Guides & Explainers

Cotton vs polyester in print on demand

Learn more about the differences between cotton and polyester to know which works best for your print on demand apparel business!
Published:
February 28, 2022

If you are an apparel print shop owner, it's important to know everything about your products from A to Z, and to help you out, we have already covered some info and tips considering apparel printing technologies.

This time let’s talk about different types of fabric, and since there are many of those, let's narrow it down to cotton and polyester, the most commonly used fabrics in design printing and Printseekers print on demand apparel materials of choice. 


The importance of apparel materials

Why even bother choosing among the many materials? If it fits well and looks good, does it matter if the apparel is pure cotton, linen or polyester? Just like with any other product, there are different varieties which may seem similar, but are not. You probably take into consideration the difference in quality, durability, and special features if there are any. The same goes for apparel materials - there is no right fabric or wrong fabric for printing, all of them have their pros and cons, so first, let’s see what we have on cotton!


Cotton - a safe option in many cases

Cotton is a natural material since it's made from plants, is skin-friendly, soft and breathable. And people love cotton fabrics because of these factors. Bedsheets from cotton guarantee amazing sleep and pillowcases from cotton ensure that you won’t have to frantically turn your pillow upside down every five minutes in hot weather. If the apparel material breathes, your skin will too. Also, it's hypoallergenic and skin-friendly, as already mentioned, so cotton fabrics are a top choice for allergic people and babies.


Cotton is soft to the touch and gentle on the skin. A pleasant fabric for apparel.


On the flipside, cotton is not very durable. Of course, it can last many years, but certainly not as long as polyester (we’ll get to that later). Cotton fabrics are prone to wrinkling and if washed incorrectly, your amazing cotton T-shirt won’t fit you anymore. Cotton fabric stains easily, so be careful with that red wine if you happen to be wearing a white cotton shirt at that moment. Also, the material absorbs liquids quickly but dries slowly, so cotton apparel might not be the best choice if you plan to wear it during your daily cardio - the moisture from your exercises will take its fair time to leave.

And lastly, since the material is natural, small balls of fibre might appear on cotton apparel and printers are afraid of fibre balls, that’s why the fabric has to be properly prepared beforehand for the printing process. Of course, it is not a thing you have to worry about if you work with a print on demand company. 

What does this all mean to your business? Here’s a summary:

  • Cotton fabric might not be the best choice for sports apparel (though it’s breathing properties might outweigh the moisture problem. You be the judge!);
  • Cotton is an inexpensive natural material (compared to other natural materials like wool or linen);
  • Cotton absorbs water very well, and with that - inks. It’s easy to dye and print on cotton fabric, saving a lot of time and ink;
  • Cotton fabric goes hand in hand with DTG printing. The printer's ink works wonders with cotton and the whole printing process is super fast;
  • The ink can fade after some dozen washes if not washed properly (our apparel print specialist recommends washing the apparel in 30℃ and to avoid dryer at all costs. Also, to turn the clothing inside out before washing);
  • Cotton apparel is trending these days - people care about what they put in and on their bodies, natural products in general have quite a demand (though if the environment is a big factor that impacts your decision on fabrics, you might want to read further);


Polyester - not as bad as you might think

Even though some people are not fond of this fabric because of its origins, polyester is not all that bad. Of course, polyester is not picked up in some sunny field like cotton is - rather, it is a man-made material, synthesised from petroleum based products. This is one of the main reasons why some people dislike polyester so much. 


Fun fact: polyester can be made from used plastic bottles, thus giving a second life to them and a small break to our world!


Polyester is actually quite convenient as a fabric. It’s cheaper than cotton, has a silky, second-skin feeling, is very durable, does not wrinkle or shrink and is moisture resistant unlike cotton. A bit less than cotton, but polyester is also a breathable fabric. Because of these factors, many people choose their sportswear to be made from polyester. Yoga pants from polyester are especially comfortable. 

It is not without its downsides, however. For example, some people might not like the “second skin” feeling, since it may cling to the skin. Also, the fact that it is not a natural material is what scares people the most. And because polyester is what it is (not unlike a plastic bottle), its production consumes finite resources and the end result takes years to decompose in nature, thus polluting nature if not discarded properly. This sounds like bad news taking into consideration the urgent need to save our world, but don’t jump into conclusions about this fabric just yet.

What do you have to take in mind if you wish to choose to sell polyester-based apparel? Let’s sum it up:

  • Since it's less absorbent, it's a bit harder to print on polyester than it is on cotton. But still, the result is pretty good and the design comes out in a superb quality;
  • Polyester is not expensive, it's even less expensive than cotton;
  • According to our textile print specialist, it is actually a little complicated to print on polyester, since it too does create fibre balls and occasionally, pieces of threads may come out. Cotton, on the other hand, does not have a problem with threads. However, this is a supplier-level thing, not yours; 
  • Polyester is perfect for sportswear, so if that is your field of expertise, go for the polyester fabric.


Are these eco friendly fabrics

For the environmental debate, it might seem that cotton wins, but not so fast, dear reader. Polyester is the obvious bad guy that you would put all the blame on, but cotton is no less guilty. How come? While yes, polyester production comes from non-renewable resources, contributes to creation of greenhouse gases and fills up our landfills at the speed of light with no chance of decomposing except recycling, cotton production can be unsustainable in other ways. It often involves massive water consumption, as well as pesticides are generously used (unless it is organic cotton). Much land is used and if the cotton production process is not properly executed, it can lead to large scale problems, such as desertification. 

The environmental factor depends heavily on details. Polyester producers are trying to clear its name by involving PET bottle recycling into the manufacturing process. That way, no additional resources need to be mined from Earth’s depths. And cotton has a special subtype called “organic cotton”, which is produced more responsibly - no pesticides and such. 

Just one of many statistics that paint a grim picture


Both fabrics have their pros and cons, there is no right or wrong fabric, better or worse. It is up to you to decide. There is also an option to choose blends - apparel that has mixed materials. For example, many people favour their apparel to be 60% cotton and 40% polyester, or 50/50. Mixing the materials results in a nice blend, combining the best from both sides into something beautiful. 


From Printseekers point of view

Our senior apparel print specialist admits that he prefers cotton, it works better with the DTG printing technique and the fabric is a lot more breathable than polyester. He also points out that soon, organic cotton products will be available in Printseekers sortiment. And even though all of our products are 100% cotton or a 80% cotton 20% polyester blends, after taking a look and touching a 100% polyester shirt with a print on it, it is safe to admit that the printed design looks just as good as on cotton fabric and the polyester is nice to the touch too. Different, of course, but nice. 

Printseekers T-shirts are 100% cotton, as well as tote bags. The sweatshirts and hoodies we offer are blends - 80% cotton and 20% polyester. And because cotton is in the majority here, all of the printed designs look just brilliant! As already mentioned, the primary printing technique we use is DTG (DTF for smaller designs), which is the method that works wonders with cotton.

If you are interested in checking out the print quality, fabric softness and other parameters of Printseekers apparel, contact a personal manager and don't be shy to ask for a sample!

Good luck in your print on demand journey!



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