If you sell or decorate apparel, no doubt you’ve seen the terms “heathered” and “triblends.” Yet, you may not totally understand their nuances, how they’re similar and different, who’s wearing them and how to decorate them. We’ll help you learn their subtle distinctions and how to make the best recommendations for different types of clients and budgets.
First up, it’s important to know that both heathered fabrics and triblends involve mixing different fibre types and colours, resulting in unique textures and looks. Although the same sort of process creates each fabric, you’ll find each has distinct characteristics.
What Are Heathered Fabrics?
Heathered fabrics are created by blending different colour fibres or yarns, resulting in a subtle, slightly textured, appearance. These soft fabrics have colour variations that lend a natural, organic look and feel. Heathered fabrics, often used for t-shirts and casual wear, are made from different fibre types, including cotton and polyester.
What Are Triblends?
Triblends are a type of heathered fabric made from blending three types of fibres together, most often cotton, polyester and rayon. Triblends combine the best quality of each fibre: the softness of cotton, the easy care and moisture-wicking properties of polyester, and rayon’s silky drape. T-shirts, tanks and other triblend garments are soft and fashionably fitted, with a vintage look.
Both heathered fabrics and triblends involve blending fibres for different visual and tactile effects. The biggest definitional difference between the two is that triblends use three fibre types to create a unique combination of characteristics.
The Big Blend Breakdown
Let’s get a little more granular about different types of heathered fabrics and triblends. Before we jump in, it might be helpful for you to know what “singles” means in terms of fabric. The singles measurement refers to the number of times a length of yarn is twisted. If a t-shirt is made from 18 singles, the yarn gets twisted 18 times to create a single strand, resulting in a heavier, more durable fabric. For a higher singles number like 30 or 40, the resulting fabric is lighter, softer and smoother – ideal for everyday casual wear.
Premium fashion blends, which are also 50/50, are made using 30 singles combed and ring-spun cotton. (Remember, the higher the number of twists in the “single,” the finer the yarn, similar to how 500-count cotton bed sheets are softer than 300-count bed sheets.) Combining 30 singles, ring-spun cotton with polyester creates the softest 50/50 blends around.
In photo: Gildan Softstyle® T-Shirt (64000)
Over the last few years, CVC blends (short for Chief Value Cotton) – also known as “heathers” or “heathered” fabrics – have become more and more popular. These blends are always made with a higher percentage of cotton, like 60% cotton/40% polyester. CVC often has a slightly textured appearance and features a soft hand at an affordable price point.
T-shirts with a higher cotton content make them suitable for direct-to-garment (DTG), direct-to-film (DTF) transfers and discharge screen printing. A CVC blend combines a goof-proof print surface with statement shades like Neon Green, Neon Yellow and Orange, along with vintage-like heathered tones.
Blended fabrics offer the benefits of multiple materials, and triblends provide the advantages of three materials in one. Most triblend t-shirts are made up of cotton, polyester and rayon, giving you the best qualities of all three fibres in one fabric.
A triblend using rayon may have a more luxurious appearance and a better drape. This is because rayon was originally developed as a silk substitute to give garments a flowing drape, along with a luxurious appearance and feel.
This t-shirt blend is known for being soft, lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, easy care and wrinkle resistant. Similar to a heathered CVC, triblends have a subtle texture, since the natural and synthetic fibres take dye differently, resulting in a heathered look.
If your client wants the benefits of a triblend fabric, but can’t afford the higher cost, a 65% polyester/35% combed and ring-spun cotton blend is a great alternative. Traditional heather material is comfortable and breathable, just like a triblend, but it lacks the body-con silhouette rayon adds to the blend.
In photo: M&O – Deluxe Blend T-Shirt (3541)
So, Which Blend’s Better for Decorating?
The short answer is, it depends on your needs. Take a look at this breakdown of heather CVC, poly-rich and triblends to see how each could affect your decision-making.
Blended fabrics are great for creating a vintage backdrop that pairs perfectly with retro looking graphics.
Among all available fabric blends, these are the most user-friendly. With 60% cotton content, CVC tees minimize issues related to dye migration and heat sensitivity, making them ideal for many decoration options.
For example, water-based discharge ink is specifically designed to neutralize the dyes used on natural fabrics, which results in only the cotton portion of the blend getting discharged. This is a significant advantage that makes the 60/40 CVC blend a perfect choice for discharging on heather colours.
Another benefit is, with the right pretreatment and processing, you can imprint CVC tees with DTG just as successfully as 100% cotton tees.
