If you've ever browsed through a catalog from an apparel decorator, surely you've seen a slew of unfamiliar terms in the "item description" section and wondered, "What in the world does THAT mean and WHY DO I CARE?" With design and fabric trends rapidly changing and textile manufacturing processes constantly evolving, it's hard to keep up - even when you're in the industry.
So we thought it would be helpful to sift through this industry terminology from time to time and give you some mini-lessons on particular phrases that you need to know in order to make sense of the stupefying variety of apparel out there.
Ready? Let's get to it!
While there will always be a slight amount of shrinkage when a new cotton garment is washed and dried the first time, the "pre-shrinking" process keeps shrinkage to a minimum.
1. Preshrunk cotton - Contrary to what many people think, "preshrunk cotton" tee shirts are NOT shirts made from fabric that has been washed and dried prior to sewing in order to "pre-shrink" it.
Preshrinking is a process where the uncut material is run through a machine where rollers press tiny grooves into the material, compressing the fibers together to "shrink" the fabric before the material is cut and sewn. Doing this allows actual shrinking to occur during washing without it being noticed.
I did not realize this for quite some time. Pretty nifty though, huh?
This cotton needs to be harvested, cleaned, and carded before it is ready to be combed.
2. Combed Cotton - After cotton is harvested, it is cleaned and carded to get rid of dirt and debris and to smooth and align the fibers. This raw cotton can be used in whatever way or spun into thread. But the raw cotton can also be "combed," a process whereby fine brushes remove any leftover impurities and short fibers, leaving only long fibers arranged in parallel order. This produces and very soft and sturdy fabric because long fibers are less prone to breakage than short fibers and the remaining long fibers are left woven very tightly, leaving a smooth finish that is less likely to fray or unravel.
Spools of cleaned, carded, and combed cotton await the next step in the fabric-making process.
In the tee shirt industry, combed cotton is used for all of the industry-standard tee shirts because of its great quality, durability, comfort, breath-ability, and value.
For an even more luxurious cotton fabric, a different manufacturing process is used: ring-spinning.
3. Ring-spun Cotton - To make ring-spun cotton, cotton fibers are continuously spun, twisted, and thinned, leaving long strands of soft cotton fibers packed very tightly together and neatly in the same direction. The result of this process is that fabric made from ring-spun cotton has an extremely soft feel as well as being very smooth and durable. It also tends to feel thicker than regular combed cotton, even if it is a lighter-weight fabric, because of the density of its fibers.
On this cotton spinning machine, cotton fibers are being spun to create long, smooth, tightly-packed strands of super soft cotton.
Combed, ring-spun cotton shirts are becoming more and more popular in the tee shirt world because so many people are looking for super-comfortable, super-soft shirts as canvasses for their designs. They are, of course, a little more expensive, but depending upon what you're looking for, they can be the perfect choice.
Here is a popular graphic that shows some visible differences between cotton fabric types based upon these various manufacturing processes:
You can see how highly detailed designs really benefit from the smooth surface provided by the combing and ring-spinning processes.
So there you have it: a brief run-down of a few terms in the clothing industry that will hopefully help you distinguish one shirt from another as you're deciding what you want for your next batch of shirts.
There's a lot more to learn, so we'll touch back now and then to keep you on top of things. If you have have particular curiosities you'd like us to address, please drop us an email or leave a comment below!
Ready to get started finding the perfect shirt for getting YOUR IMAGE out there? Joe at Jarato Screen Printing & Design is an experienced, professional screen printer who would love to help you navigate the thousands of different products out there to find what's best for YOU.