The Great Paper Gift Bag Glossary

Unless you work in the packaging industry you might be inclined to think that “gift bags”, “shoppers” and “merchandise bags” are all synonyms. In every day vernacular that might do, but when you’re trying to find that perfect piece of packaging, knowing the difference can make all the difference. To help you out we’ve put together a quick reference to the important terminology for paper bags.

Types of Bags:

Merchandise Bags - Merchandise bags are usually flat, they sometimes will have gussets but never have a flat bottom that would allow them to be self standing. They do not have handles (although plastic merchandise bags sometimes come with die cut handles). These bags are often used to package small flat items such as books, greeting cards or cookies.

Shopping Bags (shopper)Shopping bags distinguish themselves from merchandise bags mainly by their flat base that allows them to be free standing. They also almost always have a handle of some sort (jute or cotton rope is common as are plastic handles) the wide base and large gusset makes them ideal for packaging up larger orders (multiple items, gift boxes, and other odd shaped products).

Gift Totes (or tote bags) – These are the upscale sister to the shopper, they are intended to take the place of gift wrap. They have the same features as a shopper but tend to place a higher emphasis on aesthetics then on durability. They may have a delicate ribbon handle instead of a sturdy cord handle. These are usually best for packaging products that are going to be given as gifts. You’ll to be sure to add some tissue paper to bring the whole wrapped gift look together.


Gussets- Gussets are an additional flap of paper that folds in when the bag is flat then extends out when you fill the bag to provide additional space. A prime example of a bag with gussets is the always familiar brown paper grocery bags.

Handle types- There are two main types of handles, those that extend beyond the edge of the bag, usually made from decorative ribbons, ropes or cords. The other type is a die cut handle; these are far more prevalent in plastic bags due to paper’s propensity to rip. Die cut handles as the name suggests are cut right into the bag itself.

Windows- Some bags contain small plastic windows in the front to allow customers to see the product inside. These are most commonly used for food products especially in bakeries to package breads or other baked goods.

Tin ties- tin tie bags are a specialty item used primarily in the food service industry. They have twist ties built into the top flap which allows you to just fold down the top flap and fold over the ties to keep the bag closed. You have probably seen tin tie bags in action if you purchase coffee in the bag (instead of a plastic tub).

Custom- You can also get your packaging customized. This is a great way to promote your brand and build brand loyalty. You can find more information on the types of custom packaging here, and learn which type is best for you here.

There’s much more that could be discussed here, the types of paper used (such as kraft paper) or the difference between gloss, matte or metallic finishes. But the information above should be plenty to get you on the right track. If you find that you have any questions feel free to chat with one of our customer service representatives; they are a wealth of information and love to help.