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How To Choose The Best Custom Tote Bags: 6 Expert Tips

Last Updated: 10-10-2022

How to Choose the Best Custom Tote Bags: 6 Expert Tips

The best custom product for promoting your brand won't always be apparel. In some cases, it might make more sense to go with something like a tote bag.

Consider this: lots of companies give away free pens and mugs. While t-shirts are great (and can turn customers into walking billboards), they're sometimes a dime a dozen -- and may not always fit the recipient. However, when's the last time you were given a tote bag?

A customized cotton canvas tote bag

The advantages of customized tote bags

Custom tote bags are a great promotional item because they're both a bit less common and very functional. In fact, if you were given a tote bag at a convention, you'd likely use it to haul all of those free pens and mugs.

You also don't have to worry about whether a tote bag will "fit" the recipient -- because a tote bag isn't worn. Anybody who receives one should be able to use it.

 

Custom tote bags are practical

Who doesn't need a bag? If you get a tote bag at an event, odds are you'll use it almost right away. In fact, there's a chance it might come loaded with gifts.

A shopper holding cotton tote bags

However, no matter how a tote is used when you first get it, there are plenty of uses afterward -- even if you're just using it for groceries. For the most part, a tote bag will be more durable than the bags provided by shops.

Personalized tote bags are seen as a premium item

How many custom pens have you been given over the years? How quickly have you lost most of them?

While a custom pen is a practical item, people usually don't value them. That's why you'll see a mix of company pens sitting in a jar at a counter -- somebody is given one, they use it a few times, and then they leave it behind somewhere.

Custom mugs don't have much better luck. Most of the time, they get shoved to the back of a cupboard where they aren't seen until it's time for spring cleaning and they find their way to a Goodwill or Savers.

Unlike those kinds of items, custom totes are seen as having value. They're viewed as a higher-end item -- despite often not being much more expensive than custom tees.

They're also durable

Whether they're made with a cotton canvas, nylon, or polyester, tote bags tend to last a long time. Your customized tote bags might be used multiple times a week for years or -- in the case of a very sturdy design (like an incredibly-thick cotton tote bag) -- maybe even decades.

A nylon or cotton tote bag with bottles in it -- probably headed for a recycling bin

Of course, part of that durability will come down to the thickness and types of materials used to create the custom tote bag. However, the way it's used will also play a factor. A thin custom tote bag can outlast a thicker one depending on what's put in the bag. However, a thicker bag will have an easier time with sharp objects (like scissors) and heavier items (like books).

Tote bags are environmentally-friendly

Plastic pollution is a major issue. According to some estimates, 500 billion single-use plastic bags are used each year. While many of them wind up in landfills (where they can take up to 300 years to biodegrade), others find their way into the ocean where they threaten marine life.

In order to curb this environmental damage, over 80 countries have a full or partial ban on single-use plastic bags. In the US, some states and towns now have plastic bag taxes or bans.

Given everybody needs bags, personalized tote bags are a great solution that helps cut down on the pollution caused by single-use shopping bags.

Most common occasions for custom tote bags

While custom totes are a great promotional item under many circumstances, they're an amazing choice for the following occasions:

Conventions

Business conventions and expos are notorious for the amount of swag you can get -- in fact, some employees volunteer to attend them just for the freebies.

By providing a custom tote bag, your promotional item will be seen by more attendees than the companies whose loot winds up inside the bag. And, as people's arms fill up, attendees who learn you're giving away bags will likely come looking for you -- giving your team a great opportunity to talk to prospective customers.

Weddings

Many weddings send guests home with a little something to remember the occasion, and the bag is often a part of it. A personalized tote bag is a great way to commemorate somebody's big day and a reminder for years to come.

A cotton tote bag is great for carrying wedding gifts

Baby showers

As with weddings, baby showers often include gift bags for guests. Considering at least some of the bag's goodies are going to be reminders, decorating the bags themselves is another option. And, unlike a lot of other baby shower goodies, guests are far more likely to keep and use custom-printed tote bags.

