Kickass political t-shirts

T-shirt Geek’s Guide to Buying T-shirts

“You get what you pay for” goes the old adage, and there is truth in this when it comes to t-shirts. This is by far the most comprehensive t-shirt buying guide found online.



There are many factors at play when a t-shirt is priced – one of the most important being the fabric from which it is made. This is usually one of cotton, polycotton (polyester/cottom mixes), triblend, modal and bamboo, but there are variations even within these categories that determine the shirt’s eventual cost. The price of a cotton product is, for example, dependent on whether the cotton itself is of a higher or lower grade (which is determined by the length of each individual baby fiber in the fabric, with longer fibers creating higher quality yarn), whether it is ringspun or not, or if the cotton has undergone special processes like combing, which leads to a smoother finish, but with a greater cost. At ALLRIOT we use combed ringspun cotton – the best quality cotton we could find.

Place of manufacture, too, can affect pricing, with mass-produced t-shirts made in Bangladesh or India being cheaper to make than if the same product was produced in the United States or Portugal. This is simply due to the lower labor costs often found in Asia; even with import duties and shipping costs, t-shirts made in the developing world will still have lower prices than domestically-produced garments.

Naturally, clothes made in Bangladesh bring to mind the appalling conditions and minimal wages of the sweatshops in which they were likely made, and so there is an ethical aspect in buying clothes with a higher price. In addition, cheap t-shirts are often made of inferior materials that are not as environmentally-friendly as their more expensive counterparts.

While a higher price does suggest higher quality, there are other ways to make sure that you’re getting a quality product. If the fabric is held up to the light, the yarn is smoother and more even in a higher-quality garment. It should also feel smoother to the touch than cheaper cloth. Please bear in mind that this doesn’t apply to “slub” fabrics which have a more uneven texture for aesthetic reasons.


t-shirt fabrics guide - cotton



An exceptionally comfortable material, cotton is suitable for all types of clothing, but its softness make it ideal for underwear and T-shirts. Comfort, however, is not the only reason why cotton is one of the best fabric choices: the material is highly durable and is less likely to rip or tear compared to other fabrics. Its strength also lends itself to absorbing moisture, with cotton becoming 30% stronger when wet, as well as being able to retain a dry feel even after absorbing 20% of its weight in water. In addition, cotton will only start to drip when more than 65% of the garment is wet. Cotton’s unique relationship with water makes it a good choice for making comfortable weather-resistant clothing, and also allows it to effectively withstand long-term washing. Simply put, cotton t-shirts last a long time!


Perhaps most importantly from the point of the consumer is the fact that cotton is a natural insulator – it is able to keep a wearer cool in the summer and moderately warm in the winter. This is because cotton fabric traps air between the fabric fibers, and the cotton fibers in garments hold the fabric away from the skin. Cotton’s liquid absorbent properties are also as useful with internal, as well as external, moisture: cotton fabric’s breathable nature is due to the removal of moisture away from the body, drying the skin like a towel. This prevents a buildup of moisture between the skin and the clothing.


Cotton is also a hypoallergenic material, meaning that it very rarely causes any allergic reactions, even for people with skin allergies. For this reason it is also often used in medical products such as bandages, as well as for clothing made for babies and infants.

Cotton can be expensive compared to cheaper fabrics, although this is hardly surprising when one considers its many positive qualities. Higher prices of cotton goods and the cotton plant’s annual growing cycle have resulted in the creation of materials made from a mix of cotton and synthetic materials, principally polycotton and tri-blend. At ALLRIOT, we don’t recommend buying polycotton or triblend t-shirts because of their impact on the environment. Just go with 100% cotton.


This material is a blend of natural cotton and synthetic polyester, usually with a mix ratio of 65% cotton and 35% polyester, or a 50/50 split between the two. Poly cotton is a popular material because it is – like cotton – strong, easy to customize, and quick to dry faster, but unlike cotton it can be more versatile due to the infusion of polyester. Unlike polyester, poly cotton doesn’t stick to the skin the way that synthetic materials like pure polyester can.

However, while it is cheaper to produce than pure cotton (and, by association, cheaper to buy), it does not have the same look, and like pure polyester it can be associated with lower-quality products. In addition, it can be harmful for the environment if not recycled and disposed of correctly.

Polyester and polycotton fabrics are not suitable for those of us who have sensitive skin. They might feel soft to the touch to begin with, but polyester fibres tend to harden after being washed multiple times. Also, polyester fibres in light colours like white, ecru, and pastels tend to darken over time because polyester fibres expand in the washing machine and become more susceptible to absorbing dark pigments.



