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Exporting handmade paper notebooks to Europe

Takes about 19 minutes to read

The European market for handmade paper notebooks is growing, with developing countries as its main supplier. As a countertrend to increasingly fast, digitalised and impersonal communication, consumers are turning to paper to record their thoughts. Combined with a growing interest in fair-trade and sustainable products, this is driving the popularity of handmade paper notebooks. Produce your notebooks sustainably, from natural materials and/or with great craftsmanship. Clearly communicate the story behind your product.

1 . Product description

For handmade paper notebooks, both the paper and notebook are produced by hand.

This study uses the following codes to indicate trade in handmade paper notebooks:

Table 1: Product codes

Harmonised System (HS)





Notebooks, letter pads and memorandum pads without calendars, of paper or paperboard



Unlike the purely functional notebooks used in offices and schools, the notebooks discussed here are mainly used for leisure. Consumers record their thoughts, create scrapbooks and doodle or draw in them, usually as a hobby or pastime. They are great gifts, for both men and women, or children.

Even for these notebooks, functionality is a basic quality requirement. It depends on:

  • the flexibility and smoothness of the paper
  • how the product is bound
  • the paper’s thickness.

The way that the paper absorbs ink from pens also affects functionality. On some types of paper, the ink from fountain pens can stain. This means, for instance, that recycled cotton paper is unsuitable for fountain pens.

Because consumers prefer a white or off-white colour, handmade paper is often bleached. Handmade paper notebooks have at least 30 unlined pages. Common sizes are from A4 to A7, based on ISO 216:2007 trimmed sizes of writing paper and certain classes of printed matter.


Handmade paper notebooks can be made from various raw materials. For the paper itself, raw materials include

  • textiles, such as cotton
  • tree bark, such as banana trees, mulberry, lokta and argeli.

Notebook covers are commonly made of:

  • textiles, such as cotton
  • leather
  • paper
  • paperboard.


Notebooks come in endless variety, depending on:

  • the use of the notebook
  • whether it is intended as a gift
  • the preferred style.

You can add character through:

  • colour and decoration
  • material
  • accessorising
  • small extras such as pens or pencils
  • sustainable aspects.

Variations in quality

Handmade items may differ slightly from one another. However, buyers demand a certain minimum quality level. They do not accept substantial variation. You should provide your importers with a bandwidth, to make them aware some variation is possible.


  • Information on the outer packaging of notebooks should correspond to the packing list sent to the importer.
  • External packaging labels for notebooks should include
    • producer
    • consignee
    • material used
    • quantity
    • size
    • volume
    • caution signs.
  • EAN or barcodes on the product label are common in Europe.
  • Your buyer will specify what information they need on the product labels or on the item itself. For instance logos or 'Made in …' information. This is part of the order specifications.
  • Use English for labelling, unless your buyer indicates otherwise.


Importer specification

You should pack handmade paper notebooks according to the importer’s instructions. They have their own specific requirements for:

  • the use of packaging materials
  • filling boxes
  • palletisation
  • stowing containers.

Always ask for the importer’s order specifications. These are part of the purchase order.

Damage prevention

Properly packaging notebooks minimises the risk of damage caused by transport. How an item is packaged for export depends on how easily it can be damaged. Packaging should ensure that the items inside a cardboard box cannot damage each other. It should also prevent damage to the boxes when they are stacked inside the container.

Packaging therefore usually consists of inner and outer cardboard boxes. The inner boxes are filled with materials to protect the products. For instance bubble wrap or paper, depending on the buyer.

Dimensions and weight

Packaging must be of easy-to-handle dimensions and weight. Standards are often related to labour regulations at the point of destination. The buyer must specify them.

Boxes are usually palletised for air or sea transport. Exporters need to make maximum use of pallet space.

Cost reduction

Optimal packing reduces transportation costs. In addition, packing has to provide maximum protection. However, you also have to avoid using excess materials or shipping ‘air’. Waste removal is a cost to buyers. You can reduce the amount and diversity of packing materials by:

  • partitioning inside the cartons, using folded cardboard
  • matching inner boxes and outer cartons by using standard sizes
  • considering packing and logistical requirements when designing your products
  • asking the buyer for alternatives.


Importers are increasingly banning wooden crating and packaging. This is due to their unsustainability and high cost of the material and disposal. Economical and sustainable packaging materials are more popular. Using biodegradable packing materials can be a market opportunity. For some buyers, it can even be a demand.

Mould prevention

You need to properly dry the paper after production, to prevent mould. Condensation inside the container during transport can cause mould. This is caused by humid air that becomes colder at night and warmer during the day. You need proper air ventilation inside the container to prevent this. Before shipment, you must inspect containers for air holes. You can also include products to reduce humidity with the cargo. Ensure that the importer’s instructions are followed on this.

