Man-made fibres are classified into three classes, those made from natural polymers, those made from synthetic polymers and those made from inorganic materials.

Fibres from Natural Polymers

The most common natural polymer fibre is viscose, which is made from the polymer cellulose obtained mostly from farmed trees. Other cellulose-based fibres are Lyocell, Modal, Acetate and Triacetate. Less common natural polymer fibres are made from rubber, alginic acid and regenerated protein.

Fibres from Synthetic Polymers

There are very many synthetic fibres i.e. organic fibres based on petrochemicals. The most common are polyester, polyamide (often called nylon), acrylic and modacrylic, polypropylene, the segmented polyurethanes which are elastic fibres known as elastanes (or spandex in the USA), and speciality high-tenacity fibres such as the high performance aramids and UHMwPE (Ultra High Molecular weight PolyEthylene).

Fibres from Inorganic Materials

The inorganic man-made fibres are fibres made from materials such as glass, metal, carbon or ceramic. These fibres are very often used to reinforce plastics to form composites.


There are several fibres made from the naturally occurring polymer cellulose, which is present in all plants. Mostly cellulose from wood is used to produce the fibres but sometimes cellulose from short cotton fibres, called linters, is the source. By far the most common cellulosic fibre is viscose fibre.

Viscose is defined by BISFA as being "a cellulose fibre obtained by the viscose process". It is known as rayon fibre in the USA. Although several cellulosic fibres had been made experimentally during the 19th century, it was not until 1905 that what has become the most popular cellulosic fibre, viscose, was produced.

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Originally published in New Cloth Market, December 2011