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What’s the Difference Between Cotton, Polyester and 50/50 Blends?

04/22/2019 by RushOrderTees.com

The age-old t-shirt debate: cotton vs. polyester vs. the 50/50 poly cotton blend. You probably have a vague idea of the attributes of these common fabrics, but let’s examine each in greater detail so you can decide which material is best suited for your needs.

cotton vs blend


Deciding on a design for your custom apparel is hard enough, but it’s also important to consider what kind of material you’re going to design on. If you’re thinking about creating a sports team uniform you may want to go with a different material than if you were making business wear.

Which Type of T-Shirt Blend is the Best?

100% Cotton

The Low Down:  There are various types of cotton tees.  Standard cotton tees like the Gildan Ultra Cotton which are the most budget-friendly and great for events, giveaways, and for people who need a standard cut vs. a tapered cut.   Softer fashion fit tees like the Next Level Tee can be used for the same uses, but it has a nicer fit, feel, and washes nicer along with a slightly higher price point of $3.00 or so per piece.  There are other very nice options in between these two of course, like the District Threads Tee which is similar to the Next Level Tee and only $1.25 more per tee than the Gildan, but this is a good range to compare against.

  • There are varying types of cotton fabrics.  Some feel rough and some feel really soft and smooth.  The softer the shirt, the higher quality the cotton with a slightly higher price point.
  • The increasing popularity and availability of organic cotton options let you make more informed, eco-friendly choices.
  • A soft feel with medium breathability.  This is best for regular use, not for high intensity.  You’d be better off with a 50/50 or 100% polyester in that case.
  • Easy to clean and care for
  • Hypoallergenic- doesn’t cause allergies or skin irritation
  • More prone to shrinkage and wrinkles over time if not properly maintained or left in the dryer for too long

Best for:

  • Regular usage — not for high intensity or high durability needs
  • Lower impact and casual activities
  • Events and basic uniforming
  • Easy, casual, and trendy wear indoors and outdoors
  • Sensitive skin

Wash and Care Tips:

  • You’ve probably dealt with cotton shirts most of your life.  The majority of cotton shirts in the custom apparel industry will be cared for the same way.
  • Prevent shrinkage by washing your cotton garments in cold water on a slow or delicate cycle. Use low heat in the dryer or air dry.
  • Do not dry for too long as excessive heat can damage fabrics.
  • Listen to your mother and separate darks and lights to avoid color bleeding.
  • Use our stain removal tips to get rid of those icky stains.
  • When it comes to wrinkles, there’s nothing an iron can’t fix! Iron while lightly spraying distilled water or use steam on high heat to get rid of those pesky wrinkles fast.

100% Polyester

The Low Down:  100% polyester is the best option when there’s a little bit more money in the budget and you’re looking for something that never shrinks or fades, wicks moisture, and is highly durable.   This will run about $3.00 to $6.00 more per piece than 100% cotton and 50/50 blend tees.

  • Strong, durable, and extremely long-lasting
  • Always keeps its shape so it does not shrink or stretch regardless of being thrown in the dryer or hung dry
  • The rule of thumb:  More polyester = Less Wrinkles
  • 100% polyester will quickly wick away moisture for a fresher feel in high intensity environments
  • Keeps body warm in cooler climates by wicking away moisture

Best for:

  • High intensity activities
  • High temperatures
  • Recreational outdoor fun
  • Wicking away moisture from sweat
  • Heavy usage or wash and wear because it is the most durable of all fabrics

Wash and Care Tips:

  • Due to its wrinkle-resistant nature polyester shouldn’t need much ironing, but if your garment does, use low heat.  Also, if ironing, do not place iron over the print itself as it will melt the design on the shirt and into your iron (Do NOT use the cotton setting, this could burn the fabric.)
  • For best results when washing use warm water or the permanent press setting
  • Dry on low heat or air dry.  Hang up or fold promptly to avoid excessive creasing.
  • Dry cleaning will work, but is not necessary.

Still on the fence about polyester? We’ve got more reasons why you should consider polyester shirts.

50/50 Poly Cotton Blends

The Low Down:  50/50 blend shirts are going to be very comparable in feel and fit to standard 100% cotton tees, but they are much more durable, wrinkle-resistant, and hold their color and shape better through washing.   They’re also going to be priced at approximately the same price.  The only downside is that they do not wick sweat very well, it might stay in the shirt until it evaporates.

  • Versatile and durable and affordable
  • More color-fast (holds its color through sweating and washing) than 100% cotton tees, but 100% polyester never loses its color.
  • Maintains shape much better than 100% cotton, but not better than 100% polyester.
  • Softer and lighter feel than 100% cotton, but not softer and lighter than 100% polyester.
  • Less susceptible to excessive shrinking, pilling, wrinkles, and static
  • Not as breathable as 100% cotton

Best for:

  • Low to medium impact activities
  • Jersey or sporty look
  • Polos and athletic wear
  • Casual settings
  • Heavy usage

Wash and Care Tips:

  • Thanks to the polyester in the garment, this blend shouldn’t need a lot of ironing, but if you get the urge to plug in the iron use low heat and keep the iron away from the printed design.
  • Wash in cold to warm water and dry in low to medium heat.
  • Water-soluble stains will be easy to clean, but oil stains might be tougher to get out.

So the next time you run into the dilemma of which material to choose for your shirt, you’ll be armed with the all the facts needed to make the right decision.

If you are looking to save money and want your everyday shirt, then cotton is the way to go.  You can also upgrade to a nicer cotton shirt as there are many options that come in softer and more fashionable fits than your standard cotton tee.

If you plan on wearing your shirt a lot, and in turn washing your it a lot, then opt for the 50/50 poly cotton blend at approximately the same price point as standard cotton tees.

And if you want the most lightweight, most durable, and plan on sweating in your shirt, then polyester is the material for you.

We carry and customize many different t-shirt styles, you can check them out in our catalog, you can start designing, or you can speak to one of our product experts at 1-800-620-1233.

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