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Creativity August 10, 2016

Coloring Books for Grown Ups 101: How to Color!

When I first published Coloring Animal Mandalas, I just assumed that this would be a zero-instructions-needed kind of book. It’s coloring! Who hasn’t colored before?! To my utter surprise, how to color in coloring books has been THE most asked question I have gotten as a coloring book artist. I realized that most adults haven’t colored in 20+ years (or sometimes 60-70+ years!). Also, when you’re coloring as an adult, crayons just don’t cut it anymore. We want a great experience, and want to use great, grown up materials. So since I’ve been asked about this a zillion times, here’s my overview of how to color coloring books.

How Do You Choose Which Colors to Use?

I’ve been asked this question a lot. The question I hear when I read between the lines is that people don’t feel particularly artistic and are fearful that they don’t have what it takes to color something beautiful. To which I say: IT’S COLORING. 2 year olds can handle this. There is no wrong way to do it. And almost any color combination will look good. But in the interest of actually answering this question, there’s several ways to tackle color choices:

  1. Go with a rainbow spectrum. Who doesn’t love rainbows?
  2. Go in blindfolded. Meaning: just pick up a color and go. Let the spirit of spontaneity take over.
  3. Go hip. Pantone releases it’s trend forecast twice a year. Admittedly, they are pretty good at it.
  4. Go overboard. Find an image with colors you love (I have a Pinterest board full of them here) and upload it to this free online color palette generator. I take no responsibility for the hours you will lose once you start playing with this tool.

How Do You Maximize Relaxation While Coloring?

One of the main reason adult coloring books are getting so popular lately is because they are a major stress-buster and tension reliever. You know how artists create art to stay sane and get into The Zone? That’s what coloring does for non-artists. Personally, I don’t think that there is any wrong way to color for relaxation. I’ve heard of people coloring on planes, in front of the TV, in coffee shops, and even in therapy sessions. It’s all good. For me personally, I like to color in my studio, which is an enclosed porch and has tons of natural light. I try to do it when I know I won’t be interrupted for at least 30 minutes. I also like to color with my favorite music playing in the background. My go-to coloring music? The soundtrack to The Great Gatsby (2013 version).

What Materials Do You Use to Color With?

Below I discuss my favorite pencils, markers, and a few other non-traditional art supplies that are killer for coloring. This section contains affiliate links to products I have purchased with my own money and tested with my own hands. 🙂

Best Colored Pencils for Adult Coloring Books

Adult coloring books are intricate and have tiny details. Even if you have an attachment to the waxy smell of Crayolas, they are too fat to use for filling in tiny spaces. My number #1 go-to material for coloring is colored pencils. But I have a soft spot in my heart for art markers. There is a WIDE range of art supplies you can use, here are my favorites at every price point:

Sargent Art 50-Count Assorted Colored Pencils

I had a book signing at a local bookstore and ordered these for people to use so that they could play with some print outs and test the merchandise. I really didn’t want to bring my expensive colored pencils for strangers to use and abuse. I have to admit, for a cheap set of pencils these are astonishingly awesome. This is a GREAT beginner set for adults or teens. The colors aren’t quite as vivid or blendable as the higher priced pencils, but they are solid decent quality at a tiny fraction of the price. I’ve bought them for under $10, but the price fluctuates up to $14 or so.

Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Colored Pencils, 132 Colored Pencils

The best of the best when it comes to colored pencils, I’m always raving about my Prismacolors on Facebook or Instagram when I’m posting pictures of my works in progress. Smooth, blendable, layer-able… they just rock. They are also kind of expensive (currently $80). I actually have the 150 color set, but the price of that set is almost $50 dollars more than the 132 color set. That’s not very cost effective for an additional 18 colors. Wish I had noticed it before I made the purchase! My only complaint about Prismas: they break. A LOT. And since they are wax-based they wear down incredibly quickly, so that after you sharpen your tip, it will be gone within just a minute or two. But despite these drawbacks, they give me the absolute BEST results out of all my coloring tools. In fact, every single one of my coloring books covers (except for the first one) has been colored with Prismacolors.

