If you’re dreaming of creating a custom carry-all, there are lots of ways to go about it. Sure, you could buy a fabric you love and sew your own tote bag. But how do you make a tote bag if you want to add your very own art to the fabric?

Whether you’re looking to get into fashion design or are a visual artist wanting to sell your work on products, it’s surprisingly easy to design a tote bag to get started. Here are three different software options and how to use them to create a truly personalized tote bag. 

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The Best Bag Design Software

Before we dig into the software, it’s important to cover the basics of surface pattern design. There are two main approaches to putting designs on bags: you can have a single image that’s printed in the center of the bag, or you can create a repeating pattern that’s printed across the entire surface of the fabric. 

All three software options below will allow you to do either, so pick based on your style preference or choose the digital design software you’re already most comfortable with.

Design a Tote Bag in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is a great option for tote bag design if you want to incorporate photographs or found imagery into your designs or are scanning in physical work. If you’re trying this software for the first time, here are some Photoshop fundamentals to get you started.

Tote Bag Designs in Photoshop

tote bag
Source: Society6
Creating digital collages can be a fun way to design a tote bag in Photoshop, like on this bag by Skillshare teachers Evgeniya & Dominic Righini-Brand.

There are so many creative ways to use Photoshop to design a tote bag, from simply perfecting photographs for printing to making more creative designs like digital collages or bold duotones. You can also use Photoshop to digitize physical artwork you’ve created, removing the background and making any other adjustments you’d like. You may want to add some fabric-like texture in Photoshop so your design really feels like it’s part of the fabric of your tote bag, even though it’s printed on top. 

Tote Bag Patterns in Photoshop

sunflower tote
You can also use Photoshop to easily create seamless patterns, like on this bag by Skillshare student Alina Grigore.

You can also use Photoshop to organize images into a repeating pattern, whether you’re scanning in work you created by hand or designing the shapes digitally in the software. The best part? Photoshop’s “Pattern Preview” tool (available under the “View” menu) makes it super easy to ensure that every block of your pattern lines up so it’s seamless across your fabric.

Use Photoshop’s “Pattern Preview” tool to easily arrange a seamless design that can repeat across the surface of your bag.

Design a Tote Bag in Illustrator

If you want to create graphic design or illustrated elements, Adobe Illustrator may be the best tote bag design software for you.

The best part about using Illustrator for surface pattern design is that you’re working in vector files, which means you can scale the size of the image up or down easily without any impact on the quality. In other words, if you want the option of printing something bigger than a tote one day, it won’t be a problem. If vectors are new for you, here are some Illustrator basics to get you started.

Tote Bag Designs in Illustrator

yellow tote with pigeon on it
You can create one hero design or illustration to print on your tote using Illustrator, like on this bag by Skillshare teacher Samarra Khaja.

Anything you can create in Illustrator, you can print on a tote bag, whether it’s complex illustrative designs or simple graphic icons. One especially nice feature in Illustrator when it comes to surface pattern design is the “Recolor Artwork” tool, which makes it easy to create different color variations of your design for printing.

Use the “Recolor Artwork” tool to experiment with different colorways until you find one you love for your custom tote bag.

Tote Bag Patterns in Illustrator

tote bag with flowers
Source: Society6
You can also design tote bag patterns in Illustrator, like on this bag by Skillshare teacher Bonnie Christine

Illustrator can also be used to create a repeating pattern if you prefer to work in the vector format. Illustrator makes it easy to see what a pattern will look like, try different placement variations, and play with your pattern until you’re excited about how it will look on your bag. 

Make Your Own Patterns!

Introduction to Designing Repeat Patterns in Illustrator

Design a Tote Bag in Procreate

If you’re used to creating art with pencil and paper but want an easy way to digitize it for printing, consider Procreate, which works on the iPad with the Apple Pencil to mimic the feel of drawing on paper. Procreate and Illustrator can create similar-looking work, but Procreate is much easier to learn.

If you’ve never used the software, here are some Procreate basics to get you going.

Tote Bag Designs in Procreate

tote bag
Draw digital images in Procreate to print on your own custom tote bag, like this design by Skillshare teacher Gia Graham.

Any drawing or painting you could create on paper, you can create in Procreate to print on a tote bag. Use different brushes to create whatever look you’d like, and use color tools to easily experiment with color palettes. One important thing to note with Procreate: You can’t make your final image larger without losing image quality, so make sure you’re starting your design with a large enough canvas for printing on your tote. 

Tote Bag Patterns in Procreate

tote bag with strawberries
Source: Redbubble
You can also easily draw a seamless pattern in Procreate, like this tote design by Skillshare student Meghan Hageman.

Similar to the other software, Procreate has plenty of features to make it easy to create seamless, repeating patterns

Create a Tote Bag With Your Custom Design

So you’ve made a design you love, but now you’re wondering, “How do I print on a tote bag?” There are a few different options depending on your goal. If you’re just printing it for yourself, you can order a small number of custom-printed bags from companies like Zazzle and Custom Ink. While most will print on a sturdy cotton canvas, some offer different types of fabrics to choose from. If you want to sell it to others, print-on-demand sites—like Society6 and Redbubble—allow you to upload your designs to multiple products and only print what your customers actually order.

Whichever software you choose, make sure to export your image per the dimensions and specifications on the printing company’s website, and export on a transparent background if you want the fabric of the bag to come through your design. And then get excited to flaunt your art everywhere you go!

Sell Your Prints Online!

Building a Career in Illustration: Explore Print-On-Demand

Written by:

Erin Greenawald