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10 Ways to Decorate Blank Tote Bags

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There is something in the spring air that spurs creative flair. If you are looking for a way to express that burst of creativity, try decorating a blank tote bag. There are myriad ways to create one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art. Depending on your design idea and how involved you want to be in the process, you can either rely on a professional personalization service or DIY. In the following, we will discuss 10 of our favorite customization techniques and what fabrics suit each method. 

1. Screen Printing



This process is also referred to as silk screen printing or serigraphy. The technique is used across domains, for posters, fabric, even artwork. Andy Warhol has made a lasting impact on the art scene through screen printing. He started experimenting with the technique in the early 1960s. First, Warhol used drawings as a base, but he eventually transitioned into photo-silkscreen. This technique relies on photos as the stencil, creating a more crisp final image.

Through this method, a design is created by pressing liquid ink through a stenciled mesh. Each color is printed separately with its own stencil. The fabric is then cured in an oven. Depending on the complexity of the design and the number of colors used, it can be a rather tedious process. This is why screen printing is best suited for larger orders of blank tote bags with a few colors in the design. 

Fabric selection is crucial for every customization method. While natural fabrics are ideal for screen printing, the evolution of ink makes screen printing possible on a wider fabric selection. Still, cotton remains the ultimate choice since they are soft and easily permeable.

Fabrics best suited for screen printing:

  • Cotton
  • 50/50 blend garments 

2. Digital Printing



This is the latest innovation in textile printing. It offers printers an unprecedented production rate and the ability to reproduce complex designs. It is no wonder then that more and more people are transitioning to this customization method for blank tote bags

The process involves spraying a liquid ink by a computer-controlled print head. Unlike screen printing, it reproduces the full range of colors in just one step. However, it is not quite as durable as serigraphy. To ensure the longevity of the print, follow these easy tips and tricks

The best fabrics suited for digital printing:

  • Canvas
  • Cotton
  • Wool
  • Viscose
  • Polyester
  • Silk
  • Mixed fabrics

3. Heat Transfer Printing


This technique relies on heat to transfer an image onto the fabric. The design is typically created in wax. It is common to obtain the transfer through wax sheets or layering wax dye onto the blank tote bag. You could also try a more creative approach. This whimsical holographic heart design was obtained with Teflon sheets. Follow this link for a tutorial on how to create this tote bag.

The best fabric for heat transfer printing is cotton by far. However, you could also try the following:

  • Cotton blend fabrics
  • Canvas
  • Polyester

4. Block Printing



Block printing originates from ancient China and is particularly popular throughout East Asia. However, more and more Americans are drawn to this sustainable fashion design process. Besides being eco-friendly, it also yields stunning results.

This manual process involves strategically placing blocks with a design to create a pattern on fabric. Most often, it is obtained by using carved wooden blocks. Unlike the previous printing techniques, this is the most time-consuming and tedious. The end result, however, can be a valuable art piece. 

What makes this technique truly special are its ancient origins. The method survived for millennia with few to no alterations. Also, the hours of handwork that go into decoration give the final piece added value. In an age of automation and fast fashion, artisanal clothing has a soul that no machine can replicate. 

These are the best blank tote bag fabrics for block printing:

  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Linen
  • Polyester 

5. Embroidery


Another ancient fabric decoration technique is embroidery. You can approach this technique from two different angles: DIY and automated service. Before you decide on a path, consider the complexity of the design you want, the number of tote bags to decorate, and how much time you are willing to spend on this.

Embroidery can be an amazing hobby that you can easily pick up. All you need are some simple supplies and some practice. There is a whole world of stitching styles out there, so feel free to experiment with these to create a dreamy image. You could also sow text onto your tote bag. If you like our “Vegan vibes” burlap tote bag, go to our DIY tutorial. Check out these embroidery letters font ideas for more inspiration.