Faber Castell Polychromos

Polychromos are a close second to the Prismacolors. So close, in fact, that sometimes I prefer them over the Prismas despite the fact that I just said I usually choose Prismacolors first. Polychromos are oil based instead of wax based, and they are extremely high quality artist grade pencils (and priced as such!!!). They don’t have any of the problems I just mentioned in the previous paragraph – they keep a fine point for a long time after sharpening, they hardly EVER break, lay down smoother color and they are just as blendable. Sometimes, though, the colors are slightly less saturated than the Prismacolors. This can be a good thing a lot of the time, but other times I really want and need bright, saturated colors. Here’s a close up side by side comparison of the two. The difference is small, to be sure, and some people might feel like I’m splitting hairs. But I’m an artist, and I’m allowed to be picky about my colors. 🙂 Frankly, when I don’t need bright colors, I probably reach for my Polychromos first because they are smoother and last longer. So, with all that information, you’ll have to make your own choice based on what’s most important to you!

Prismacolors Vs. Polychromos Colored Pencils

Close up comparison of Prismacolors Vs. Polychromos Colored Pencils

Derwent Inktense Pencils in Metal Tin, 72 Count

I am also frequently raving about my Inktense colored pencils, which are actually like watercolor pencils. They aren’t ideal for straight coloring, but are definitely ideal if you want to add a little water to your page. Inktense pencils are bright, bold colors that once wet turn to liquid ink that is permanent when dry.  If you use just a tiny bit of water, they can be used in coloring books with normal paper, and they will make your colors super-smooth and jump off the page. Side note: they also work on fabric. On. Fabric.

Best Markers for Adult Coloring Books

Because of my carpal tunnel wrist problems, I tend to color more with markers than I do with pencils. I wish they were as blendable as pencils, but they are just SO much easier on my hands to use. So if you are older, have arthritis, or carpal tunnel like me, start with markers.

Copic Ciao Art Markers, Set of 36

I hesitate to recommend Copic art markers to anyone but the most serious of coloring fanatics because they are redonkulously expensive. Like, $3 bucks PER marker expensive. I actually buy them at a local art supply store a few at a time and pay more than that each. But seriously? They are like coloring with liquid velvet. Smooth. Blendable. And you can color large areas in one solid color with no worries about overlap. The alcohol based ink takes slightly longer to dry than regular markers, which means you can color somewhat sloppily and still get even, smooth color. Prismacolor makes art markers that are slightly (only slightly) more affordable, and I’ve heard they are comparable to Copic markers, but I haven’t tried them so I can’t say for sure.

On the down side, they will bleed through your paper. Even card stock, so they aren’t great for double sided books. And always use a scrap piece of paper between pages in a book in case it bleeds through to the next sheet.

By the way, if you’re looking for a recommendation for cheaper markers that are good for coloring, there are a few that I can recommend, but in no way will they live up to the Copics. See below.

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Markers


My favorite thing about Staedtler markers is that they are the LEAST likely to bleed through the paper (almost any paper) to the other side compared any other marker I’ve used. They also have very tiny tips, which make them absolutely perfect for the most intricate of details in your coloring books. But because the tips are so tiny, they are decidedly not good for coloring any large areas. I also don’t like that the largest set of colors available is only 36, and they really aren’t blendable.

But besides these drawbacks, I use them almost every. single. time. I color. They are just extremely versatile, reliable, and their tiny tips fit better into tiny spaces than the Copic markers will. They are also extremely affordable, and very well made/high quality. You can’t go wrong with them.

Sharpies Ultra Fine Points

I wasn’t a fan of Sharpies at first because they shared the biggest problem with the Copics (lots of bleed through) with little to no blendability. But I had a set laying around from a different project and I tried them in my Coloring Flower Mandala Postcards book and I kind of fell in love with them. The fact that they bleed a lot actually helps to keep the wet edge where you are coloring, making it so that when you fill in an area there isn’t a darker strip where the strokes overlap. And the paper stock in my postcards book is nice and thick, and I was surprised as can be that the Sharpies didn’t bleed through to the other side. So I’m using them a lot more lately – the trick to getting good results with Sharpies is to color just inside the lines, and let the ink bleed out to the edges of the area you are coloring. That way the ink won’t bleed into adjoining areas and you’ll get nice, clean results.

