Paulin began his education in the arts at the age of 16 when he joined the Chicago-based Whitaker-Christiansen Studio as an apprentice in photography and fashion illustration. Shortly after in 1944, Paulin joined the army and spent two years as a member of the Signal Corps in Europe. He began photographing the wartime devastation of German cities. After being discharged from the army, Paulin returned to Chicago to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and the Institute of Design. In 1953, Paulin returned to New York and continued as a freelance fashion illustrator. While most of his time was occupied with work, he began walking the city's streets at night and found a fascination for street and documentary photography. In 1957, Paulin had his first solo show at the iconic Limelight Gallery. Frank Paulin's work has been exhibited at numerous institutions including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery.