Choosing the Best Plain T-Shirts (Blanks) for Custom Prints
You’ll want shirts that look clean and color-bright after many washes. And, shirts that feel soft to the touch for months or years to come.
We’ve put together a Rock Star panel of apparel industry experts to review some of the most popular shirts and show you how to choose the best quality plain t-shirts for the long run.
Being Your Own Boss
Getting your own DigitalHeat FX system lets you bring your creative vision to life and make money while doing it. It gives you the freedom to be your own boss and control your success.
But there are so many variables to control.
– Which Equipment to buy?
– Who’s going to back you up?
– What’s the BEST way to create your designs?
– And…. What are the best plain t-shirts to Use?
Here we’ve done the work for you by printing the SAME DESIGN on the most popular plain t-shirts and judging each shirt for:
• Durability • Texture • Overall Quality • Colorfastness • Adhesion • Overall Feel • Look of the Design
Meet Our All-Star Panel of Apparel Industry Experts
Dawn Bogle - Sales Consultant
Alex Duran - Sales Manager
Don Copeland - Product Manager / Compress UV
Darla Grimes - Receptionist
Allen Gripton - Customer Support Specialist
Heath Schumacher - Customer Support Specialist
Albert Langevin - Service Specialist
Meet the Blank (Plain T-Shirts) We Tested
When printing with DigitalHeat FX, the more consistent texture you have in the shirt, the better the transfer will look. Typically, you’ll want to buy plain t-shirts with no less than 50-60% cotton. This works well for both t-shirt transfers and other forms of imprinting.
However, best results, steer your customers towards 100% cotton of the ring spun variety. They work best. Ring-Spun cotton usually is tighter than other weaves and allows the transfer more surface to hold to the garment.
For our testing, we selected both white and dark (black) shirts. We chose artwork that best represents a typical print you’ll run into on a day to day basis. Medium coverage.
Here’s a rundown of the shirts we tested:
Cotton Heritage / MC1082
District / DT4000
District Made / DT104
District / DT6000
Port & Company / PC450 (LPC450V shown)
Fruit of the Loom / HD Cotton 3930
District / DT5000
District Made / DM3000
Anvil / 980
Next Level / 3600
More About Fabrics
You can buy shirts in a variety of weaves and materials. There’s everything from cotton plain t-shirts, linen, and rayon to polyesters, tri-blends, and spandex.
In addition to the types of plain t-shirts we’ve tested here, you’ll want to make sure to investigate some of the other materials yourself. In the end, it will depend on what your customer wants.
By sticking with the recommendations, you should get excellent results.
Make sure to follow the equipment procedures for maintenance and proper prep to match the results we achieved.
Plain T-Shirt Material Types
These fabrics allow the body to move with ease and are very lightweight and comfortable to wear. It would be very rare to see a t-shirt made entirely of Lycra. However, it’s often used in t-shirt blends in small percentages.
These properties also allow it to resist wrinkles and to stretch and bend more easily.
It is made from the flax plant and has a slightly rough texture with a weave that dries quickly. It has a great ability to keep your customers fresh and has natural moisture-wicking properties.
You’ll typically wear linen in the summertime. But keep in mind that the thinness of the fabric means it will wrinkle often. You will want to keep an iron handy.
Its surface also allows it to drape smoothly. However, Rayon is often too delicate to stand up to repeated wear, and it can become wrinkled and pilly over time.
Polyester dries quickly and is used for top dollar brands like Underarmor, Nike, and Addidas.
To give a plain t-shirt numerous benefits while also decreasing disadvantages like wrinkles and shrinkage, t-shirt manufacturers have developed blends made from two or three materials.
Typical uses include fitness, athletic, day to day comfort, stretch, and sleepwear.
Tri-blends are often 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon.
Cotton Is King of Custom T-Shirts
Cotton is a classic choice. It’s natural, soft, breathable, affordable, and accessible to get wholesale from the leading manufacturers such as SanMar.
Be prepared, however; there’s not just one type of cotton.
