Filled-in child's coloring book, Garfield Goose (1953)

A coloring book (British English: colouring-in book, colouring book, or colouring page) is a type of book containing line art to which people are intended to add color using crayons, colored pencils, marker pens, paint or other artistic media. Traditional coloring books and coloring pages are printed on paper or card. Some coloring books have perforated edges so their pages can be removed from the books and used as individual sheets. Others may include a story line and so are intended to be left intact. Today, many children's coloring books feature popular cartoon characters. They are often used as promotional materials for animated motion pictures. Coloring books may also incorporate other activities such as connect the dots, mazes and other puzzles. Some also incorporate the use of stickers.


The Little Folks Painting Book, 1879

Paint books and coloring books emerged in the United States as part of the "democratization of art" process, inspired by a series of lectures by British artist Joshua Reynolds, and the works of Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and his student Friedrich Fröbel. Many educators concluded that all students, regardless of background, stood to benefit from art education as a means of enhancing their conceptual understanding of the tangible, developing their cognitive abilities, and improving skills that would be useful in finding a profession, as well as for the children's spiritual edification.[1] The McLoughlin Brothers are credited as the inventors of the coloring book, when, in the 1880s, they produced The Little Folks' Painting Book, in collaboration with Kate Greenaway. They continued to publish coloring books until the 1920s, when the McLoughlin Brothers became part of the Milton Bradley Company.

Another pioneer in the genre was Richard F. Outcault. He authored Buster's Paint Book in 1907, featuring the character of Buster Brown, which he had invented in 1902. It was published by the Stokes Company. This launched a trend to use coloring books to advertise a wide variety of products, including coffee and pianos.[1] Until the 1930s, books were designed with the intent for them to be painted instead of colored. Even when crayons came into wide use in the 1930s, books were still designed so that they could be painted or colored.[2]

Educational uses

"California Poppy", a page from a wildflower coloring book
Display of coloring books in a shop
Example of a coloring book for children

Coloring books are widely used in schooling for young children for various reasons. For example, children are often more interested in coloring books rather than using other learning methods; pictures may also be more memorable than simply words.[citation needed] Coloring may also increase creativity in painting, according to some research.[3]

As a predominantly non-verbal medium, coloring books have also seen wide applications in education where a target group does not speak and understand the primary language of instruction or communication. Examples of this include the use of coloring books in Guatemala to teach children about hieroglyphs and Mayan artist patterns,[4] and the production of coloring books to educate the children of farm workers about "the pathway by which agricultural pesticides are transferred from work to home."[5] Coloring books are also said to help to motivate students' understanding of concepts that they would otherwise be uninterested in.

They have been used as teaching aids for developing creativity and knowledge of geometry, such as in Roger Burrows' Altair Designs.

Since the 1980s, several publishers have produced educational coloring books intended for studying graduate-level topics such as anatomy and physiology, where color-coding of many detailed diagrams are used as a learning aid. Examples include The Anatomy Coloring Book and subsequent book series, by Wynn Kapit and Lawrence Elson, published by HarperCollins (1990s) and Benjamin Cummings (2000s).[6] There are some examples of educators using coloring books to better explain complicated topics, like programming.[7]

Some publishers have specialized in coloring books with an explicit educational purpose, both for children and for adults. The books often have extensive text accompanying each image. These publishers include Dover Books, Really Big Coloring Books, Running Press, and Troubador Press.

Health and therapeutic uses

Coloring books have seen wide application in the health professions as educational tools. One nurse, trying to limit the trauma of surgery, described in an academic publication how the use of a coloring book "might help [the child] to understand what was going to happen to him."[8] They are also used in rehabilitation of accident victims to aid recovery of hand–eye coordination, and they are used with autistic children both for entertainment and for their soothing effect. Coloring books have been used to explain complicated medical conditions to children.[9] One of the appeals of adult coloring books is that they help users relax and de-stress.[10]

Political uses

In 1962, cartoonist Mort Drucker teamed with humorist Paul Laikin in creating the John F. Kennedy Coloring Book, a satirical introduction to Kennedy, his family and administration, told from the point of view of his daughter Caroline. The book sold 2,500,000 copies.[11][12]

In 1968 the Black Panther Coloring Book began circulating in the United States; the book features black men and children killing pigs dressed as police officers. It was argued to have been made not by the Black Panther Party but by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's COINTELPRO program to discredit the organization, a claim which other sources dispute.[13][14]

The term and concept of the "coloring book" was adopted by the feminist artist Tee Corinne as a tool of female empowerment. Corinne made pencil sketches of female genitalia, which she then inked and printed on card stock. She published a collection of them in 1975 as The Cunt Coloring Book.

