How to Choose the Right Tote Bag

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

Whether you’re a soccer mom lugging around equipment or a teacher carrying reports and books, chances are a tote bag makes your life a lot easier. Tote bags aren’t just useful, but also durable, fashionable, versatile, and reusable. Not to mention, they even make excellent promotional giveaways! From cotton and polyester to mini and jumbo, you are sure to find your totemate.

With so much variety, how do you find the right tote bag? What should you consider before you buy? Let’s dive into the wonderful world of tote bags!

Pick the Perfect Tote

Finding the right tote bag may seem overwhelming, especially with all the different materials, styles, and sizes to choose from. You can put those nerves to rest because it’s easy to dwindle down your choices and find the best option. Regardless of what you need, you can find “the one” by following these general rules of thumb!

Pick the Perfect Tote

Choose the Right Material

Picking the right material is important because each fabric has different qualities and characteristics. There are many options to pick from, with some being more durable, while others more budget-friendly.

Here are the most popular materials:

Canvas

Canvas

Most people associate the word canvas with art, but this material can also be used in tote bags. Canvas has a sturdy design, and its durability is perfect for holding heavy items like cans or books.

Cotton

Cotton

Why should sheep have all the glory? Cotton makes for a lightweight bag that’s easy to wash and tote around.

Jute

Jute

If you’re going for rustic charm, look no further! Jute is a natural fiber made from a jute plant. It’s not just budget-friendly, but it’s also stylish and unique.

Nylon

Nylon

Mostly known as the fabric used to make women’s stockings, nylon is also great in tote bags. This highly durable material is resistant to damage caused by oil and most chemicals.

Polyester

Polyester

Polyester can lug around a ton of different items because of its ability to adapt to different shapes and weights. Not only that, but it also retains color well.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene

As one of the most accessible plastics in the world, polypropylene will fit even the tightest budget. Its water-resistant properties also make it the perfect tote for items prone to spilling.

Polyurethane

Polyurethane

Similar to cotton, polyurethane totes are very lightweight. However, to prevent reshaping, they’re better for small items like papers and pencils.

PVC

PVC

Polyvinyl chloride is the toughest material on the block, making for a custom tote that can handle almost anything. It’s also one of the few fabrics that has see-through options available.

You can also choose from other materials such as denim, fleece, and vinyl. With so many great materials, it’s hard to pick just one. As a general rule of thumb, you should pick a material that works for your lifestyle and how you plan on using your tote the most.

What Are Some Other Differences?

The biggest differences between the materials are their weight, durability, and price. If you’re looking for something lightweight, go with a bag made from polyurethane or PVC. If you’d like something more durable, you can’t go wrong with canvas or cotton.

Still not sure? Take a look at this helpful chart!

Easiest
to Carry
Most
Affordable
Holds the
Most Weight
Easiest
to Clean
Lasts the
Longest

Easiest to Carry

Polypropylene

Nylon

PVC

Polyurethane

Most Affordable

Jute

Polyester

Polypropylene

Polyurethane

Holds the Most Weight

Canvas

Nylon

Polyester

Cotton

Easiest to Clean

Polypropylene

Polyester

PVC

Polyurethane

Lasts the Longest

Canvas

Polypropylene

Polyurethane

Polyester

Easiest to Carry

Nylon

Most Affordable

Polyester

Holds the Most Weight

Nylon

Easiest to Clean

Polyester

Lasts the Longest

Polypropylene

Easiest to Carry

PVC

Most Affordable

Polypropylene

Holds the Most Weight

Polyester

Easiest to Clean

PVC

Lasts the Longest

Polyurethane

Easiest to Carry

Polyurethane

Most Affordable

Polyurethane

Holds the Most Weight

Cotton

Easiest to Clean

Polyurethane

Lasts the Longest

Polyester

Synthetic vs. Natural

Deciding between synthetic or natural tote bags can be a tough decision, especially since both types of fabrics have their advantages and disadvantages. If you’re looking for an easy-to-maintain tote bag, you might choose a synthetic material. Whereas, if you’re looking for something environmentally-friendly, you may want a natural tote bag instead.

