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How to Choose the Best Custom Bags: 5 Expert Tips

Last Updated: 01-03-2023

How to Choose the Best Custom Bags: 5 Expert Tips

When it comes to promotional apparel, sometimes you have to think outside the box... in fact, sometimes you have to think so far outside the box that you wind up thinking inside the bag.

Blond girl hiking with a large backpack

Do bags count as apparel?

Opinions tend to vary whether a bag is considered apparel or an accessory. Although bags are worn objects, they often aren't seen as clothing. However, whether they are or aren't apparel, bags are an amazing promotional item and may be the best option for your needs.

(And, by the way, if you're looking to buy screen-printed drawstring or tote bags, you'll find them in our accessories section. If you're looking for an embroidered bag, check our embroidery section.)

The value of custom bags

Whether it's backpacks, messenger bags, or even tote bags, there's a higher perceived value around custom bags than most other promotional products.

Part of this appeal comes from the fact that many bags feel more expensive than custom t-shirts or custom hoodies. However, on a pragmatic level, bags tend to be longer-lasting than most kinds of apparel (just about the only thing that might last as long are custom jackets).

Types of custom bags

Robolto shows off the different types of bags

While there are many kinds of bags, only a handful are popular for customization. These include:

  • Backpacks

  • Messenger Bags

  • Duffel Bags

  • Tote Bags

  • Drawstring Bags

Backpacks, messenger bags, and duffel bags tend to be the more expensive side. As such, they're more of a premium item (meaning that they're less likely to be used for giveaways).

Tote bags and drawstring bags are far more affordable -- in fact, they're a LOT cheaper than most people assume (often costing about as much as a custom t-shirt) -- which makes them a great choice for giveaways. However, tote bags tend to be a bit more professional while drawstring bags are more casual. (Think of it this way -- teachers will carry tote bags whereas their students might have drawstring bags.)

So, which type of bag is best for your uses? Here's an overview of each type of bag and how they might be used.

 

Custom backpacks

Jean jacket girl with an olive backpack

Even among custom bags, backpacks are a higher-end product -- basically a premium item among premium items. However, that added cost comes with a LOT of added value.

Custom backpacks are durable and offer a lot of storage space (including specialized storage space in the form of pockets). And, for certain activities (including school and camping), they're absurdly practical. The odds of a backpack being used are far higher than that of custom t-shirts. On top of that, backpacks are much more likely to be saved (and cherished) than t-shirts.

Options range from the reasonably affordable (like Port Authority's Basic Backpack, the BG204, available in 5 colors) to the super-premium (like OGIO's Metro Backpack, the 711105, available in 3 colors).

(Note: For a less-expensive option, you might consider drawstring bags.)

Occasions for using a custom backpack

-Schools

Regardless of age, children generally need backpacks for school and what better option than a custom backpack with the school's name or logo?

Schoolgirl with a navy blue backpack

For public schools, you might consider selling custom backpacks as part of a fundraiser (taking the orders before buying the backpacks). However, if you run a private school, the cost of a backpack could be baked into the tuition.

-Retreats

We all need a break sometimes, an opportunity to refresh and/or reconnect. If you organize men's retreats, church retreats, wellness retreats, etc, custom backpacks can be a great way of commemorating the occasion and then keeping these events in attendees' minds.

-Camps

Whether summer camps, Bible camps, music camps, or any other kind of camp, attendees often need backpacks and a branded backpack just makes sense.

Guy looking stylish with a nice backpack

And, if you regularly hike or camp with a group, custom backpacks can be neat for showing an extra bit of camaraderie.

Messenger bags

Glasses guy with a brown messenger bag

Remember briefcases? Once an omnipresent item in offices, briefcases have increasingly fallen out of favor ever since professional settings started to become more casual. Nowadays, you might be more likely to see a messenger bag than a briefcase.

In terms of convenience, a messenger bag often makes more sense than a briefcase. After all, you're getting the same amount of storage space while trading sturdy handles for a sturdy strap, which makes carrying your essentials a lot easier.

If you're outfitting a sales force or other employees in a public-facing role, custom messenger bags emblazoned with your company logo will help you project a more consistent brand image.

Port Authority BG305 messenger bag

What can you fit in a messenger bag? A laptop, for starters. Papers. Pens. Any number of items you (or employees) may need in a professional setting.

Pictured above is Port Authority's BG305 messenger bag (available in 4 colors), a reasonably-priced option that can be used to outfit a sales force without breaking the bank. The BG304 (available in 4 colors) is even more affordable, but doesn't offer nearly as much specialized storage space. (Namely, the BG304 messenger bag just offers a large, zippered main compartment and then an open pouch on the outside.)