Other Coloring Art Supplies

Sakura Gelly Roll Gel Pens

I was happy to leave this post up with my favorite materials above – but then I tried Sakura gel pens and I HAD to come update this post to rave about them for coloring. They came highly recommended to me by other colorists, so I ordered a set. I heard lots of complaints about other gel pen brands = that many of them skip or dry up, but I didn’t have either problem with these.  What I like best about them is that they are easy on the hands to use. I love my Prismacolors, but you have to press pretty hard on the paper to use them and after a few hours that can really mess with my carpal tunnel syndrome. These are like having opaque gouache paint in a pen – heaven! My only complaint is that they aren’t really blendable. For blending colors, stick with the Copics or the Prismacolor pencils.


You might have heard that some people like to ‘color’ with eyeshadow – considering my eye shadows are about $10 bucks a pop, it’s a CRAZY expensive way to color!!! Coloring with PanPastels is exactly the same – but cheaper than eye shadow and come in real colors you’d actually use. Not to diss neutral colors or anything, but a girl needs a big spectrum to choose from, ya know?! PanPastels are essentially chalk in the shape of a disk and are applied with a sponge, in the same way that you would apply eyeshadow to your skin. They really aren’t good for tiny areas. Where PanPastels really shine are in covering large areas, and unbelievable blendability. I use them, and have seen them used extensively on backgrounds, skies, and sometimes filling in the white space around a colored image.

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  • Kelvin Kao
    Kelvin Kao
    December 18, 2014

    You know what? What to paint with is totally a legit question.

    When I grew up in Taiwan, every kid have sets of cheap, color markers that are the go-to utensils for coloring. These are wet, so the coloring books use thicker paper. When Toys’R’Us expanded to Taiwan, that was when we started to see American coloring books. These were often cheap recycled paper. Coloring using those markers will certainly have colors bleed to the other side of the paper, and sometimes even the next page. We didn’t understand why they would use paper like that. We had no idea that American kids color with crayons. In Taiwan, crayons are usually used for drawing on blank paper, not coloring. So, you see? That was totally a legit question to ask!

  • Wendy Piersall
    Wendy Piersall
    December 18, 2014

    Kelvin, that’s actually totally fascinating! I never even thought of cultural differences like that. Now I want to find some Taiwanese coloring books with heavy, nice paper!!!

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  • Amy
    March 13, 2015

    I think I’m going to lose a lot of time with the palette generator. I’m talking “kids-wearing-dirty-clothes-to-school-because-I haven’t-done-laundry-yet” amounts of time.

  • cathy
    April 13, 2015

    You managed to use “rodonkulously” in a sentence. I knew this was a word! See people? It’s a WORD. I’m you’re new biggest fan.
    I think I need to go buy a book and some materials. Last week I used colored sharpies to color the raised design on a milk glass vase. It WAS relaxing!

  • Wendy
    April 13, 2015

    Ha! You are too funny! LOVE this comment, thank you so much! <3

  • Carey Bennett
    Carey Bennett
    April 15, 2015

    Where can coloring books be purchased?

  • Kandi
    April 20, 2015

    Hi Wendy. Are the pages of your books printed back to back? I’d like to color with my Copics but as you know, they bleed thru.
    Thanks for your help. 🙂

  • Wendy
    April 20, 2015

    Hi Kandi! NO! Both of my books are printed single sided. I would still put a piece of paper in between the pages if coloring with Copics, they do bleed through a lot. But it won’t ruin any of the pages – thanks for asking! 🙂

  • sherry
    April 22, 2015

    SO glad I found this post! Well, *I* am glad, but my wallet is cursing you right now… just spent some $200 on coloring books, prismacolor pencils, etc., on amazon. Your books are gorgeous! I DID resist purchasing the copic markers you suggested, but how much you wanna bet I end up with those in a month or so.