Synthetic (Polypropylene, Nylon, Polyurethane, Polyester, and PVC)
Natural (Jute, Cotton, and Canvas)

Synthetic (Polypropylene, Nylon, Polyurethane, Polyester, and PVC)

    Pros

  • Extremely versatile
  • Strong
  • Flexible
  • Most are resistant to water, mildew, odors, and wrinkles
  • Easily molded into unique shapes
  • Easy to clean
  • Inexpensive

    Cons

  • Made from non-renewable resources such as petroleum oil
  • Most aren’t biodegradable or take centuries to break down in landfills
  • Flammable

Natural (Jute, Cotton, and Canvas)

    Pros

  • Strong
  • Made from renewable resources
  • Manufacturing process requires little energy
  • Lower fuel emissions
  • Biodegradable

    Cons

  • Shrinks easily
  • Crops may be treated with pesticides
  • Colors are prone to bleeding
  • Not wrinkle-resistant
  • Absorbs water
  • More likely to stain and fall apart with repeated use
  • Typically more expensive

How Strong Are Tote Bags?

It’s safe to say that most tote bag materials are durable, which is perfect for lugging around whatever you need. Whether you’re stuffing yours full of cans for your local food drive or hauling towels and sand toys to the beach, these bags are made to be strong and long-lasting. In fact, a good tote bag is resistant to tearing and strong enough to carry cinder blocks without falling apart.

Check out how durable a well-made tote bag really is in this exclusive video!

Embrace Your Personal Style

Now that you have a better idea of your preferred material, let’s talk style! It’s not enough to just pick any tote bag. You should find one that best fits your personality.

Trendy and Memorable

Tote bags are a must-have item. To stand out from the crowd, try to find a tote with a little pizazz. Consider something extra special like a tote bag with different handle colors, a bag with a metallic finish, or even a transparent carrying case.

Trendy and Memorable
Trendy and Memorable

Sporty vs. Professional

How you plan on using your tote bag is essential to making sure you pick the right one. Do you plan on taking your tote bag to the gym or to a fancy banquet? Keep this in mind when making a decision.

Sporty

Sporty

hese bags are often simple in appearance and are easy to wash. You can expect this tote bag to be used frequently, if not every day.

Professional

Professional

High-quality bags, such as ones made from leather or finished with embroidery, are good choices for trendier looks. These will most likely be carried around networking events and fancy occasions.

Think Outside the Box

Want something a little more creative? With so many options, it’s easy to forget about other details like side pockets, zippers, and drawstrings. You may want a tote bag that snaps shut with a button or maybe one shaped like a basketball or doctor.

Think Outside the Box
Think Outside the Box

Of course, there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” tote bag. For example, the cotton tote bag you use for your art supplies shouldn’t be the same one you take grocery shopping. With that being said, there’s no harm in making sure you have tote bags in a variety of materials and styles!

Try These on for Size

When it comes to tote bags, size matters. Mini and small tote bags are perfect for themed gift basket ideas. Fill them up with microwavable popcorn and a movie or a bath bomb and candle. Meanwhile, medium to jumbo size tote bags would be best as a replacement suitcase on a weekend getaway.

Try These on for Size
Try These on for Size

What to Know Before Buying Custom Tote Bags

Tote bags are useful when it comes to your everyday life, which is why companies use them as promotional products. When looking at advertising with tote bags, there are four important things you should keep in mind:

  • Budget
  • Time Frame
  • Use
  • Quantity
Budget

Budget

While tote bags can be very affordable, there are some that might be more expensive. By setting a budget, you’ll help whittle down your options into a few solid choices.

Time Frame

Time Frame

If you need your totes in a pinch, choosing a simple logo or design is best. For example, some printing processes require your bags go through the steps for every color. Therefore, having a multi-colored design may increase production times.

Use

Use

You may want something top clients can use at fancy events. Perhaps you’re looking for something simple your customers will use again and again. No matter what you plan to use your bag for, there’s a material that’s right for you.

Quantity

Quantity

A lot of custom tote bags require a minimum amount to make a purchase. If you don’t need 150 totes, go for a style with the quantity you need. This will ensure you end up with just the right amount.

