So you have creativity, your niche, and an entrepreneurial mind, and you want to turn your ideas into a profitable business. Now all you need is the right information to make your vision come true. We got you!
This comprehensive guide has everything you need to learn about the different types of t-shirts available. That includes trend insights, styling tips, and customization hacks to ensure your printed custom shirts are top-notch quality.
From classic crewnecks to trendy crop tops, there are tons of different t-shirt styles to choose from, each catering to specific tastes and preferences. Plus, there are a wide range of materials to explore, all with unique qualities that make them suitable for different customization techniques.
Understanding these distinct characteristics will help you create an appealing collection that resonates with your target customers. That’s what we’re here for!
The t-shirt: an American classic
Before we jump to our list of t-shirt styles, let’s get something out of the way. The classic t-shirt is a top with a round neck, short sleeves, and a straight cut. It got the name because, when laid down flat, it has the shape of a “t.” But this article will also cover other shirt styles that are not exactly t-shaped.
There are many stories about the origins of the t-shirt, from a world war to football—you know how the internet goes. What seems to be common ground between all the stories is that classic t-shirts have been around for a long time and, initially, were used as light undergarments to absorb sweat.
So, how did such a multifunctional piece become an American fashion icon? This Forbes article on the 100th anniversary of t-shirts has an answer:
“The t-shirt speaks to us on so many levels. It’s utilitarian, it’s affordable, it’s customizable, it’s not gender specific, it’s not season specific, it’s not even functionally specific. We can wear it with a ball gown or you can wear it throwing baseballs.”
Through the last decades, the classic t-shirt evolved into new styles, and that’s what we’re about to show you.
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Types of t-shirts by neckline
One good way of categorizing t-shirts is by their neckline. This small detail can make an outfit more basic, more stylish, or even elevate it to elegant. Here, we’ll evaluate the three main types: crew neck, v-neck and polo.
A crew neck is a type of t-shirt that has a round-shaped neckline that sits close to the neck. It can have a band stitched around it or a raw finish, but never a collar. It’s the classic construction—probably what comes to mind when you imagine a t-shirt. But the crew neckline can also be found on raglan shirts, ringer tees, and even sweaters.
A classic fit crew neck t-shirt. Source: Printful
A quick look at the history of fashion shows how the versatility of crew necks jumped trend to trend throughout various decades. The iconic Marlon Brando sexy fitted white t-shirt in the 1950’s The Wild One was a crew neck, and so was the ’70s graphic tee craze. Most recently, crew neck t-shirts were a must-have for athleisure looks.
Its versatility also shows when it comes to fit. The classic straight cut is arguably the most popular, but this neckline works pretty well on anything from oversized t-shirts to crop tops.
When it comes to styling, crew neck t-shirts can be used for nearly every occasion you can think of. A minimalist tee can be paired with a blazer and trousers to tone down a formal look, while a band t-shirt can be the protagonist for an edgy, punk-rock fit.
But if the challenge is picking favorites, from all the different t-shirt styles, crew necks are probably the best canvas for a big colorful print. It’s that classic graphic tee for the win.
Crew necks deserve their spot as the favorite of the masses. They’re functional, easy to style, and can be used all year round. No wonder they’ve been there for so long (and will probably stay around for years to come).
So, if you’re starting your own store, this t-shirt style has all it takes to be your bestseller!
A v-neck is a t-shirt with a v-shaped neckline—usually a banded dip formed by two diagonal lines starting from the shoulder and meeting at the chest. Traditionally, the depth of the dip reveals where the collarbones meet and expose just a hint of the upper chest.
Deeper necklines with a v shape can also be considered v-necks, and they’re usually seen as women’s t-shirt styles. The fit can vary, but the most common goes from classic (straight cut from the shoulders) to fitted.
A classic v-neck t-shirt. Source: Printful
Just like the classic t-shirt, the vees were also created as an undergarment. The big difference to the traditional crew neck is that the v-shaped neckline allowed this piece to be worn under slightly unbuttoned shirts while remaining invisible.
Fashion-wise, there isn’t a consensus on v-necks. The ones against it claim that its revealing cut makes it a bit too casual to be worn standalone. Yet v-neck supporters love them for this very reason—it’s a basic t-shirt with an edgy twist.
Whether you love them or hate them, no one can deny they’ve been around long enough to be considered a classic t-shirt style.
Depending on the styling, a classic v-neck can elevate a semi-formal look with a simple, minimalist print. Alternatively, a deeper v-neck combined with wide trousers can be a staple for daytime comfort.
Deep v-neck women’s t-shirt from Printful.
