discount upholstery fabric

Discount Upholstery Fabric: Outlet Or Wholesaler?

Everyone wants a good deal. And, as a designer, your profit margins are often just as important as the work you produce.

After all, you’re a business owner, and there are many aspects of your design business you must take into consideration as you work on projects. 

That may lead you on a long journey to find the best deal when purchasing upholstery fabric. This journey may end with a fork in the road with two possible directions you can take … a fabric outlet or a fabric wholesaler. 

Both options typically offer upholstery fabric at a discounted price, but is one better over the other? Let’s take a look at the differences between a fabric outlet and a fabric wholesaler.  


Fabric Outlet: Good Deal Or Limiting Option?


Outlet shopping is a great way to get a good deal on any type of fabric. Often, these fabrics are set at clearance prices since many of the designs are discontinued. Upholstery fabric may also end up at a fabric outlet if a manufacturer or fabric store has excess quantities that didn’t sell, and the company needs to make room for new fabrics coming into stock.

While some fabric outlets are in brick and mortar locations, others are found on the web, allowing you to purchase upholstery fabric online. Many fabric outlets offer a large selection of upholstery fabrics, offering the bargain hunter in you the chance to snag a designer look at an affordable price. 

discount upholster fabric

Purchasing from an outlet is also an eco-friendly option since an outlet’s inventory offers an alternative to the landfill, where many textiles go when they are no longer wanted. In fact, about 85% of textiles discarded in the United States go to the landfill or are burned. This percentage includes unused textiles.

However, shopping for discount upholstery fabric at an outlet can have its drawbacks. If you need a large quantity of fabric for your project, you may be out of luck. Even if you have enough material initially, if you need to return to the store to buy more, the outlet may not have what you used any longer since its inventory is constantly changing. 

On the other hand, if you only need a small amount of fabric to supplement your project, a fabric outlet can be a good option since many allow you to purchase fabric by the yard or fabric by the bolt when available. Some wholesale fabric suppliers have minimum order requirements, making it difficult to order small quantities.

Fabric outlets also sell upholstery fabric as-is, meaning you likely won’t be able to customize your selections in any way. You likely won’t have access to information like where a material is sourced since whomever manufactured the fabric is several stops away in the supply chain. 

Bottom line: A fabric outlet store that sells discount upholstery fabric can be an option when you need small quantities of fabric or fabric that does not require customizations. If you need larger quantities of upholstery fabric or want to customize your fabric in any way, you may be better off working with a wholesale supplier. Let’s dive into what the best upholstery fabric suppliers offer.


Wholesaler: More Options At A Discount Cost?


Working with an upholstery fabric wholesaler can offer you cost savings benefits as well. However, there are many additional advantages of choosing a wholesaler over shopping at an outlet retailer.

discount upholstery fabric

When choosing a wholesaler, you can shop with either a distributor or a supplier/manufacturer. The main issue in working with wholesale fabric distributors is that they act as a “middle man” and will mark up prices before selling the fabric to an end user. This negates many of the cost savings benefits for those who are seeking a deal by working with a wholesaler. 

Instead, a wholesale fabric supplier or manufacturer is more likely to provide you with the quantities of designer fabrics you need for your project at discount prices. 

The other major advantage of working with an upholstery fabric supplier is the opportunity to customize and create your perfect fabric at a great price. Customizations allow you to fulfill the unique requirements of your project, and depending on your projects, those requirements may vary from client to client. Five ways you may be able to customize your upholstery fabric include:

  1. Colors
  2. Printing
  3. Backing
  4. Protective Coatings
  5. Fire Coatings



Upholstery fabric can be used to create stunning furniture pieces like a showstopping accent chair or vibrant pillows. With a wide assortment of hues available, clients can choose a color that matches their preferences in aesthetics and style.


However, it’s important that you do not rely on the manufacturer’s website for color. It is better to request a color swatch or sample so that you are more likely to receive the color you desire. That’s because dye lot variations are common in the textile industry, and color shifts can happen with “stock” colors. 


Having your own custom dye lot created can help ensure your upholstery fabric is the color you want since much more stringent controls are added so that the mill can meet the specifications. The result is repeatable and reliable with a maximum variation of 3% to 5%.




For customers who want a one-of-a-kind design, custom printing is a great way to give a piece of upholstery fabric a unique design. Custom printing can transform any piece of upholstery into a decorative fabric, whether it’s being used for an accent chair, window draperies, couches or sofas, ottomans, upholstered wall paper, outdoor fabric pieces or other home decor items. 


There are two types of printing services available: Rotary/flat bed printing and digital printing.


Rotary/flat bed printing is a direct-to-fabric printing technique where the image is engraved on precision cut stencils, also known as screens. Multiple screens can be used to create a multi-color design and can produce vivid colors and intricate designs on your upholstery fabric. Crisp lines and detailed images are created using screen printing, allowing inks to penetrate the fabric and hold color better and longer. 


Digital printing on fabric is also known as DTG, or direct-to-garment printing. Digital printing is any ink-jet based method of printing colorants onto fabric. This process allows for lower minimums, eliminates screen charges and removes the need for screen storage.



When using upholstery fabric, it’s important to consider the backing since the slightest change in fabric weight can make a big difference in the look of a final product. Particularly with upholstery fabric, manufacturers often add backing to help prevent seams from slipping and to add durability.


For example, latex backing is commonly used on furniture upholstery since the coating helps prevent soil from sifting through the fabric. Knit backing can also make lighter weight fabrics more durable, allowing designers to use fabrics like chenille and silks for upholstered pieces.


Backings that darken rooms are also popular today both in residential and commercial properties. Particularly in hotels, they are needed to block most or all of the light that enters through a window, ensuring great sleep. Some curtains that feature blackout backing also have noise-dampening properties, and in homes, blackout curtains can help regulate indoor temperatures. 


Blackout backings are typically available in different degrees, often referred to as either 2-pass or 3-pass forms. A 2-pass quality features two layers of foam on a fabric. One is a black layer while the other is a white layer. The black layer of foam is visible on the backing. A 3-pass quality sandwiches the black layer in between two white foam layers, providing a higher degree of light blocking. You also have a 1-pass option, though this selection only dims outside light rather than block it.


Protective Coatings


Protective coatings can provide protection against everyday dirt and grime, which often finds their way onto upholstery furniture. 

A popular protective finish used in homes and offices is called a nano coating, a very thin transparent plastic polymer film coating that helps to repel dry particles, water, oil and dirt. Other options include Scotchgard and Alta treatments, which protect the fabric against dirt and spills.

Manufacturers can also apply antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal treatments to prevent the buildup of bacteria, fungi and dust mites. These treatments are typically needed for design projects at schools, hospitals and outdoor environments.


Fire Coatings


Commercial projects have additional requirements that help protect the public. For example, in the state of California, furniture must comply with TB117-2013. This fire rating regulation requires that upholstery fabric pass smolder cigarette tests.

Fabrics used in public places must also meet fire safety standards as outlined by the National Fire Protection Association and California law. If your upholstery design project involves work in the public sector, it’s important that the fabric you use meets fire codes. 

Fire retardant applications are required under California law for public spaces as well. Fire retardant applications can be sprayed on or brushed on and help limit the spread of a fire. Rather than igniting, the fabric is protected under intense heat. Check with your supplier to ensure that the fabric has a protective coating or finish. 


Bottom line: Working with a wholesale supplier ensures you get the quantities of upholstery fabric that you need at a more affordable price versus purchasing from retailers or distributors. This also allows you take advantage of customization opportunities that can take your project to the next level. Just be sure to double check that your supplier does not have minimum order requirements. 


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