    I have always loved to color so this recent kerfuffle about adults coloring is not new to me; what IS new to me, however, are all the adult books out there. I really had no idea! Just 3 weeks ago, I had a hankering and bought a bunch of kid coloring books (frozen, barbie, my little pony, and MINIONS, I mean… who can resist the minions?) and I got a glorious set of 154 crayons. I still do love to color with crayons. But I was also gobsmacked to discover (thanks to the aforementioned Internet kerfuffle) that books such as your exist. I am a happy camper! thank you!

  • Pam
    April 30, 2015

    I LOVE this site. I just discovered adult coloring; didn’t know there was such a thing. I loved coloring when I was a kid. I’m not very artistic though, so your tips are great. I signed up for your newsletter and got the coloring book, and can’t wait to get started. I will take your advise and get colored pencils,,,instead of crayons and markers. Hope I can stay in the lines….LOL

  • Daghain
    May 1, 2015

    OMG I am So getting those Prismacolor pencils! I have a 24 set of Derwent Academy colored pencils I got for the several adult coloring books I recently purchased (first time addict), and, believe it or not, I’m complaining to myself that I DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH COLORS.

    For the really complicated patterns (and I have a few books like this) you NEED choices. Like, many, many choices. Thanks for the tip!

  • Sanja
    May 5, 2015

    I just got my Kindle Edition of Coloring Flower Mandalas: 30 Hand-drawn Designs for Mindful Relaxation and I have a question….
    How do I print mandalas?
    Designs are gorgeous and I can’t wait to put my hands at work but for the moment I can just look them on the screen 🙁
    Please, help me…

    Thanks in advance!

  • Wendy
    May 5, 2015

    Hi Sanja – Kindles don’t allow printing, which is weird, I know. Since people request my book on Kindle, my publisher offers it, but it’s not ideal. There are some print hacks in this thread that should work: Alternatively, the Calibre e-reader allows printing. Lastly if you don’t want the hassle (and I wouldn’t blame you one bit) Amazon will refund the purchase if you contact their customer service. Hope that helps!

  • Sanja
    May 5, 2015

    Thanks for responding so fast. First thing I tried is to open file with Calibre e-reader but because of the DRM I can’t even view it. The only way is to open it with Kindle for PC app and get a snapshot of my screen. It’s a bit blurry when printed but better that way than no way 🙂
    So…problem solved… In a way.

    Thanks again for help!
    Best regards from Serbia!

  • Sanja
    May 5, 2015

    Sorry Wendy,
    I don’t know where I got the idea that your name is Nancy…

  • dc
    May 5, 2015

    thanks for this! I was looking into adult coloring books, but I hate colored pencils with a passion (maybe I just never had good ones). So I’m thinking this is not the hobby for me. Like I said thanks again your information was most helpful!

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  • Dorothy
    May 19, 2015

    This was REALLY helpful, thanks so much! I had some coloring books a few years ago, but gave the books and all of my pencils away when we moved. I want to try again, but was a little lost on what to buy. Thanks again!

  • Judi
    May 24, 2015


    I’m recovering from very recent rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder. I purchased a coloring book prior to my surgery, just came across your website. Loving it, lioving coloring. What type of paper do u recommend using when printing out some of your gorgeous mandalas? Lucky for me that I color with my left hand!

  • Cindy
    May 25, 2015

    Hi! I’m brand new to all of this. I’ll soon have back surgery and a friend suggested coloring as a great recovery activity. Someone mentioned to me about printing out pages as well. I’ve bought gels pens, pencils, etc. But I realized for gel pens I probably don’t want to use regular printer paper. Is there a more suitable printer paper for gel pens? If so, where could I buy it? I can’t seem to find any of this info anywhere.
    Also… I love Mandela’s! I’ll check out your coloring books!

  • Cindy
    May 25, 2015

    I’ve just bought your flower Mandela coloring book! I love the patterns (people posted photos of what they colored). Can’t wait to get it! I saw you’ll soon be releasing a dream Mandela book? Do you have a release date set yet for that one?

