Creating your own clothing or t-shirt line is a very ambitious project. Getting it off the ground is tedious and time-consuming. There are numerous details involved in the process and your project can easily go off the rails if they’re overlooked. However, you’re not easily discouraged. You have a vision and a creative statement to make and your clothing line will succeed thanks to the right t-shirt. We’re going to help you make that happen. (Conclusion at the end)
The most important aspect of a successful t-shirt line is the t-shirt itself. You could have the Mona Lisa of t-shirt designs that would have people pausing and admiring the screen printed artwork, but if the shirt’s fabric doesn’t feel good, if the fit isn’t right, your work might not see the light of day. When your customers reach into their closets for their favorite t-shirt, you want it to be yours. Every shirt worn is an advertisement for your brand.
Think about your favorite t-shirt. Why is it your favorite? How does it feel? How does it fit? How was it screen printed?
These are the characteristics you must consider when choosing the right t-shirt.
Your customers will appreciate the extra effort and attention to detail you gave into providing a shirt that fits and feels great.
What makes us experts on this subject matter? Well, this is our thing. We’ve worn, screen printed, and washed just about every garment in the industry.
We’re here to save you the time and danger of navigating through the minefield of blank t-shirts.
This list, organized by weight class, will be the difference in whether your shirt becomes a favorite or a car wash rag. This might be quite a bit of information, but your brand deserves a well-educated decision.
Standard Heavyweight Division
The Gildan ultra cotton t-shirt is the most used, classic fit, good for every-day activity type of garment. This is also the quality of shirt you’d find in the merch stand of a struggling up and coming band or at a convenience store with an image of a wolf or patriotic eagle printed on it. Yup, those.
Gildan, Anvil, and Fruit of the Loom with few differences, are the same. They come from the same mills so these are essentially identical.
Sure, it’s friendlier to your wallet and they screen print well, but it’s cut is boxy and the fit isn’t specialized. These warrant special attention when washing. They can shrink down a whole size and the sleeves tend to “wing out” or fit baggy. Nobody likes that.
If you’re aiming for a garment that is more suited for a fashion-forward project, then we recommend you skip these t-shirts. If you’re looking for shirts for an upcoming family reunion or a co-ed softball tournament, then this is the shirt for you. If you just need a heavy standard fit t-shirt, these will last forever. Skim the aisles of Goodwill if you don’t believe us.
All right, we got the most basic option out of the way so let’s get down to business. These are the garments we recommend for a fashion-driven clothing line.
Up first to bat is the Alstyle 1301. If your brand is leaning more towards the urban t-shirt feel, then this might be the right t-shirt for several reasons. It’s heavyweight and has the boxy fit but don’t let out that hesitant “hmm” just yet. Unlike the Gildan shirt we discussed prior, this garment won’t shrink badly and is as durable as those vintage Nokia brick phones. We’re talking quality and longevity.
Brands like Diamond Supply, The Hundreds, Mighty Healthy all use this shirt. Alstyle is better for cooler climates because they’re heavy. This is why they’re more widely used on the west coast for so many skate driven brands.
Weighing in at 4.5 oz of ring-spun softness and born and bred in the good ol’ USA is the American Apparel 2001. Some would say that this is the ideal weight for a t-shirt.
Made in downtown Los Angeles, this is the company that started the revolution for a better fitting tee. Every hip and trendy clothing line was screen printing on these until other blank companies took notice and cashed in with cheaper versions of their own.
The American Apparel 2001 has the best and most unique color choices. Even American Apparel’s primary color options look better than the other brands. The shades of color are just right on the money. Worth noting, Canvas’ color swatch comes close to AA’s. (We’ll touch on this in a bit).
These shirts screen print well using plastisol inks and they look even better with premium water-based and discharge inks. However, due to its tubular construction, these can shift a little after a wash causing them to lose their original shape. Other brands like Canvas and Next Level have side seems which makes a huge difference in maintaining their fit.
Even with some of the cons, you can’t go wrong with this brand. It is the quintessential brand of the American hipster and even though they may get a bad rep here and there, they know their clothing. The name recognition and perceived value also makes these a good choice if you’re planning to sell your shirts at a premium.
Also called “the surf tee”, the Alstyles 5.5 oz ring-spun cotton shirt is soft and maintains a great fit. This is another option used quite a bit in the urban and skatewear industry.
