The Softer Side of T-Shirts

When you select a T-shirt for a promotional program, you naturally consider the color, the fit and the weight of the fabric. Do you also engage your sense of touch? If not, you should. Today’s T-shirt marketplace offers many versions of soft tees. Consumers care how a garment feels, and so do recipients of promotional T-shirts.

Ringspun cotton/polyester fabric blends and heathered colors make for a lightweight garment, like the women’s X-Temp V-neck (42V0) from Hanes Branded Printwear (asi/59528; circle 103 on Free Info Card).

The Ultra Wash tee (RSA6320) from American Apparel (asi/35297; circle 104 on Free Info Card) is made with lightweight 100% combed cotton for superior drape and softness.

Fortunately, today’s T-shirts are exceptionally soft and smooth due in part to the fiber used to make the fabric. “Ringspun yarn makes a T-shirt soft, as the spinning process makes the yarn thinner, stronger and softer,” says Marcus Davis, product development leader for Hanes Branded Printwear (asi/59528). “Compared to cotton, polyester has a smooth, slick hand. When you blend ringspun cotton with polyester, as we’ve done with the Hanes X-Temp T-shirt collection, you are creating an incredibly soft, smooth hand.”

In addition, there is a noticeable difference between carded and combed cotton. Carded cotton typically is soft but slightly coarser, with a mixture of thicker and shorter fibers. Combed cotton is a more thorough process that separates and uses the longer, thicker cotton fibers while brushing out excess debris.

Yvette Corona, spokesperson for American Apparel (asi/35297), notes that fabric weight matters as well, particularly given the type of fiber. “For instance, our 50/50 poly-cotton T-shirt has a lighter and softer hand than our 100% ringspun combed cotton T-shirt,” Corona says. “This is in part due to the addition of polyester yarn, which is typically a smoother and lighter fiber.” She notes that synthetic fabrics like polyester and rayon generally lend a soft hand, and blending them with cotton in tri-blend fabrics creates a soft, vintage feel due to the properties of each fiber.

The amount of dye used can also affect softness. “Fabric that has not been heavied, or overly dyed, will feel softer,” says Davis. “So you’ll see increased softness with a blended heather T-shirt, for example, where you are dying either the poly or the cotton.” Another perk is the look of a heathered garment. Visually it reinforces the actual feel of the shirt with its softer color.

The Weight of it All

When manufacturers talk about fabric weight, they aren’t putting a shirt on a scale. In truth, it’s really the mass of the fabric. There are two common measurements for fabric weight: ounce by square yard (6.0-oz) or gram by square meter (160 GSM or grams). As a rule, higher numbers equal heavier fabric. American Apparel’s best-selling fine jersey T-shirt, for example, has a fabric weight of 4.3-oz (146 grams). Meanwhile, its California fleece has a fabric weight of 7.2-oz (244 grams). But that’s not the only standard of fabric weight. Thread weight or yarn count can also be taken into account, especially with T-shirts. The descriptors for these are something called singles: 20 singles, 30 singles, 40 singles. And unlike measuring fabric weight in ounces by square yard, the higher number actually means a lighter, finer, softer shirt. A 40 singles thread is finer, resulting in a tighter weave that makes a shirt softer and thinner.