  • Kim
    May 28, 2015

    How do I know what ratio of color to color with. Do I color the page more of a dark color or light? How do I avoid my page from looking too busy?

  • Tammara
    June 2, 2015

    hi there… first what a great website… very informative… I am currently creating a coloring book for children/adults and I was wondering if you would have any tips on what or who I can contact to possibly get it published? your work is beautiful by the way! 🙂

  • assmaa
    June 8, 2015

    i really loved this you are amazing!

  • Rebekah
    June 10, 2015

    This is a great post. The pencil info is great. I am a bit confused as to how to use the palette generator? Also the Pantone trend predictor? $350!? $90?! Really? Not sure why anyone would do that? Am I missing something?

  • Toni
    June 14, 2015

    Hi Wendy, looking to get your beautiful mandala coloring books to Australia. Can you please contact me? Thank you! Toni

  • Michelle
    June 29, 2015

    Wendy, great tips! I also like Gelly Rolls and the variety. I have the 74 set which includes extra metallics. Best gel pens I could find so far!

  • Bonnie payne
    Bonnie payne
    July 12, 2015

    I am really new at this. So do you recommend beginners book and cheap pencils? Don’t want to spend too much in case its not my thing.

  • Brandi
    July 20, 2015

    Thank you for this! I found it extremely helpful. I work at Hobby Lobby in the art department and these adult coloring books have become very popular here lately. I have customers asking me everyday which pencils or markers are best. Now, I have the answers. Thanks so much!

  • Rachel Sorokin
    Rachel Sorokin
    July 20, 2015

    I really recommend the Staedtler triplus fineliners for coloring as well. They’re pretty affordable, definitely not cheap but they last forever. I’m an avid colorist and I’ve been using the same set for about 5 years and none have dried out.

  • Grace Palma
    Grace Palma
    July 20, 2015


    I am a newbie in adult coloring and I am thinking if I will continue and invest for this new hobby. I saw the materials needed but I was shocked that there is a lot of materials being used. I was just asking if is it okay to only use color pencils ? or do I need to buy the other materials so that I could make the coloring more beautiful 😀 Thanks

  • Chris
    July 22, 2015

    Do you sell wholesale?

  • Sara
    August 2, 2015

    Hi Wendy!
    I’m so glad I came across your site. I found you from this article that came across my facebook.
    It mentions coloring mandalas, when I clicked on it, there you were! Thought you might want to know in case you didn’t.
    I watched your youtube, checked out all your books, signed up for newsletters, and bought Dream Mandalas, Flower Mandalas, and reserved Ocean Mandalas on Amazon tonight. Along with some colored pencils.
    I’m so excited and cant wait to color your books. I love the designs, your imagination is wonderful!
    Cant wait for the December book to release either. So that gives me 4 months to complete the two new books before it releases. Glad I have Amazon Prime and they will be here Tuesday cause I don’t want to wait! 🙂

  • Felicia Jacobson
    Felicia Jacobson
    August 11, 2015

    hi Wendy, thank you so much for this opportunity for me to be able to express my creativity. I used to be able to do all kinds of painting and drawing ceramics watercolor you name it I could do it. then I ended up with fibromyalgia and arthritis in my hands really bad and tremors now in my hands and can’t do the things I used to do. but I can color. and it is made me feel so much better to be able to express myself in a way that I used to be able to do and can’t do anymore. thank you and I love the prismacolor pencils they’re wonderful

  • joleen
    August 21, 2015

    I was just wondering I know Copic Markers are alcohol based and I was wondering if they bleed on the paper in your book.

    Thank you and God Bless

  • Gerry
    August 27, 2015

    what kind of paper should I buy for an ink jet printer to print out my own coloring pages?

  • Malinda
    August 29, 2015

    Hello Wendy,
    After seeing the CBS This Morning segment on coloring book clubs yesterday I was excited to find such a group in Las Vegas. To my disappointment there wasn’t one. That didn’t last long. I launched the first group of it’s kind to the community of Las Vegas. I am new to coloring as an adult like several of my new members. This will be shared with them.

