How to Choose a Shade Fabric
When the sun is beating down on you, or glaring through the windshield of your boat or RV, or your home’s windows, you’ll probably find yourself wishing you had a suitable shade fabric on hand. We offer an incredible variety of shade fabrics storewide, so we want to help you select the best one for your next project. We’ll be comparing four of our best-selling shade fabric brands: Phifertex®, Polytex™, Parasol® and Soltis® 86. We’ll cover what to look for in a shade fabric and explain the qualities of each brand.
What is a shade fabric? These fabrics are designed to protect you from the harmful UV radiation and intense heat that comes from the sun, both indoors and out. When searching for the perfect shade fabric, consider the application that you’re intending to use it for, as this will help narrow it down. Below you’ll find the categories where Parasol, Polytex, Soltis 86 and Phifertex fabrics excel.
- Parasol: Shade sails, tension structures, architectural structures. Features a 10-year limited warranty.
- Polytex: Shade sails, tension structures, architectural structures. Features a 10-year limited warranty.
- Soltis 86: Roller Shades, shade sails, snap-in cover panels for marine and RV windows/windshields, pergola canopies, glass roof blinds. Features a 5-year limited warranty.
- Phifertex Standard, Plus and Stripes: Roller Shades, shade sails, snap-in cover panels for marine and RV windows/windshields, pergola canopies. Features a 3-year limited warranty.
Shade Factor, UV Blockage & Openness Factor
Shade factor means how much a shade cloth absorbs or reflects visible and invisible light (ultraviolet radiation). In simpler terms, the shade factor of a fabric is how much shade can be seen beneath it on a sunny day. This is expressed as a percentage, with 100% being complete light blockage. While many factors can influence this percentage, from the openness of the weave to the color and composition of the fabric, you’ll want to determine which is the most important for you. Even when visible light can come through a fabric, the shade factor is not always directly proportional to the UV blockage. It’s possible for a fabric to let in more light but still block harmful UV radiation.
In an outdoor location that experiences intense sun and heat, such as a pool or patio, it may make more sense to choose a fabric with a shade factor that is as close to 100% as possible and features a high percentage of UVR blockage. Applications that do not experience as much direct sunlight could pass with having a lower shade factor. For shade sail fabrics such as Parasol and Polytex, lighter colors will have a lower shade factor and darker colors will have a higher shade factor, but we'll come back to the function of color in a later section. Below you'll find the range of shade factors as they pertain to our popular shade fabrics.
- Parasol: 70.4-95.4%
- Polytex: 72-96%
- Soltis 86: 86%
- Phifertex: 70% (Standard), 92.5% (Plus), 92.5-93% (Stripes)
The openness factor of a shade fabric is the percentage of open space in the weave. A fabric with a small openness factor has a tighter weave, letting in less light and offering more privacy. A higher openness factor (looser weave) allows for more light and solar radiation to filter through. You can calculate the openness factor of a fabric by subtracting its shade factor from 100%.
Construction & Weave
The construction of a shade fabric can have a big impact on its appearance and performance capabilities. Parasol and Polytex are both knitted shade fabrics created utilizing a lockstitch method called raschel knit, which knits a monofilament thread and tape together. This helps to ensure that the fabric will not tear or fray if it is cut or pierced. The open lockstitch design is also beneficial because it helps the product resist wind damage, reduce heat buildup, and resist UV rays and fading.
Now that we've covered the unique weave of Polytex and Parasol, let's move on to our other shade fabrics. When you see them in person, you may notice different weaves on Phifertex and Soltis 86 products. It's important to understand these various weaves to give you a better idea of how these shade fabrics function.
- Plain weave: A simple one-to-one overlap of the threads in the assembly. Soltis 86 and Phifertex Standard feature a plain weave, giving them a higher openness factor.
- Basket weave: This criss-cross pattern uses two or more threads overlapping in the assembly. Phifertex Plus products feature a variation of this, also called a modified basket weave.
- Twill weave: A textile weave featuring diagonal parallel ribs. This can be seen on a few select Phifertex Stripes fabrics.
A fabric's construction can also influence its dimensional stability and resistance to stretching and sagging over time. Knitted shade fabrics like Parasol and Polytex have great dimensional stability in tension structures like shade sails but don’t have the same features that are needed for Roller Shades and snap-in panels for boat and RV windshields. Phifertex and Soltis 86 products have a stiffer hand and greater dimensional stability for these types of projects, allowing them to better keep their shape and require fewer snaps to hold them in place.
Width can be an important factor to consider depending on your application. The larger widths of Polytex and Parasol give them great coverage as shade sails. But if you’re making a pergola canopy, having a narrower fabric will help reduce the amount of cuts and wasted material. Thankfully, all of our shade fabrics can easily be cut with scissors or a hotknife and sewn to better fit smaller applications. Our shade fabrics vary considerably in widths.
