The two key differences between supported gloves and unsupported gloves are the manufacturing process and the type of glove being made.
Gloves are manufactured by various means. The primary difference here is that a supported glove goes through additional manufacturing processes. Think of a knitted or woven glove, wearable and finished as a knitted/woven product. Then take that glove to the next level by adding a coating, such as abrasion-resistant elastomeric nitrile, latex, neoprene, polyurethane, PVC, silicone vinyl, or rubber.
Gloves made this way use many different types of knitted/woven gloves as their base. They may already have cut-resistant features, for example, or other features prior to the application of other compounds
(Learn more in Cut Resistant Gloves: A Guide to Cut Resistance Levels.).
These gloves are generally considered reusable, and may even allow for laundering/cleaning. They are also tested and certified. You should speak to your supplier about what you need to ensure you get the right product for the hazards you have identified in your workplace.
In the coating process, the woven gloves are placed on hand molds and dipped in the coating material. There are also manufacturing processes which involve spray-on coatings or coating features. Think of the gloves you buy that have raised dot patterns of coating material on the palms and fingers, or other styles of raised protective coating/compound features.
The woven gloves are literally enhanced by the coating, which actually becomes embedded into the glove fabric; producing a product that whe
n finished becomes a "supported glove." These have features of both the knitted/woven glove and the coating which results in a stronger glove with enhanced protection. Supported gloves may be further enhanced with a liner.
An unsupported glove is one that is manufactured by dipping hand molds, themselves made from various material, such as ceramic, into the compound the glove is being made from. This type of product is considered as single use and disposable, their fit is often "skin tight," and their uses are for protection against chemical and biological hazards. Their manufacturing processes focus on producing a product that holds its shape while remaining tight. They are available in varying thickness, resulting in a higher tested rating as the glove material becomes thicker.
This type of glove has a better, or more sensitive, "touch" than supported gloves. Think of gloves that a medic or doctor regularly uses. They require high-dexterity and touch, as do workers in electronics assembly and laboratory environments.
As PPE, gloves require careful selection based on risk and hazard analysis. Some applications may require an unsupported glove inside a supported glove, for a combination of protections. Remember that if you do this, you may end up disposing of both.
Unsupported gloves are less expensive but you will need to put disposal processes in place if there are chemical/biological issues.
Supported gloves offer great protection as well, but please make sure you get the right kind. Remember that the price point is not always the best reason to purchase any glove.
Always match your glove to the hazard. The protection you give the worker will reduce costs in the long term.