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Polypropylene Fabric vs. Polyester Fabric

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

Whether you're a promotional products pro or an advertising amateur, you've probably run across some terminology in the imprinting world that leaves you scratching your head. Maybe you've compared two seemingly identical products and wondered why one costs so much more than the other. And what's the difference between polypropylene and polyester? If you're curious about the difference between polypropylene, nylon, and polyester, this lesson will provide valuable industry insight. Plus, we'll clarify some of the terminology often associated with these popular materials.

What's with the "D"?

Whether you're talking about a 600D polyester tote bag or a 210D nylon lunch cooler, the D stands for denier which is a unit of measurement describing the linear mass density of the material, calculated by the mass in grams of a single 9,000 meter strand (reference: one denier is the mass of one 9,000 meter strand of silk).

Denier is a good measure of strength and durability when you're comparing two deniers of the same material. For example, a 400D nylon bag is not as strong as a 600D nylon bag. However, when you're comparing between different materials, such as nylon and polyester, all deniers are not equal. Since nylon is a stronger material than polyester, 420D nylon is actually stronger than 600D polyester.

What about the "T"?

Let's say you have a 190T nylon travel pouch or a 210T polyester drawstring backpack in front of you. The T refers to thread count, or the number of warp and fill (or picks and ends) threads in a square inch. Warp and fill refer to the threads in woven materials that are interlaced at right angles to create the cloth. The number of these within one square inch determines thread count. Similar to denier, it's a good measure of the thickness (and usually, strength) of an item when comparing within the same material.

Oh wait, and the "GSM"?

Now let's say you're inspecting a 80 GSM nonwoven polypropylene tote or a 75 GSM padded laptop sleeve; GSM stands for grams per square meter or "grammage." Like denier and thread count, this is a measure of density, but this refers to the weight in square meters. Like thread count and denier, this roughly correlates with strength in that a material with a higher GSM is generally more resistant to tears and damage, all other things (e.g., materials) equal.

What's the difference between woven and nonwoven materials?

Woven fabric consists of yarns placed at rights angles to each other. The warp runs the length of the fabric while the fill (or weft) is perpendicular. The cloth gets its strength from weaving the threads over and under each other. Nonwoven fabric is composed of yarns combined in a different way, such as melting or gluing them together.

Woven materials are stronger and higher quality than nonwoven materials due to the layers created by the threads woven over and under one another. However, nonwoven materials are generally more affordable, because they are cheaper and faster to manufacture.

What are the differences between polypropylene, polyester, and nylon?

The Breakdown!

Polyporpylene Polyester Nylon
Does not absorb water Absorbs some water Absorbs the most water
Dries faster Dries slower Dries quickly
266°F / 130°C* Variable but likely around 500°F / 260°C* 490°F / 254°C*
Less UV resistant More UV resistant Somewhat UV resistant
Moderately resistant to stretching and shrinking Resistant to stretching and shrinking, resists pilling Greater stretchability, shrink resistant
Mildew resistant Mildew resistant Mildew resistant
Floats Does not float Does not float

Polypropylene

Products Made from Polypropylene: tumblers, water bottles, tote bags, drawstring backpacks, cooler bags

Polypropylene feels like a wax paper towel, when used as textiles such as tote bags. It's often used in coolers, tumblers, and water bottles due to its low heat transfer, meaning it's a great insulator. It's resistant to hinge stress, which means in products like a Round the Clock Pill Box, the repeated opening and closing in typical use won't wear away at the polypropylene lid as quickly as it might if it were made with another material.

This material also floats and does not absorb water, making it an excellent choice for promotional materials that will be at the beach, pool parties, or other places where staying afloat and drying quickly are major assets.

Polyester

Products Made from Polyester: messenger bags, tote bags, visors, apparel, caps, lanyard, backpacks

Polyester gets a bad rap for being the cloth of choice in tacky 70's suits, but this material is actually an incredible resource for promotional products. Everything from apparel to tote bags is made from this affordable, lightweight material.

Polyester is highly resistant to UV radiation and a very high melting point, which means it can stand more prolonged exposure to the sun than polypropylene or nylon without the material breaking down. It's mildew resistant, which makes it great for marine uses, but it doesn't float, so make sure it stays on dry land.

Nylon

Products Made from Nylon: flying discs, cooler bags, backpacks, key rings, briefcases, watch straps

When it comes to strength, nothing beats nylon. This material was used for parachutes and ropes during World War II, so it's safe to say that it's strong and durable. Nylon is also well known for its ability to stretch without breaking and return to its original shape, so if your promotional products end up in the hands of rough and tumble types, nylon is far more likely to stand up to the challenge than other materials.

Nylon is somewhat UV resistant (better than polypropylene) and does not float, but it is mildew resistant and dries quickly, which makes for a great material if you need promotional products for use at a spa or resort.

The imprints on nylon have crisp edges and very little visible texture. Both the material and imprint feel smooth, and logos with fine details are best served on this kind of material. Nylon is so densely woven that dye can't sink "into" the fibers like polyester; in fact, a chemical epoxy is added to the ink so that it's essentially glued to the fabric to create the imprint.

Nylon's biggest selling points are strength and comfort. With these perks, products with this material tend to be slightly pricier than in other materials discussed in this article, but if you're looking at long term brand impressions, it'll be worth the investment. If you want something soft to the touch that's able to take a beating, nylon is the material of choice.

Cost Vs. Value

Because we offer tens of thousands of promotional products, you will often come across similar products made out of different materials. At first glance at the product images, these items appear to be about the same. But there are significant reasons why the price is different!

Compare and Contrast

Take a closer look: the Drawstring Backpack is made from polypropylene and the Cinch-Up Backpack is made from polyester. This means the Drawstring Bag feels like a wax paper towel, and the Cinch-Up Backpack feels smooth and almost silky. It also means the Drawstring Bag doesn't show thin details as clearly while the Cinch-Up Backpack has a much crisper imprint for the small text at the bottom of the featured logo.

In this case, both the cost and the value of the Cinch-Up Backpack are higher than the Drawstring Bag. The one you choose will depend on your budget, target audience, event, and marketing strategy. Is quantity or quality more important for your specific goal? Does your imprint require fine details, or is it a large design with no extraneous lines?

Now compare the polyester TranSport It Tote to the polypropylene Poly Pro Trapeze Tote and imagine you're a grocery chain targeting the return business of families with children. Is the look of the bag as important as the number you are able to provide if your target audience is going to use it to haul groceries? What if your target is a high-income demographic?

Before You Buy

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Generally, a more expensive item is going to last longer, look better, and have a greater perceived value in the eyes of your customers. However, depending on the use of the product and the type of imprint, a lower-priced item may offer the better return on investment for your ideal customer. Here are some factors to consider before you finalize your decision:

1. Financial Investment
2. Strengths/Weaknesses of the Item
3. Value Perceived by Target Audience
4. Intended Use

Remember, the information in this article consists of general facts about these materials. When they are blended with other fibers or undergo heat transfer for the imprint, there is sure to be variability. But no matter what material you choose for your next promotional item, we're sure it will represent your brand with every fiber it has!