Starting a printing business can be hard. From choosing a printing technique to managing inventory, branding, marketing, designing, and selecting quality products it can be easy to get bogged down and confused. You've settled on cotton as the main fabric for your printing business, but what kind of cotton will you favor? There are so many different styles and types of cotton clothing available.
- 100% cotton: a classic, standard option.
- Combed cotton: a smooth, strong fabric that is a great option for screenprinting.
- Ringspun cotton: soft and durable. It is so named for the process used to create it.
- Organic cotton: any cotton grown without the use of pesticides or fertilizers.
- Pima cotton: made from cotton plucked from the Pima cotton plant. The highest quality cotton available.
What is the difference between these options? Which one is the best? Ultimately the choice is up to you, but to make the best, informed decision, read on. We'll start with the basics.
What is cotton
Cotton is a soft, fibrous material that grows in a protective case called a boll
. It is composed mostly of cellulose, which is an organic compound that is very important to plant structure. The shrub is native to many different regions of the world including, but not limited to North and South America, Africa, Egypt, India, and Australia. Cotton is grown, picked, and usually decontaminated by hand before being spun into a yarn or thread, where it is then used to make anything you can imagine such as:
- infant onesies
- and even cottonseed oil, which is technically a byproduct but is used in everything from food products to makeup and soap
It is estimated that farmers around the world produce about 25 million tons (or 110 million bales) of cotton every year, using 2.5% of the available farmland to do so!
Not all cotton comes from the same plant. All over the globe, different types of cotton are grown to suit specific tastes. Here are a few examples of different types of cotton plants:
- Pima cotton is considered the finest cotton on Earth and is reportedly extra soft and extra strong, but also extra expensive.
- Upland cotton makes up at least 95% of the cotton grown in America and is the most affordable. In California, a special variety of cotton called 'San Joaquin Valley Acala' is grown, and is the highest quality Upland cotton in the world.
- Egyptian cotton is grown in hot, dry climates and is often regarded as luxury cotton used in things like bedsheets and nightgowns.
How is cotton grown
Cotton is usually planted in the spring when daily temps are keeping steady around 60 degrees. The bush spends roughly six to eight weeks growing in well-drained soil before the blooms appear. These blooms are not what the farmers are after, however, so they are allowed to wither and die while the plants are irrigated, fertilized, and weeded. Eventually, the blooms fall off and the boll develops. Hiding within these bolls is the fluffy, white gold. As the boll ripens it turns brown and hardens. The fibers inside expand under the heat of the warm sun until the boll is split apart like a popcorn kernel, revealing the white, cotton-candy-esque fluff.
In the past, cotton was picked by hand, but today they are usually harvested by machine, typically a picker or a stripper, compressed into bales that can be either cylindrical or rectangular in shape, and promptly sent to the gins where the sorting and separating process begins. Seeds are plucked out, weeds and debris are removed and the unprocessed fluff is given a thorough once-over before heading to the next step.
The pillowy cotton is collected, dumped into a machine, and cleaned a few more times by being blown around and beaten. This produces a short lint that is collected and sold off for use in other industries. Next, the cotton goes into a carding machine that cleans the fibers and smooths them down. The carding machine then combs the cotton, producing a soft, untwisted rope of fiber referred to as a sliver. (sly-ver)
This rope, or sliver, is then put onto a spinning frame and spun up to 2500 times a second, twisting it into a yarn. That yarn is collected, neatly wound onto a bobbin and sold as-is, dyed any color of the rainbow, or finished in such a way that makes it water-resistant.
What are the numbers I sometimes see when comparing different cotton clothing options
This would be thread weight or the diameter of the yarn that was woven together to create the article of clothing you are looking at. This number is determined by how many times the fiber was twisted, with the higher numbers being finer, softer, and thinner without sacrificing stability and comfort. Normal T-shirts are found in the 18-20 range and are therefore bulkier, whereas a ringspun cotton t-shirt could range anywhere from 30-50. It is similar to the thread count with bedsheets. The higher the count, the more exotic and indulgent the sheets feel, like this unisex Jersey Long-Sleeve T-Shirt
from Bella + Canvas made with ringspun cotton.
What is ringspun cotton
A bobbin of regular cotton yarn has fibers that run perpendicular to the rest of the fibers around it. If you examine this open-ended cotton under a microscope you'd discover that it looks frayed, frizzy or jagged. Anything made from open-ended cotton is usually stiffer in texture, but sturdy. Clothing made with this yarn is very affordable because this type of cotton yarn is very cheaply made.
Ringspun cotton is born on the spinning machine, where the cotton is spun longer, under great tension that thins the fibers and refines them into a finer, softer yarn. Under a microscope you'd be able to see that the fibers lay together, all facing the same direction. Ringspun cotton t-shirts are typically lighter than a standard cotton shirt, but still retain their durability, which allows for people to keep them in their wardrobe for longer. Check out this simple wardrobe staple: Unisex Heather CVC T-Shirt
by Bella + Canvas.
Regular cotton shirts versus ringspun cotton shirts
Mostly in the price tag, honestly. Standard cotton is cheap to make and therefore sells for cheaper, but it can have some noticeable issues when printed upon. It doesn't have the smooth feel that customers often enjoy in a ringspun shirt like this unisex Jersey T-shirt
made by Bella + Canvas.
Ringspun cotton t-shirts are generally more pricey because of the time-consuming process needed to produce them. You can circumvent this price by buying them from a trusted wholesaler. (check out this Unisex cotton T-shirt
by Next Level.) More cotton fiber is also used to help even out the thickness of ringspun cotton yarn as it is wound around the bobbin. Aside from time and additional product used, the main takeaway is that ringspun cotton is a more refined product, and thus costs more.
The care of cotton clothing is rather simple and generally the same no matter what type of cotton the clothing is comprised of. Pretreat any stains before washing. Sorting colors from whites are generally recommended as colors may bleed depending on if they are washed in a cold or hot cycle. Cotton is bleach safe. and can be hung out to dry or tumble dried. Anything made with cotton has the chance to shrink, but a great option is these ringspun cotton shirts by Gildan, namely, the Adult Softstyle
, which comes in 57 preshrunk colors. Because of the process, ringspun cotton goes through there is a heightened risk of shrinking so it is generally advisable to dry on low to no heat or air dry such items.
How does ringspun cotton hold up to printing?
T-shirt printing is a very popular enterprise, but just because you can print on any type of shirt, doesn't mean the results will be the same on every shirt. Open-ended cotton t-shirts often cause the print to ripple, rupture, and flake off, especially after repeated washes. These shirts often feel rough and scratchy after printed, which can cause potential customers to leave your printed shirt right on the rack. The tighter weave on a ringspun t-shit creates a flatter, smoother surface area that begs for a print to cling to it. The result is a shirt that is printed but still feels natural. This Beefy-T T-Shirt
by Hanes would most definitely hold up to anything you wanted to print onto it. Printing tip: Try printing using water-based inks, which are usually thinner and soak better into the fabric of the shirt.
Cotton has many redeeming qualities, which is why it has been used to create clothing as far back as prehistoric times. Fragments of cotton have even been dated back to 6000 BC.
Reasons that cotton has stood the test of time:
- 100% biodegradable
- Provides insulation against both heat and cold
Not only has there been a large market for cotton-based clothing for many decades now, but many designers find cotton fashionable. Fashion Designers such as Stella McCartney work magic with cotton because it is a more natural product that feels nice to wear. More people have been turning to natural, breathable fabrics that they can thrive in all day, which means cotton will always be in style. Cotton is timeless, ageless, a classic, and a canvas for the future. Nearly every woman alive has a favorite fitted T-shirt like Gildan's softstyle fitted T-shirt
or the Women's Ideal T-shirt
produced by Next Level that makes them feel like a goddess.
We have many options to choose from when it comes to picking the best t-shirts for your printing business. At Alldayshirts.com our shirts are priced to sell and come in a dazzling array of color options and styles, every one of which is just waiting for your unique touch to make it a work of art. We carry tons of well-known brands such as Gildan, Next Level Apparel, and Bella Canvas. We strive to make things as hassle-free as possible with flat-rate shipping, easy returns, and bulk discounts. Be sure to check out our Blowout Bargain
areas for great deals too.