No other name seemed really to fit, although the word "cunt" was not one with which I was particularly comfortable. The alliteration, though, was nice. I also liked the idea of combining a street term for genitalia with a coloring book, because both are ways that, as children, we get to know the world.[15]

In August 2011, American publisher Really Big Coloring Books released We Shall Never Forget: The Kids Book of Freedom detailing specific drawings in the accounting of SEAL Team 6 shooting Osama bin Laden in his home. The book was criticized by some for portraying Muslims in a negative manner. The company has also published The Tea Party Coloring Book for Kids, Ted Cruz To The Future (2013) and a book about President Barack Obama's first inauguration (2008).[16][17]

Fine art

Photographer Jno Cook produced line drawings based on Robert Frank's The Americans, and in 1983 published them in a limited edition as The Robert Frank Coloring Book. In 1994, the National Gallery of Art used the images as party favors for writers working on the catalog for a retrospective of Frank's work.[18]

Adult coloring books

Adults coloring at the Southeast Steuben County Library
Adults coloring at a library program

Coloring books are a form of adult therapy that saw a growth in popularity in the 2010s. They reportedly bring people a sense of their childhood,[19] and help with developing fine motor skills and vision, reducing anxiety and creating focus, and relieving stress and anxiety in a manner similar to meditation.[20] Concentrating on coloring may facilitate the replacement of negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones.[21][22] Coloring books can be used in daily activities.[23] The books are also a way to get away from technology, which some may regard as beneficial to people's health.[24] They can also be used by people who aren't as comfortable with other extremely expressive forms of art.[20]

While coloring books for adults were popular in the early 1960s, those were satirical works rather than the therapeutic works that define the adult coloring book form today.[25] The first commercially successful adult coloring books were published in 2012 and 2013,[20] and began increasing in popularity in 2015. In April of that year, Johanna Basford brought out two coloring books titled Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, which became the top sellers at Amazon.[26] By November it was reported by that the books were the most top wished for items with nine of the top ten consisting of such books.[27] Also that month Crayola began offering its own line of adult coloring books.[28] Publishers also began packaging some of their colouring books with pencils and CDs to support the enjoyment of this activity.[29] Sales in the US continued to grow in early 2016, but began to fall by the end of the year, with fewer newcomers trying this pastime.[30]

Adult coloring books are offered digitally, via ebooks, digital apps,[31] and coloring pages that can be colored online or downloaded. Users' digital work-products can be saved and shared.[10][32] Dominic Bulsuto theorized that the trend of digital purchasing helped the spread of the genre, noting that the relative anonymous nature of the act allowed customers to feel more secure perusing books they would be embarrassed to buy in real life.[26]

By 2016, Faber-Castell, a worldwide color pencil supplier, was reported to have trouble keeping up with demand for their products due to the craze,[33] while Blue Star Coloring sold over a million titles in one year.[34]


Author Susan Jacoby has criticized adult coloring books, along with the popularity among adults of young adult fiction, as "an artifact of a broader cultural shift. And that cultural shift is a bad thing".[35] She believes the Great Recession has contributed to this shift, as adults unable to find employment have moved home to live with their parents. New York City futurist and blogger Dominic Bulsuto describes adult coloring book fans as "stuck in The Shallows, mindfully coloring books to counter the existential angst of living in a digital society". He goes on to say that "...the endless Internet parade of silly cat photos, infantile comments and adolescent memes has dumbed us down". However, Bulsuto ultimately sees the trend as a good thing, noting that adults are increasingly buying books they want to buy, rather than books they are supposed to buy.[26]

Coloring book software

Coloring books can also be found digitally in the form of coloring book websites and applications. Coloring book software often has features such as color mixing, flood filling, and paintbrush tools that allow for more accurate and detailed drawings than regular coloring books.