Consumer packaging

Shops usually present notebooks without any packaging. This allows consumers to inspect them and feel the material. A paper sleeve cover or wrapper around the notebook often communicates its special features.

2 . Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of handmade paper notebooks?

European imports of handmade paper notebooks increased steadily between 2011 and 2015. Developing countries have become Europe’s main handmade paper notebooks suppliers. Europe’s main importers of handmade paper notebooks are:

  • the United Kingdom
  • Germany
  • the Netherlands.

Especially the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are interesting focus countries, with a strong market for Developing Countries.

Trade statistics

(!) This data covers paper notebooks, paperboard notebooks, letter pads and memorandum pads, both machine and handmade.

Where is consumer demand?

  • Europe’s demand for handmade paper notebooks is higher than its production. This drives the need for imports, making Europe an interesting market.
  • Between 2010 and 2014, European consumption of handmade paper notebooks decreased. With a negative average annual growth rate of −2.3% it reached €376 million in 2014.
  • European consumption of handmade paper notebooks is highest in the United Kingdom at €111 million. Followed by Germany at €71 million.

What is the role of European production in supplying European demand?

  • European production of handmade paper notebooks decreased between 2010 and 2014. With an negative average annual growth rate of −2.7%, it reached €325 million in 2014.
  • Germany and Italy are responsible for 28% and 13% of European handmade paper notebook production respectively.

Which countries are most interesting in terms of imports from developing countries?

(!!) The following data only gives an indication of trade in handmade paper notebooks. No specific trade data are available. The figures below cover paper notebooks, paperboard notebooks, letter pads and memorandum pads. This product group includes all notebooks, both machine and handmade.

Source: Trademap

* This figure covers paper notebooks, paperboard notebooks, letter pads and memorandum pads, both machine and handmade.

Source: Trademap

* This figure covers paper notebooks, paperboard notebooks, letter pads and memorandum pads, both machine and handmade.

Source: Trademap

* This figure covers paper notebooks, paperboard notebooks, letter pads and memorandum pads, both machine and handmade.

  • European imports including handmade paper notebooks increased from €317 million in 2011 to €380 million in 2015. This resulted in an average annual growth rate of 4.7%.
  • In the coming years, European imports are expected to keep growing moderately.
  • Since 2015, developing countries are Europe’s main source of handmade paper notebooks. They supply 47% of European imports, amounting to €180 million. This share is predicted to continue increasing in the coming years.
  • Be aware that the market for handmade paper notebooks may differ from the market for general notebooks. Focus on western European countries, where demand for exclusive handmade products is higher.
  • The United Kingdom is Europe’s leading importer of handmade paper notebooks by far, with €109 million in imports in 2015. Germany (€72 million) and the Netherlands (€35 million) follow.
  • These main importing countries are also leading when it comes to imports from developing countries. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands have particularly strong markets for developing country imports, accounting for 70–80% of their total handmade paper notebook imports!
  • In the top 3 countries, imports from developing countries grew strongly between 2011 and 2015. These imports were valued at between €7.2 million and €25 million.
  • China dominates European handmade paper notebook imports, with 42% in 2015. Other leading suppliers among developing countries are India, Indonesia, Nepal and Thailand.


  • Focus on the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. The strong imports from developing countries of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands make these especially interesting markets.
  • Compare your products and company to the strong competition from China, as well as India, Indonesia, Nepal and Thailand. You can use ITC Trademap to find exporters per country. You can compare by:
    market segment
    target countries

What role does export play in supplying European demand?


Source: Trademap

* This figure covers paper notebooks, paperboard notebooks, letter pads and memorandum pads, both machine and handmade.

  • European exports of handmade paper notebooks consist mainly of trade within Europe.
  • Germany (€90 million) is Europe’s leading handmade paper notebook exporter, followed by Italy (€46 million).

Macro-economic indicators

Real private consumption expenditure

Source: Eurostat

  • Private consumption expenditure is an important indicator for the European home decoration market. The sector is closely linked to economic conditions. When money is tight, consumers postpone buying non-essential items until they have enough disposable income.
  • Between 2015 and 2017, European private consumption expenditure is expected to increase. This means that consumption of luxury and decorative products is likely to rise. Especially in emerging markets, consumers will have more money available to spend on these products. Consumers in mature markets already spend a fair amount of money on luxury items, so growth in their consumption will be moderate.

3 . What trends offer opportunities on the European market for handmade paper notebooks?

European consumers want to embrace the here and now. They extract maximum value from every moment and experience, record it and move on. Their average attention span has fallen to eight seconds. Internet offers the perfect platform to follow, connect, record and review, share and to create an own identity. The notebook and everything it represents provides a small but firm countertrend to all of this. It celebrates off-line existence, introspection, ‘slow’ communication and a moment of ‘me-time’.