As the name suggests, tri-blend is made of three different fabrics, being 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% Reyon. This gives the material a softer touch than poly cotton, and allows the cloth to stretch a little more. It also gives off a slightly different appearance, with colors being more subtle compared with other fabrics – this is more of a ‘vintage look’, and one of the reasons for tri-blend’s recent surge in popularity. However, as with poly cotton, tri-blend is not an environmentally-friendly material: due to the fact that it is composed of some non-biodegradable components, it can be damaging to the environment if not disposed of properly through recycling.


Despite the fact that tri-blend and recycled polyester are often marketed as sustainable eco-friendly options, the truth is rather different. Polyester is not a sustainable textile option, since it is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the world’s most common type of plastic. Recycled polyester is produced by melting existing plastic and then re-grafting it into polyester fiber which is then used to make clothes; five soda bottles produce enough polyester to make one T-shirt.


Tri blend t-shirts using recycled polyester this seem like a commendable and environmentally-conscious idea, until you realise that plastics can only be recycled once. By buying garments made from recycled polyester, you’re just putting harmful plastics back into the environment.

Also, most clothes are not solely made of polyester: they are mixed with other materials, and this makes recycling far more difficult. In addition, research has found that when clothes made of polyester composites are put through a washing machine, they release microplastics; one garment alone can release 700,000 plastic fibers into the environment.


This is not a mix of cotton and polyester in the same fashion as poly cotton or tri-blend; typically Marl (or sometimes called Melange) fabrics may only contain 10% of polyester in its composition. Marl & Melagne is, in fact, more of a color effect usually found in knitted fabrics in which two different colors appear blurred. The most recognizable example is grey marl sweatshirt fabric, which is made by combining two different colored yarns in the thread which is used to construct the fabric. The subtle blending of two colors leads to an understated, elegant effect – however, prices can be higher for products made this way.




The world’s largest producers of cotton are India (24%), China (22%), the United States (18%), Pakistan (7%), Brazil (6%), and Uzbekistan (3%), with the remaining 20% coming from such diverse source countries as Turkey, Australia and Turkmenistan.


Cotton’s country of origin can affect its quality, especially in the case of Egypt. Although Egypt’s cotton exports are comparatively small when compared to those of other nations, its cotton has become justly famous for its high quality. Unlike cotton production in other countries, Egyptian cotton is still picked by hand: this puts less stress on the fibers, leaving them straight, intact, and long, which then create very fine yarns; Egyptian cotton’s finer threads make garments made of the material softer and more flexible. In addition, since its fibers have been put under less stress during the picking process than if they had been picked by machines, the cloth overall is more durable and resistant than its machine-processed counterparts. However, due to Egyptian cotton’s luxurious status, its price is correspondingly higher when compared with cotton from other countries.


Another premiere cotton, Pima cotton, also commands a higher price. Like Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton has inherently longer fibers (typically 1.4 to 2 inches in length, compared with most cotton fibers’ average length of 1.1 inches) which – again like its Nile River Delta equivalent – lead to a softer but stronger fabric. Pima fibers, while longer than all other cottons, are still slightly shorter than those from Egypt.

Pima originated in Peru, and while it is still grown in its country of origin, it is now also produced in the southwestern region of the United States, and some parts of Australia (its name, meanwhile, comes from the Pima Indians, who worked to raise the cotton in North America).


Any product with either Egyptian or Pima cotton in its composition will indicate this in its label, although both luxury types of cotton fiber comprise only 10% of the total of cotton products; all other cotton products will simply read ‘100% cotton’.




The length of a cotton fiber is a key factor in determining its quality, since this affects how the product will feel after it is made, as well as its durability – hence why Egyptian and Pima cotton products, with their inherently longer fibers (and resulting softer feel), are considered luxury goods.


Thread width is used to describe how fine the thread of the cotton that was used is. Usually, a single-spy cotton threat is made up of 840 cotton thread yards, so if a pound takes approximately 20 spools, the thread will be described as being either 20s cotton or 20/1; if 30 spools comprise one pound, the thread will be dubbed 30s or 30/1, and so on. In essence, the higher the number the finer the thread – and therefore the finer, softer shirt.


The greater number of cotton threads in a yarn results in a tighter weave, with 18-single, 30-single and 40-single yarns being the most common types. The tighter the weave, the higher the quality, with a 40-single yarn creating a smoother weave for a T-shirt than a yarn made up of fewer cotton threads.



