A tote bag is a reliable and practical daily companion that helps you keep your belongings at hand no matter where you go. However, there are ways to spice up a plain tote to make it more stylish. One great way to do so is by customizing it.
There are many different ways to decorate a blank bag; screen printing is one of the more high-end methods. Beyond creating a highly resistant design, the technique also has a degree of unpredictability, which adds to its charm.
To maximize the potential of this printing process, it is essential to choose the right tote bag as your canvas for the art project. It is recommended to start from a medium-sized, light-colored blank bag made from a natural fabric. However, the technological evolution of screen printing now allows for more artistic freedom than ever before.
Why Screen Printing?
Screen printing is a technique to transfer an image onto fabric. The method has become popular in the mainstream and the art world (through artists like Andy Warhol, who embraced the mass culture and put an artistic spin on it). To learn more about how the process works, check out our previous posts, How Does Screen Printing Work? and Easy Screen Print Guide: DIY Screen Printing vs. Professional Services.
What Is the Best Tote Bag for Screen Printing?
When selecting your screen printing tote bag for the next art project, there are a series of elements that you must take into consideration. First, make sure that your canvas has the optimal characteristics for the task at hand.
Fabric selection, the color, size, and design of the tote bag are some of the most important aspects. All of these must come together cohesively with your design idea to create an art piece. Then, you can transfer your artistic vision to the fabric yourself or contact a professional printing service.
As with most decoration techniques, it is best to opt for natural fabrics like cotton and canvas. The characteristics of these textiles allow the ink to seep in better and the colors to stay vibrant.
Thus they provide an optimal surface on which to transfer the paint. However, due to advancements in technology, screen printing is now possible on virtually any fabric.
Cotton blends or pure cotton are the ultimate choices for most artists. The soft texture can easily absorb the design, making for a strong finish. Another great aspect about screen printing on cotton tote bags is that their maintenance will be relatively easy. You can hand wash or machine wash them when needed.
A common cotton blend that pops up virtually everywhere is the jersey. While a jersey tote bag might not be the first option that pops in your mind for screen printing tote bags, this can work. The challenge is keeping the design intact on such a soft and flexible surface. In addition, you can increase your chances of success by knowing what type of ink is best suited for this textile.
Stay away from plastisol ink since this tends to stay on the fabric's surface rather than be absorbed. Also, since the jersey is very flexible, the design is likely to crack quickly. Instead, go for water-based ink, which easily absorbs in the fabric.
Another common, although a more high-end option, is silk. It offers a stable and smooth surface for printing. Since it is also a natural textile, the ink will be easily absorbed by the fibers. However, if you go with a silk tote bag for screen printing, keep a close eye on fabric thickness. For a successful outcome, you must adapt the ink amount used to how thick the material is. The thinner silk is, the less ink it will absorb. Therefore, try your best not to oversaturate your tote.
Synthetic fibers like polyester can also be a viable option. Unlike natural fabrics, these are less porous. The main challenge will be keeping the design on the fabric. It might not be the best plan if you decide to take the tote bag screen printing process into your own hands. However, if you opt for a specialized service, experts might get around these issues.
If this is your first project of screen printing tote bags, look for light and natural-colored textiles. White and beige would be a great place to start. It will allow the true colors to shine through. However, due to the nature of the printing technique, you can safely use darker textiles as well. Since the ink is printed directly on the fabric in a heavy layer, it should still be vibrant, even lighter than the tote bag.
When choosing the color of your tote bag for screen printing, let your design idea be your guide. Take your time to envision the final product. Would a dark or a light background suit your design best? Do not hesitate to pick up some coloring materials and draw or paint a few versions to see which one is more to your liking.
Another aspect to consider when choosing the color of your textile canvas is long-term care. While white is generally considered the best background to print or paint on, maintenance has a downside. White (or light-colored) clothes and accessories tend to show signs of wear easier and get dirty quicker than darker items.
Of course, there are some easy steps you can take to prevent this to some extent. For example, you should never place your white screen-printed tote on the ground. However, this can be a problem in the long-term, as washing the textile does expose the printed area and will slowly lead to a faded or cracked print. For a complete guide on how to care for printed bags and extend their lifespan read our article.
The standard strategy for screen printing tote bags is to have a plain textile base for your art project. It will create a smooth background for the print. However, if you are feeling more adventurous, you could also opt for a fabric with a print. While this path does sound intriguing and can create a masterpiece of a final product, we would not recommend it for beginners. Instead, it is better to start with something simple and work your way up from there.
When you give printed textiles a shot, make sure that you dedicate the proper amount of time and preparation for the project. If you can, have a practice run on a similar piece of fabric or purchase two identical bags and sacrifice one of them for testing. Take your time studying how the paint reacts to the fabric, how the colors work together, and envision how the design will go with the print on the textile.
When selecting the background print, there are several paths you can take. First, you have the option to go with something more toned down and neutral, like a faded camo print. Since this specific design is strongly associated with the army and power, it can be an interesting starting point for your art project.
You could also go for a bolder print. However, you are warned that you do so at your own risk. The more complex and colorful the base fabric, the more challenging it is to create your own design and a cohesive final product.
Tote bags now come in all shapes and sizes. While the standard recommendation is to go with a medium-sized bag for screen printing bags, the truth is that it all comes down to your vision. The most important thing is to fit your design on the surface that is made available for you.
If you opt for a small tote bag, you must also shrink your design idea. It means that you might have to give up on some details. The biggest concern with screen printing a large tote is that there is too much space to fill. Make sure to keep your artistic process fluid and create cohesion between all the different elements to create a show-stopping screen-printed tote bag.
Tote Bags as Your Next Canvas
Take your plain tote bag out of the ordinary and print on it an image of your choice. It will not only make your tote stand out but also make it unique. When selecting the art piece to feature on the fabric, try to go with something personal that speaks volumes to you. Having a custom image on your bag will make the item more valuable. Screen printing tote bags is a fun and artistic way to express yourself and incorporate your creativity into your wardrobe.