‘Me Time’

In their notebooks, consumers put their thoughts to paper, draw and illustrate or create scrapbooks. These activities create moments of reflection and introspection, real quality time, or ‘me time’. Stressed-out European consumers also occasionally want to be off-line, alone or with their nearest and dearest. The notebook can be a meaningful tool in this process.

Triggering the Senses

The look and feel of the materials and techniques used enhances these ‘me time’ moments. This could concern:

  • the texture of the natural fibres
  • accessories, such as beads
  • embossed surfaces
  • fabrics
  • colour effects, such as gradient or marbled effects.

Closer to nature

European consumers want to feel closer to nature, also at home. Handmade paper notebooks can reflect nature by using:

  • fibrous paper
  • notebook covers made of wood or fabric
  • imagery from nature.


  • Consider different colours and textures when developing new ranges of notebooks.
  • Use natural materials for the cover of your notebooks. Do not use a coating on the paper or cover as then the handmade paper notebook will no longer be considered natural.
  • Use themes from nature to decorate your notebook covers. You can also add accessories from nature.


Notebooks invite personal reflection. This makes the choice of notebook extremely individual. Because of this, notebook users care about detail. Some websites even let consumers decorate their own notebooks.


  • Offer choice in your range of handmade paper notebooks. Consider the following aspects.
    • type of use: as a notebook, notepad, journal or scrapbook, possibly lockable
    • binding: stitched, case-bound, spiral or wiro-bound
    • page type: ruled, plain or grid
    • size: A4–A7
    • eco-friendly aspects: for example, in production or material
    • design: variation within a specific theme, involving colour ranges or shapes
  • Consider supplying notebooks that consumers can easily personalise, for example, plain notebooks that consumers can decorate, or with accessories that consumers can attach.


Stationery, including notebooks, used to be a separate product category within school and office supplies. Because of its gift potential, stationery is now often included in home decoration. Retailers of general home decoration and lifestyle segments now also offer some ranges of notebooks.


  • Do not limit your search for new distribution partners to the paperware industry. Also include importers of home decoration.
  • As home decoration products, your notebooks need to be attractive as gifts. Consider:
    • accessorising your notebooks
    • using your knowledge of home decoration or home textiles products and trends in your design
    • adding stories about your notebooks’ materials, techniques or cultural decorations
    • demonstrating real craftsmanship.
  • Extend your range of notebooks to include related paperware products, such as colouring or address books. You can add an extra gift, such as a pencil, or create notebooks for children.


Sustainability is a growing trend in home decoration products on the European market. It is perfectly suited to handmade paper notebooks. You can make your products more sustainable by:

  • using sustainable raw materials (such as recycled paper, waste from cotton production or animal dung)
  • adopting fair-trade practices
  • using sustainable production techniques (such as chlorine-free bleaching).

Handmade paper notebooks from small-scale producers with fair working conditions are a traditional fair-trade product. The design of these products often clearly refers to their place of origin.


  • Revise your process to develop green values. Think of the:
  • use of materials (recycling, reusing or reducing materials, as well as local or renewable materials)
  • production process (health and safety, energy consumption, waste management, fair wages)
  • distribution (e.g. reducing transport volume)
  • use and disposal of your product (for example biodegradable).

For more information, see our study about trends for home decoration & home textiles.

4 . With which requirements should handmade paper notebooks comply to be allowed on the European market?

See our study about buyer requirements for home decoration & home textiles for the requirements applying to handmade paper notebooks.

With which legal and non-legal requirements must your product comply?

General product safety

The European Union’s General Product Safety Directive applies to all consumer products, including handmade paper notebooks. It states that all products marketed in Europe must be safe to use.


  • Read more about the General Product Safety Directive in the EU Export Helpdesk.
  • Use your common sense to ensure normal use of your product does not cause any danger.
  • The RAPEX database lists products that the European Union will reject at its borders, or have withdrawn from the market. Check the database for notebooks and other paper products for an idea of what issues may arise.

European legislation

Europe has specific packaging and packaging waste legislation. It for instance restricts the use of certain heavy metals.

Europe also has requirements for wood packaging materials (WPM) used for transport, such as

  • packing cases
  • boxes
  • crates
  • drums
  • pallets
  • box pallets
  • dunnage.

Restricted chemicals: REACH

The REACH regulation lists restricted chemical residues in products that are marketed in Europe. For handmade paper notebooks, these residues can be the result of:

  • chemicals used in paper production or recycling
  • dyes used to decorate the paper
  • chemicals used in coatings.


