Cotton, Performance, Blended, What’s the difference?

Not all shirts are created equal

When it comes to cotton, performance, blended, and other shirt materials; determining the right feel, fit, and price point can be one of the most difficult steps in the process of ordering custom printed shirts or other garments. This has led me to develop an easy to use guide to make your next order run as smooth as possible.

First, let me introduce you to the three main options available when selecting a shirt:

Each option is accompanied by its own set of pros and cons, but all three have a unique purpose and place in our hearts, so let’s get started.

First up is 100% Cotton, a very soft, breathable fabric

Why cotton is great.

A fantastic attribute of cotton is that cotton absorbs odor which is then easily released when laundered.

Shirts made from 100% cotton are soft, breathable and perfect for anyone working in warm or cool environments.

Along with being soft and breathable, cotton is also naturally odor resistant!

A fantastic attribute of cotton is that cotton absorbs odor which is then easily released when laundered.
Speaking of laundry, did you know that cotton is one of the most forgiving fabrics when it comes to washing?

One of the key features of cotton is that it is an easy-care material. Cotton does not easily pill – which is when the fabric balls together on the surface of a garment, and it does not retain static – so cotton shirts will not cling to your body easily.

Since cotton is organic, cotton garments are mostly biodegradable and are one of the better options for the environmentally conscientious.

Lastly, cotton is hypoallergenic and will not irritate allergies or cause skin irritation.

Some common issues with cotton.

The largest complaint that we hear about 100% cotton shirts and other garments is that they have a tendency to shrink in the wash. Many shirt manufacturers have since switched over to using pre-shrunk cotton to sidestep this issue. So, when choosing a cotton shirt, pre-shrunk may be one of the features you should look for.

If you’re in love with a shirt that doesn’t come pre-shrunk, don’t worry, a little bit of added care will keep your garment in great condition. See below for our recommended maintenance.

Another minor complaint is that cotton tends to wrinkle easier than their blended or performance counterparts. Additionally the same features of cotton that make it absorbent and breathable, also cause garments to lose more dye per wash than other options.

Maintenance tips

To greatly reduce the chance of your non-pre-shrunk garments from shrinking or other cotton garments from fading or wrinkling, wash using the shortest wash cycle and then remove your garments from the dryer while still damp – letting hang until fully dry.

Using this strategy will keep your garments from shrinking very much, if at all, wrinkle-free, and keep colors brighter, longer.

Pros vs Cons


  • Soft, breathable fabric that’s great for warm or cool conditions.
  • Naturally odor resistant.
  • Easy to launder.
  • Does not easily pill.
  • Does not retain static or cling to your body.
  • Organic and biodegradable.
  • Naturally hypoallergenic (does not cause skin irritation).


  • May shrink when laundered (can buy pre-shrunk to mitigate this problem).
  • Wrinkles more easily than other garment materials.
  • May not retain its color vibrancy as long as other materials.

Hand-picked products

Adult Softstyle® 4.5 oz. T-Shirt – G640
Ladies’ Softstyle® 4.5 oz. Fitted T-Shirt – G640L
Unisex Jersey Short-Sleeve T-Shirt – 3001C
Ladies’ The Favorite T-Shirt – 6004
Adult 6.1 oz. T-Shirt – C1717
Ladies’ 5.4 oz. T-Shirt – C3333

Performance fabrics

Performance fabrics, most often made from polyester, are on the other end of the spectrum from cotton and have come a long way since the material’s inception and feature some unique attributes that set them apart from other materials.

When performance outperforms the competition.

Performance fabrics that feature moisture-wicking technologies help to wick moisture away from the body which helps to keep you feeling cool, dry, and comfortable. To fully take advantage of performance garments with moisture-wicking technology, it’s best to choose a fit that is not too loose but remains mostly in contact with the skin. This will allow the garment to pull sweat away from the body where it can more easily evaporate.