This is a chemical process which makes use of sodium hydroxide to help make cotton fabric and yarn more able to be dyed. This further strengthens the fiber, gives the garment a shinier appearance than other methods, and allows the fabric to retain its dye longer. The method is named for its 19th century inventor, John Mercer.

After yarn has been mercerized, it can also be ‘gassed’ – that is, quickly passed through a hot flame in order to remove any excess thread in order to create a smoother look.


This cotton is softer than its regular cousin due to the fact that any short, unnecessary extra threads are removed. The combing process – which involves very fine brushes straightening the fibers (and gives combed cotton its name) – also strengthens the cotton, since the straightened fibers join together more tightly. Due to the extra labor needed to make combed cotton (and the superior product it creates), it is more expensive than regular cotton.


Carded cotton, or uncombed cotton, is spun by the carded spinning technique, which means a wrapped fiber runs perpendicular to the bundle of yarn instead of being aligned in the same direction. Although this process results in a coarser, bulkier or more uneven final product, garments made with the carding are cheaper to produce than other methods.


‘Ring spun’ refers to the fact that yarn goes through a spinning process intended to make each fiber straighter and softer; this naturally results in a garment that feels softer than those made with other methods.


Although deliberately created with imperfections, lumps, and a generally rough feel, slub cotton has become popular with fashion designers because it does not cling to the body, still feels light to wear, and does not need to be ironed due to its natural texture. Slub cotton is made by irregular patterns of twists that are put into the cotton before it is weaved.


When buying cotton t-shirts, you can’t go wrong with combed ringspun cotton. Mercerized t-shirts can look very shiny, and carded cotton doesn’t feel as nice as combed cotton.



Of course, the weight of a t-shirt affects how it feels to the wearer – a lightweight shirt will feel airy and move freely, while a heavyweight will be warmer and more durable, although at the expense of the wearer being very conscious of wearing it. Yet weight is also able to affect the price, especially if the shirt is being imported.

The weight of t-shirts usually ranges between 3 oz at their lightest, to standard weights of 4.5 to 5 oz, to heavier weights of 6 oz or more. Shirts under 3 oz may not be very durable, and so are not as common as those of higher weights.

This does not, of course, mean that the shirts themselves weigh three ounces or six ounces – the weight refers to much a square yard of fabric weighs. Sometimes the weight is listed as ‘GSM’ – grams to square meter. GSM to oz can conversions can be done by dividing the GSM by 33.906.


Some people prefer lighter weight t-shirts, whereas others prefer heavier weight tees. It’s down to your personal preference. We suggest finding out the GSM or OZ value most commonly used by your favourite brand and using it as a guide.

ALLRIOT unisex tees are 180 GSM in the UK, which is a bi on he heavyweight t-shirt side. Because we use combed ringspun cotton, they have a really nice handfeel and don’t feel to heavy at all.

In the States and Canada, we use a slightly lighter t-shirt which comes to about 4.3 OZ / 150 GSM.



There are two general types of T-shirt construction: tubular and side seamed. Taking its name from its shape, the tubular design is cheaper and requires less sewing: a slice is made into the tube to make a circular piece of fabric, after which the arms and neck are sewn on.

Side seamed shirts follow the contours of the body more flatteringly as – like the name suggests – the seam of the shirt follows the side of the torso, but the front, back and sleeves are all also individually cut. This design is generally considered to be a better alternative (and more popular) than its tubular counterparts, although it depends on cotton quality. Have you ever noticed that the seams on some of your t-shirts twist around the body in a really funny way? This is due to either low cotton quality, or pattern pieces cut incorrectly (i.e. off-grain). We use a mix of tubular and side seamed construction in our tees.


Some people prefer lighter weight t-shirts, whereas others prefer heavier weight tees. It’s down to your personal preference. We suggest finding out the GSM or OZ value most commonly used by your favourite brand and using it as a guide.

ALLRIOT unisex tees are 180 GSM in the UK, which is a bi on he heavyweight t-shirt side. Because we use combed ringspun cotton, they have a really nice handfeel and don’t feel to heavy at all.

In the States and Canada, we use a slightly lighter t-shirt which comes to about 4.3 OZ / 150 GSM.


1×1 RIB

This type of stitched fabric is commonly used for T-shirt sleeves and neckbands since it is very elastic while retaining its original shape.


This entails parallel stitching that is mainly used for bottom and sleeve hems, which increases the durability of the shirt and creates a more elegant look.


This is a fabric sewn to cover the edge of the sewing construction that closes the front and rear of a shirt’s shoulder section, in order to provide better comfort and durability.


This is a type of shirt with an extra-long tail that hangs lower than other types of shirt.


