T-Shirt Blanks & How To Choose One

Quite a few people wanted me to write this article when I proposed the idea for it so I decided to go ahead and do it.  I did a ton of research beforehand, sorry for the delay.  Anyway, here goes:

When starting your clothing line, one of the many factors that come in to play is choosing what brand of apparel blank to print on.  This is a big decision, there are many different levels of price, quality, material, and fit that you need to take into consideration before you order.  But not to worry, I’m writing this article to help people just like you who need help picking what brand to use.  In order to keep this nice and neat, I’ll break down each part of a blank tee that should be looked into before choosing one, and then go into some examples of what brands would be best for who.

Tee Parts (What To Consider)

Material – This might seem like something that wouldn’t really matter because it’s “just a t-shirt” but this assumption is very untrue.  The material of your tees will be felt by each and ever one of your customers, and they don’t want to feel some thick, rough t-shirt that shrinks to half it’s size when washed.  Don’t go cheap.

The most popular material being used for clothing lines right now is 100% cotton, but keep in mind that just because a tee is 100% cotton doesn’t mean that it’s top of the line.  We still have the quality factor to add in later.  There is also a difference between 100% cotton and 100% ringspun cotton.  Ringspun cotton is softer, feels nicer, and prints better.

Some other materials you might want to check out are cotton/polyester blends.  A common blend that most people have heard of is 50/50 which is 50% cotton and 50% polyester.  These blends are a bit softer, and the color is sometimes heathered with spots of other colors like grey or black showing up.  Just a note, your typical heather grey shirt unless otherwise noted is 90% cotton and 10% polyester. Another type of blend that is growing more and more popular are Tri-Blends, widely known from American Apparel these tees are SUPER soft and have a stretchy feel to them.  They are made up of 50% Polyester/25% Cotton/25% Rayon and they also typically show some specs of other colors as well.  They are on the higher side in price but we’ll get to that later.

There are also organic cotton tees, which with my own experience aren’t much different from your normal 100% cotton tee, they’re pretty soft, but I’ve also had normal cotton tees that are even softer.  I guess this really comes down to if you’re trying to be earth friendly with your tees, it’s more of a personal decision.  Still, something to think about.

Fit – This part of a blank tee matters even more than the material.  The way your tee fits should be aimed at who your target market is.  If you’re selling to a street wear crowd you might want to go with a more baggy box cut tee or even some of those tall tees.  If you’re aiming at people who buy funny shirts or tees with sayings on them then you’ll want to go with an all around blank that anyone would wear, not super fitted and not super baggy either.  If your clothing line is meant for people who wear t-shirts everyday and want to look good in them, I would go with a fitted shirt, which is sometimes referred to as a tubular or fashion fit.  Whichever fit you choose for your brand, make sure its one that your customers would wear, because if you don’t sell the kind of tees they like to wear, then they aren’t going to buy them.

Quality & Price – These two things tie together because the price you want to pay in the end really relies on what kind of quality you want to offer.  Obviously, you want to offer the best quality, but sometimes this isn’t in your budget and if you’re a brand who is just starting out then you’ll want to cut costs in anyway you can.  If you have the money, then hey go for the best tees you can, if not, don’t even justify your brands quality for a better price, but more so try to find the best quality you can at a price that’s right for you.  It will take some research but it will be well worth it in the end, and I’m here to help you with this article.  Let’s get into some actual brands.

Tee Brands (Your Choices)

What brand of blank you pick doesn’t technically matter to your customer because they may not even know the names of these brands or know what the difference is.  Especially if you re-label your shirts they most likely won’t know what brand you’re using, BUT there is another way to look at this, take a look at the bigger companies like American Apparel who have a huge name.  It might be a good idea on your part to tell your customers this(that is, if you choose to USE the brand, don‘t go lying to them), but, it’s up to you if you tell your customers what brand you print on.  Let’s get into each brand and which would be right for you.  To save the length of this article, I’m going to stick to the most popular brands out there.

Standard Tees (Ex. Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, Gildan, Anvil, ect.) – These brands are the standard for most screen printers because they cost the least to use.  They are usually 100% cotton(not ringspun) and box cut, not fitted in any way.  Some of these brands DO offer a fitted/ringspun version of their tees(ie. Gildan Soft Style & Anvil 980) but they will cost a little more, still worth looking into though.  If you’re a brand selling funny tees with sayings on them or selling to the skateboard crowd these brands will work just fine for you, they are a good bang for your buck.

