A Guide To Custom Totes

Everything you need to know about custom printed bags—from why they are important, to the most sought after tote, product customization options, and more!
A Guide To Custom Totes
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Custom printed bags are a great way to offer something fun and sustainable for your employees, customers, or any other large group of people with a need for custom branded swag! 🛍

Custom designed totes not only bring your brand to life—they make it easy for you to bring your brand to the world. (Deep, we know.)

Totes are versatile, serving many functions—but more importantly they are a practical, functional tool that allows people to carry a message they believe in wherever they go.

Plus, they lend themselves nicely to a more sustainable lifestyle. Tote bags are reusable and require infrequent washing—and their widespread use in the place of single-use plastics has the potential to make a real impact on the future of shopping, which will make the world a happier healthier place! 🌎

It gets better: with so many bag styles and colors to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Options range from 100% canvas, to lightweight bags, to eco-friendly organic cotton, or even bags made in the USA!  

All bags are fully customizable, so give your design a home with custom printing or custom embroidery. Both can go a long way in creating custom bags that turn heads and spark conversations.

To get started, read each chapter below👇 to learn why custom bags matter, different ways they are used, how they bring marketing impressions to your message, as well as our most popular products used here at Real Thread.

Chapter 02

🛍 Why Custom Printed Tote Bags

Learn why printed tote bags offer an unmatched value when it comes to custom swag.

We love totes bags at Real Thread because we’re passionate about creating a more sustainable future—both in the custom apparel industry and in the world as a whole.

Totes are usable and re-usable, so their lifespan offers an unmatched value when it comes to custom swag. I mean, what's better than a product that minimizes single-use plastic usage while simultaneously being one of the most high-visibility ways to promote your brand or message? 

Who Uses Custom Printed Tote Bags?

Because of their value, custom branded totes have become a statement accessory among a range of demographics.

They can benefit those that are conscious of their impact on the earth by wanting to avoid single-use plastic and remain eco-friendly in their daily life, as well as those looking for something that speaks to social trends that relate well to their personal values and desires.

Custom totes are also a valuable welcome gift to new employees or even large teams that need an extra boost of morale towards a common goal! They are also great for "bag people," too.... you know, the people who have bags for everything ;)

Pete's Bagels White Custom Tote Bag Surrounded By Bagels
Pete's Bagels Tote Bag

Printed Tote Bag Marketing Impressions

While we can't give exact data on the number of impressions your custom bags will receive, you can bet many eyes will be on your tote over the course of a day, a week, or even a year.

According to Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) research, custom bags deliver around 3,300 impressions a year! 👀

Advertising Specialty Institute Research Diagram Showing Impressions
Image Source: Advertising Specialty Institute

ASI also notes that custom bags are kept for roughly 11 months, and once they are ready to move on from the product, about 55% folks actually pass it along to someone they know. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving. Goodbye single-use bags, hello traveling billboard 👋

Marketing Cost Breakdown

Let's take the ASI data plus the actual cost of a product to see how this plays out in real life, using this example: 

100 (qty) Tote Bags with a 1 color/1 sided print.

To make the math simple, we've added in some shipping cost and rounded up to $650, bringing the order cost to roughly $6.50/bag.

ASI's number of ~3300 impressions a year translates to ~275 impressions per month. To get in front of 275 eyes a month, you're paying about $0.02 per bag in marketing costs, which is a nominal fee compared to all other forms of offline advertising.

Printed bags are the most affordable and effective way for your brand to make a splash (while also contributing to an environmental greater good👏👏👏).

ASI also mentions that "85% of worldwide consumers remember the advertiser that gave them branded apparel".

"85% of worldwide consumers remember the advertiser that gave them branded apparel" - ASI

Is it quality? Is it rad design? Is it sustainability? Does it make them feel a certain way?

The promotional items you put in people’s hands are a direct reflection of who and what your company stands for. Whatever you put out there, make sure it's leaving the impression you want.

Tote Bag Uses

Here's a fun list of a few ways we've seen our customers use tote bags to bring their brand into the world while saving the world 🌎

Woman in jean jacket carrying white tote with flowers in it
Totes make a great companion to the marketplace

✅ Employee swag—to rep the team around town or carry computers and work gear

✅ For a quick trip to the grocery store

✅ A carry all for farmers market finds on the weekend

✅ A gym bag ...ya know, for gym clothes & quick changes

✅ Takeout (We're serious about this and can prove it. We know a company that uses totes as takeout bags 🌮🌮🌮 Truly inspiring!)

