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What Is A Premium T-Shirt?

Tom Gloubovich

The humble T-shirt has come a long way from being a plain white navy undershirt to becoming a fashion statement and everyday wear for millions worldwide. Everyone owns at least one. And those of us with a collection can confirm this basic truth: all tees are not created equal.

There are major differences between a premium shirt and a standard budget tee. This is essential information to know–whether you're in the custom apparel industry, selling t-shirts online, or just shopping for your new favorite graphic tee.

Ever notice that your favorite t-shirts tend to be the ones that feel soft, look good on you, and hold up well over time? Those are premium tees. That's why we always recommend premium over the budget options. But what exactly makes them so special?

This article breaks down the features that define a premium tee, including fabric quality, construction, style, and more. We also spotlight popular premium t-shirt brands and offer some insider tips on how to choose the perfect premium t-shirt for your needs. Let's dig into it.

Table Of Contents

  • What Are Premium T-shirts?
  • Features of Premium T-shirts
    • Fabric Quality
    • Construction Quality
    • Style/Cut
    • Details
    • Finishing
    • Brand Names
  • Popular Premium T-Shirt Brands
  • Premium T-Shirt Buying Tips
  • Conclusion


collage of diverse models wearing various premium shirts (tri-blend, v-neck, long sleeve performance, women's styles, etc

What are premium t-shirts?

The short answer is that premium t-shirts cost more than standard budget tees. But there's much more to it than just the price tag. Premium t-shirts are primarily distinguished by their fabric quality, using combed ringspun cotton or tri-blend material for a super soft feel. The smoother fabric surface allows for better print quality and longevity.

They also have exceptional construction, with double-needle stitching, reinforced seams, and side seams for improved durability. The higher-quality materials and construction make them more comfortable to wear. On top of that, the cut and style of premium tees are usually more fashionable and flattering to the wearer's body. They often include additional design details like tear-away tags or unique stitching.

Features of premium t-shirts

Most people are unaware of the many factors that will put a t-shirt in the premium category. That's where we come in. This section provides a closer look at the key features that elevate the classic t-shirt into a premium offering, providing you with what you need to know–and look for–when comparison shopping.

Fabric quality

When it comes to premium t-shirts, fabric quality plays a big role. It not only determines the comfort and durability of the garment but also affects the quality of printed designs. Fabric quality is achieved through a combination of several factors across materials and manufacturing processes.

  • Jersey knit fabric with a higher thread count is a mainstay of premium tees. These thread counts are referred to as "singles." Like bed sheets, the higher the number, the smaller the thread and tighter the knit, resulting in a softer feel (e.g., 18 singles, 24 singles, 30 singles). Basic shirts are usually 18-24 singles, resulting in a heavier fabric with a stiffer feel, while premium shirts are typically 30 singles or higher.
  • The type of yarn used is another important aspect of fabric quality. Premium t-shirts often feature combed ringspun cotton, which goes through a more thorough cleaning and spinning process to remove impurities and create a stronger, smoother yarn. This results in a softer, more durable fabric compared to "carded open-ended" cotton used in lower-quality tees.
  • Higher-grade cotton, such as organic (grown without harmful pesticides or chemicals) is championed in certain premium t-shirts. Other higher-grade cotton include Pima, which is known for its extra-long staple fibers that create an exceptionally soft and durable fabric, and Airlume cotton, which undergoes a special process to remove impurities and create a remarkably soft and bright material.
  • Blended fabric is a popular material used for premium t-shirts. Tri-blends, which typically consist of a mix of cotton, polyester, and rayon, are loved for their incredibly soft feel and comfortable stretch. These blends often have a vintage, heathered look that adds to their appeal (and pushes up the price point).
  • Performance fabric is also making its way into the premium t-shirt market. These technically advanced materials often feature moisture-wicking properties that help keep the wearer cool and dry, making them practical for athletic or outdoor activities.
  • Specialty fabrics can often be found among premium t-shirt options. These include unique textures like speckled or burnout effects, distress (the worn-in look), and all-over prints or patterns. These fabrics add visual interest and a fashionable edge to the classic tee.
  • Eco-friendly fabrics are also becoming increasingly popular in the premium t-shirt space. Many brands are opting for organic cotton, recycled polyester, or other sustainable materials to cater to environmentally-conscious consumers. These fabrics offer the same quality and comfort as traditional materials while minimizing the environmental impact of production.