  • The European Chemical Agency provides useful information and tips on REACH. See for instance:

REACH Annex XVII, a list of all restricted chemicals

Information on REACH for companies established outside Europe

Questions & Answers on REACH.

Timber Regulation

It is important to note that the European Union’s Timber Regulation also applies to paper notebooks, except when you use recycled, bamboo-based or printed paper. To export your notebooks to Europe you must prove any timber used was harvested legally. Products with a FLEGT or CITES licence comply with the Timber Regulation.


Which additional requirements do buyers often have?


Social and environmental sustainability make your products stand out on the European market. Think of sustainable raw materials and production processes. European buyers increasingly demand the following certification schemes:

  • Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI): European retailers developed this initiative to improve social conditions in sourcing countries. They expect their suppliers to comply with the BSCI Code of conduct. To prove compliance, the importer can request an audit of your production process. Once a company is audited, it is included in a database for all BSCI participants.
  • Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI): This initiative is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. It aims to improve the working lives of people across the globe that make or grow consumer goods.

You can use standards such as ISO 14001 and SA 8000 read up on sustainable options. However, only niche market buyers demand compliance with such standards.


  • Optimise your sustainability performance. Reading up on the issues included in the initiatives will give you an idea of what to focus on.
  • Buyers appreciate a good story. If you can show that you have considered your company’s performance, this may be a competitive advantage. This can be done, for instance, with a self-assessment like the BSCI Self-Assessment for Producers, or a code of conduct such as the BSCI Code of Conduct or the ETI base code.
  • For more information, see our special study on Sustainability in the Home Sector.

What are the requirements for niche markets?

Fair trade

The concept of fair trade supports fair pricing and improved social conditions for producers and their communities. Especially for labour-intensive products like handmade paper notebooks, fair-trade certification can give you a competitive advantage.

Common fair-trade certifications are from:


  • Ask buyers what they are looking for. Especially in the fair-trade sector, you can use the story behind your product for marketing purposes.
  • Check the ITC Standards map database for more information on voluntary standards and their requirements, including fair production.

FSC certification

There is a niche market for certified sustainable handmade paper notebooks. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification is the most common label for sustainable wooden products. This includes paper. The FSC label guarantees that a product’s source material comes from responsibly managed forests. These products are especially popular in western European markets.


5 . What competition will you be facing on the European handmade paper notebook market?

The competition for handmade paper notebooks does not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about competition in home decoration & home textiles for a general overview. Also refer to our top 10 tips for doing business with European buyers.

6 . Which channels can you use to put handmade paper notebooks on the European market?

The market channels and segments for handmade paper notebooks do not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about market channels and segments for home decoration & home textiles for a general overview.

Market channels

In Europe, both importers of paperware and of general home decoration items import handmade paper notebooks. The notebooks are usually sold through:

  • specialised retailers
  • larger retailers
  • department stores.

In line with the gift value of notebooks, lifestyle retailers now also include them in their overall home decoration product range.


E-commerce in home decoration is increasing. It can help you reach a broader range of customers. Retailers often combine online and offline channels. Consumers research and purchase products online. They shop around and compare prices on home decoration items. Small (gift) items such as handmade paper notebooks are especially suitable for this.

To supply e-commerce, you have to be able to work with:

  • individual packing
  • individual labelling
  • limited minimum orders.


Trade fairs

The following trade fairs are useful sources for finding trading partners in Europe.

Market segments

Handmade paper notebooks are a mid-market product. Within this market there are lower-mid, mid-mid and high-mid positions. This is based on:

  • the level of craftsmanship
  • how much of the product is handmade
  • the brand story.

Handmade paper notebooks positioned in the high-mid market segment are crafted at a high skills level, fully handmade and have a great brand story. Iona handcrafted books is a good example of handmade paper notebooks in the high-mid market segment.

7 . What are the end-market prices for handmade paper notebooks?

Table 2 gives an overview of the prices for this product.

Table 2: Indicative consumer prices of handmade paper notebooks






Over €25

Consumer prices depend on the value perception of your product in a particular segment. Your marketing mix influences this through:

  • product benefits
  • promotion (brand or not, communication of product benefits)
  • points of sale (reseller positioning)
  • price.


  • The value perception of your product in the chosen segment determines its price. Your product quality and price must match what is expected in your chosen target segment. To determine your price, study consumer prices in your target segment. Adjust your prices accordingly.
  • Understand your segment. Offer a correct marketing mix to meet consumer expectations. Adapt your business model to your position in the market.

The following figure provides an indication of a price breakdown for handmade paper notebooks.

Figure 4: Indicative price breakdown for handmade paper notebooks, mark-ups in %


Source: ProFound, 2014

Please review our market information disclaimer.