TVF Resource Center

Cotton Fiber Types

Cotton Fiber Types


Have you ever heard the terms “staple” and “filament” used interchangeably? Well, it’s time to set the record straight by breaking down fiber types and learning how the smallest variables can make the largest impact on the end product – especially with cottons and natural fibers. Don’t forget, fibers are the foundation – let’s find out why!

Fiber Types

At the most basic level, fibers can be broken up into two categories: natural and synthetic.

Natural fibers can come from plants or animals.


Cellulosic Fibers

Cellulosic fibers are plant-based fibers.
Examples include cotton, flax, bamboo, hemp, ramie, jute, etc.


Protein Fibers

These are animal-based fibers.
Examples include silk

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic (or manufactured) fibers are produced using various chemical compounds.
Examples include polyester and nylon

This lesson will focus on the natural, cellulosic fiber cotton.

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Like most natural fibers, cotton is classified as a staple fiber rather than a filament fiber. The main difference between staple fibers and filament fibers are their length and continuity.

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Staple fibers are evaluated by their length and strength, which directly impact the quality of the yarn. Cotton staple fibers are typically 1.8″ – 2.5″ long – the longer the staple fiber, the higher the grade of cotton.

Note: Silk and synthetic fibers are classified as filament fibers.

Long-staple (or long-stem) cottons are known for their soft hand, strength and durability, pill resistance, and superior ability to absorb dyes. In other words, long-stem fibers are the gold standard. Your customers may have even asked you about Supima or Pima cottons, which are branded fabrics made from long-stem cotton fibers.

Fun fact: Supima cotton is 100% grown in the USA.

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Cotton Fiber Traits


Fibers are cream colored (needs bleaching to create bright white color)


Low elasticity and resilience (easy to wrinkle)


Moisture regain is 7-8% - high absorbency


Strength increases when wet


Susceptible to mildew


When analyzing a fabric, it’s always a good idea to start with the basics and determine if you’re dealing with a staple fiber or filament fiber. When you understand the type and grade of cotton, you can identify the right end-uses for your project. When it comes to cotton and natural fibers, don’t forget that long-stem is the superior product due to it’s soft hand and increased life cycle. Cotton and natural fibers may have a few more variables in comparison to synthetic fibers but their natural qualities (and the market’s sustainability movement) will always make them a go-to fiber.