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18 Gauge Gloves - Fad or Future?

Published: 10th Feb 2011

If you don’t know what an 18 gauge glove is, it’s the latest type of general purpose, light weight glove. You may see one soon as a few of the large glove suppliers are scrambling to add these products to their glove portfolios. But did anyone actually ask for such a product?

Given that consumers who know what they are looking for mostly express their needs in terms of how a product should perform, as opposed to detailing the technical specification of all the constituent parts, the answer has to be no.

Many times people struggle to think if they have a need for a product or not; however, when they see it they may realise that it’s something that has to become part of their daily life.

If you’d have asked somebody 20 years ago if they needed a way to listen to music on the move they would, no doubt, have looked at you somewhat perplexed. The advent of the Sony Walkman all those years ago started the MP3 era and serves as a good example of an innovation that people widely accept - yet didn’t know they ‘needed’.

Now I’m not at all suggesting that 18 gauge gloves will fundamentally change the gloves business, as it’s a progression in lightweight products. That step change that happened in 1996 when the first knitted and dipped products were launched.

Even with these advancements there are still many people that prefer to work with their bare hands. However, over the last 10 years the number of people working without gloves has significantly reduced.

This progression has also brought about a significant reduction in minor hand?injuries. Hopefully there will be a day when gloves exist that everyone is happy to wear and injuries are non-existent.

Can we ever get there? People are certainly demanding more - and these demands for improved comfort have led the industry to launch 18 gauge gloves.

Has this been a concerted effort by the large glove suppliers to launch these gloves, or have they siezed upon an opportunity? Again, the answer is no. It’s an opportunity which has been presented to gloves manufacturers through the advancements in knitting technology.

Shima Seiki, the world’s largest knitting machine company, not so long ago launched a range of 18 gauge machines and, as in all industries, their competitors have been quick to follow with a range of machines available. There is now a situation in which machines are readily able to knit lightweight liners which should be perfect to make lightweight gloves.

Think of it another way. Would you buy a car with a huge engine without ensuring the chassis, brakes, transmission, gearbox and suspension could cope with the power? Likewise would you build a house without firm, solid and appropriate foundations?

It’s all about balance - and developing gloves is no different. Comfort and durability have to go together if people are to wear the gloves, and if companies are to buy them. So how do you make a comfortable lightweight glove?

There are four main areas to be considered, with the most comfortable gloves blending them all together to form the basis of a balanced approach. The criteria are:

• Heat management

• Durability

• Dexterity

• Flexibility

Heat management

This is a key element in delivering comfort. Not the way the glove protects from heat, rather how it deals with the heat build-up within the glove and transfers it outside.

The most common way to do this is the use of a breathable coating which is predominantly to be found in nitrile foam gloves. These foam gloves are created by injecting air into the compound, which when dipped creates a network of tunnels that enables heat from the hand to be channelled outside the glove.

PU gloves sometimes claim to be breathable, but in fact the compound is solid and consequently cannot breathe. They can only breathe through the knitted liner at the back, whereas the foam gloves breathe on the front and back, delivering 360° breathability and superior comfort.

If you’re not sure if the glove is breathable or not put the glove on your hand, place the coating on the palm of the glove against your mouth and blow. If it feels warm inside the glove when you blow then the glove is breathable. Aside from testing breathability you can also check if one coating is more breathable than another. It’s not an exact science, but it’s an easy, quick and a cheap way that will give you a good idea.

So why don’t the manufacturers simply inject as much air as possible into the compound when dipped to maximise breathability?


It’s a balance between the amount of air injected into the compound when dipped and durability, as too much air will reduce the amount of abrasion resistance and consequently durability. If you are looking for a breathable glove with good durability, products such as the Aerostar HP (Comasec), 380 Foam grip (Showa) and HyFlex Foam 11-800 (Ansell) all withstand 2.000 abrasive cycles (EN level 3), whereas there are those achieving an EN level 4 abrasion resistance (8.000 cycles) such as MaxiFlex (ATG), Nitrotough N150 (Comasec), Polytril Air (Sperian) and Unilite foam nitrile (Uvex). More abrasion can also mean less dexterity and flexibility, so here are some things to look out for.


The key to dexterity is fit at the fingertips through sizing and shape. A lot of the manufacturers play the percentage game by covering the sizes that the vast majority of people use e.g. sizes 7 (s) to 10 (xl). However, given that people are getting bigger and there are more women in the workforce these days it’s not enough to offer just four sizes. The more progressive companies?have started to expand their range of sizes offering 6 (xS) to 11 (xxl). The most extensive range of sizes, today, is offered by ATG (MaxiFlex) with 7 sizes, 5 (xxs) to 11 (xxl).

The shape of the fingers is also important, so lay the glove flat on the table. What you’ll notice on some gloves is that the fingers are more tapered, while on others the fingers are more ‘sausage’ like. It’s more likely the more tapered glove will offer a better fit, so go with these - in the right size of course.

So now you’ve got a list of gloves that are breathable, durable and offering good dexterity. The last challenge is to find those with the most flexibility.


The textile industry has developed numerous tests to measure material flexibility. This information is not readily available, and the costs to do these tests in an accredited test house are of course unfeasible for the purposes of selecting gloves.

The easiest way to get an idea of material flexibility is to look at the palm thickness, which is represented in millimetres. If you’re choosing gloves frequently it may be useful to get a micrometer calliper to assist you. They are inexpensive (around $20), but can be useful to assist you in determining flexibility.

Generally speaking, the average palm thickness of PU gloves is 20% less than a typical nitrile foam product. That’s not the case for all, just the general rule. The dilemma is this: on one side you have a thin glove that doesn’t breathe (PU), or on the other, a slightly thicker glove that does (foam nitrile). For this reason people who started using the PU are reluctant to use nitrile foam products due to the thickness - and conversely, people introduced to the nitrile foam initially have become used to the comfort offered through breathability.

