How Paper Stays on the Cutting Edge: French Paper9 min read

by | Oct 24, 2018 | Design, Marketing

French Paper Booklet Cover Banner

Recently DVS had the chance to visit the Road to 150 Tour put on by French Paper Co.; a traveling exhibition and presentation of promotional items from their almost 150-year history. French Paper Co. is a family owned premium colored paper, colored envelope and custom paper manufacturer in Niles, Michigan. The Road to 150 Tour is a celebration of their heritage, passion for paper, and marketing innovation. These qualities have lead to their status as one of the most loved paper companies in America. Paper manufacturing is an industry where corporate buyouts are the norm and typically only the largest companies survive. French Paper has remained family owned and successful for generations because of three main factors.

  1. French Paper has an unmatched passion for their craft,
  2. Product quality
  3. Willingness to embrace modern marketing
Brian French Giving Talk
french paper van hood
side of french paper van

A Wrinkle In Time

The Road to 150 Tour kicked off with a presentation by sixth generation French and VP of Sales and Marketing, Brian French followed by a Q&A session. We were told about the history of a scrappy little paper company who has had to be adaptable and take risks in order to survive. During the Great Depression when paper orders dried up, the entire company resorted to farming the land the paper plant is located on to this day. Further obstacles arrived when wood pulp or electricity was not available. To solve these issues they decided to become one of the first paper manufacturers to recycle paper scraps into new stock. The advent of electrical machines lead them to adapt their factory to be 100% hydroelectric powered, long before it became hip to do so. When paper sales slumped in the 1960s, they innovated with novel marketing tactics that lead them to become the colored paper powerhouse they are today. No matter the industry or business, being able to adapt, innovate, and supply an excellent product will pay off.

spark posters french paper
french paper posters caricatures

A More Memorable Experience

With the number of screens we have in our homes, at work, and even in our pockets—print seems to be a thing of the past.
“I have a website for my product, and that is all I need, right?”


We have found that combining digital and physical touchpoints creates a more impactful impression than either strategy alone. High-quality print items and product packing design can elevate an experience by adding elements such as luxuriousness, uniqueness, memorability, or even humor. Therefore, printing on high-quality papers like those made by French Paper raises the likelihood that users better engage with the messaging, leading to more desirable results.

frech paper close up
paper detail
close up of ink dots

Key Differentiators

In order to stay relevant, quality and differentiation are key for French Paper. They have been able to corner a market for uncoated colored stock unlike anyone else in the industry. The difference between their product and a common bright white smooth sheet you might find in your office printer is both visual and tangible. Uniquely colored stock gives the ink printed on top of the paper life and color that cannot be replicated. Colors are shifted slightly and the color of the paper itself acts as a part of the design. Paper is not merely the surface on which one creates, but it is an essential part of the design and colors the viewer’s perception of the final piece. Add to this the tactile nature of a softly stippled paper texture on everything from the thinnest paper the heaviest cardstock, and you have a winning combination.

portable martini promotional item
Jerry french blow up doll

Innovative Solutions & Big Results

Father Jerry French, along with his children Brian and Kim French make up the fifth and sixth generation of French Paper currently leading the company. A large part of their staying power and popularity can be attributed to innovative marketing pioneered by Charles S. Anderson Design Co. (CSA). Currently, there is a strong demand for colored, recycled, eco-friendly, or uncoated paper. However, this was not always the case. These types of paper were often viewed as low quality and most buyers wanted smooth bright white sheets made of virgin wood pulp. Due to its declining popularity, one of French Paper’s papers named Speckletone, was facing discontinuation. This was the very first fully recycled paper with imperfections known as flecks and shives in it. Its rugged appearance is sought after now, but back then it was seen as a low tier product.

A Passion For Oddity

Speckletone happened to be CSA’s favorite paper and he was determined not to let this unique paper die. An innovative plan was hatched. In those days, paper was typically sold through very plain swatch books. These books contained many white sheets, simple typography, and were made as cheaply as possible. CSA proposed the novel idea of creating a highly designed booklet to show off what the paper could do. This book utilized many of their papers and thermographic printing. It also wiped out the entire marketing budget for the year. Although French Paper was originally not sure about the ROI on such a risky project, they decided to go ahead and trust the designer. The results were astounding. Paper sample books across the industry are now filled with examples of work on their papers and are no longer the cheap utilitarian tools they once were. This fundamentally changed how paper was sold in America. In addition, Speckletone’s popularity skyrocketed. To this day it remains their top selling paper and continues to spawn imitators across the industry.

Speckletone Duffy Group Sample Book
paper sample books

Innovation & Adaptability Lead to True Staying Power

French Paper serves as an excellent example of why being adaptable and looking to innovative strategies can pay off in the long run. Now more than ever, paper can seem to struggle to stay relevant in a digital world. Having a passion for your product, knowing your niche, and adapting to changing business climates can create true staying power and relevance in any business. French Paper as able to recognize market shifts and took a risk, leading them to the level of prestige they never imagined. They have passionate fans the world over and are the leader in premium custom paper for graphic arts, printing, packaging, writing, text, cover, specialty, and gift applications. French Paper took an older product and trusted their gut, moving them to the top of their industry.