American Apparel – American Apparel have gotten themselves a pretty big name in the clothing world, not just with t-shirts, but with just about everything; though when it does come down to their t-shirts, you can’t really go wrong.  They offer 100% ringspun cotton, 50/50 blends and Tri-Blends and all come in a million color choices.  The quality of these shirts is above standard, so you do pay more for them, but it’s well worth it.  Especially if your brand is for people who wear t-shirts 24/7 and want to look good and feel comfortable, or if your brand has more of a fashion sense to it rather than just awesome looking t-shirts.  All around, this is the most popular t-shirt blank out there, for many reasons, one of the main ones being they are made in the USA.

Alternative Apparel – Think of this brand as a more expensive, equal to or slightly higher quality American Apparel.  These shirts are super soft and have a really nice fit.  The fabric is slightly stretchy and is noticeably thinner than your average t-shirt.  The sizes are also not as consistent with other t-shirt brands, so if you choose this brand make sure you take a look at the size charts and send the message along to your customers.  Overall they are decent shirts, a lot of the ladies prefer them over other brands because of the fit(we’re talking women’s cuts).  If you can afford to print on these then go for it, but I wouldn’t empty your wallet over them.

Tultex – Ah, yes, the t-shirt brand with the most controversy.  There are a lot of mixed feelings about this brand of blanks, and to be honest, all of them are correct.  The thing is your paying less for a comparable version of a fashion fit tee.  Are they 100% ringspun cotton? Yes. Are they fitted? Yes.  Are they nice tees? Yes. Then what’s wrong with them? Nothing.  Tultex is providing you with a less expensive alternative to offering a nicer fitted shirt for your customers, and if we go back to the “Quality & Price” section of this article I’ll repeat to you that you get what you pay for.  Tultex shirts shrink a bit when dried, the colors aren’t 100% consistent between batches and the sizes aren’t always spot on, BUT, for the price you pay for them, they are great tees.  If you’re a brand who wants to print on American Apparel or something similar but can’t afford to pay the big bucks, try out this brand.  Tultex is most definitely a close second to the big dogs.  PS- They also offer a 50/50 blend.

Alstyle – Very similar to Tultex, Alstyle is a great way to put out a quality product and save a few dollars.  They aren’t as good of a fit as Tultex or American Apparel and they do shrink quite a bit more, but if you’re looking to print shirts just to try out a design or for promotional use, then they will work fine. Also, they are 100% cotton but not ringspun(except for the 5301/1701), so don’t expect an extremely soft shirt.  These would also be a decent option for someone who’s printing funny shirts or something for a street wear brand.

There are more brands out there worth looking into, but like I stated above, I highlighted only the most popular.  Some other brands you may want to consider are Next Level, Royal Apparel, Bare Apparel, and Bella.  There are still more but I could fill up a whole extra page full of shirt brands.  I have to leave some of the research for you 😉

In Conclusion (The End…finally)

I’m not saying in any way that a street wear brand can’t print on Alternative Apparel or that a fashion based brand can’t print on Alstyle.  These are merely suggestions based on my own knowledge and experiences in the t-shirt business.  I’ve been involved with t-shirts more than the average person(probably more than a healthy person should be) for about 5+ years now and I’m still learning more everyday.

I don’t know everything, and you might not all agree with what I said and that’s perfectly fine, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  Please keep in mind that what shirt you print on is ultimately up to you, this article is only here to help guide anyone who may not know about the industry enough to make a choice.

Thanks for reading everyone!  Let me know what you think about this article in a comment below, I would really appreciate your feedback.  Spread the word to anyone you might know who’s working on a clothing line of their own.

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Posted on December 14, 2010, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. great write up i’ve been waiting for this since you first mentioned it on facebook.

  2. You forgot to write about Anvil 980 as one of the equivalents to American Apparel, Alstyle, and Tultex. I find them as a top notch and I like those better than American Apparel. Those are ringspun cotton as well.

    Other than that little mention, good article and useful for those looking for this information.

  3. As for the alstyle brand, I just picked up and printed some of the 5301 style and they actually are really nice and they are ringspun. Here’s the info: 4.3 oz 100% Combed Ringspun Cotton. Super-soft, lightweight, slim-fit tee. Machine washable and preshrunk to minimize shrinkage. Side-seamed for a tailored cut. “Imported” *Athletic Heather 90/10 Cotton/Poly Body Width: S=18″, M=20″, L=22″, XL=24″, 2XL=26″
    Another cool thing about them is the tag, they are really easy to pull out compared to AA, those are a drag cutting and getting all the remnants. I’ve always used AA and like them but the alstyle 5301 seem to be really nice and the price difference is huge. Cheers!