  • Lois Mirabella
    Lois Mirabella
    September 3, 2015

    What markers are you using at the top of this artical – How to color?

    They look nice and bright but must have fine points in order to color those tiny dots.

    Please let me know. Thank you.


  • Phyl
    September 10, 2015

    Hello Wendy. Thank you so much for your comments regarding various coloring pencils. Almost a year ago my mother entered a “memory care” unit in a retirement community. A good friend recently gave me a beautiful Creative Cats coloring book and a large box of CraZart colored pencils. My friend told me that coloring helped her cope with stress and she thought it might help me. I think she is right because when coloring I find I’m able to lose myself in it and turn off the endless and unproductive loop of worry that plays in my mind regarding my mother. I want to upgrade to some better quality pencils and your information is exactly what I needed. What the hell, I’m 64 years old. I never got the Corvette I always dreamed about in my youth so I figure some high end pencils is a small and worthy extravagance. Thank you.

  • Jamie
    September 12, 2015

    I was wondering if you could suggest the best paper to print coloring pages on?

    thanks !!

  • MD
    September 14, 2015

    Wendy – Love your site and coloring illustrations. Odd question, though: sometimes I want to make photocopies of your book’s pages so I can try a couple of different color themes and/or pens/pencils mix. I am finding regular photocopy paper on my inkjet at High quality is….well, crappy. Any suggestions?

  • Attacus
    September 15, 2015

    I’ve been using cheap pencils from the local bookstore, they get the job done but after awhile I’ve noticed pressing the pencils on the paper hurts my fingers. How long do you usually get from the Gel pens? I don’t want to waste money on an occasional thing that’s only for fun. thanks 🙂

  • Gretchen
    September 17, 2015

    where do you begin to color, the top, bottom, the sides, all around. Do you color same objects the same design? I bought a adult coloring book tonight at B&N and can’t wait to get started.

  • LoLo
    October 2, 2015

    I am a newbie at this & I don’t want to rip the pages out of the books as I like to keep them intact with paper in between the pages. I was wondering if you had any tips for left handed people like myself? I try to start on the right side of the paper & work my way left but that’s not always fun.

  • Emily
    October 3, 2015

    Hi Wendy. So The colder months are upon us and I thought about getting into coloring. I saw someone while on a plane ride, coloring Mandalas. I also saw my co-worker’s 11 year old with a similar book. I started looking on line and came across your website. I found it to have a lot of interesting information for some one who wants to go back to coloring but with an adult twist like the Mandala designs I also liked that you always replied to all of the questions they asked you. Thanks for the tips and information now I am ready to go out and by my first set of pencils and books. Will be visiting your website for more ideas and tips. Thanks Wendy!

  • Nancy
    October 6, 2015

    I just found this new (or should I say) old phenomena on coloring. I love it – I saw someones comments about kids going to school dirty / no chores being done … I can relate … I have house work to do … but I pass on that and grab the book and colors. Right now II’m using the Crayola Colored Pencils … will have to branch out … have a few fine point markers and some gel pens … but I do like the pencils … it is very relaxing. Although my hand does get tired … but that may be because I’m sitting for 3 to 4 hours :).

  • Wendy
    October 8, 2015

    That is SUCH a good question, and I don’t have a good answer. Why don’t you try asking that in one of the awesome Facebook groups dedicated to coloring? This one is my favorite: called Colouring Inside the Lines.

  • Wendy
    October 8, 2015

    It depends on the maker, some last longer than others. I’ve had my Sakura Gelly Roll pens for a few months but don’t use them all the time, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. On the other hand, I bought a cheaper set and used one of them for journaling instead of coloring, and that thing only lasted for 15 pages of writing.

  • marilyn
    October 17, 2015

    Hi Wendy, I like the geometric pattern on this blog post. Which book is it in (cause it’s not in the free geomtric mandala coloring book) and which copic markers did you display? Thanks for all the bonus geometric patterns! i thought i was only getting one and to my surprise i got so many.Thanks for the wealth of patterns. 🙂 –Marilyn

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