For more on fabrics, read our Guide To Types of T-shirt Material.

Close-up photographs of various types of t-shirt fabric examples


Construction quality

While fabric quality is crucial, construction quality can't be overlooked. Better construction translates to better durability and fit, ensuring that your premium tee will look and feel great after washing.

  • Double-needle stitching is a key feature of premium t-shirt construction. This technique involves using two needles to create a stronger, more durable seam. Double-needle stitching is often used on the hem, sleeves, and collar of premium tees, providing a cleaner, more polished look that holds up better over time.
  • Reinforced seams are another hallmark of quality construction. Premium t-shirts often feature additional stitching or taping at stress points like the shoulder seams or collar to prevent stretching or tearing. This extra reinforcement ensures that your tee can withstand regular wear and tear without losing its shape or integrity.
  • The collar is another area that sets premium tees apart. Many feature a narrow ribbed collar that maintains its shape and resists stretching out over time. This attention to detail provides a more polished, put-together look that elevates these tees above their budget counterparts.
  • Side seams can make a big difference in the fit and durability of a t-shirt. Budget tees are often made with tubular construction (the fabric is knit in a tube shape and simply cut to length). This results in a looser, less structured fit. Premium t-shirts often feature side seams that run from the armpit to the hem. This allows for a more tailored, figure-flattering fit and helps the garment maintain its shape over time.


Close-up photograph of garment construction details (double stitching, reinforced collar or hem, side seams,


Style and cut can be just as important as fabric and construction quality. How a t-shirt fits and how stylish the cut is can make all the difference in how it looks and feels on the wearer.

  • Premium shirts are typically designed with a more fitted or tailored cut that flatters the body. Often referred to as "slim fit" or "fashion fit," these styles are cut closer to the body, creating a more streamlined and modern look. This is in contrast to budget tees, which often have a boxier, less structured fit. However, it's worth noting that some premium brands also offer relaxed or looser fits, particularly in women's styles, to cater to different preferences and body types.
  • Separate styles for men, women, and children are common. Rather than relying on unisex sizing, this allows for a more customized fit that considers each group's different proportions and preferences. Men's premium tees often have a slightly longer length and a more tapered cut through the body, while women's styles may feature more neckline and sleeve length options.
  • Women's premium tees generally offer a greater variety of cuts and styles than men's. From v-necks and scoop necks to cap sleeves and racerbacks, there are countless options to choose from. Premium brands often offer a range of fits as well, from fitted silhouettes to relaxed, flowy styles that drape beautifully. This variety allows women to find the perfect premium tee for their personal style and body type.


Pro tip: When shopping for premium t-shirts, pay attention to the style and cut and the sizing chart provided by the manufacturer. Because premium tees often have a more tailored fit, you may need to size up from usual to achieve the right look and comfort level. Experiment with different styles and fits to find the one that works best.


Side-by-side comparison of a premium fitted tee and a standard (boxy) budget tee


They say the devil is in the details, and this is true for premium tees. Small design elements can make a big difference in the overall look and feel of the garment, setting it apart from basic, budget options.

  • Premium brands elevate their designs through extra tailoring and design elements, including features like contrast trim, chest pockets, or unique stitching patterns. These details add visual interest and a touch of style to the classic t-shirt silhouette. For example, a premium tee might feature a contrasting color ribbed collar or a subtle embroidered logo on the sleeve. Small touches make the garment feel more special and intentional.
  • The type of tag used is another feature that people love about premium. Increasingly, brands opt for tagless designs with the size and care information printed directly onto the garment instead of on a separate tag. This eliminates a traditional tag's itchy, scratchy feeling for a more comfortable wearing experience. Some brands even use tear-away tags, which can be easily removed without damaging the garment.
  • Premium shirts offer a greater variety of neckline options. While some budget tees only have a basic crew neck, premium brands offer various types of neckline styles to suit different preferences and occasions. This can include v-necks, scoop necks, henley collars, and more.
  • Other details to look for include the type of hem used (e.g., straight, curved, or split), the shape and length of the sleeves, and additional design elements like pleating or gathering.


