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Custom T-Shirt Printing: What Does T-Shirt Weight Mean?

Heidi Thorne is a promotional products expert and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.

Find out why knowing weight is important when custom printing t-shirts.

Find out why knowing weight is important when custom printing t-shirts.

When a T-shirt description says "5.5 oz.," what does that mean? Does that mean the entire shirt weighs 5.5 ounces? Absolutely not! Actually, the T-shirt weight tells you how thick the fabric is. Here's how it works.

In the textile business, ounce weight typically refers to how much a square yard of the fabric weighs, although there may be variations from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, buyers of promotional T-shirts and other retail textile goods can usually rely on the ounce weight in product descriptions to determine which item would suit their needs.

But then the question becomes, what weight is suitable for custom T-shirt printing?

Common T-Shirt Weights and Applications

Most standard T-shirt weights are in the 4.5 oz. to 6 oz. range. Below that, fabrics are lightweight and may not be very durable. However, that might be appropriate for some applications such as one-time event use (though that's not a very green thing to do!).

Additionally, some lightweight T-shirts are tissue, sheer, or fine jersey which are popular for some markets, such as for women's wear. If you're looking for T-shirts that will get heavy wear and tear, such as for uniform or construction use, generally a thicker weight of 6.0 oz. or above would be recommended. A mid-range weight such as 5.5 ounces would be appropriate for a wide variety of uses and events.

T-shirts need to have sufficient weight to stand up well under imprinting processes. Typically, those shirts sold for promotional use are from warehouses and suppliers that understand they will be subjected to printing. A promotional products' distributor can help in selecting an appropriate shirt for the intended imprint.

Another weighty issue for T-shirts is cost. Generally, the heavier the ounce weight, the greater the cost. And as noted below, heavier shirts have heavier shipping costs, too. However, some lightweight specialty fabrics can also be pricey because of their special fabric fibers AND because they may require special handling during the printing process.

T-Shirt Weight Impact on Shipping Costs

Another reason T-shirt ounce weight is important is that it will affect how much it costs to ship from the supplier or decorator. The heavier the shirts, the heavier the boxes and/or the more boxes that may have to ship.

T-shirts are a heavy promotional item! A regular T-shirt could weigh up to a half-pound by itself depending on the fabric and design. If hundreds of shirts are ordered, the shipment could easily be in the hundreds of pounds.

So unless a super special type of promotional T-shirt is needed, it's generally best to source as close to as possible to the delivery address to avoid high freight costs which could be very expensive.

Important! Don't assume that because a promotional products distributor is in the local area that the T-shirts will ship from their location. Many distributors work with a nationwide network of suppliers and T-shirt decorators. Don't be afraid to ask from what city or region the shirts will ship. Get a shipping quote and ask about delivery time.

Another thing to consider with regard to shipping is how much it will cost to ship an individual promotional T-shirt to a customer if it is being used in a direct mail campaign. This can easily balloon a promotion's cost by hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Seriously consider the most cost-effective way to get them into customers' hands. Click here to learn more about developing a good promotional product strategy.

Marketing Image Factors

T-shirt fabric weight can say a lot about the company and how they feel about their customers and fans! For example, cheap, flimsy fabrics can tell customers, "We're too cheap to care!"

In addition to weight, the texture and "hand" (the way it feels and drapes when held in the hand) of the fabric can have a big impact. A comfortable fabric increases the chances that a promotional T-shirt will be kept and worn. However, these qualities may have little to do with the actual weight of the T-shirt fabric.

Two other T-shirt qualities that have little to do with weight, but are important, are fit and construction. Shoddy workmanship and ill-fit decrease the chances that the shirt will be worn. Sticking with promotional shirts from popular brand names in retail can help avoid disappointment in these areas.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What's the heaviest weight for t-shirt material?

Answer: Some of the heaviest T-shirt weights I've seen are 8 ounces and 12 ounces. Ask your supplier to confirm the exact weight.