Sports are a niche where v-neck t-shirts are super popular—think baseball and basketball uniforms and their iconic thick-banded v-necks. So, if you’re designing for sports lovers, a custom v-neck jersey could be a real showstopper.
Double-layered v-neck sports jersey. Source: Printful
Here’s a list of t-shirt design ideas to get you inspired.
A polo shirt is a t-shirt with a turnover collar. It can feature two or three buttons below the collar and a chest pocket, even though that’s not always the case. Typically, polo t-shirts are made of a unique type of knitted cotton known as piqué. It’s a heavyweight material, compared to traditional cotton t-shirts, and has a waffle texture with a comfortable feel.
Classic polo t-shirt. Source: Printful
A classic polo t-shirt has a fitted cut and short sleeves, but you can also find long sleeve polos and loose-fitted versions, usually as golf t-shirts. In any case, most of the t-shirts with this kind of neckline will serve a similar purpose in terms of styling and will be better suited for similar t-shirt printing techniques.
As you can probably imagine, polo t-shirts were initially created as uniforms for polo players, but they became an iconic fashion piece thanks to French tennis player René Lacoste.
The last name is no coincidence—he founded the famous brand after retiring. René started the trend of polos with an embroidered logo on the chest, a style that Ralph Lauren followed and elevated years later. Those heavily branded pieces are probably what comes to mind when you think of a polo t-shirt.
Ralph Lauren polo t-shirt. Source: Yoox
When it comes to creating a custom polo for your store, you can go one of two ways: totally classic, by going big and embroidering your brand on the chest, or break the rules and do minimal, creating a different look. Either way, polo t-shirts will always be giving preppy, summery, and timeless vibes to your collection.
Minimal embroidered polo t-shirt. Source: Printful
Types of t-shirts by sleeve style
Another way of categorizing t-shirts is by their sleeve length (or lack thereof). Think short-sleeved or long, tank tops or muscle tanks. Let’s explore each style so you can find out what your favorite is.
A short sleeve t-shirt generally has sleeves that extend to the middle of the arm, just above the elbow. Under this category, you can include shorter sleeves, like cap sleeve t-shirts, to oversized models, where sleeves reach the elbow (but don’t go beyond it).
Typical short sleeve t-shirt. Source: Printful
A long sleeve t-shirt has sleeves that go all the way to the wrist. Different from a sweater or a jersey, long sleeve tees are made of a light, breathable material. They can be used as sun protection for outdoor activities on crisp days, or as something to throw on in cooler temps. This t-shirt style is well-known as a layering staple.
Long sleeve t-shirt. Source: Printful
As far as customization goes, the extra fabric is a great opportunity for creative, maximalist prints that extend to the sleeves. You can create separate designs that are complementary when added to the torso and the sleeves, or you can use all-over print to express your art to its full potential.
Also known as sleeveless t-shirts or a-shirts, the tank top is a t-shirt that has no sleeves, collars, or buttons. It usually has wide shoulder straps and a low neck (often a scoop neck), sometimes featuring wide arm openings. It can also have a racerback—when both straps meet at the back, allowing the arms to move to a wider extent.
Classic tank top. Source: Printful
Tank tops are most commonly used as casual wear on warmer days, as they keep the body cool. This also makes them a popular choice for sports and working out.
But as you know, fashion always finds a way to mix things up a little bit. Lately, tank tops have been seen on red carpets, worn under suits, and in high fashion, featuring luxury brand logos on the chest.
So, if you’re planning to add a tank top to your store’s catalog, remember: they can be way more than just a casual summer item.
Just like tank tops, muscle tanks are sleeveless t-shirts, but with a unique cut. The straps are thicker, the neckline higher and the sleeve hems tighter—almost as if you simply cut off the sleeves of a t-shirt.
Classic muscle tank. Source: Printful
Depending on the material, they can be worn for working out (more freedom of movement), as an undergarment, or as a layering staple.
Types of t-shirts by material
Last but not least, t-shirts can be categorized by the materials they’re made of, and the different fabrics make a difference in the quality/outcome of your tees. Why? Different printing techniques go better with certain fabrics.
In this section, we’ll assess 100% cotton, organic cotton, poly-cotton, and polyester t-shirts.
100% cotton shirts are versatile and can be worn all around the year. Cotton is a natural material, adaptable enough to create garments that are suitable for every season. During summer, its absorbent and breathable and helps regulate body temperature on warmer days. In winter, its soft touch makes it a great choice for undergarments.
100% cotton t-shirts can be the basis for any type of look. Source: Katarina Arriaga Music
But that’s not the only reason why 100% cotton is the jack-of-all-trades of t-shirt materials. It’s very unlikely someone will be allergic to cotton, while it can happen with synthetic fabrics and blends.