Close-up photograph of details (additional tailoring, tagless or satin tags, design elements


Last but not least, the finishing touches applied to a premium t-shirt can significantly affect its overall quality, comfort, and durability. These treatments and processes give the garment its final look, feel, and performance characteristics.

  • Pre-shrinking is one of the most common finishing processes for premium t-shirts. This involves washing the fabric before it's cut and sewn to minimize shrinkage after the garment is made. Pre-shrinking ensures that the t-shirt will maintain its size and shape after multiple washes, which is especially important for maintaining a consistent fit.
  • Color treatments are another important aspect of finishing. High-quality dyes and advanced dyeing techniques are used to ensure that the colors are vibrant, consistent, and resistant to fading or bleeding. Some premium brands even use special dye processes to achieve unique effects like heathered or marbled colors.
  • Some premium t-shirts undergo chemical treatments to enhance their performance and durability. For example, a stain-resistant treatment can help the garment repel spills and stains, making it easier to clean and maintain. Moisture-wicking treatments are also common in performance-oriented premium tees, helping to keep the wearer dry and comfortable during physical activity.
  • Softness treatments are another key finishing touch. Many brands use special washing or enzyme treatments to achieve an ultra-soft, broken-in feel right off the rack. This can include processes like silicon washing, enzyme washing, or "comfort washing," which use a combination of mechanical and chemical processes to soften the fabric and give it a slightly worn, vintage look.
  • Specialized dyeing techniques like garment dyeing or pigment dyeing are popular. In garment dyeing, the entire sewn garment is dyed rather than just the fabric, resulting in a unique, slightly irregular color that can vary slightly from piece to piece. Pigment dyeing involves applying a special pigment to the surface of the fabric, creating a soft, slightly faded look that mimics the appearance of a well-worn vintage tee.


Close-up photos of treated fabric (soft washed, performance, pigment dyed, etc

Brand names

It's worth mentioning that name recognition can significantly affect the price point of premium shirts. Household names like Nike, Under Armour, and Nautica often have a higher price tag due to their established reputation and brand-perceived value. These brands can sometimes feature a prominent logo on their garments, which can be a draw for some consumers (but get in the way of printing).

Pro tip: Unless there's a specific reason to choose a well-known brand name, we generally recommend opting for other premium t-shirt brands that offer similar quality and style without the added cost of a famous logo. By choosing a lesser-known but still high-quality brand, you can get the benefits of a premium t-shirt at a more affordable price point.

There are plenty of options to choose from, and the good news is that they're all relatively affordable. Here are some of the most popular and highly recommended brands:

American Apparel - As pioneers of premium tees, American Apparel set the standard for quality and style. Since being acquired by Gildan, their prices have become more affordable, although their Made in USA items still come at a higher price point. With a wide variety of options and new styles released yearly, American Apparel remains a top choice for many.

Bella+Canvas - Widely regarded as one of the best in the business, Bella+Canvas is a favorite among custom apparel professionals. They're known for pioneering production techniques that result in some of the softest t-shirts on the market, and their products consistently receive high ratings and recommendations.

Next Level - As a close competitor to Bella+Canvas, Next Level offers similar quality at a slightly lower price point. Some people even prefer their fit, making them a go-to brand for many resellers looking to maximize their profit margins without sacrificing quality.

Comfort Colors - Known for pioneering comfort wash and pigment dye techniques, Comfort Colors has become synonymous with the soft, lived-in look and feel that's become incredibly popular in recent years. Their t-shirts tend to be made from heavier cotton and are known for their durability, making them an insanely popular choice for custom apparel.

Alternative Apparel - As a competitor to American Apparel, Alternative Apparel ranks alongside them, as well as Bella+Canvas and Next Level, in terms of quality and style. What sets Alternative apart is their range of trending styles and unique fabrics, making them an excellent choice for those looking for something a little different.

Champion - As a classic athletic brand, Champion also offers blank tees for customization. While their style tends to be boxier and less fitted than other premium brands, they're known for their durable construction and heavy cotton. Just keep in mind that some styles will feature the famous "C" logo on the sleeve or elsewhere on the garment.

