on, we are faced with a barrage of options: Ring-spun versus open-end, side-seamed versus tubular, 20 single versus 30 single, 4.2oz versus 5.3oz — what does it all mean?
We break it down for you here:
Ring-spun cotton is made from smoother and longer yarn compared to open end yarn. It also goes through a spinning process that softens and straightens each fiber, creating cotton that is softer and more durable.
Combed and ring-spun cotton refers to a two step process that occurs when turning cotton into yarn in order to create the softest tees possible. First, the staples are combed to remove impurities or inconsistencies in the yarn, creating a softer hand. Next, in the ring-spun process, yarn is made by continuously twisting and thinning the strands, creating a very fine rope of cotton fibers.
Carded open-end*is the cheaper way of turning cotton into yarn in which the fibers are bonded by a wrapped fiber that runs perpendicular to the fiber bundle. In ring-spun cotton, on the other hand, all of the fibers are aligned in the same direction. Up close you can see that carded open end fiber is bulky, fuzzy and creates an uneven knit. These are the hardest to get a quality print on but we have some tips on how to print on lower quality cotton t-shirts.
*A side note on some history: The industry standard used to be a carded open-end t-shirt but, as we move into an era where purchase decisions are driven by quality and not just price, we see more demand for combed and ring-spun tees in wholesale space. BELLA+CANVAS launched a campaign five years ago called “Not All Tees Are Created Equal” to educate people on the differences between carded open end and ring spun cotton. For more on this topic, check it out: http://www.combedandringspun.com/no-coe.php
Side Seams create the crafted, tailored structure a t-shirt needs to fit correctly. Although more expensive to make, these are the only type of tees you’ll find in a retail store.
Tubular Tees are cheaper to construct because they require less sewing. They are made with tubular bodies and don’t really fit right on people—they’re exactly the same on the front and the back, the only difference is the neck drop.
Single is a term that refers to the diameter of a yarn, determined by number of times you twist the fiber. The smaller the number, the thicker the yarn, and the higher the number the softer the yarn. Think about it the same way you think about sheets—the higher the thread count, the softer the sheets! Most cheap shirts are made from 18 or 20 singles. For a super-soft garment aim for a single count of 30 or higher.
Weight, when referring to fabric, is the number of ounces per square yard. Lighter fabrics tend to be made from combed and ring-spun cotton and are typically much softer than the heavy weight, open-end alternatives.
A Staple is essentially, a cotton fiber. The fluffy piece of cotton (called a “boll”) that is plucked off the plant, contains about 250 “staples.” High-quality thread is typically made from longer staples which are easier to to spin into a very fine piece of thread.
Hand is a term used to describe how a garment feels. Combed and ring-spun tees have a soft hand, meaning they are super soft to the touch.
Looking for a handy list of screen printing terms? Check out this post.