The palm thickness, if you don’t have a micrometer and it is not displayed on the supplier’s website, is usually something you’ll need to ask the manufacturers sales’ representative or technical department for. Remember the palm thickness should not be used on its own, but, rather, in combination with the other selection criteria.

When considering the flexibility, you may sometimes need to look at the overall flexibility on the front and back of the glove, should a ¾ or fully dipped glove be required to provide protection to the back of the hand. If you are looking for this type of product you’ll notice that PU gloves are mainly available in palm dipped version, and if they are ¾ or fully dipped then you’ll be unable to work, comfortably, in these for any period of time. If you need ¾ or fully dipped gloves, go for foam nitrile.

The essentials

If you are looking for a lightweight glove then here is a list of what you need to consider.

• Breathability - If you need maximum breathability then you are best to go for nitrile foam products which, aside from being more comfortable, are also available in ¾ or fully dipped should you want more protection to the back of the hand

• Durability - A minimum should be an EN level 3 for abrasion, which should be easy to achieve, so demand more and only look at gloves that attain EN level 4 for abrasion

Flexibility - Generally the nitrile foam market offers products between 1.10mm to 1.30mm, whereas PU gloves are 0.95mm. As there are new products coming out all the time, look for nitrile foam products below 1.00mm and PU below 0.95mm, but don’t forget the abrasion, which will determine how long the glove lasts and consequently, the cost of the glove per hour in use

• Dexterity - Most of the big manufacturers will do tests with small nuts and bolts, timing how long it takes to assemble them - so why not do the same? Assembling 50 small nuts and bolts would give you a relative measurement and comparison of the dexterity offered. It’s also a good way to start the buy-in process of your workforce

• Sizing - This is a critical factor in obtaining that ultimate fitted glove. Consider the range of sizes that you need to offer across your workforce demographic. If you use a lot of temporary workers, the band of sizes may need to be wider as you never know who is coming through the door next

• Dip lines - When considering the safety requirements, look at the types of accidents you have in lightweight assembly gloves. There are many companies who have workers that get small cuts to the back of the hand. Choosing a ¾, full or driver’s style dip can be enough, so avoiding the cost of expensive alternatives

• Safe for use - There are products on the market that are certified to the Oeko-Tex standard, which guarantees gloves are not only free of all process chemicals, but that they are skin friendly, too, thus ensuring they are safe from the second you come into contact with them

What’s available on the market today?

There are many gloves to choose from so I’ve selected three that I would recommend to be on your list if you are in the market for a lightweight glove.

• Showa offer the 380 nitrile foam grip which is designed to hide dirt due to its dark blue liner with black coating. The sizing is a bit limited but the ergonomics more than make up for this

• Ansell offers the HyFlex Foam 11-800, which set the standard for this market 14 years ago. It’s a product that became the world standard for these types of gloves and the recipe is much the same as it was all those years ago. You’ll find many satisfied people using this, so take a look

• Finally ATG offers the MaxiFlex range which is the only glove on the market designed and developed as a breathable glove. There are four variants, all of which come in seven sizes and four dip lines. It’s become the new industry standard that all the manufacturers are trying to emulate

Links for each of these three products are detailed at the end of this article.

There is also a sourced 18 gauge glove offered by some of the larger distributors and manufacturers; however, beware as it only achieves level 2 for abrasion, which can make the glove expensive due to short wear life. This brings us full circle and back to the opening question - 18 gauge gloves: fad or future?

My personal opinion is that there is room for lightweight gloves on the market to get thinner, while maintaining their mechanical performance. As it stands Shima Seiki, the knitting machine company, has the ability to make machines that produce 18 gauge liners; however, these liners are beyond the manufacturers’ capabilities to attach durable coatings to them.

Today, these 18 gauge gloves last only 25% at best, and 6% at worst, of the present lightweight gloves on the market today.

While the user experience may be positive, the level of protection offered and the cost of funding such a products make it unfeasible for the vast majority of companies to use as part of their daily glove programme.

To move to the next level, the gloves industry has to invest in developing thinner gloves that improve breathability and flexibility further, while delivering high levels of durability (abrasion resistance).

It is therefore fad or the future?

Most certainly the future - it’s just that technology needs to catch up to make a balanced glove, and that will take time.

For the moment my advice is it’s best to stick with the tried and tested products such as the ones recommended earlier in this article.


David Staniforth has more than 15 years of experience in sales, business development, key account management and marketing at the operational and strategic levels. He is currently Partner at Noneuchi Consulting SA and Partner at Radar XI Ltd.

He began his career at Nestle and subsequently moved into product management for Ansell. His innovation and creativity led Ansell to develop the HyFlexTM concept, a major global brand. His final contribution at Ansell was establishing and running the end-user consulting division which Frost and Sullivan recognised with the European Customer Excellence award.

His intuitive sense of what customers want has led to the recent creation of the what he says is the world’s first glove search engine: . Radar Gloves is a free web-based service that delivers the most suitable products from all the key branded manufacturers within seconds.

David is active with the Charted Institute of Marketing (CIM) and is a fellow of the Asian Institute of Technology. He has lectured at Liverpool Business School, at CIM on overcoming global business challenges, and has spoken at numerous health and safety events.

He has also written for many of the respected international health and safety press.

He combined work and study to earn his MBA with the Open University and has a first-class BA honours degree from Liverpool Business School.

David can be reached at and at +32 495 120 515. Useful Links

380 nitrile foam grip (Showa)

HyFlex Foam 11-800 (Ansell)

MaxiFlex (ATG)®-59.html

Published: 10th Feb 2011 in Health and Safety Middle East

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David Staniforth