If you want to step up your merch game, it’s time to look at bags. As a promotional item, they are one of the most coveted items. And depending on what kind you get and how you customize them, they can be surprisingly more affordable than T-shirts and other items. A bonus feature is if you are offering a variety of swag, you can put all the other stuff in it.
In this post, I’m going to tell you about the top five types of bags we customize, along with some crucial information about each kind that can save you money and help avoid printing issues. Plus I’ll give you some recommendations for each so you can get started right away. When it comes time for placing the perfect order, you’ll have it in the bag.
1. Tote Bag
Totes are totes number one on the list because they are the quintessential promotional product bag. A tote bag hits all the marks: affordably priced, simple construction, durable, lays flat for printing, and comes in a variety of colors and styles. People love tote bags and use it for everything, from carrying groceries to beach supplies, especially with plastic bags going away.
The best tote bags are the cotton canvas variety. Don’t mess around with any of the weird plastic kinds– nobody wants those. And the slightly lower cost is just not worth it. The cotton canvas kind is softer and stronger and can be rewashed for years of use. I’ve written about tote bags as a great merch item for bands. If you don’t think tote bags are cool, think again!
Printing on tote bags
Tote bags probably provide the most opportunities for customizing out of all the bag types, especially if you go with cotton. They tend to have the largest print area and the widest variety of print methods to choose from. Screen printing is your best bet for a combination of affordability and durability, and a simple classic look that works for any brand.
PRO TIP: Stick with one color and keep the design simple. Multiple colors can cause registration issues on the press, and a design that is too detailed can produce a blown-out or inconsistent print, especially if the cotton canvas has a heavy texture.
Recommended tote bags
BAGedge 6 oz Canvas Promo Tote Bag
This is the perfect entry-level tote bag, with rich, solid colors and an affordable price point. When you’re placing a large order and looking to keep your costs low this is the way to go. Well-constructed and lightweight 100% cotton canvas, with a fairly smooth printing surface and self-fabric straps It’s the largest size of the bunch at 15″w x 16″h, with a large print area of approximately 12″w x 14″h. It offers a wide range of standard rainbow colors and more, including natural.
BAGedge 12 oz. Canvas Book Tote Bag
This bag is a step up with more durable construction. It’s a smaller size at 10″w x 14″ h, but with more depth at 5″ and the material is twice as thick as the first bag. 100% cotton canvas, self-fabric straps and with a bit more texture to the print surface. Just like the picture shows, you can shove all kinds of things in here– except for the visor, you don’t want to crush that and ruin your country club look. Colors are a bit more limited: black, forest, natural, navy, purple, red and royal.
BAGedge 12 oz. Boat Tote Bag
The best of the bunch has all the features of the previous bag and then some. Same heavyweight 100% cotton canvas, but more durable construction, with longer 25″ handles that extend down to a reinforced bottom that comes in a variety of colors that contrast the natural-colored bag. The print area for this bag is smaller than the other two at approximately 10″ x 10″, but it makes up for that with an outside pocket on the one side (a perfect place for your keys or phone).
2. Drawstring Bag
Number two on the list is popular among young people and one of the most popular bags to customize. Drawstring bags (also known as cinch packs or cinch bags) have an affordable price point and are favorites for their simplicity, lighter weight, and convenience. Great for school, sports practice, or short trips out of the house, and closes securely with a pull of the strings.
I’m not a fan myself, only because the strings tend to dig into your shoulders when you carry weight, but to each their own.
Printing on drawstring bags
The cheapest versions of this bag are made with synthetic fabrics. You’re better off staying away from those if possible– especially polypropylene, which will limit the print methods because of melting under dryers, so screen printing is only viable for those made of cotton canvas. That leaves vinyl and heat transfers as the best options for plastic drawstring bags.
Recommended drawstring bags
Liberty Drawstring Backpack
This is a perfectly fine standard drawstring backpack with an affordable price point. It’s made of “upgraded super 210-denier nylon” and has a color-matched DUROcord® drawstring, which is three to six times thicker than the industry average. The color-matched metal grommets are a nice touch, and the print area is huge– just a few inches smaller than its overall size of 17″w x 20″h. A wide variety of colors are available to match your company, school, or team colors.
Liberty Cotton Drawstring Bag
This one gets the better rank for one reason: the material. 10 oz 100% cotton canvas makes it the drawstring bag for screen printing a large order. Especially since you can’t screen print on the synthetic drawstring bags unless you want them to get all mangled and melted under the heat dryers. The other nice thing is that this bag can be washed like regular laundry. It has a color-matched drawstring, white nickel grommets, and comes in two colors: black and natural.
Gemline Surge Sport Cinchpack
I’m calling this one the best only because it has a few extra features: a big front pocket with Velcro® closure and a side mesh pocket for holding a water bottle, phone, keys, or whatever you like. This particular cinch design allows you to carry it over one shoulder or wear it as a backpack. The material is 210-denier polyester, so it won’t shrink, tear, or wrinkle the way the first bag will. The 3-tone design elevates it as well. Available in 4 colors: green, black, blue, and red.
3. Duffel Bag / Gym Bag
The classic duffel bag is number three on my list and for good reason. It’s the bag of all bags. If you had a bunch of bags you would put them in this bag. All-purpose, durable and handy are some of the words used to describe the duffel. Take it to the gym, take it to school, take it camping, take it as a carry-on bag. One thing for sure is that this bag can be used for years.
Once again when we’re talking about materials, it’s the cotton canvas variety, rather than plastic, that is best for customizing.