Hanes Beefy-T - As one of the most popular t-shirts of all time, the Hanes Beefy-T is loved for its comfort and durability, thanks to its heavier cotton and more standard, boxy shape. However, a portion of the price is likely due to the brand's name recognition rather than any significant difference in quality compared to other premium options.

Threadfast Apparel - Another fashion-forward brand, Threadfast Apparel boasts excellent fabric quality and fit, along with some unique styles and materials that set it apart. While they may not be as well-known as Bella+Canvas, they're definitely worth considering for your custom apparel needs.

UltraClub - As a mainstay for corporate and casual wear, UltraClub is known for its polos, dress shirts, jackets, and more. While they do offer t-shirts, they're not considered as fashion-forward as some of the other brands on this list, making them a better choice for company giveaways or staff shirts.

Bayside - With a commitment to keeping their manufacturing entirely within the USA, Bayside offers high-quality t-shirts and apparel at a higher production cost due to their dedication to American-made goods. While their styles are comparable to other premium brands, Bayside is the choice for customers who take pride in buying American-made products.

Examples photos of premium brands

Premium T-Shirt Buying Tips

Now that you know what to look for in a premium t-shirt and some of the top brands to consider, here's our list of the top 5 insider tips that make your buying decision more informed.

  1. Remember that premium t-shirts often have a more fitted, contouring cut. As a result, someone who typically wears an XL in a regular t-shirt may need to size up to a 2XL in a premium brand to achieve the desired fit. To get the right size, it's a good idea to refer to the brand's sizing chart and measure yourself or your customer to find the best fit.
  2. To be sure, order a set of samples to try on before committing to a specific brand or style if you're planning on placing a large order for custom printing This gives you a chance to evaluate the fit, feel, and quality of the garments firsthand so you can make the right choice.
  3. Save money on premium t-shirts by taking advantage of bulk discounts. Many brands offer tiered pricing, meaning the more you buy, the lower the cost per piece. If you have a large order or plan on selling a high volume of custom tees, buying in bulk can help you maximize your profits.
  4. When deciding on premium t-shirts, be sure to comparison shop. The market is competitive, and you can often find great deals or sales if you take the time to look around. Keep an eye out for seasonal promotions or clearance events, as these can be a great opportunity to stock up on high-quality blanks at a lower price point.
  5. If you crave the soft, vintage feel of a tri-blend t-shirt but want a more affordable option, consider a CVC (Chief Value Cotton) tee. CVC is a blend of cotton and polyester that mimics the look and feel of a tri-blend but at a lower price point. While the quality may be slightly lower than that of a true tri-blend, CVC tees are still a great choice for those on a budget.


Our top recommendations: We generally suggest Bella+Canvas and Next Level for their all-around quality, selection, price point, print quality, and customer satisfaction. When comparing individual items between these two brands, you'll find that their prices are often very close, so it often comes down to personal preference in terms of fit and style. Their two best-selling (and competing) shirts are the Next Level 3600 and the Bella+Canvas 3001C


Model photos of 3600 & 3001 side-by-side

Elevate your custom apparel game with premium t-shirts

When creating custom apparel that stands out from the crowd, investing in a high-quality t-shirt ensures that your custom design looks its best and provides your customers with a more comfortable, durable, and fashionable product.

By understanding the key features that set premium tees apart, from fabric quality and construction to style and finishing touches, you can select the perfect blanks for your project. So research different brands, compare prices, and order samples to find the ideal premium t-shirt to elevate your custom apparel game.

At Ninja Blanks, we're committed to providing our customers with access to the best brands on the market. Our extensive catalog and competitive pricing make it easy to find the perfect premium tees, whether you're a small business owner, a DIY enthusiast, or a seasoned apparel pro.

When it's time to bring your custom designs to life, our high-quality DTF (Direct-to-film) transfers offer a versatile, durable, and vibrant printing solution that's perfect for creating stunning custom apparel. With Ninja Transfers, you can create truly one-of-a-kind pieces that your customers will love.

And if you want to leave the printing to the pros, our Ninja Printhouse will do all the work for you. With our expert guidance, top-notch products, and unbeatable service, the creative possibilities are endless.

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