How Tote Bags are Made

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

Whether you’re going to the grocery store or carrying books to class, chances are a tote bag makes transporting your things a lot easier. No matter what you choose to stuff them with, they’re there to give you a helping hand. While tote bags come in a variety of materials, some of the most popular are actually made from plastic! In fact, a lot of things we wear, from faux leather coats to nylon stockings to polyester sweaters, all come from different types of plastic.

What is the process for making totes? What does plastic have to do with fabric? Get ready to learn how these easy-to-carry bags are made.

What Are Non Woven Fabrics?

Most woven tote bags are sewn together from fabric that you can find in your local supermarket or neighborhood craft store. Since the fabric is already made and processed, woven totes are generally easy to make in the comfort of your own home.

Non woven fabrics, on the other hand, are really just plastic in disguise, and they get their name from their manufacturing process. Instead of thread being intertwined together, non woven fabrics are made up of tiny fibers, or melted plastic, that has been chemically, thermally, or mechanically bonded together during production.

What Are Non Woven Fabrics?
What Are Non Woven Fabrics?

Non woven fabrics are more versatile than woven fabrics. They provide stretchability, resilience, strength, softness, and cushioning. Aside from tote bags, non wovens are also used to make diapers, bed sheets, dusters, dryer sheets, tea bags, bandages, and so much more!

Which Type of Plastic is Used to Make Non Woven Fabrics?

While some non woven tote bags are made from polyester, they’re mostly made from polypropylene. That’s because this type of plastic can be manipulated easily, has outstanding qualities, like strength and resilience, and is extremely affordable. In fact, there are many advantages in using polypropylene to make tote bags:

  • Inexpensive
  • Water-Resistant
  • Sustainable
  • Durable
  • Chemical-Resistant
Inexpensive

Inexpensive
Most of the time, plastics are priced by their weight. Since polypropylene isn’t dense and has one of the lightest weights of all the polymers, it’s a highly affordable plastic to use.

Water Resistant

Water Resistant
Unlike highly absorbent materials like cotton, polypropylene is unable to absorb moisture. This makes tote bags easier to wipe clean or wash whenever necessary.

Sustainable

Sustainable
Believe it or not, using polypropylene in manufacturing requires less fuel consumption and gives off fewer emissions. Since tote bags are reusable, using them lowers the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Durable

Durable
Polypropylene fibers are extremely elastic. Their flexibility allows the material to retain its shape even after events of torsion, bending, and stretching, making your tote bags last for years to come.

Chemical Resistant

Chemical Resistant
While you should wash your tote bags frequently, polypropylene tote bags ward off chemical properties. That means you don’t have to worry about odors from other items, like stinky gym socks, leaching into the material.

What is Melt Spinning?

One of the reasons non woven fabrics are inexpensive and sustainable is because they’re made through a process called melt spinning. Since this process is simple, straightforward, and uses heat, there is almost no environmental pollution given off during the manufacturing of polypropylene non wovens. The overall process also doesn’t involve solvents (dyes) or purification procedures, making it cost-effective and the turn-around time much faster.

To better understand melt spinning, take a look at this diagram:

What is Melt Spinning?
What is Melt Spinning?

In order for the tote bags to be made, tiny plastic pellets are tossed into a hopper and heated up to over 500 degrees Fahrenheit where they melt into a syrup-like substance. Next, the melted plastic is extruded and pushed through a spinneret to create filament fibers.

As the filaments are being pushed out of the spinneret, air is blow onto them, and a machine begins spinning the individual threads together. This process is known as spunbonding and causes the fibers to entangle so uniform sheets of fabric are formed when pressed onto the conveyor belt.

Since some polymers decompose or degrade at high temperatures, melt spinning is only used for the production of certain polymers, like nylon, polyester, and polypropylene. Unlike the others, these plastics turn into a molten liquid when heated. Without this process, these plastics wouldn’t be able to transform into synthetic fibers.

Tote Bags Glossary

Knowing how plastic is used and the process it goes through is just the beginning! There are other terms that are important to know when it comes to how tote bags are made.