OGIO 711207 Corporate City Corp Messenger Bag in blue

For a higher-end option, there's the more expensive OGIO Corporate City Corp Messenger Bag (711207, available in 3 colors). It features more pockets, pouches, and specialized compartments (including a zippered exterior pocket on each side). More importantly, the padding is thicker, offering better protection for a laptop.

Duffel bags (or duffle bags)

OGIO 711007 duffel

Where messenger bags are geared for professional settings (although they're a great casual choice, too), duffel bags fall on the personal side. They're a great option for overnight travel or a trip to the gym.

Pictured above is OGIO's Half-Dome Duffel (711007, available in 6 colors), a great-quality bag available at a very-reasonable price.

Port Authority BG970 gym bag

Looking for something a bit cheaper? Port Authority's gym bag (BG970, available in 6 colors) is an extremely budget-friendly option that checks most of the same boxes.

"Is it duffel or duffle?"

Although both spellings are correct, you're more likely to see "duffel" used in American English and "duffle" is more common when it comes to British and Australian English.

Best uses for a duffel bag?

  • Sports teams (whether they're pro, semi-pro, or youth/kids/school)

  • Gyms

  • Team-building exercises

  • Anything related to athletics or fitness

 

Custom tote bags

Woman carrying personalized tote bags

Unlike some of the other options seen so far, custom tote bags are extremely budget-friendly -- in fact, they can be cheaper than custom t-shirts!

BP7LHT cotton canvas long-handle custom tote

Pictured above is Bolt Printing's long-handle custom tote bag (the BP7LHT). These cotton canvas tote bags are our cheapest custom totes, costing even less than our immensely popular BD54 custom t-shirt (which itself is an amazing bargain)... and it's not even the only tote cheaper than a custom tee.

Custom totes are extremely practical. Most use a strong enough material that they can carry heavy items and, in many cases, are even good with sharp objects. Whether totes are taken shopping or to the beach, they're super-popular bags that are sure to be seen.

What are some of the best uses for promotional tote bags?

-Conferences and trade shows

Conference attendees need something to carry all of their conference swag and what better way to make an impression than with a custom tote bag? Your bag will be on display as attendees walk from booth to booth (or between attending events) and, as a result, lure potential customers right to your booth.

-Formal celebrations

Custom totes are a great added gift for something like a baby shower or wedding party where guests need something to help bring home their party favors and other goodies. And a guest might hold onto a quality custom tote bag much longer than anything contained within that bag.

Woman with a custom tote, which is basically a gift that can hold gifts

A tote is effectively a gift that can hold gifts. How cool is that?

-Luxury businesses

If you own a spa, hair salon, or other business providing a service seen as a luxury, custom totes can be a great way to either promote your business (as a low-cost freebie that other people will see) or to bundle products for sale (ie, a gift bag). Keep in mind when ordering in bulk, tote bags can be very inexpensive... while still feeling like a nicer promotional item.

-After-the-fact usage

Considering that totes are reusable bags, they tend to get used time and time again (which is super-eco-friendly, if you're interested in saving the planet). While you might focus on the initial usage for your custom tote bag, keep in mind the repeated use is where you'll likely get the most attention for your brand, cause, or event.

And, with state and local governments increasingly banning single-use plastic bags (ten states have a ban so far, and many smaller municipalities have rules), totes and other reusable bags are only going to become more relevant.

(Looking for custom tote bags FAQs? Be sure sure to check out our full guide for buying custom tote bags! And see more custom tote bags by checking out our full collection for printing and embroidery.)

 

Custom drawstring bags (a.k.a. cinch bags)

A pair having fun while wearing custom drawstring bags

Drawstring bags tend to be made using thin, flexible materials giving you a large, adjustable storage space that's cinched at the top with a drawstring. Although some models also contain a zippered pocket, many just have one large storage space.

"How do drawstring bags stack up against backpacks?"

While there's some similarity between drawstring bags and backpacks -- since both are carried on a person's back with the help of shoulder straps -- the difference in quality is immediately apparent.

Backpacks tend to use a thicker, sturdier material (meaning there's less give, but more protection). They have many dedicated storage spaces, most of which can be sealed with a zipper. A backpack's shoulder straps tend to be thicker and padded, which makes carrying heavy objects more comfortable (where drawstring cords can "bite" your shoulders).

Hiking with a drawstring

However, the advantages of drawstring bags are that they're much cheaper (the lower-end styles, like the BPNWBP -- available in 10 colors -- can be even less expensive than totes) and, when not in use, they can be scrunched up and fit into a pocket. Given they offer a more flexible space, there are some things that'll fit into a drawstring much better than a backpack. And drawstring bags are a lot easier to clean.

When are drawstring bags useful?