This fabric type isn’t ideal for line prints that require a white underbase, for substantial coverage and flashing. We recommend using poly-rich blend t-shirts for vintage tonal looks.
For example, you might decide to print a two-colour distressed design, using white and black plastisol ink with a curable reducer to achieve that vintage tonal effect. Alternatively, you could also print a one-colour tonal design using black plastisol and soft hand additive, which will beautifully showcase the vintage heather colours.
Blends with 65% polyester can also be great for sublimation, since polyester is the only part of the garment surface that picks up the ink. Sublimation on poly blends creates a quality vintage or distressed look. With sublimation you can create more detailed designs or photorealistic vintage graphics on white garments. If you want to produce a highly detailed, full-colour logo, recent advancements in low-temperature applied DTF transfers like STAHLS’ UltraColor Max Transfers also provide an easy solution on these fabrics.
This fabrication is lightweight, so decorators recommend that if you screen print, discharge or DTG print on these tees, don’t use an underbase or print too much ink on them, so that you achieve a softer hand.
Screen printing on triblend fabrics presents some challenges, but if you use the latest ink technology and techniques, such as smoothing screens, you can refine the process. It’s common for triblends to exhibit high levels of “fibrillation,” which refers to the tiny fibres showing through the print. To avoid this issue and help you get an even topcoat, you can use a smoothing screen after printing a smooth underbase to level out the fibres.
Things to consider
If you screen print with plastisol inks, try to choose designs that don’t need an underbase, since flashing can scorch the fabric or overcure the base. Since triblends are so lightweight, your ink layer should be as light as possible, while still providing coverage. Try to use a higher screen mesh count for a thinner ink deposit.
While you can discharge print a triblend shirt, you might experience varying results, since the cotton fibres discharge, while the polyester and rayon don’t. If you discharge, you’ll get varying prints, which add to their uniqueness. Another advantage to this method is that you can print wet on wet, without needing to flash.
When you’re dealing with triblends, remember that its rayon fibres are sensitive to heat and can cause scorch marks on your shirt if overheated. To prevent this, choose low-bleed inks that require less curing time at a lower flash temperature. This also reduces any chance of dye migration.
Recent advancements in water based low-temperature transfers from manufacturers like Supacolor have also become a great solution for embellishment on triblends. A good rule of thumb when creating art for these types of transfers is to let the shirt texture and colour “come through” parts of the design, by pressing a logo that’s solid block or circle print. This helps you keep the soft hand feel that matches the garment’s softness.
The Right Blend for Different Markets
Budget-friendly 18 to 20 singles with 50/50 cotton/poly blends are reliable and durable. If you work with industries that have seasonal turnover, such as camps, landscaping and outdoor construction, they can benefit from the cost-effectiveness of these fabrics, along with their moisture-wicking capabilities. The polyester in these shirts will also give these uniform pieces more stretch for comfort.
Heathered CVCs perform exceptionally well in every market, but it particularly excels in the print-on-demand (POD) fashion segment, thanks to its wide range of colors and flexibility in handling various types of decoration. Consumers who prefer blends and 100% cotton appreciate this fabric weight, since they often find a 50/50 or 65/35 cotton/poly triblend too thin or sheer.
Triblends offer a comfortable, flattering fashion or retail fit silhouette with stretch vs. other blends. Both these and poly-rich blends are both great for vintage-inspired looks, and come in at a higher price point than their heather CVC counterparts. Even though triblends have only been around for about 20 years, this fabric has become one of the most popular t-shirt options because of its softness, drape, durability and flexibility.
Triblends and polyester-rich blends are ideal for retail and athleisure markets that are moving away from solid-coloured, 100% poly options, but still want an amazing feel and ability to perform. Triblend shirts are ideal for sportswear because they quickly evaporate sweat and retain their shape, keeping athletes dry, comfortable and cool.
Heathers and Triblends for All
Understanding the similarities and differences between heathered fabrics and triblends is key for you to make informed apparel and decoration recommendations. Heathered fabrics blend colour fibres for subtle textures, while triblends combine three fibres for optimal fibre qualities.
Decorating choices hinge on techniques and market preferences, with CVC blends being versatile, rich blends offering vintage looks, and triblends excelling in fashion, athleisure and athletic markets. Pricing, which fits all price points, reflects fabric quality and construction. This understanding will guide you in effective fabric and decoration selection for your clients’ needs and budgets.