Printing on duffel bags
Most of these bags can be screen printed because their durable parts can withstand the heat of the dryers. The restriction tends to come down to the print area, which can be small depending on the bag. So be prepared for that with a logo that can reduce in size and still look good. Avoid details and multiple colors for the best results. Keep it small and keep it simple.
The best way to customize duffel bags is embroidery. Whenever you want to take your promotional product to the next level and really impress people, go with embroidery. It has a much more classy and finished look than screen printing. Your logo will look like it’s part of the bag, making it look more professional and expensive (spoiler alert: it’s not expensive).
Recommended duffel bags
Liberty Duffel Bag
Here we have the perfect basic duffel bag. Nothing crazy, nothing fancy, just straightforward, does-the-job duffel. Made from 600-denier polyester with an added bonus: 50% of it is recycled material. That’s one thing that’s nice about synthetic fabric and we’ll be seeing more and more of that. This has a front pocket (not shown) and a diagonal webbing handles for support. The shoulder strap is detachable and adjustable. It comes in over twenty colors. You can’t go wrong.Better:
Liberty ‘Game Day’ Large Square Duffel Bag
Similar to the first bag above, this one is made of 600-denier polyester and 50% recycled materials and has an adjustable and detachable shoulder strap, but this one is a step up for a few reasons. First, it’s much bigger at almost 2 feet long and 1 foot wide. Second, it has a zippered front/side pocket and a rain cover over the main zipper. It also has a Velcro® closure on the handle for comfortable carrying, and a reinforced gusseted bottom. Available in at eighteen colors.
Gemline Flex Sport Bag
This one’s got some bells and whistles as far a duffel bags go, making it the best of the bunch. Standard 600-denier polyester, adjustable strap, and top grab handles, but where it shines is the rugged construction. You could probably drop this down a cliff or run over it with a truck and it would be fine (don’t hold me to that). Mesh front and side compartments and two different print areas that are designed for embroidery. Comes in two colors: orange/black and royal/black.
4. Backpack / Book Bag
Now we get to my personal favorite and probably the high-end of promotional product bags, the backpack aka bookbag. Whether it’s for school, work, hiking or biking, this kind of bag can go everywhere with you because it’s naturally hands-free. Most backpacks have compartments to hold various types of things and are designed with comfort in mind.
Printing on backpacks and book bags
Most backpacks and book bags are made with a variety of synthetic materials, so screen printing on them is almost out of the question (again because of the heat of the dryers when curing). Embroidery is my recommendation. If you’re only doing a few of these, you might be able to go with vinyl or printed vinyl but check with your sales rep to be sure.
Recommended backpacks and book bags
BAGedge Commuter Backpack
An excellent choice for a sturdy, straightforward backpack that everyone can use, this commuter bag made of 600-denier polyester has two large areas that would be great for an embroidered logo. A padded sleeve in the main compartment fits a 13″ laptop, plus a padded carrying handle on top, reinforced bottom, padded back and shoulder straps, a mesh water bottle pocket, and an organizer section in the smaller/front compartment. It comes in black and navy. Simple and classy.
Team 365 Backpack
This one is also made of 600-denier polyester but is a step up in several ways, mostly to do with the superior construction but also for some extra features: Adjustable padded straps and back panel, webbing top handle, large front mesh pocket with elastic binding, side mesh pocket, imploding side shoe compartment, and extra-large main compartment with molded rubber zipper cord pulls. Its two-tone design provides a sporty look and it comes in twelve colors.
BAGedge Messenger Bag with Laptop Compartment
When you really want to step up your customized bag game, you go with an executive-level bag like this. Made from 840-denier polyester with a sleek, minimal design and durable construction, this bag can be worn over the shoulder or carried like a briefcase and features a huge print area for an embroidered logo. The front flap has a clip-lock closure and a zipper pocket, while the zippered back has a checkpoint-friendly compartment that fits a 15.5″ laptop. It comes in black.
5. Fanny Pack / Hip Sack / Waist Bag / Belt Bag
Number five on my list might be unexpected, but the waist bag (aka fanny pack) is not going anywhere, in fact, it’s hotter than ever. It may even be the bag of choice for the current generation. I’ve written about the rollercoaster-like ride of this bag’s existence, and while that’s a fun story, all I need to get into here is how to customize it and which one to get.
Printing on fanny packs
Once again, embroidery is the way to go. And once again the print area is going to be small so keep your design simple and without too much detail. If you want to screen print these, avoid the kinds with different synthetic fabrics, such as mesh. They don’t hold up under the heat of the dryer. And heat transfers don’t work well for the same reason. Hello, embroidery.
Comfort Colors® Canvas Belt Bag
This simple and sturdy version of the belt bag has only one pocket, because who needs more? It’s already one big pocket. Why complicate it? It has an adjustable webbing strap and a nice antique brass zipper closure. What’s really nice about these is they are made of 100% cotton canvas. So not only do you have lots of choices for customizing, but they are soft, comfortable, and can be thrown in the wash after you take them on a safari adventure. It comes in black and khaki.
Port Authority® Hip Pack
This is the one I would recommend. It has some extra features that are missing from the first one, like a back zippered security compartment to go along with the large front zippered main compartment. The construction is durable and streamlined, with reflective trim detail that adds a minimal element of safety if you’re biking or walking at night. It’s made of 600-denier polyester canvas, which is not the best for screen printing or heat transfer, so embroidery only.
When you’re ready, upload your logo to our Design Studio and get your order started today!
About the Author
A graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Imri Merritt is an industry veteran with over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.