✅ Everyday routines

✅ A wine carrier for BYOB restaurants

✅ Marketing campaigns — get that message out there!

✅ As a creative alternative to wrapping paper

✅ Trade shows (to haul around all the freebies)

✅ To carry work shoes (we’re looking at you, NYC friends 😜)

man using tote to grab fruit
Custom totes make grocery shopping more sustainable

Whatever bucket of people you're working with, they probably have a need for tote bag! Or maybe they just didn't know what they were missing and that's why they need YOU *your brand, your company, etc.* to show up 🙃

If there’s a way you’re using tote bags that you don't see represented here (or a big WHY that we're missing), email us and let us know. We’d ♥ to add it to our list!

🛍 Why Custom Printed Tote Bags
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Chapter 02

📌 Tote Bag Product Options

The 3 most popular tote bags used at Real Thread + other available and unique styles to choose from!

Tote bags come in a variety of shapes, styles, colors, and types. We have hundreds of customizable options to choose from, but we've narrowed it down to the top 3 popular tote bags used at Real Thread.

Rolled up multicolor tote bags held together in a rainbow

Popular customizable totes

  1. 1. The Q-Tees Q800 Promotional Tote
  • 20+ awesome colors
  • Perfect 12 oz classic tote! 
  • 14"W x 16"H. 
  • Made of 100% heavy cotton canvas
  • Print Margin: The max print size is 11.5" x 13" (half inch from the left and right, one inch from the top and bottom)
Q-Tees Q800 Promotional White Tote Bag

2. The econscious EC8040 Organic Cotton Canvas Market Tote

  • Crafted with 100% Certified Organic Cotton
  • 9 oz canvas;
  • 2.5"W x 14.5"H x 7"D; 24.25" handle
  • Print Margin: The max print size is 10” high x 11” wide

econscious EC8040 Organic Cotton Canvas Market Black Tote Bag

  1. 3. The AS Colour 1001 Carrie Tote
  • 11 colors (check out that sage!
  • 16-1/2" x 16-1/2"
  • 9.4 oz cotton canvas
  • Featuring reinforced shoulder straps and one large main compartment
  • Print Margin: The max print size is 13.5" x 13.0" (half inch from the left and right, one inch from the top and bottom)
AS Colour 1001 Carrie Muted Green Tote Bag

Want to see your design on a tote bag? Head over to our product builder, upload your design. You can switch between tote colors, styles and play with the printed size.

Real Thread Product Builder With White Tote Bag

Outside The Bag

If you don't see what you're looking for our on site there are also companies like Baggu that offer trendy (while still very practical) tote bags we can source for your project as well.

They make some really unique options to choose from, all offering a super high quality, functional product that your customers (and their friends 🤠) will be swooning over. 

Baggu Tote Bags
Baggu Multi-colored Canvas Tote Bags
Image Source: Baggu Tote Bags

Each unique bag is waiting for your design to take it's potential to the next level!

Before you start your next project, here's a few quick tips:

📌 Review the tote bag measurements, including the strap lengths, to make sure it's sized appropriately for your design and audience. Sometimes items in photos appear smaller (or larger) than they are in person 😏

📌 Choose quality and function to guarantee a long term reusable bag.

📌 Design with the print margins in mind so your creative work can shine in the allotted spaced. Not all bags have the same print margin, so know your boundaries.

If the products listed above don't necessarily fit your needs, there are plenty of other tote bags to choose from, so let our team know. We’d be happy to find the perfect bag that represents your vision!

📌 Tote Bag Product Options
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Chapter 02

✂️ Tote Customization Options

Create your own tote bag with these two customizable methods

Creating a custom design for a tote bag isn't all that tricky! It's a blank canvas (made of canvas 😏) waiting for whatever you want to throw on it.

At Real Thread, you have two main choices when it comes to customizing your tote bags: custom printing and custom embroidery!

Depending on your particular needs, either one will pack a punch, giving your brand or message a place to shine 💫

Woman in a dark romper on steps holding a white custom tote

Printed Tote Bags

If you’ve been around us at any point, you’ve heard us preach about super soft shirts that people will actually love and wear, butttttt we also think this applies to custom bags as well. 

When it comes to screen-printing on tote bags, it works essentially the same way as printing on a t-shirt. We use our Supersoft and Bold inks to bring your design to life. Like custom shirts, the fabric plays a role in the final product.