You could also opt for an embroidery service. This alternative is more expensive than digital and screen printing. It also has a limited capacity to reproduce complex images. You might have to simplify your design idea to make it viable for this technique. The machine used to create the design has different needles for each color, and it can achieve 1,000 stitches per minute

Best fabric choices for embroidery:

  • Tightly woven even-weave fabrics are ideal for surface embroidery.
  • Loosely woven fabrics are great for specific techniques like drawn thread, pulled thread, and counted thread.

6. Tie-Dye


Tie-dye gained popularity in the 1960s as protest art and it turned into a fashion trend that is renewed every decade. The current trend includes monochrome garments and fruity pastel color combinations. 

You could also try reverse tie-dying a tote bag. This puts a fun twist on the method. Select a blank tote bag in your favorite color and bleach it strategically. Using this method significantly simplifies the process and makes it more accessible to beginners. All you need is some bleach, which you probably already have lying around the house. 

If you want to create a tote like in the above photo, follow our step-by-step guide on reverse-tie-dying a blank tote bag. Start the process by soaking and rinsing the fabric. Then twist the material and tie it with several rubber bands. Experiment with different ways to twist and the placement of rubber bands to obtain different patterns. The end result will be a fashionable monochrome item that you can easily match to any outfit. 

Again, natural fabrics are best suited for this technique as well, since these fully absorb the color pigments. If you are uncertain of the outcome for a specific material, run a quick experiment on a swatch. Here are the best choices for tie-dying or bleaching:

  • Cotton
  • Cotton blends
  • Rayon
  • Silk
  • Denim

7. Drawing


Drawing on fabric is an initial step in outlining the design for many DIY decoration ideas. However, it is also a technique in itself. There is a wide range of instruments to use, from markers to pens specially designed for fabrics. Choose your tools based on the design. For example, we decorated this white blank tote bag with pencils and markers. Click here to find out how to make it yourself. 

Depending on your project, you will need some of the following supplies:

  • Fabric pens: washable and fade-resistant.
  • Chalk: ideal for dark fabrics.
  • Fabric markers: designed to not wash out.
  • Pencil: to trace your design. Easy to wash out.
  • Ruler: to align your design.

You can try to draw on a wide range of fabrics. However, tightly woven materials with a smooth surface are best suited. Loosely woven or textured fabric will not provide an optimal base for your design. Here are some of the best materials for drawing:

  • Canvas 
  • Cotton
  • Wool

8. Brush Painting


Fabric painting opens up a colorful world of possibilities to customize a blank tote bag. Before you start, make sure that you have some brushes and fabric paint. Then let your imagination run wild. If you like the oversized heart design, you can check out our DIY tutorial.

A cotton or canvas tote bag would be the perfect base for your piece of art. Make sure that you choose an item with a tight weave and in a light color. Especially if you are at the beginning, white is the best place to start. However, feel free to experiment on colored bags as well, this can take your design to the next level. 

The best tote bag fabrics for painting:

  • Cotton
  • Canvas
  • Rayon
  • Silk

9. Spray Painting



Spray painting on fabric is a fun and easy way to obtain a design with a strong visual impact. Make sure that you purchase high-quality spray paint for outstanding results. If you are a novice, go for a simple approach. Create a cardboard cutout, place it on the fabric and spray over it. You can repeat the procedure several times to create a pattern. 

This customization technique can be applied to almost any fabric. However, natural materials are always the best way to go since they have a high rate of pigment absorption. Consider the following options:

  • Cotton
  • Canvas
  • Polyester
  • Mixed fabrics

10. Mixed Media



Finally, use your creativity to bejewel a blank tote bag however you see fit. You can use basically any craft store accessory to create a unique design:

  • Rhinestones
  • Beads
  • Feathers
  • Fabric swatches
  • Fringe
  • Lace
  • Seashells
  • Pearls

These are just some of the elements that you can incorporate into your project. Pick one, or combine several of these strategically. For example, you can accessorize your tote with rhinestones to recreate your favorite game.

Final Thoughts

With these decoration techniques, you can turn any blank tote bag into a treasure. Your contribution to its creation is what adds extra value. However, on your quest for a dreamy design, do not forget to enjoy the process. Feel free to experiment with different techniques and step beyond the norms, that is where pure art lies.