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How to Choose the Right Tote Bag

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Tote bags are the new shopping bag. As people wise up about limiting their use of plastic, tote bags are becoming a must-have item for conscientious consumers and designers everywhere. It’s not hard to see why – totes combine convenience, environmentalism, and brand promotion.

To keep up with the demand for totes, brands large and small order custom tote bags in droves. However, at DTLA we’ve seen that a lot of them don’t know just how many different styles of tote bags are available. This is in no way a one-size-fits-all bag. Just like with screen printing on t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, there are countless styles and sizes of tote bags to choose from. 

We hand-select our products for quality of fabric, washability, durability, printability, and consumer satisfaction. To be as transparent as possible with our clients, we give each of our available items an overall rating of good, better, and best.

For a better idea of the range that exists within each tote style, we’ve included links to examples of our good, better, and best selections.

Standard Tote

Okay, so I’m sure you’ve seen this one before. This is a classic S.W.A.G. (stuff we all get) item at street fairs, company events and conferences. It represents an affordable yet functional tote canvas on which to print or embroider your design. The simplicity of the bag design makes it easy to print your brand’s message directly on the front or back of it. You can order it in a ton of different colors and sizes, and it traditionally comes in either 100% cotton or a cotton/poly blend. It generally weighs about 6oz and, though sizes vary a bit, is sized at about 14.5” by 15.5. This is a great bag for all brands looking for extremely affordable but still effective promotional items. Here are examples of a good, better, and best standard tote.

Premium Tote

A step or two up from the standard tote you have the premium tote. Premium totes have the same structural simplicity as the basic tote, but are generally larger and use a more durable, stylish fabric. In addition, premium totes sometimes have enhancement options that standard totes do not, like a zipper, a gusset, or an external pocket. This is a great option for brands that are targeting a bit more of a boutique market, but are still working from a limited promotional budget. Check out our picks for good, better, and best premium totes.

Zippered Tote

The zippered tote is similar to the standard tote in look as well as printing, sizing and coloring options. However, it comes with a zippered closure to more  securely enclose its contents. This one’s best for folks who’ll be carrying items that require protection such as electronics or perishables. It represents a step up in quality from the more basic totes, while still remaining at a low price point to keep it an affordable option for your brand. We often recommend these good, better, and best zippered totes.

Beach Tote

Beach totes add to the flexibility and functionality of the first two bags with a wide selection of features like a velcro closure, an internal key fob, a front outside pocket, or even insulated neoprene to enable better temperature control for lunches and snacks. It can come with or without a trim design element like the bag pictured here. Either way, this is the perfect bag to take on a picnic to your favorite sunny spot! It represents a great option for brands targeting an outdoor recreation/lifestyle market.

Gusset Tote

The gusset tote is very similar to the standard tote, except that it is equipped with something called a gusset. Hold the phone, what’s a gusset? A gusset is a foldable bottom and side panel that increases the capacity and versatility of your bag. When you unfold these panels, your bag expands and can hold quite a bit more than a non-gusseted bag. However, it easily folds back into itself for easy and compact storage. Nifty! Expand the capacity of your tote knowledge with these good, better and best gusseted tote bags.

Strapping Tote

For a more distinguished but still highly functional bag, may we introduce the strapping tote. This one’s made with a soft-brushed cotton canvas, and comes with a genuine leather accent strap, an exterior zipper pocket, a magnetic snap closure, and a small interior pocket. It has the fewest coloring and sizing options of the bags listed so far, but it’s just as versatile in its printing options. A great option for boutique brands looking to impress! What a strapping tote!

Sideline Tote

For another stylish yet highly functional tote, the sideline tote offers a heavy-duty bag with a magnetic snap closure and a front-zippered pocket perfect for storing your keys and wallet. It has the same wide-ranging color and printing options as the more basic promotional bags. This is another great option for more boutique brands, especially those whose primary audience is women.

Other customizable bags


If you want to give your audience something that they’ll use every single day, custom backpacks are a great option. With shoulder straps and zippered pockets, you can take it to the gym, class, work… it’s a backpack! Backpacks generally appeal to a younger audience. They give your brand the opportunity to get daily exposure in schools and other densely populated environments. While more expensive than totes, the extra investment gets you more frequent and longer use by your audience.

Duffel Bags

These versatile bags are becoming just as fashionable as they are functional. Beyond celebrities, you’ll see them at the gym, for travel, even just to use as a day bag for an outing. The range of sizes and styles means that brands have an opportunity to appeal to a wide audience. Duffels are equipped with a center zipper, an adjustable shoulder strap, and handles. Many duffels also include smaller side pockets to hold keys, your phone, etc.

These are just a few of the bag options available to screen printers and consumers everywhere. They really do run the gamut, from very basic to high fashion. But they’re also similar in one way: they aren’t piling up in our landfills like plastic bags are. As the demand grows for customized totes and other bags, these items will become even more ubiquitous. There’s never been a better time to stay ahead of the curve!

Picture of Alex Hales
Alex Hales

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