Which Polyester Shirts Feel Like Cotton? [Soft T-shirts for Sublimation]

All-over-print (AOP) T-shirts are hotter than ever. The sublimation process gives you incredible colors and nearly endless possibilities. However, there’s a pain point that isn’t exactly easy to resolve: Customers want a soft tee with a cotton feel, but cotton and the sublimation process don’t play nicely together.

The average T-shirt customer isn’t savvy about the ins and outs of everything that goes on behind the scenes to produce their shirt. For example, most of your customers aren’t aware that you need to use synthetic fabrics like polyester to get all-over-print shirts. They just want a comfortable shirt with eye-popping details.

It’s your job as the store owner or T-shirt seller to source the shirts your customers want to buy and will love wearing. So which polyester shirts have a soft cotton feel? Let’s dive in and find out.

The Difference Between Cotton and Polyester T-Shirts

Here is the main difference between polyester and cotton shirts: Polyester is all about functionality, and cotton is all about comfort and superb breathability. Polyester is a synthetic fiber that repels water, while pure cotton shirts are made with natural fabric that’s absorbent and breathable.

Polyester material is a hard-working fabric that’s practical and tough. However, there’s a trade-off for that type of durability. Polyester doesn’t have the same soft feel as cotton’s natural fibers. A cotton T-shirt is more suitable for screen printing. 

One solution is to buy a polyester blend. With a poly blend, you get both comfort and functionality, along with the best material for sublimation transfers. However, the more cotton a shirt has, the more difficult it is for sublimation printing. While you can print on a T-shirt that has up to 35% cotton, these are the best shirts for intentionally-faded or vintage designs.

Your Two Options for Sublimation Tees

The dye sublimation process uses a heat press to print special ink onto a shirt. The process turns a solid into a gas that gets absorbed by the fabric’s fibers, where it turns back into a solid. This means that there is no ink on the shirt’s surface, so you can preserve the material’s soft feel.

The sublimation process was designed for use on synthetic fibers such as polyester. When you print on sublimation T-shirts, you have two options: athletic apparel and streetwear apparel.

Athletic apparel

Polyester shirts are ideal for athletic shirts and apparel because they have natural moisture-wicking properties that help you stay dry. When customers buy athletic apparel, they expect a smooth polyester feel.

sublimation shirt soccer
Source: Pexels

Do you sell athletic apparel, such as tank tops with sublimation designs? If so, your job is a lot easier, and when you print on 100% polyester, you’re in good company. Some of the big brands that print on polyester shirts are Nike, BCG, Puma, Adidas, and Under Armour.

Athletic apparel can be printed on any of the fabric blends listed below, but in most cases, the amount of polyester in the garment is higher.

Streetwear apparel

For streetwear apparel such as T-shirts and hoodies for everyday wear, customers usually aren’t looking for a smooth shirt with moisture-wicking capabilities. Rather, they prefer soft tees that have that comfy cotton feel. As we’ve already mentioned, most of your customers don’t understand that sublimation printing has to be done on synthetic fabrics.

streetwear t shirt
Source: Pexels

These fabrics and blends are best for printing streetwear apparel.

  • 100% polyester
  • 95% polyester, 5% elastine
  • 92% polyester, 8% spandex
  • 65% polyester, 35% cotton (for vintage designs only)

Polyester Shirts That Feel Soft Like Cotton

Below, we list some of the top brands of poly shirt options that have the softness of cotton. 

Vapor Apparel

T-shirt fabric composition: 100% spun polyester

Vapor Apparel is one of the most trusted brands for sublimation printing and is arguably the best sublimation T-shirt. This shirt is available in white, but they also offer lots of other different types of colors, including brown, tan, blue, gray, and heather. 

Vapor’s long-sleeved sublimation shirts offer the same great benefits as the short-sleeved tee. You’ll stay nice and dry while also enjoying the soft cotton feel. The tear-away label is easy to remove. 

Bonus: the Vapor Apparel sublimation T-shirt is available in inclusive sizes up to 5XL. 

vapor shirts
Source: VaporApparel.com

Gildan 42000 100% Polyester Performance T-Shirt

T-shirt fabric composition: 100% polyester

Gildan is one of the top-selling T-shirt brands, and they don’t disappoint with the Gildan 42000 Performance T-shirt. Like Vapor, this tee is available in a wide array of colors, including pink, orange, red, green, purple, and more. 

Need a shirt with a cut that’s perfect for women? Try the Gildan 42000L Ladies’ Core Performance T-Shirt. 

gildan 42000 shirts
Source: GildanBrands.com

Next Level 6010

T-shirt fabric composition: 50% polyester, 25% combed ringspun cotton, 25% rayon jersey

If you’re going for a vintage look and feel, this tri-blend fabric tee is ideal. You can’t achieve vintage-style faded designs when you print on 100% polyester because too much of the link becomes absorbed and retained.

The Next Level 6010 unisex tee is available in tons of colors, including unique colors such as Tahiti blue and vintage turquoise. For a vintage look on the Next Level 6010 T-shirt, lighter colors are best, and this tee is the perfect choice.

Source: SSActivewear.com

A4 Sublimation Performance Tee

T-shirt fabric composition: 100% polyester

For value and great quality, you can’t go wrong with the A4 N3402 sublimation T-shirt. With this shirt, you get a soft performance polyester feel while also getting enhanced softness, breathability, and sweat protection. The great price point for this tee is lower than many of the others, so that’s another benefit. 

a4 sublimation shirt
Source: A4.com

Jerzees 21M Dri-Power Sport T-Shirt

T-shirt fabric composition: 100% polyester

The Jerzees 21M is perhaps the most sought-after sublimation T-shirt. While this shirt is made with 100% polyester, it also offers the great feel of a soft cotton tee. 

One complaint some people have of the Jerzees 21M is that it’s slightly thinner than other options. If you need a lighter shirt, this one weighs just 5.3 ounces. On the upside, this Jerzees shirt works well for good prices. Many of the generic white label AOP T-shirts or sublimation blanks wholesale apparel with tear-away stages offered by print-on-demand companies are actually Jerzees brand.

Need long sleeve shirts? This tee is available in long sleeves, and there is also a women’s version (21WR). 

jerzess 21M WHITE front
Source: Shirtspace.com

Team 365 TT11

T-shirt fabric composition: 100% polyester

This T-shirt is similar to the Jerzees sublimation tee, but it’s a little cheaper. If your budget is tight, the Team 365 TT11 is a great option. You can also buy this shirt in long sleeves (TT11L), youth (TT11Y), and women’s TT11W). For cheap shirts, this is one of the cheapest options. 

team 365 tt11
Source: AlphaBroder.com

Badger 4820 B-Tech  Cotton-Feel T-Shirt

T-shirt fabric composition: 94% polyester, 6% spandex

Badger markets this T-shirt as a sports tee that also has the soft cotton feel we all crave. All of the reviews we’ve found mention the sport shoulder panels that allow for maximum movement. 

At 4.1 ounces, this good quality T-shirt is even more lightweight than the Jerzees 21M. The bottom hem is double-stitched. 

badger 4820 shirt
Source: Badgerteamwear.com


When choosing the best T-shirts for sublimation printing, remember that the higher the polyester content your shirts have, the better your results will be. Experts recommend not going lower than 65% polyester if you want a vivid print that lasts wash after wash.

I’ve seen 50% polyester blends work well for single-color and streetwear designs, so I recommend buying a few blanks and testing your designs on each. This is the best way to know exactly which polyester shirt will work best for your designs.