Performance garments and other garments made from polyester are naturally wrinkle resistant and will not shrink when laundered. Additionally, polyester garments are very resilient. Polyester garments can be stretched and pulled while still retaining their original shape. This makes performance garments made from polyester a preferred garment choice for jerseys, athletic wear, and other garments that are laundered often.

Unlike cotton, polyester based garments are not dyed but instead are made from different color-coated polyester fibers which are not susceptible to fading.

Common issues with performance/polyester

Probably the most common problem with performance fabrics is that they have a tendency to pill, which is when the fabric balls together on the surface of a garment. Companies have made leaps and bounds in this area, and many performance options are now available with anti-pick and anti-pill technology. So, make sure to look for these features when selecting a performance or polyester product.

Another issue with performance fabrics is that when ignited, they have the tendency to melt, potentially causing the wearer to suffer severe burns. While this is not a key concern for most people, we recommend that if you work in a field with open flames, high heat, or electricity, polyester fabrics should be avoided – safety first.

Lastly, polyester is a petroleum-based synthetic fiber that is non-biodegradable and may be harmful to the environment if not recycled or discarded responsibly.

Pros vs Cons


  • Performance materials help keep you cool and dry.
  • Wrinkle resistant.
  • Will not shrink when laundered.
  • Stretch resistant.
  • Will not fade when laundered.


  • May have the tendency to pill.
  • Not recommended around flames or high heat.
  • Non-biodegradable.

Hand-picked products

Adult Performance® 5 oz. T-Shirt – G420
Ladies’ Performance® 5 oz. T-Shirt – G420L
Men’s Zone Performance T-Shirt – TT11
Sport-Tek Ultimate Performance Crew – ST700
Sport-Tek Ladies Ultimate Performance V-Neck – LST700
Men’s Locker T-Shirt – 1268471
Ladies’ Locker T-Shirt – 1268481

Blended fabrics

Blended fabrics fall right in between cotton and performance. Staying true to their name, blended fabrics are a blend of two or more materials.

The most common blend of fabric is a 50/50 (half cotton and half polyester), however, there are many other blends that include spandex and rayon.

Where blended excels

As you can probably assume, blended fabrics excel by bringing together the benefits of cotton, polyester, and other materials into one awesome garment! This can give blended fabrics unique traits such as the soft feel of cotton with a higher resistance to shrinking found in polyester garments.

Blended materials allow for a broad range of combined traits perfectly suited for different conditions.

Customers find that the higher end blended shirts that incorporate rayon or spandex are really unique products. Spandex will give the shirt more stretch and will contribute to a softer feel, while rayon will give the garment a silkier look and feel – usually present in the popular tri-blend shirts.

Drawbacks of blended.

While blended materials may provide a combination of beneficial traits, the benefits may not be as prevalent as they are in their single-material state.

For instance, a blended shirt may not shrink as much as a 100% cotton shirt would, but it may still shrink a little, unlike a performance shirt that will not shrink at all. Likewise, a blended shirt is much softer than a performance shirt; but will never truly feel as soft as a 100% ring spun cotton shirt.

Lastly, blended products may contain non-biodegradable materials that may cause harm to the environment if not recycled properly.

Pros vs Cons


  • Beneficial traits of different materials can be combined into a single unique material that may be superior to other options.
  • Specifically optimized blends developed for different conditions.


  • Beneficial traits found in blended materials may not be as prevalent as those found in their singular counterparts.
  • Non-biodegradable.

Hand-picked products

Adult 5.6 oz., DRI-POWER® ACTIVE T-Shirt – 29M
Ladies’ 5.6 oz., DRI-POWER® ACTIVE Ladies’ T-Shirt – 29WR
Unisex Poly-Cotton Short-Sleeve T-Shirt – 3650
Ladies’ Poly-Cotton Short-Sleeve T-Shirt – 6650
Unisex Triblend Short-Sleeve T-Shirt – 3413C
Ladies’ Triblend Short-Sleeve T-Shirt – B8413

If you have any questions, or just want to share your experience with any of the materials, leave your comment below.

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