This is a type of shirt that has a rounded neckline and no collar.


As the name suggests, the neckline is in the shape of a V. Like the crew neck, it does not have a collar.


This collarless shirt has a neckline significantly lower cut neckline than other types of shirt.


This is when sleeves are connected to the torso of a garment at the shoulder, which then continues along the armhole.


These sleeves extended in one piece to the collar and do not have a shoulder seam; these sleeves are often said to give off a more casual appearance than their set-in equivalents.



As the names suggest, you can buy oversized (aka baggy or loos-fit) t-shirts, regular (aka unisex or standard fit), and slim (aka fitted) t-shirts.

Semi-fitted t-shirts also exist. They are usually a bit more tailored than regular fit tees, bu not enough to make a big difference.



This is the allowable limit of variation in a shirt measurement. With an accepted tolerance of one inch, there can be a deviation of plus or minus one inch from the size listed on the size chart.


Shrinkage is one of the few disadvantages cotton has when compared with its synethic-infused counterparts. Since cotton is a natural fiber, it shrinks because of the tension that is applied to its yarn and fabrics during its production. This tension is then released by heat from the washer, dryer, steam, or even sunlight, which causes the fabric to be reduced to its natural size.

This is why most cotton clothing will shrink during its first washing. This can be avoided by hand-washing the clothes, or by using cold water and the most delicate cycle of a washing machine. The drying machine should also not be used; instead, leave cotton clothes to dry on washing lines or racks; if you must use a dryer, set it to the lowest heat setting possible.

It is also worth investigating whether the cotton used in the shirt has been preshrunk: this is, however, often true for most standard, 100% cotton t-shirts.


Well-fitted, quality T-shirts should not suffer from major shrinkage or substantially change their shape even after many washes: this is the most definite way to tell the difference between a cheaper product and a quality product.


After parting with hard-earned cash, naturally you’ll want to have made an investment in a shirt that will retain its quality for as long a time as possible. There are a number of factors to consider in determining a shirt’s true quality listed below; unfortunately, not all can be taken into account at first glance.



Garments made from long fibers are typically of a higher quality due to the fact that they are composed of finer yarn, which creates a stronger fabric (hence the price of Egyptian and Pima cotton).


There are several things to look out for in a shirt’s sewing. The cloth around the seams of the shirt should be smooth and not ruffled or puckered, nor should edges be frayed, or the colors of the sleeves different from the rest of the shirt. A ‘wave’ of fabric splayed across the upper chest of the shirt and cheap graphics for the design are also indicators of a low quality garment.


Pills can be seen on shirts when clusters of short or damaged fibers on the surface of the shirt are forced together, making knots or balls appear in the cloth. These usually appear as a result of normal wear and use.


Over time, colors should look fresh rather than fade; faded colors after years of use are glaring hints to low quality.


Natural drapes are essential for the design of elegant clothing; it is a bad sign if a shirt does not have any natural draping when worn.

An obvious point to look for in a shirt, but at least one can ascertain comfort before parting with any money. The cloth must feel comfortable when worn – short fibers in the fabric can create scratchiness or itchiness, since unlike long fibers they are not woven evenly into the cloth.


This can also be seen at first glance: beware any garment with uneven patterns.


Air pockets between individual threads can cause thermal insulation, which reduces the breathability of the cloth and results in sweating. When finely combed cotton is woven tightly, the skin will be able to breathe within the shirt more easily.


All one should see when closely examining a shirt is a regular pattern of rows; any inconsistencies in the individual threads are an effective warning sign.


The process in which designs or graphics are placed onto a T-shirt can drastically affect its look, from both an aesthetic and quality standpoint.


With this method, multiple screens are used in multi-colored designs. This method – one of the oldest but most effective ways of printing on T-shirt – creates long-lasting and high-quality designs.


Digital printing involves artwork being processed by a computer, and then printed directly onto the surface of your product.The fact that the digital printer does not use screens allows for a photographic print, with much higher image quality than traditional screen printing. As the ink is applied more thinly, digital printing is best used on lighter colored shirts to allow the design to stand out. 


Discharge printing is the process of using water-based inks to bleach the manufacturer’s dye out of a shirt and replacing it with another chosen color. This is achieved by using water-based inks that soak into the fabric instead of just sitting on top of it. Typically this is done with cotton shirts that are black, gray or darker in color. Use of this method results in a softer look and feel compared to digital prints, and also retain the detail of a design.

Curious to learn more about t-shirt printing? Head to our t-shirt printing methods explainer for a more detailed overview.


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