Notable artists


  1. ^ a b "Drawn to Art: Art Education and the American Experience, 1800–1950". 2003. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  2. ^ Jacobs, Pat. "Coloring Books". Archived from the original on November 13, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2007.
  3. ^ research
  4. ^ Misheff, Sue (September 1994). "Perspectives of Children's Literature in Guatemala". Hispania. 77 (3): 524–531. doi:10.2307/344988. JSTOR 344988.
  5. ^ Drew, Christina H.; Deirdre A. Grace; Susan M. Silbernagel; Erin S. Hemmings; Alan Smith; William C. Griffith; Timothy K. Takaro; Elaine M. Faustman (March 2003). "Nuclear Waste Transportation: Case Studies of Identifying Stakeholder Risk Information Needs". Environmental Health Perspectives. 111 (3): 263–272. doi:10.1289/ehp.5203. PMC 1241381. PMID 12611653.
  6. ^ The Anatomy Coloring Book, Wynn Kapit and Lawrence M. Elson. HarperCollins, 1993, second revised and expanded edition, ISBN 0-06-455016-8
  7. ^ Sandor, George N. (1979). "A Fortran coloring book". Computers & Structures. 10 (6): 931–932. doi:10.1016/0045-7949(79)90062-2.
  8. ^ Harris, Carolyn (January 1961). "Tonsil Season". The American Journal of Nursing. 61 (1): 91–92. doi:10.2307/3451768. JSTOR 3451768. PMID 13711711.
  9. ^ McDonald, R.; Thomsen, A.; Belessis, Y.; Jaffe, A. (June 2007). "292 CF and Me – a colouring book for children". Journal of Cystic Fibrosis. 6 (Suppl 1): S71. doi:10.1016/S1569-1993(07)60267-7.
  10. ^ a b "Colouring books designed for adults topping bestseller lists (Books by illustrator Johanna Basford (Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest) created as a way to de-stress)". Toronto Star. April 6, 2015. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  11. ^ Mort Drucker (a)"The Man Behind The Drawing Board" The Adventures of Bob Hope, vol. 1, no. 87 (1964). National Periodical Publications, Inc..
  12. ^ Friedman, Drew (November 22, 2012). "The 1962 Mort Drucker JFK Coloring Book". D R E W • F R I E D M A N. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  13. ^ Some commentators have alleged that the book was a piece of FBI agitprop. See Jorgenson, Carl (Spring–Summer 1984). "Blacks in the 60s: A Centennial Reprise". Social Text (9/10): 313–317. doi:10.2307/466577. JSTOR 466577. Others accept the text as genuine. See Lane, R.D. (Spring 1998). "'Keepin' it Real': Walter Dean Myers and the Promise of African-American Children's Literature". African American Review. 32 (1): 125–138. doi:10.2307/3042275. JSTOR 3042275.
  14. ^ "Police And Panthers: Growing Paranoia". Time. December 19, 1969. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved April 14, 2007.
  15. ^ Corinne, Tee (Summer 1993). "Artist's Statement: On Sexual Art". Feminist Studies. 19 (2): 369–376. doi:10.2307/3178374. JSTOR 3178374.
  16. ^ Wallace, Kenyon (August 30, 2011). "9/11 children's colouring book sparks controversy over portrayal of Muslims". Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  17. ^ Weissert, Will (December 12, 2013). "Ted Cruz Coloring Book Selling Fast". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  18. ^ Cook, Jno (1983). "The Robert Frank Coloring Book". Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  19. ^ Dovey, Dana (October 8, 2015). "The Therapeutic Science Of Adult Coloring Books: How This Childhood Pastime Helps Adults Relieve Stress". Medical Daily. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  20. ^ a b c Fitzpatrick, Kelly; Burn, Daily (August 1, 2017). "Why adult coloring books are good for you". CNN. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  21. ^ Dovey, Dana (October 8, 2015). "The Therapeutic Science Of Adult Coloring Books". Medical Daily. Retrieved April 13, 2016.
  22. ^ "What does coloring do for the brain? Benefits of coloring for adults". healthlife. December 20, 2022. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  23. ^ "Paper notebook with adult coloring pages". Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  24. ^ Bratskeir, Kate (February 27, 2013). "Unplug From Technology: 19 Ways To Spend Time Off The Grid". Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  25. ^ Marsh, Laura (December 28, 2015). "The Radical History of 1960s Adult Coloring Books". The New Republic.
  26. ^ a b c Dominic, Basulto (April 7, 2015). "The top two best-selling books on Amazon right now are colouring books for adults. Seriously". National Post. Washington Post. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
  27. ^ Ahashn, Sadaf (November 9, 2015). "Adult colouring books are the most wished for, according to Amazon Canada". National Post. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
  28. ^ Liszewski, Andrew. "Crayola Now Has Its Own Line of Coloring Books For Adults". Gizmodo. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
  29. ^ Liptak, Andrew (March 2, 2017). "Falling coloring book sales are hurting bookstores". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  30. ^ Begley, Sarah (March 3, 2017). "Is the Adult Coloring Book Trend Coming to an End?". Time. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  31. ^ "Adult coloring books: yes, there are apps for that". Relaxnews. Yahoo News. July 30, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  32. ^ "Grown Ups Get Out Their Crayons". The New York Times.
  33. ^ Ryall, Jenni. "All the adults colouring is leading to huge sales for pencil companies". Mashable. Archived from the original on April 17, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  34. ^ "How adult coloring books became a million-dollar trend". MPR News. February 10, 2016. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  35. ^ Raphael, Adrienne (July 12, 2015). "Why Adults Are Buying Coloring Books (for Themselves)". The New Yorker. Condé Nast. Retrieved January 23, 2024.