We typically use Supersoft ink on light colored bags and our Bold ink on dark colored bags. Our team can help determine the best ink choice when it comes to your particular bag and design though!

Want to see a bag being printed? You're in luck—here's a sneak peak into the process of a tote being screen-printed with a single black ink!

We recommend keeping a lower color count for simplicity and design clarity. Whatever look you're going for, just remember that both sides of your tote are fully customizable, and most of our print services work great on this type of fabric.

SuperSoft Reddish Waterbased Ink in Multiple Containers

If there's something you want to try that you suspect may be tricky though, let us know. We will try and move mountains to get the look you're going for.

📌 Most of our standard print options and ink styles will work well on a canvas tote, while other bags with varying fabric styles and harder-to-print surfaces may be best customized with embroidery. You can read more about that below!

Embroidered Tote Bags

Add a little depth to your design with embroidery! This dimension will literally make your design pop off the bag, presenting a durable and less flashy way to add some unique texture. Just like shirts, there are a few styles of embroidery that offer: Standard, Metallic and Puff.

Standard Embroidery

This is probably what comes to mind when you think of embroidery. Although this process is our most commonly used style, using a basic thread, your professional stitched design will lay nearly flat to your bag.

Metallic Embroidery

This unique embroidery method uses a thread that actually consists of a rubber core wrapped in metallic thread. This shimmer result is best used as an accent element in your design rather than the main feature.

Puff Embroidery

Puff uses a thick, foam-like material that is then stitched over, resulting in designs that pop off the garment and create a 3D effect. It adds a bit of height and depth to your embroidered design.

If you're interested in learning more about the process how we make the magic happen, here's a a step-by-step, behind-the-scenes look at the custom embroidery process.

✂️ Tote Customization Options
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Chapter 02

💧 Printed Tote Success Stories

We love our customers and we love when they create beautiful products made to last! Both Corkcicle and Helpscout are using custom bags to build their company culture from the inside out.

Instead of us telling you more about it, we went straight to each of their teams to learn more about their process of getting swag for their teams.


“As our company, Corkcicle, is growing and expanding and as we are approaching our 10 year anniversary, we undertook a really exciting and in depth look at our brand to more define who we are and how to tell people. With that came a well defined strategy and some exciting new visual elements. Introducing that to the rest of the organization seemed like a challenge until we decided to hold a Brand Day Event and rally our entire organization together for an in-depth walk through of the new brand work. 

We thought the best way to express the new brand was with swag to give out on our brand day, things like fresh new t-shirts from Real Thread, buttons, stickers, notepads, pencils, new business cards for every employee and of course a Real Thread tote bag to hold it all. It was the right assortment to help us drive awareness and excitement internally, experience the new brand work and also be functional in a tangible way. 

Corkcicle Black Custom Tote Bag Filled with Two Notebooks and a Pen

Real Thread made it possible to pull it all together with amazing service and really quick deliveries. Joey, our Account Manager, immediately found what we needed and had it all done right on time for our event. 

Our marketing team are now celebrated heroes for facilitating such a fun and engaging presentation and we’ve relished seeing everyone on our calls wearing their new shirts and using their totes around the office. It’s really driven excitement and rallied the whole company together. We are long time customers of RT because of the quality and the service! They are always there ready to help, problem solve, source, and deliver! Big time fans!”


"For Help Scout's spring remote retreat we wanted to create some swag items that could be useful to everyone well past the retreat, and with that in mind, we decided to go with a good solid tote. We knew wanted to work with Enviro-Tote from the beginning. We had seen some great custom bags they had made for friends. They offer several really useful sizes, the quality is great and they are made in the USA.

Help Scout Blue Custom Tote Bag filled with a Bottle
Help Scout Tote Bag

Joey at Real thread was an amazing partner in making this happen (as always). Enviro-Tote has a lot of options for sizes and customization, and Joey helped us navigate all these options quickly and easily. He corresponded with Enviro-Tote, ordered us samples and advised us on how to best set up our artwork files. The process was all super smooth.

The bags and the retreat were a total success! We still keep them in-stock in our employee store."

Get Started!

Ready to get started designing that perfect custom tote bag? Something that has a long and useful life that your customers and employees love? 

Upload your design in our product builder using one of the tote options available or reach out to our team if you’re interested in something that’s not on our site! We’d love to help you find the perfect product. 

💧 Printed Tote Success Stories
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