The Xometry app works best with JavaScript enabled!
Our SolutionsIndustriesResourcesXometry EnterpriseHow Xometry WorksBecome a Supplier
Additive Manufacturing

3D Printing Service

Metal 3D Printing Service

Solutions For Every Industry
ResourcesMaterialsFabric: Definition, Characteristics, and Types
Fabric. Image Credit: Badmaeva

Fabric: Definition, Characteristics, and Types

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
April 5, 2024
 13 min read
Mark Osterman, VP of Technical Sales and Pre-Sales Engineering
June 7, 2024
 3 min read

Fabric consists of fibers spun into yarn that are arrayed into planar assemblies through predetermined structures for specific applications. The yarn is produced through either synthetic, man-made processes or through natural fiber extraction from plants, animals, or minerals. Fabric has defined cultures across the ages and still influences society today. It finds uses from industry to clothing. A few characteristics of fabric include: texture, appearance, and absorbency. Fabric types include: denim, chiffon, and corduroy.

In this article, we will discuss fabric definition, characteristics, and types.

What Is Fabric?

Fabric is a material resembling cloth. Cloth is a pliable material made through weaving, felting, or knitting fibers together. Essentially, fabric is a material made from fibers and can be thick or thin, smooth or rough, light or heavy. The properties of the material are imparted from: the fiber used, the method used to create the fabric, and the treatment after it is made. 

What Is Fabric Made Of?

Fabric is made from many sources. We get natural fabric and synthetic fabrics. Natural fabrics come from natural sources such as plants, and synthetic fabrics come from petrochemicals. Raw materials for making natural fabric include:

  1. Hemp
  2. Jute
  3. Flax
  4. Cotton
  5. Animal Skin
  6. Animal Hair

Synthetic fabric raw material undergoes chemical processing to create synthetic fabric and contains many chemical compounds. Raw materials include:

  1. Ethylene glycol
  2. Terephthalic acid
  3. Formaldehyde
  4. Diamine acid
  5. Adipic acid
  6. Isocyanates

How Is Fabric Made?

Fabric is made from cloth that is a planar assembly of fibers. Natural, extracted fibers are joined together through friction to create fiber strands. Synthetic fibers are extracted into fiber strands. These strands are spun into yarn that form the planar assembly of fibers that become the fabric. 

What Are the Different Characteristics of Fabric?

The different characteristics of fabric are influenced by the: type of fiber used, cloth type, and treatment of the cloth. Below are a few characteristics of fabric:

1. Texture

The texture of fabric describes the surface finish of the textile. The perceived quality of fabric is determined by the haptic and visual-senses feedback. If the texture feels and looks expensive the perception will be that the fabric must be of higher quality. The texture can be smooth or rough, dull or shiny. Even though fabric texture is dictated by internal aspects such as: fiber, yarn, and structure, it contributes to the fabric’s aesthetics and functionality. Texture influences the cost of the fabric because intricate textures require specialized craftsmanship to perfect.

2. Insulation

Insulation characteristics of fabrics depend on: fiber characteristics, the structure of the fabric, and the thickness. Synthetic fibers are usually the best thermal insulators as they tend to be less breathable than natural fibers. Good insulating fabrics should decrease the rate of heat transfer from the body to the cooler outside air. If the heat transfer rate is too large then the fabric will not be considered a good thermal insulator. 

3. Appearance

Fabric appearance is directly correlated to the texture. The appearance of the fabric is influenced by the fiber, the yarn, and the fabric structure. The ability to hold color also adds to the appearance of the fabric and the perceived quality of the fabric. The fabric’s ability to resist pilling, wrinkling, and seam puckering influences its appearance. 

4. Flexibility

Fabric flexibility is influenced by the fiber used to produce the fabric. The thicker the fiber the less flexible the fabric, and the thinner the fiber the more flexible the fabric. Flexible fabric should be both flexible and durable to resist breaking the fibers. Flexibility in fabric enables the fabric to be used in draperies or upholstery work. 

5. Durability

Fabric durability encapsulates a multitude of characteristics. Durable fabric resists abrasion, tearing, seam slipping, pilling, color loss, and fabric rupture. Fabric structure aids in the durability of the fabric. The main proponent of durability remains the selection of the fiber. The fiber imparts the underlying strength and durability of fabrics. More durable fabrics can be used for longer periods without repair or replacement. 

6. Breathability

Fabric breathability is the capacity of moisture to permeate effectively to aid in cooling and drying. Highly breathable fabrics will not function as winter garments as the heat transfer will be too great. Breathable fabric functions extremely well as activity wear; it enables sufficient moisture permeation, keeping the fabric from becoming overly wet during activity. 

7. Cost-Effectiveness

Synthetic fabrics are generally cost-effective. They are mixed with natural fabrics to lower the cost of fabric production and maintain fabric comfort in apparel. Cost-effectiveness enables the production of enough fabric to sustain market demand for clothing, industrial fabric, and the automotive industry. 

8. Absorbency

The natural affinity of fiber to attract and contain water influences the absorbency of the fabric. Highly absorbent fabrics are used for: towels, pillowcases, and bedding. Absorbency should be a factor in fabric selection as waterlogged fabrics become heavy and influence comfort. 