- Polyex: 150”
- Parasol: 118”
- Soltis 86: 69”
- Phifertex: 54”
Fabric Content & Price Point
Parasol and Polytex are made from 100% high-density polyethylene (HDPE), an inherently mold and mildew resistant fabric. They boast great dimensional stability, a high strength-to-weight ratio, and will not tear or fray if they’re cut or pierced. While these fabrics share many similarities, Polytex is a wider, lighter weight option with flame retardancy. Both of these fabrics are ideal for shade sails, especially those in large commercial areas.
Phifertex Standard, Plus and Stripes fabrics are made from 100% vinyl-coated polyester. Vinyl-coated polyester is a composite material made from polyester that is coated in multiple layers of vinyl to add strength, UV resistance and greater abrasion resistance. In the manufacturing process, each yarn is encased in vinyl before the fabric is woven. Then once it’s woven, it goes through a tentering process where the weave is straightened and heat is applied to “lock” the fibers together. The vinyl-coating on these mesh fabrics combined with their Microban® antimicrobial treatment adds extra mold, mildew and odor protection to each yarn for optimal durability. These fabrics vary slightly in price depending on which line of Phifertex you choose.
Soltis 86 by Serge Ferrari is made from 100% vinyl-coated high-tenacity polyester. In terms of mesh shade fabrics, Soltis 86 sits at a slightly higher price point compared to Phifertex. The creation of Soltis 86 is a patented process ensuring it remains dimensionally stable and retains its shape in a variety of applications. It differs from Phifertex in that the polyester yarns are woven first and then vinyl coated on the top and bottom to lock the weave in place.
Although these materials have different constructions, price points and properties, they’re all high-quality shade options. You can use Phifertex and Soltis for shade sails and they will have sleeker look, but Polytex and Parasol are fantastic for shade sails because they last longer than other shade fabrics. The advantages to each of these fabrics depend greatly on your desired application in combination with the other factors listed in this blog.
When it comes to selecting a suitable shade fabric, the choice of color goes a little beyond just what suits your taste and décor. Color can play a big role in the way that a shade fabric functions, and we’ll explain why. Our shade fabrics boast incredible fade resistance, so the color you choose won’t lose its vibrancy, but you’ll want to consider which color holds the most benefit for your project.
Light Colors: These include whites, light neutrals and brighter colors such as yellow. Lighter colors are more reflective of the sun's rays, meaning they don’t heat up as much as darker colors when sitting out in the sun all day. This allows them to be more energy efficient in applications such as roller shades and snap-in windshield panels. Lighter colors lower the heat buildup of an area while allowing a higher percentage of sunlight through. A downside to these colors is that they are more difficult to see through due to surface brightness and glare, which reflects light back into the interior space. If you’re planning to use a lighter color for Roller Shades or snap-in shade panels, keep this in mind.
Dark Colors: These include black and dark shades of gray, blue, green and brown. A darker color absorbs light from the sun, which means they will absorb heat as well. This can make them less energy efficient when used as Roller Shades and snap-in panels, especially if you’re using your shade fabric indoors. Darker colors will transmit less light through the fabric, lowering surface brightness and glare, allowing you to see through them more clearly. This can be an important factor when selecting Roller Shades or snap-in shade panels.
Flammability, Health & Safety Ratings
A fabric with flame retardancy has been chemically treated to have a higher resistance to combustion or burning when exposed to extreme heat. And if they do catch fire, they burn slowly. Flame resistance refers to a material that is inherently resistant to catching fire and does not melt or drip when exposed directly to extreme heat. For shade fabrics in the United States, there are no national requirements for flame retardancy in residential applications. There are some local and national requirements for shades used in commercial areas. Keep an eye out for these in your shade fabric specifications if flame retardancy is important to you.
Certain fabrics can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. If you’re planning to use a shade fabric inside health care facilities, hospitality industries, homes and schools, you may want to consider a fabric that is GREENGUARD® or GREENGUARD Gold certified. This certification indicates that these fabrics meet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for low emissions and do not release any toxins or carcinogens into the air, so you can feel safe using them in your home. Phifertex and Soltis 86 products feature this certification.
An additional factor to keep in mind when selecting a shade fabric is its resistance to bacteria, mold and mildew. Microban® is a popular antimicrobial treatment that is often infused into fabrics such as Phifertex. The high-density polyethylene that Parasol and Polyex are made from already possesses natural antimicrobial properties. When selecting a fabric that is resilient against these factors, look for the following certifications: ASTM 2180, ASTM G22, ASTM D 3273 and GREENGUARD Mold and Bacteria Standard ASTM 6329.
Hopefully by now you’ve gained a greater understanding of the ins and outs of shade fabrics, allowing you to decide which of our many high-quality brands is best for your next project. As an added bonus, we also stock an incredible variety of fabric samples so you have the opportunity to see and feel these fabrics before you make your decision. And when you’re ready to start creating beautiful shade sails or Roller Shades, be sure to explore our detailed blogs on the subject (300183XHT) and (200713XHT). We’d love to see photos of your finished projects in the comments below too!