Business giveaways

Whether you're opening a business, running an event, or just want something nice to give customers, custom tote bags are a great choice.

A giant conference? You're going to need more custom tote bags!

Depending on your business, you could even sell your custom tote bags -- either passing your costs along to the customers who use them or maybe even making a profit while promoting your organization. This can be a completely organic choice for companies who have retail locations where the bags could be sold right at the register. Or, in the case of a beauty salon, goods can be bundled in a branded tote bag.

For certain kinds of businesses -- like resorts, country clubs, and theme parks -- the company's brand is a big deal and guests want to take a bit of it home. (For example, if somebody goes to Disney World, they'll want a lot of merchandise to remind themselves of the trip.) In this case, personalized tote bags can generate income as well as awareness.

How to figure out the best custom tote for your needs

What's the best custom tote bag? The answer probably varies depending on how you -- and your customers -- plan on using it. What might do an incredible job for one use could be lackluster for another or might involve an unnecessary feature. For instance, an oversized, thickly-woven tote bag with lots of pockets offers amazing storage... but it's probably way too much for most people.

The B5000 is sure to leave a long-lasting impression in the lucky recipient's mind

Port Authority's All-Purpose Tote (the B5000 -- available in red, blue, or black) is an amazing bag. However, it's also a large bag. If somebody is only using 10% of the B5000's storage, it's probably not the most practical bag for them. And if the bags are being given away, the extra features add to the cost.

Here are a few of the things you need to consider when figuring out which custom tote bags work best for you.

#1 - Decide on the usage

What's going to be the primary use for your personalized tote bags?

In some cases, you might have a few intended uses for a bag -- meaning it might start with one use (such as carrying promotional items), but then you want customers to use it for a more general activity. Therefore you may want a design that balances both uses. However, in most cases, you'll likely only have one use in mind.

#2 - Are you selling the custom tote bags or giving them away?

Whether you own a business, are running a charity, or are looking to do something nice for friends & family, you're likely on a budget. Therefore, price is going to be a concern for you.

However, if you're selling your custom-printed tote bags, that question might not be as relevant. In fact, even if you sold the bags for less than you paid for them, that money is still offsetting your expenses so the promotional tote bags aren't costing you as much. (Ideally, though, you'd like to at least break even or make a profit.)

 

This fun, classic tote is an affordable choice when buying in bulk

Ultimately, the cost of the bags will impact some of your decisions. It's why you probably won't just go with Port Authority's B5000 as your choice every single time. Instead, you might pick Bolt Printing's BP7LHT (seen above; available in one color). Although it's smaller and available in fewer colors, the BP7LHT tote bag is a lot cheaper which makes it more economical for a giveaway.

Just remember the cheapest option isn't always the best choice for a giveaway. If you're giving potential clients promotional tote bags at a convention, the quality of the bag may leave a subtle impression in a customer's mind. A company offering high-end solutions or products might look cheap if they were giving away seemingly inexpensive, plain bags. Likewise, a burlap-looking tote bag may not be the best option for a spa.

#3 - How much do they need to carry?

A giant-sized bag is awesome if you have a lot of stuff... but it doesn't make sense lugging around a huge bag if it's mostly empty.

With 22 colors, one of these options is bound to suit you!

Bolt Printing's gusset tote bag (the BP6GT) is a good-sized bag available in 22 colors. It works well as a general option, since it can carry a decent amount of stuff without getting overwhelming.

Customized shopping bags are the perfect way to raise awareness for an organization or cause

If you want to go a bit smaller, Bolt Printing's non-woven reusable grocery bags (like the BPNWSB, available in 7 colors) are also a great option.

#4 - Durability and sturdiness

What kind of stuff will the custom tote bags carry? If the bags are holding heavier items, you may want to look at ones with sturdy handles or a thicker material.