9. Eco-Friendliness

Eco-friendly materials should not just be defined as natural fiber or synthetic fiber, but defined with holistic impact awareness. Natural fibers can still undergo chemical treatment and negatively impact the environment. That said, fiber sourced from responsible resources does not legitimize the whole process of fabric production. Synthetic fabric can be recycled indefinitely without loss in properties which could make it more responsible over the longer run than specific natural fabrics. A holistic approach to sustainability should be taken rather than just relying on face-value, cherry-picked facts. 

10. Ease of Care

Fabric ease of care is defined by the amount of effort to maintain and keep fabrics in good condition. This characteristic resists wrinkles, shrinkage, color loss, and staining. Ease of care is influenced by fiber selection and fabric structure.

What Is the Use of Fabric?

The use of fabric may be for: clothing, protection, cleaning, holding things, tying things, covering things, decorations, and communication. Fabrics serve an inaugural part in history, and society would look a whole lot different if it was not for fabrics. Fabric and textiles in general helped the trade between massive empires and assisted in shaping current societies. 

How Is Fabric Used in Different Industries?

Fabric finds many uses in diverse industries. Industries in which fabric finds use include: the clothing industry, chemical industry, build environment, aerospace, automotive, medical, marine, and manufacturing industries. These industries use fabric for filtration, cleaning, finishing, insulation, silk-screen printing, seals and gaskets, driving belts, fabric-printed circuit boards, ropes, computer printer tape, and many more uses.

What Are the Different Types of Fabric?

There are a myriad of different types of fabrics produced from a multitude of fibers. Below are a few types of fabric:

1. Cotton

Cotton is produced from the cotton plant seed fiber and is a natural fiber. Cotton is a popular crop, aiding in making cotton fabric less expensive than other natural fabrics. Cotton is a versatile textile, and different weaving techniques can impart desired characteristics to cotton fabric. Cotton can be used for voiles, laces, underwear, casual wear, velveteen, and heavy sailcloth. The pros to using cotton include: being relatively inexpensive, comfortable, absorbent, and versatile. The cons to using cotton include: it wrinkles easily, is sensitive to mildew, cotton boll is sensitive to environmental conditions, and the cotton plant has many pests and diseases. Figure 1 is an example of cotton usage in the domestic environment:

Slide 1 of 1


Image Credit:

2. Linen

Linen is a natural bast fiber produced from the flax plant stalk. The bast fiber goes through extra steps to prepare the fiber to be spun into yarn. Linen is a good conductor of heat and absorbs and expels moisture very quickly. Linens are best used for towels, pillow casings, bed sheets, shirts, napkins, tablecloths, aprons, and diapers. The pros to using linen include: being strong, drying quickly, and not being very elastic. The cons to using linen include: time- and resource-intensive to produce, wrinkles easily, and the flax plant is finicky to grow. Figure 2 is an example of linen usage:

Slide 1 of 1
linen bedding
linen bedding
linen bedding

Linen bedding.

Image Credit: Africa

3. Wool

Wool is animal fiber, usually obtained from the fleece of sheep. This fiber covering is spun into yarn and then woven into different textiles. Resilient and coarse wool is versatile, producing clothing articles ranging from sweaters, underpants, socks, suits, gloves, insulation, and firefighting gear. The pros to using wool include: affinity to dyestuff, durability, resilience, and fire resistance. The cons to using wool include: low chemical resistance, tendency to shrink with inadequate cleaning techniques, and coarseness. Wool usually costs half of what silk costs making it slightly more expensive than other natural fibers. Figure 3 shows an example of wool in use:

Slide 1 of 1
wool fabric
wool fabric
wool fabric

Wool fabric.

Image Credit:

4. Silk

Silk is produced through sericulture. Silk is the strongest natural fiber yet produces the smoothest natural fabrics. Silk clothing includes: scarves, blouses, shirts, evening wear, parachutes, and sutures. Silk can also be used for sheeting, pillowcases, and curtains. The pros to using silk include: high breathability, light weight, and strength. The cons include: being expensive to produce, being non-durable despite its strength, and wrinkles very easily. Figure 4 is an example of the use of silk fabric:

Slide 1 of 1
silk dress
silk dress
silk dress

Silk dress.

Image Credit: Prusakova

5. Polyester

Polyester is essentially a plastic fiber. Polyester is a synthetic fabric produced from petrochemicals and is also known as polyethylene terephthalate. Polyester can be used in many textiles for carpets, upholstery, and clothing. Polyester is durable, strong, and elastic. When polyester is blended with cotton, the apparel’s resistance to wrinkling is increased. The pros to polyester include: being inexpensive, durable, and versatile. Cons of using polyester include: being prone to static buildup, low moisture absorption, and being produced from petrochemicals. Figure 5 shows an example of polyester used in clothing:

Slide 1 of 1

Polyester and cotton blend.