If you’re aiming to launch a brand for an alternative sport such as BMX or skating and looking for something more breathable and not too heavy, then this garment is a great choice. Some very established brands like Obey, Crooks & Castles, and The Hundreds use these blanks.
Like Alstyle 1701, this t-shirt weighs in at 5.5 oz and is also made of ring-spun cotton. If your budget is an issue, you need not worry. It’s more economical at half the cost.Anvil’s brand distribution is wide and it may be a little easier for you to find depending on your screen printer and location. A downside is that their color choices are limited. However, this shirt does have a nice weight to it and your customers will enjoy something a little sturdier and durable than what they accustomed to.
District clothing is set up to be an economical choice to Bella+Canvas, Next Level, and American Apparel offering fashion forwards, slim cuts, and styles for the young hearted.
District’s price definitely won’t break your bank as they are the lowest priced fashion brand.
For the price, their fit is nice but where they fall short is in the wash. Results like shrinking can be unpredictable unless you hang dry.
We wouldn’t say reliability is a strong suit of these garments.
This wouldn’t be our first choice unless you’re in dire need to have a retail/fashion type shirt on the cheap. However, we can say that District does make a respectable hoodie and their blends are nice. They are cheaper than Gildan’s, they have a nice fit, and are soft ring-spun cotton.
The Anvil 980 was also made to rival Bella+Canvas, Next Level, and American Apparel. The previous review pretty much applies to this one, too. It costs less and has a much smaller color selection.
We will say that their blends are worth checking into because they’re quite nice and a bit cheaper than Bella+Canvas or NextLevel.
Now for the good stuff!
Next Level Apparel, rather than just copying the American Apparel 2001, these guys improved upon it. Their garments are bit lighter at 4.3 oz, yet the quality is retained. They also have an important but often overlooked side seam. A small detail which makes all the difference in the world when maintaining the shape of a t-shirt. These shirts are the epitome of soft and their fit is great.
Even better than the 100% cotton shirt is their CVC t-shirt. It’s softer and has a lesser tendency to shrink.
If you’re looking for a brand with a ton of bang for your buck, Next Level is your answer. Their 100% cotton and blends feel amazing and they come in some great colors too.
If you’re launching a brand for people that are fashion conscious or into fitness, this is definitely one to consider. We screen print on a lot of Next Levels because our clients love the quality, fit, and price point. This brand also has many different choices when it comes to garments for women so a lot of boutiques and premium brands print on these. Next Level has established themselves as one of the best values for screen printing.
This manufacturer has some excellent garment and color choices. They aren’t quite as fitted as the Next Level shirts but they do feel lighter at 4.2 oz. and this is because their knit isn’t woven as tight.
If you’re like some of us here at Oh Boy, you might be in between sizes. It can be somewhat frustrating finding a shirt you like, but just doesn’t fit right. Well, a great thing about Bella+Canvas is that their shirts are a bit longer. So if you’re a medium but medium shirts usually fit shorter on you, Bella+Canvas has you covered. Yes, pun intended.
Bella+Canvas is pretty interchangeable with Next Level but they have a much better color selection. They have some unique garments that could definitely add some nice variety to your brand. Bella+Canvas is also budget friendly.
So we’ve reached the end of our journey of discovering the right t-shirt for your brand. Let’s recap.
- Don’t buy Gildan or Fruit of the Loom 100% cotton unless you have a “one-time” use sort of thing planned. Use the Gildan dry/blend instead. It’s is a nice shirt for the “standard” category. The fact that it’s 50/50 cotton poly makes it less prone to shrinkage. A good choice when you just need a classic fit, good for everyday use t-shirt on the cheap.
- Use Anvil or District if you need a fashion fit shirt that’s economical.
- If you’re starting a streetwear brand and want that heavy boxy fit, go with the Alstyle 1301. Another great option for streetwear and skate is the 1701.
- The strongest brands on this list are Next Level and Bella+Canvas. Their catalog is vast and you’re sure to find something you like. They have a great selection for blends, color choices, and ladies fashion. This is a really strong, if not, the best choice for starting your brand. These brands are also our top sellers.
We know this is a lot of information. A clothing line is a serious business and it requires serious research. We compiled this list as a screen printing company that sees these shirts every day. We have plenty of experience when it comes to how these t-shirts fit, print, and most importantly how they will help your brand. If you’ve made a decision and would like to use one of these brands for your custom printed t-shirts, get a quote!