Coloring Books for Grown Ups 101: How to Color!

How to use and color adult coloring books

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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I'm getting back to my blogging roots on WendyPiersall.com: writing about life, art, business, publishing, and following your heart. I'm here to inspire, encourage, and share my journey. I hope my art and writing makes your journey better, too.

100 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Have just started coloring in the past month and I love it. It is so relaxing. I was so impressed with all your coloring books and all the information and hints that you have given to everyone. Very helpful. Your books with be in my next order on Amazon.

  • Thank you for your tips Wendy. I’m just a beginner on coloring for adult. But, i love coloring from pre school. Here, still not much people do coloring. But, we do have groups that support, giving great tips on tools, colors, books and otherd. Glad that I joined them.

  • I can’t color it in, but i can actually fill out the blanks by drawing lines, so it looks like pattern within itself. But my mom says that i’m not supposed to do it that way. Do we have to stick to that rule of coloring it properly. Because I find it too hard to.

  • If there is a lot of snow in snow scenes do u color or not I’m new at this right now I’m trying out gel pens thank you

  • In the first photo above, I can see that is a picture of your book, Coloring Animal Mandalas. Is the drawing that is partially colored from that book? Also, are those the pens (markers) you suggested here, or are they a different brand? Thank you, and your books are gorgeous!


  • There’s a lot of info here and perhaps I missed it but did you mention a marker that WON’T bleed through to the back of the paper? I have a book with pictures on both sides and I hate the thought of ruining them. I thought COPICS wouldn’t but I see here that they do. I’ve invested in my first set of 48 Prismacolor pencils and am now looking to add to my collection of resources. I wish I had thought about this BEFORE I bought my book. : (

  • I have just finished some adult coloring pages and was wondering if you can give ideas on what to do with them now, besides framing them.

  • I have several coloring books that don’t have perforated sheets and there is a picture on front and back of each page. How can I color both pages without smearing or bleeding onto the other page? I use Prismacolor Premier pencils and I love the vibrancy, but don’t like having to choose which page to color, leaving the other page uncolored. Is there something I can place between the pages? I received a Personalized book for Christmas and would love to color the entire book! Thanks!

  • Hi Wendy,
    I just bought myself a Mandala coloring book from Sams and wanted to buy color pencils for it. Are “Sargent Art 22-7251 Colored Pencils, Pack of 50, Assorted Colors” a good choice?
    Thanks a lot!!

  • I’ve recently been experimenting with Stamping Up pens that I have and they are great. One end has a fine point the other sort of a brush. The brush end gives a finish similar to watercolor.

  • I bought a coloring book of Valentines. It says for kids, but its for me, age 72. What do I do with the shaded areas. Color over them? There are a lot of them. Thanks Arline

  • I also use Prismacolor Premier colored pencils, but am wondering which pencil sharpener you use on these? I bought the Prismacolor Accessory Set, which includes a sharpener, but it is not ideal. Help!

  • Hey, thanks for the suggestions!

    So, I am unable to decide the type of paper I have to use for a customized coloring book.

    For the time being, coloring pencils is what I am looking at for this books.


  • Thanks so much for your interest in my work! I am not involved at all in the distribution end of my books, with the obvious exception of selling my own copies. smile emoticon My publisher works with Publisher’s Group West for wholesale inquiries, you can find all that info here: http://www.pgw.com/home/customers.aspx. Should you need any additional info, please contact Juana Castro directly at my publisher Ulysses Press at http://ulyssespress.com/?page_id=2

  • Back in October 2015, Tamara said:
    I can’t color it in, but i can actually fill out the blanks by drawing lines, so it looks like pattern within itself. But my mom says that i’m not supposed to do it that way. Do we have to stick to that rule of coloring it properly. Because I find it too hard to.
    This is supposed to be FUN! Do whatever you want. Color outside the lines. Add shapes If you want to fill them in with glue and glitter or shred different colors of dryer lint to make colors, do it. Lines, scribbles dots! Look up the pointillist painters. I love your idea of using lines to fill in the spaces. Make it look like what you want to. Art is self-expression. Coloring books just get us started with an existing image.

  • You can blend gel pens very easily by using your finger to blend while the ink is still wet.

  • I bought a pack of 36 Brilliant Colours Staedtler Triplus fineliner (0.3 mm) and I do see it on the back of the page. My book also has double-sided coloring pages (Harry Potter Coloring Book). Any other pens that are reasonably priced like the Staedtler’s I bought. Did I just buy the wrong ones?

  • I looked at this page because I wanted to know how they got it to look like the picture on the cover of the book. You need good materials for that. But I noticed this:

    “You know how artists create art to stay sane and get into The Zone? That’s what coloring does for non-artists. ”

    I am an artist – a composer. And actually, I find that coloring helps me get into “The Zone.” It’s simple, but it unlocks something creative that make me go write music.

  • I just started coloring but I do not know color schemes. If I spend that much time coloring I want it to blend nicely.

  • I love your adult coloring books, but I’m sooo not creative! You should publish a book that comes with double images: one fully colored, one blank so people like me can copycat!

  • Thanks for the information but I’d like to suggest creating a coloring book of people of color. I haven’t been able to find any adult coloring books with Asians, Blacks, and Mexican characters. I look your work and I think you would do these character justice.

  • I have been coloring for a few months now.I started with pencils but then bought gel pens like them much better.I just bought a color by number coloring book what is the best thing to color with that will cover up numbers.

  • I don’t use color by number books for this exact reason, but your best bet is to try gel pens. See my recommendation above!

  • Wow that sucks, I’m surprised they leaked through! Usually they don’t. I’d recommend trying Stabilios, though they are so similar to the Fineliners that I don’t know they will be any better. I didn’t include them above because they are nearly identical, but I prefer the Staedtler brand.

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