Image Credit:

6. Rayon

The first man-made fiber produced from regenerated cellulose fiber, rayon, was originally a substitute for silk. Rayon can be manipulated during the regeneration of cellulose to tweak strength, luster, and yarn size. Rayon can be used as a stand-alone fabric or used with other fabrics such as linen or cotton. Rayon can also be used for cordage of automotive tires. The pros of rayon include the versatility enabled through the production phase of this fabric. The cons of rayon are the release of salt by-products into water sources and the release of carbon disulfide. Rayon is cost-effective to produce. Figure 6 is an example of rayon:

Slide 1 of 1


Image Credit: Kalvan

7. Nylon

Nylon is a synthetic material composed of high-molecular-weight polyamides. It can be used as fibers, cords, plastic bar stock, and pipes. Nylon can be drawn, cast, or extruded depending on the purpose. The type of nylon can also be adjusted to suit the end use. Nylon can be used in the injection molding industry, for hosiery, parachutes, cord, and bristles to name a few. The pros of nylon include: toughness, elasticity, and strength. The cons include: being hygroscopic, its energy-intensive production, and being produced from non-renewable sources. Figure 7 is an example of the use of nylon:

To learn more, see our full guide on Nylon Plastic.

Slide 1 of 1
nylon parachute
nylon parachute
nylon parachute

Nylon parachute.

Image Credit: Aniven

8. Acrylic

Acrylic is a synthetic fabric produced from acrylonitrile which is derived from petrochemicals. It is very versatile in its use and can be utilized outside of the clothing industry. Acrylic is rugged, durable, and warm. This lends itself to be used in winter clothing such as: sweaters, boot lining, and gloves. The pros of acrylic: cheap, retains heat, and versatile. The cons include: flammable, plastic fiber, and it is not breathable. Acrylic is also cost-effective to produce. Acrylic can also be used with wool in clothing products. Figure 8 is an example of the use of acrylic:

To learn more, see our full guide on What is Acrylic.

Slide 1 of 1

Acrylic and wool blend.

Image Credit:

What Type of Fabric Can Be Used in Laser Engraving?

Many fabrics can be used in laser engraving. With the precision and non-contact functioning of laser cutting machines that are controlled through software, the laser can just pierce the surface of the fabric without actually cutting through it. The final engraving pattern is precise and neat. Patterns can either be darkened or intricate patterns can be cut from the fabric. Fabric that can be laser cut or laser engraved are:

  1. Denim
  2. Cotton
  3. Linen
  4. Felt
  5. Polyester
  6. Fleece

To learn more, see our full guide on Laser Engraving Explained.

What Type of Fabric Can Be Used in 3D Printing?

The type of fabric that can be used in 3D printing should be of synthetic origin and thermoplastic type. Thermoplastic urethane (TPU) is a thermoplastic elastomer with unique properties that lends itself to being used as fabric. One particular filament type can be printed directly into fabric form with the technique discovered by MIT graduate Jack Forman. These unique fabrics are called DefeXtiles. Such fabrics can be printed with predefined memory patterns or predefined folding lines.

What Is the Advantage of Using Fabric?

The advantages of using natural fabrics as opposed to synthetic fabrics are that they are environmentally friendly. Synthetic fabrics are cost-effective. The other advantages of natural fabric include being: strong, durable, breathable, soft, and comfortable. Natural fabrics are also hypoallergenic which makes them unlikely to cause skin rashes or allergic reactions.

What Is the Disadvantage of Using Fabric?

The disadvantages of using natural fabrics, as opposed to synthetic fabrics, are that they are susceptible to microbial degradation, and natural fabrics cost more than their synthetic counterparts. Disadvantages of synthetic fabric include: being more energy-intensive, and using more water in the creation process. Other disadvantages of natural fabric include: creases easily, soils easily, flammable, and not as color fast.

Can Fabric Be Embossed?

Yes, fabric can be embossed. Fabric embossing creates visual appeal and is done through specialized tooling. Embossing is a mechanical treatment usually done with calendering rollers. Static presses can also be employed for low-volume fabric embossing. Natural fabrics are more difficult to emboss since they do not change shape when heat is applied. This makes the durability of embossing more questionable for natural fabrics than for synthetic fabrics. 

What Is the Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Fabrics?

The difference between natural and synthetic fabrics is enormous. Natural fabrics are derived from plants, animals, and minerals. Whereas synthetic fabrics are derived wholly from man-made chemicals. All natural fabrics are susceptible to microbial decomposition whereas synthetic fabrics are resistant. Natural fabrics are also susceptible to insect damage and synthetic fabrics are immune to insect damage. Natural fabric sources include: cotton, flax, wood, jute, wool, mohair, silk, and asbestos.


This article presented fabric, explained it, and discussed its various characteristics and types. To learn more about fabric, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.


The content appearing on this webpage is for informational purposes only. Xometry makes no representation or warranty of any kind, be it expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness, or validity of the information. Any performance parameters, geometric tolerances, specific design features, quality and types of materials, or processes should not be inferred to represent what will be delivered by third-party suppliers or manufacturers through Xometry’s network. Buyers seeking quotes for parts are responsible for defining the specific requirements for those parts. Please refer to our terms and conditions for more information.

Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.