Custom drawstring bags work well as low-end promotional items for a giveaway. They make the most sense when it's something related to athletic activities (like a gym, marathon, or sports team) or for a younger crowd (ie, children). (And, if you have any drawstring bag questions, be sure to check out our full guide.)

 

5 tips for choosing the perfect custom bag

Hiker with backpack

So, which custom bags are right for you? Here are 5 things to think about.

#1 - Purpose

90% of the time, the best bag will be decided by how you plan on using it.

Giveaway at a conference? You want customized tote bags.

Giveaway at an athletic event? Usually drawstring bags.

Outfitting a sales team? Messenger bags give give you a more professional look.

Using them for a spa or resort? Usually tote bags.

A nice end of the year giveaway to a youth soccer team? Well... that's a bit trickier. Drawstring bags will work, but so will duffel bags and backpacks.

 

#2 - Budget

Custom bags can be expensive... or, if you're going with custom tote bags, they be cheap. Depending on your budget, your best option might be determined by how much you're either willing or able to spend.

OGIO Big Dome duffel

However, if you're reselling the bags, cost is less of an issue because your expenses can be passed along to customers. (And a higher-end bag might help you sell those bags for a higher price.)

The other consideration is going to be the number of recipients. While Bolt Printing has a minimum order quantity (meaning you need to order at least 12 bags), there's no maximum -- meaning you can order any number of bags. Need 200 bags? We have you covered. A thousand? Awesome. Two-thousand? It's getting to be a bit much, but cool. Three-thousand? Okay, this hypothetical is getting big. However, whatever you need, we'll provide. (But, if you need thousands of bags, we probably won't be able to offer next-day turnaround times!)

Although you save more on bulk orders (whether it's the cost of totes going from $7.45 each to $3.90 each or backpacks going from $27.27 each to $23.07 each... or from $82.45 each to $78.25 each), the overall cost can still add up.

For example, paying $50 per bag for 12 bags brings you to $600 before taxes (and, if you're buying those bags from us, you'll receive free shipping). Although expensive, you might not break the bank. However, imagine needing a hundred bags. Even after the cost per-bag went down from buying in bulk (ie, it might be $45 instead of $50), you're still looking at $4,500 before taxes, which is a lot harder on a budget.

When a customer wants a lotw-cost tote, we point them to the BP7LHT

Compare that to buying wholesale tote bags. The BP7LHT (seen above and discussed earlier) is currently priced as low as $7.45 each when buying 12 and $3.90 when buying 96 (that price reflects one ink color). So 12 would run you $89.40 and 96 would be $374.40 (again, before taxes). Or, in other words, your marketing dollars could be stretched a lot further.

In short, if you only need 12 or 24 bags, going with a more expensive option can still make a lot of sense. However, if you need hundreds or thousands of bags, you may want something a bit more economical.

#3 - Printing vs embroidery

Most bags can be embroidered, however not every bag is good for printing.

The benefit to screen printing is you can get a very large decoration on a bag at a low cost, which makes it great for drawstring and tote bags.

Embroidery, on the other hand, gives you the choice of lots of colors (at no extra cost), but -- since the cost of embroidery is driven by stitch count -- larger designs are more expensive.

Why not just print everything? Because printing works best on a flat, rigid surface, something not offered by a lot of bags -- on top of the customization area often being on the small side.

In short, the type of bag may determine the customization available. However, when there's a choice, printing will work best if you want a large design. Beyond that, it's a matter of preference where one method might look better than the other depending on the design and bag.

#4 - Product color

Liberty Bags 8881 color selection

What color bags will you choose? Depending on the color, your design may either pop or get lost. (And, as seen above with the Liberty Bags 8881, some bags are available in a LOT of colors -- that particular style has 14 options!)

Likewise, certain bag colors might be a better fit for your organization than others -- and could appeal more to certain customers. (For example, pink drawstring bags might appeal to a sorority... but most fraternity members likely won't use them.)

#5 - Longevity

Depending on the quality of a bag, it can last a very, very long time. And that's a good thing, if you're trying to build awareness for your business or cause. However, if you don't need to keep your name out there five or ten years down the road, how long a bag lasts may be less of a consideration.

 

Whatever you need, Bolt Printing has you covered

The cat's out of the bag! When it comes to custom bags, Bolt has everything you need. (We even offer reusable grocery bags & cooler/lunch bags!)

Upload artwork or use clipart in our design lab

Our online design lab makes creating awesome custom bags easy. Just upload your artwork into our studio, place it where you want, and then add any additional elements. Don't have art? No problem! Bolt has an extensive collection of clip-art so you're bound to find something you like. And with low prices, no set-up fees, AND free shipping, how can you lose? Be sure to check out our design studio today.

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