    • You are correct about the 5301. My article is meant to highlight the most popular blanks, and since your probably only the second person to tell me they print on them, I decided to talk about their standard tees which are used more often. I will edit to clarify. Thanks for the comment! =)

      PS- Tultex also has tear away tags, I forgot to mention that in the article.

      • Right on! You should check them (5301) out. I’m surprised more people don’t use them. Just to clarify, I don’t work for alstyle.

  4. Awesome article, I have a client who prints with Alstyle and love them they really seem to have the best collar that never seems to lose its shape. This the first I’ve heard any body even speak of the brand everybody so set on A.A. but I feel if more people on emptee’s actually screen the tee’s themselves they sell maybe they would see the difference between brands a little easier.

  5. I would say that this article is clearly researched and offers alot of good info for the beginners out there. I founded a custom apparel design and printing company, Damascus that targets student groups and musicians nationwide. These are my thoughts

    I’ve used them all. American Apparel has no redeeming qualities except the fact that they come in a large array of colors and don’t shrink terribly. Their sizes are often irregular and the shirt usually has rather crooked stitching. Not to mention the interior of the collars isn’t taped… They’re cutting corners at the shops in LA guys.

    You ever tried the Anvil 980?? YOU GUYS ARE MISSING OUT. The shirt has a luxurious feel, in my opinion, better than AA. I really like the fitted feel and length of the shirt as well. The specs don’t sound special: 4.5 oz. 100% pre-shrunk combed ring spun cotton, side seamed, narrow rib collar, double needle sleeves and bottom hem, taped neck and shoulders. But try one out, they have worked for me.

  6. I am just getting into making my own t-shirts and found this article a great help… Im guessing this is all US based however? Are these available to buy in bulk in the UK? Im still trying to source good materials as the printer I go to is fantastic just the tees arent the best quality

  7. This article and responses have been very insightful. I am still curious to see if there are any brands out there with a more athletic fit. American Apparel is top of the line with a great shirt, but I feel that the sleeves can be very snug to the arms in some cases. I am looking for a shirt that has a fitted look to it with a little bit more breathing room on the sleeves and a little longer sleeve as well. Let me know if you guys have feedback, thanks.

  8. @Mitch UK is a royal pain for getting good t shirts to print on isn’t it? You ask for something out of “the usual suspects” and the costs go sky high.

  9. I feel like picking out the actual t-shirt to do the printing on is the thing that most people overlook. A lot of people are just looking at the price which is fine if the shirt is just for you but if you are wanting to sell these shirts then you definitely want to check how the material feels when you wear it at least. I think one other thing you would like to know is if the t-shirt bleeds now I know most don’t but it can depend on the quality of the shirt. Different t-shirts may respond differently to the various ways of printing t-shirts.

  10. informative juicy article!!!! ppl that go out their way to bring this kind of info deserves big kudos!!!!! Thanks for this great piece!

  11. This is a great article with a lot of good research on the blanks available! We are launching our new line at http://cardinalcotton.com and finding the best shirt for the price is paramount right now! We definitely have some research to do with these other brands! Does anybody know if there is a NC based brand of blanks other than Hanes? We are NC based and would love to get our blanks in-state!

  12. Great article! Just wondering if you have any tips for what website or what manufacturer to use to print up tees. Right now I am having a lot of trouble with making my tees look professinal. If you have any suggestions let me know! Thanks!

  13. I never review or leave comments on things like this, but this article was SO helpful I had to say, good job! I already have a fleece company for my sweatshirts and crewneck sweaters, but I needed some help with the t-shirts and tank tops, and I now know exactly what to do. Thank you! (:

  14. Your articles were great!!!

  15. Thank you very much for this advice!

  16. American Apparel had a good run some years ago marketing wise, but they use average quality cotton to say the least and their stitching is poor. Go over your T-shirt collection if you don’t believe me. The only good thing they have is the cut.

    If you need blanks for a street wear brand, some of the above brands can have some good options. If you want to create a high quality brand, the best thing you can do is choose the cotton grade and manufacturers and make them from scratch to your specifications. That may mean outsourcing the production.

    Otherwise, great blog. Keep it up!

    • Thanks for the feedback rokko! This is a pretty old post now, and I’ve been debating writing a new one that reviews all of the shirt blanks I’ve been able to get my hands on. Keep an eye out for it!

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