Whether you’ve found a sporty option for your next trade show or a stylish alternative for higher-end clients, your target audience is sure to love their new tote bags. As a basic guideline, you should always try to find something that fits within your budget, arrives on time, and serves a practical purpose for your customers.

Design Tips for Tote Bags

When it comes to advertising with tote bags, your design is what people are going to see. Here are a few things to think about when adding your logo or advertising message.

Imprint Area

Imprint Area

If you’re customizing your tote bag, you’ll want to make sure you keep the imprint area in mind. Typically, tote bags have bigger imprint areas compared to other promotional products, and it’s usually smack dab in the middle of the bag. Massive or detailed logos fit best on larger bags. On the other hand, if you only want your company name and contact info, you can pick a smaller bag.

Imprint Area
Printing on Both Sides

Printing on Both Sides

Sometimes, even the largest bag doesn’t have enough space for your design and business info. Adding too much to the imprint area will make the information hard to read or your logo cluttered and possibly misshaped. If you have a lot to say or you want your logo plus contact info, you should print on both sides. Even though this process usually has an additional setup and printing fee, you’ll end up with a design that’s legible and good-looking!

Printing on Both Sides
Printing Processes

Printing Processes

The most common tote bag printing methods are screen printing and heat transfer. However, your logo can also be added via pad printing, embroidery, or digital printing.

Printing Processes
Printing Processes

Screen printing is the act of forcing ink onto a surface through a prepared screen of fine material to create your custom logo. This is done by applying pressure, which causes the ink to spread out. The ink is pushed through the screen and onto your tote bags, now equipped with your personal logo!

Heat Transfer

Heat Transfer, also known as heat press, is a printing process that uses high temperatures to transfer your custom design onto fabric. This method uses machinery that can heat up to over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme heat causes the adhesive on the back of transfer paper to melt directly into the tote bag.

Pad Printing

Pad Printing has many different names including tampography and stamping. The process involves a giant silicone pad that stamps your branding directly onto the tote bags. Overall, pad printing requires less ink, dries quickly, and your logo will last up to 50 washes!

Embroidery

Embroidery Embroidery is the art of creating a raised design with a needle and thread. This method is used primarily on woven fabrics or leather and looks best on cotton or canvas tote bags. Give your tote bags a homemade look with an embroidered logo. You’ll be sew glad you did!

Digital Printing

Digital Printing is used to achieve full color logos and is also known as the four-color process, full color process, and CMYK printing. Unlike other printing methods that would require machines to run multiple times to add more colors, digital printing is done in one swoop. This means your logo or design can be as colorful as a rainbow.

Tote Bags in Action!

Since tote bags can be used every day for just about anything, there’s a big chance your brand will be seen by potential customers. Whether you’re a major league baseball team, skateboard shop, or grocery store, your customers will find promo tote bags useful and practical.

Major grocery chain, Trader Joe’s, sells reusable tote bags for your shopping experience. Not only do you get to use them for your shopping needs, they’re stylish and have different patterns for every state! Other companies, like Vans and the Chicago White Sox, hand out custom tote bags during promotional events, like store openings or first-season games.

It just goes to show any business can use a promotional tote bag to represent their brand!

Why Advertise with Tote Bags?

Why Advertise with Tote Bags?

Tote bags are popular because they’re useful for just about any situation. If you’re taking your kids to the park, you can use a tote bag to hold toys and snacks. This kind of promo giveaway is sure to be used time and time again by your customers. Everyone will see your company’s logo no matter where they go!

Aside from being convenient, tote bags can also be fashion statements, especially when they come in shimmering metallic or rustic burlap. It’s this kind of versatility that makes tote bags an excellent promotional product.

The Bottom Line

From reusable shopping bags to tradeshow giveaways, a high-quality tote bag is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. They’re durable, stylish, and practical items that can be used time and time again without falling apart. In other words, they’re tote-ally awesome!

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is an adventurous Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. She's a fan of language and history, and loves discovering new information and how it relates to the promotional world. If you need her, you'll find her with her nose stuck in a book, on a quest to learn something new, or planning her next adventure.