Fibers Image Source: www.image.made-in-china.com

Fibers

Long, thin material used to manufacture other textiles; looks like feathers when cut.

Gusset
Heat Transfer

Heat Transfer

A printing process that uses high temperatures to transfer your logo onto fabric; also called heat press.

Imprint

Imprint

The imprint area is one of the most important parts on a promotional product because it’s the spot where your logo or message is printed.

Polymer Image Source: www.essentialchemicalindustry.org

Polymer

Large molecules that make up chains of plastic, including polypropylene and polyester.

Roll Goods Image Source: 5.imimg.com

Roll Goods

Fabric that has been rolled up after it’s gone through the manufacturing process so it can be stored for the future or used right away.

Screen Printing Image Source: craftsmanave.com

Screen Printing

Technique used for printing logos onto items by spreading a wax-like substance called an emulsion over a screen.

While there are a lot of different scientific terms involved, these elements are what make tote bags versatile and dependable. Without processes like spun melt or innovations like a gusset, tote bags would not have a fabric-like consistency or strength and durability.

How Are Custom Tote Bags Made?

Now that you know more about how non woven totes get their name and terms associated with the manufacturing process, let’s learn more about each unique step!

  1. Plastic polypropylene pellets are melted and pushed through a spinneret to make filaments
  2. Filaments are laid down onto a conveyor belt to be pressed into sheets
  3. Once cooled, the sheets are rolled up into giant rolls of fabric
  4. When the fabric is ready to be made into a tote bag, it’s measured and cut to shape
  5. The seams and handles of the tote are heat sealed or sewn together
  6. The finished tote bags will get decorated with a custom logo, usually by screen printing or heat transfer
  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Tiny pieces of polypropylene plastic are melted and pushed through a spinneret. This causes the molten plastic to turn into very thin fibers known as filaments.

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2

    The filaments are laid down onto a conveyor belt where they are pressed into sheets. Afterwards, the sheets cool down before the next step.

    Step 2
  3. Step 3
    Step 3

    Once cooled, the sheets are rolled up into giant rolls of fabric. From here, they can be stored until they’re ready to be used!

    Step 3
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    When the fabric is ready to be made into a tote bag, it’s measured accurately and cut to shape. Since totes come in all different shapes and sizes, measurements can easily be altered to get the desired size.

    Step 4
  5. Step 5
    Step 5

    Next, the seams of the tote, as well as the handles, are typically heat sealed.This means heat will be applied with pressure to form an attachment. Depending on the manufacturer or the bag, the seams can also be sewn together.

    Step 5
  6. Step 6
    Step 6

    Now that the tote bags are finished, they’re ready to be decorated! At this point in the process, your logo will be added to the center of the tote bag, usually by screen printing or heat transfer. You can choose one side of the tote bag to show off your custom design or take it up a notch and add designs on both sides.

    Step 6
  7. Step 7
    Step 7

    Your tote bags look terrific and are ready to be packaged. They’ll be laid flat in boxes, shipped, and sent your way!

    Step 7
Fun Fact!

Non woven fabrics are created at 1000 feet per minute!

Want to see the process in action? Watch this video about how tote bags are made!

From Polymers to Promos!

From Polymers to Promos!

Every step is important when it comes to making promotional tote bags. Whether you use them to take your kids trick-or-treating or pack a picnic for the park, a lot of care and precision goes into making sure your totes are strong and dependable. It just goes to show that love is always the best ingredient!

Stats for Success

50% of United States consumers own a promotional tote bag.

Tote bags are the third most popular promotional item, after wearables and writing utensils.

87% of consumers keep their promotional tote bags because they’re useful.

The Bottom Line

Tote bags may start out small, but they pack a big punch (and plenty of items) by the time they’re finished and ready to use. With so many advantages, from water-resistance to affordability, tote bags are a tote-tally awesome promotional product to show off your branding!

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is a Copywriter at Quality Logo Products®. She has a BA in English from Aurora University and has had her work published for Print + Promo. 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.