As with bag size, if you don't need the added durability and sturdiness, you can often save a bit of money by going with less durable and sturdy options.

[Note: Bolt Printing doesn't sell flimsy custom bags. Anything you order should stand up under normal use.]

#5 - Pockets?

Tote bags are great for providing a lot of space to store items. However, it's very easy for smaller objects to get lost in a tote bag, forcing you to dig around for them. This is where pockets shine.

By having pockets on a tote bag, you're able to store some objects in a spot where you can quickly reach them.

The B400 features an outside pocket. A monogram would look awesome just above it

Port Authority's Two-Tone Tote Bag (B400, available in 3 different handle color choices) features a deep outside pocket. It's a perfect spot for storing a paperback novel if you're bring your tote bag to the beach. Or the pocket can be used for non-beach-reading activities.

Of course, if a single pocket isn't enough for you, Port Authority's B5000 features both an outside pocket and an interior pocket (with a zipper!), which offers a bit more storage.

#6 - Print vs embroidery?

When it comes to personalization, there are a few ways to customize a tote bag. The most notable methods are printing and embroidery.

Embroidery is great if you're going for a more stylish tote bag. It's good for brands trying to convey a higher-end image, where they might have their logo near the top of the bag. Basically, it's a smart, chic look.

The B0750-E

The downside to embroidery is that your cost is determined by the thread count. As a result, large designs aren't economically feasible. Because of both cost and style, the design will be smaller -- meaning it might be a little harder to see.

Screen printing, on the other hand, can give you a much larger design without increasing your cost. This means you'll have something that should be very easy to see, which helps when you're trying to get attention for your brand.

A cotton tote bag with a gorgeous screen print decorating its cotton canvas

The drawback to a screen print, however, is that you're more limited in your color use. Using a lot of colors will increase your cost and there's a maximum number of dyes that can be applied.

Some bags are better for printing, others are better for embroidery. And, depending on the type of tote bag, you might have limitations on where you can embroider. (For example, you could risk sewing a pocket shut.) Likewise, some kinds of bags are less practical for printing. In at least some cases, the style of tote bag will decide how you customize it (or vice versa).

So, what's the best choice?

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the selection, here are a few quick pointers.

Less expensive tote bags -- great for giveaways

For a neat giveaway item (if you're either looking to promote your company or want something for a special occasion), you can't go wrong with some of our favorite screen print tote bags. Although the styles are relatively basic, most are available in a few different colors.

Available in multiple handle colors, this cotton tote bag uses a durable cotton canvas to store your essentials

[See the full selection.]

Specialized "shopping" bags

If you have a brick & mortar retail location where you're thinking about selling personalized tote bags, our custom reusable section might be a slightly better option. These bags are great for groceries or anything else somebody might shop for. And, because they're a reusable item, they're eco-friendly.

Although the minimum quantity is 12, you can save a lot by ordering a cotton tote bag in bulk

For retailers who want to look sustainable -- and save money by encouraging shoppers to bring their own bag -- all of these are fine choices.

[See the full selection.]

More expensive tote bags -- great as a higher-end, premium item

Depending on your company -- or the special occasion -- you might want to go with something a bit more expensive. In some cases, these tote bags might not be drastically more expensive than other options, so you might avoid sticker shock by remembering it's just a bit more than the alternatives.

Port Authority's BG414 is an amazing gift

[See the full selection of high-end bags, including other styles like laptop bags.]

Looking for a top tote-customizing company? Bolt Printing has this in the bag!

Totes have a 12 minimum order quantity. Drawstring bags are the same.

Our design lab makes customizing tote bags easy. Simply upload your artwork then place and size it how you like.

Need art? No problem! You're sure to find something in our extensive clip art gallery. We also have a wide array of fonts.

And best of all? If you're not ready to order today, you can save your design for later. So what are you waiting for?

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