Finally, it’s a material with easy maintenance: 100% cotton t-shirts can be washed regularly, with a little extra care to preserve their color and shape. But like most natural fabrics, it can shrink when subjected to high temperatures.
As far as personalization goes, cotton is one of the best surfaces for DTG printing—a versatile printing technique where the ink is applied directly to the fabric. Compared to other materials, 100% cotton t-shirts have excellent ink absorption. That helps the design come out more opaque, crisp, and with vivid colors, ensuring a high-quality print.
DTG printing results on 100% cotton t-shirts. Source: Printful
However, if the cotton is too thick, it can soak up the ink and make the design look faded. That’s why, while 100% cotton t-shirts are the ideal canvas for DTG printing, 100% cotton sweatshirt prints might not come out with the same quality.
But there’s no reason to worry: take a look at our guide on how to prepare the perfect design file for DTG printing and make sure to get the most out of your design. And here’s a guide on the best t-shirts to print.
Organic cotton t-shirts have more or less the same benefits as 100% cotton t-shirts: they’re versatile, breathable, soft, easy to maintain, and make a great canvas for DTG printing. The main difference is in how they’re made—organic cotton is a more sustainable choice.
100% organic cotton t-shirt from Printful
Of course, any cotton is natural since the fiber used to make the thread is obtained from plants. But saying something is organic implies that the process of growing these plants is thought to reduce the impact on our environment.
Although there are different parameters for labeling something as organic, it generally means eliminating the use of pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically-modified seeds, which leads to better preservation of the soil and water sources. Often, sustainable strategies also extend to other parts of the chain, like ensuring fair payment to workers and increasing the benefits to the community around a farming area.
This extra care will almost always lead to a premium fiber, resulting in high-quality t-shirts that will be used for longer, completing the cycle of a sustainable wardrobe. So, if sustainability is fundamental for your brand and your audience, cotton t-shirts (and other eco-friendly products) should be your first choice.
Just like any premium material, organic cotton t-shirts tend to cost more when compared to regular cotton. When people invest more money in a piece of garment, they usually expect more transparency. To make sure your brand doesn’t fall into accidental greenwashing, learn about USA certifications to ensure the source of your organic and recycled products.
As the name suggests, poly-cotton t-shirts are made of cotton-polyester blends, in varied proportions. This type of t-shirt combines the advantages of both materials (the durability of polyester and the breathability of cotton) and, when mixed in different proportions, will cater to specific needs.
Poly-cotton t-shirt (90% cotton, 10% polyester) from Printful.
Usually, poly-cotton shirts are even more durable and easy to maintain when compared to 100% cotton, and more comfortable and breathable when compared to polyester ones. Plus, some blends might result in a lower-priced material.
When it comes to creating custom t-shirts, poly-cotton t-shirts are especially suitable for colorful designs. Take a look at the difference in the color tones of the same print applied to a 100% cotton fabric versus a poly-cotton blend:
If you want to go deeper on the subject, I recommend checking out our guide to cotton, polyester, and blended fabrics.
Polyester t-shirts are typically lightweight and have a slightly silkier texture compared to cotton. The thin fabric often leads to a more revealing fit, and the fabric may cling to the skin a little. The material itself is not stretchy at all. For more stretch, it’s common to see it blended with other synthetic materials, like elastane or spandex.
This is a synthetic fabric, made from processing petroleum-based products. So when compared to cotton, it’s quite the opposite: it’s not the most breathable option as it tends to retain sweat close to the skin, and if not blended with other materials it can cause allergies in sensitive skin.
On the other hand, it’s as durable as it gets—polyester t-shirts are very unlikely to fade in color or lose shape, even after a lot of wearing and washing.
Printing on polyester might be more complex (and expensive) than printing on cotton, but the technology available now is able to deliver extra vibrant, durable results.
Polyester t-shirts tend to look great with all-over print designs. If you’re curious, I recommend you to take a look at our guide on how to create an all-over print file. It includes great tips on how to create a pattern as well as more info you’ll need to know in order to make your all-over print jersey come out fantastic.
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And the best t-shirt style is…
As always, the one that matches your audience’s needs and preferences. I hope this article helped you understand which factors you should consider to make the best choice for your t-shirt collection. There’s always the right match for style, fabric composition, and customization technique that suits your brand perfectly.
If you already have a thousand ideas rolling around in your mind, go ahead and take a look at our product catalog to learn more about the t-shirts you can customize. You can also take a look at this list of t-shirt design trends and our customers’ t-shirt business success stories to get you even more inspired for your t-shirt business plan.
Good luck on your journey and let us know if you have any questions!
Keep reading: Best quality t-shirts for printing