Question: What is the heaviest weight item, such as a embroidery, that a typical 5.5 once weight T-shirt can handle before it starts to sag, or for each weight class? Would it be the same weight of the T-shirt or many times lighter? Is there a ratio formula to calculate the most weight a T-Shirt can handle before it sags? Thank you for your time.

Answer: Those are terrific questions!

First, let me say that I never recommend embroidery for T-shirts. It requires a backing fabric piece to stabilize the shirt for embroidery. Even then, it can stretch and pucker, and usually looks horrible. Then when the T-shirt is laundered, it can get even more distorted. Imprinting is the ideal decoration method for T-shirts.

Heavier knit fabrics, such as those used for polo shirts, can more easily accommodate embroidery. But even those usually require a stabilizer behind them to reduce distortion and prevent sagging.

I wish I knew of a formula for calculating fabric weight to embroidery decoration, but I don't. And whether it can be accommodated depends on multiple factors in addition to fabric weight. Those factors would include the stabilizing fabric used, decorating equipment, etc. The only way that I've known is to test, test, test!

Good luck with your apparel project!

Question: I want a durable shirt, how much difference is there between a 5.7 and 6 oz tee?

Answer: There probably isn't that much of a dramatic difference between those two weights. However, I would suggest getting a sample of each weight shirt that you are considering so you can compare. That's the only way to determine which one will best serve your needs. Good luck with your T-shirt project!

© 2014 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 04, 2020:

Hello, Umesh! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on March 03, 2020:

This is an interesting information. Nice reading.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 31, 2014:

Hello Mrs Haverlah! There are several outstanding T shirt suppliers in the industry. I'd suggest becoming a member of ASI, PPAI or DistributorCentral to get access to the promotional supplier databases for both T shirt blanks and decorators. Welcome to the industry and best of success!

Mrs Haverlah on August 29, 2014:

Great info. I'm a newbie, to the t-shirt buiz. Do you recommend any other article or blog that will help educate me on shirts? Can you or anyone else recommend t shirts companies that have great deals?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 19, 2014:

Hi Elizabeth/epbooks! Aren't happy coincidences delightful? Glad it came in time. Hope your T shirt project turns out beautiful!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on February 18, 2014:

Wow- this hub came in handy today. I was looking up T-shirts online, saw 5.5 and had no idea what it meant, so I ignored it. But...then I came across your hub. Talk about coincidence! Thanks for sharing!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 16, 2014:

Hi FlourishAnyway! Now armed with this knowledge, you'll be a hit at parties. :) Seriously, this aspect of buying promo T shirts is rarely, if ever, explained to those who need to understand it most: buyers. Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a delightful rest of the weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 15, 2014:

I did not know this, and I feel smarter for having read you hub, Heidi. You also offer some excellent practical advice here with regard to shipping.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 14, 2014:

Hello Handicapped Chef! Glad you found it helpful. Have a very Happy Valentine's Day Weekend!

Handicapped Chef from Radcliff Ky on February 14, 2014:

I buy t-shirts for my company a few time a year and you just really took me to school and taught me a few things very good information.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 14, 2014:

Hi Sheri Faye! Color is a HUGE cost factor on multiple levels. Not only the shirt itself, but darker colors may require additional handling for imprinting which increases price. Let us know if you decide to wander back into the T shirt biz. Happy Valentine's Day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 14, 2014:

Hi billybuc! I'd place that bet, too. :) You'd think that vendors would figure out a way to make it easier for the common customer to understand, right? Anyway, thanks for stopping in and Happy Valentine's Day!

Sheri Dusseault from Chemainus. BC, Canada on February 14, 2014:

That is interesting. I have bought thousand of t-shirts over the years in my business. Another cost factor is color. The darker the color the more expensive the t-shirt. And also quantity, the more you buy the less you pay. I just may get back into the t-shirt business as it can be very profitable. Thanks for a great article.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 13, 2014:

I actually knew this from when I had a business and we had tshirts, but I'll bet 90% of people out there think it has to do with the actual weight of the shirt. And why wouldn't they, really? Good information here Heidi, but then I expect that from you my business guru.