Pima and Supima
Cotton & Polyester
Cotton & Polyester & Rayon
However, beware, the lack of high cotton content makes them harder to print.
The Downside of Cotton
Cotton has one significant downside which can cause you lots of headaches if not planned for. It shrinks. And, this shrinking can cause the fabric to put too much stress on the custom plain t-shirts transfer process.
When printing with DigitalHeat FX, you’ll want to find shirts that have been pre-washed if possible.
You can often reduce the temperature of your washing machine and dryer or air dry your cotton clothing to help mitigate shrinkage. Cotton will also wrinkle, so fold your plain t-shirts immediately after drying to prevent unsightly lines and folds.
How Our Judging Was Done
For purposes of the testing, we boiled the measurements down into two overarching categories.
Overall Look of the Shirt
Keeping in mind that our experts have extensive experience to draw on we encompassed all the visual cues into one category.
The question is: How does the shirt “Look” compared to other plain t-shirts they have experienced in the marketplace. More importantly, how does it compare to the others we looked at.
Scoring was done on a 1-5 scale and was an aggregate of the other factors mentioned above (texture, colorfastness, visible construction, loose threads, sharpness, defects)
Overall Feel of the Shirt
One of the hardest things to get a handle on when ordering t-shirts are how a shirt will “feel” when you are looking at a catalog.
So, we suspect this measurement to be a bit subjective. People like different things. Some like thick and heavy shirts and equate that to more expensive, others like soft, lightweight fabrics and consider those to be the best.
We asked our panel to judge each shirt in well-lighted conditions while allowing them to pick-up, touch, and explore all the features of the blank (plain t-shirts) after each of the wash cycles.
Our Key Washing Points:
- Wash inside out
- Keep darks and lights separate
- Do not use bleach
- Gentle Wash Cycle
- Used Normal Detergent
- NO Fabric Softeners
- Slow Spin Cycle – Tumble Dry Low, or Hang Dry
How We Did the Washing
How the plain tee-shirt looks when it comes from your supplier is only half the picture. Whenever you are testing a new product to see if it’s going to be a recommended candidate for you to sell (with printing), you’ll want to make sure to wash test it.
We did the washing according to Digital Heat FX service department instructions. One of the key points here is to make sure that you wash the shirts, INSIDE OUT.
“Decorated shirts should be washed inside out using the gentle cycle and NO fabric softener. Most degradation of the transfer (if any) happens in the spin cycle of the wash and the gentle/delicate cycle has the slowest spin speed.”
“Fabric softener is a no go for any applied decoration as it interferes with how that decoration adheres to the fabric. The drying instructions should say tumble dry low or hang dry.” – Kati Bitter – Product Trainer
Washing inside-out will prevent other potentially scratchy garments from rubbing the finish off your designs. It helps make sure your shirts will last as long as possible.
For Darks: DT4000 District Young Men’s Soft Wash Crew is the Winner
MC1082 (Cotton Heritage) and AV980 (Anvil) Comes in a Close Second
Some of them looked great, at first but had individual quirks or problems that showed up in wash testing.
From our results, you can see that the DT4000 was the overall winner with the MC1082 and Anvil 980 coming in nearly tied for second place (averaged over all washes).
Notice also that within the same brand, you can have some shirts that perform well on darks while other models in the line have some problems. Remembering that texture, weave, the number of rings in ringspun materials and other factors play a part in how well the fabric holds up.
For Lights: DT4000 District Young Men’s Soft Wash Crew Also Wins Overall
DT104 (District Threads) Comes in a Close Second
Last Thoughts – Match the T-Shirt to The Customer
Keep in mind that your results will be somewhat subjective. T-Shirts can be a very personal choice for some customers.
You may have a customer who is absolutely convinced that the least expensive shirt is also the most elegant. Some clients will be extremely picky of the feel of the plain t-shirt.
You need to balance the overall results you can achieve with your Digital Heat FX system against the wishes and desires of the customer. Make sure you are consistently learning new techniques and tricks to improve your results all around.