Wellness, Productivity, Balance for Graduate Students and Beyond

Friday Fun: Coloring Books

It has been a week, you guys. So take a deep breath and enjoy this bit of fluff journalism about one of my favorite self-care activities: coloring. 

A quick note - a few of these links are affiliate links. What that means in plain language is that if you were to buy that product, I'd receive a tiny kickback, but it doesn't raise or alter the price of the item for you. It's one way I'm experimenting with to help keep this blog free.

I have always loved coloring. There's a story in my family about a complete and utter melt down that I had as a child when my cousin, who was babysitting me at the time, colored a page in one of my coloring books that I had apparently been "saving." Legend has it that I cried for hours. I've always been committed, I guess. 

When the adult coloring trend hit (several years ago now) it seemed to be something I could not afford, in time or money. After receiving several coloring books, and then spending some hoarded Amazon gift cards on supplies, I now feel qualified to speak to which books are worth the money, which supplies are useful, and a bunch of free/low cost alternatives I've also tried and love. I also talk about how much time one needs to invest in certain designs, in case you're one of those people (like me) that likes to finish a task from start to finish, even in your "relaxation." 

The Coloring Books

The first coloring book I got was this one, Lost Ocean by adult coloring book superstar Joanna Basford. She has a whole range of intricate, delicate images to color, from jungles to gardens. I love the idea of her designs, but they are maddening to color. I have started and given up on like six of these designs because I feel like the colors don't go together after I've started, or I just can't bear to color in such a small space. You need well sharpened colored pencils or fine tip markers for these. The paper is a bit thin for markers, and you can get some bleed through to the next page if you have an especially heavy hand. 

I imagine that a few of these related products would be much less frustrating. I've been looking at the postcards forever, and it seems there's even a planner now. If you're very patient, I say go for it, but there might be better options out there. 

So, what are the coloring books I do get on with? Let me tell you! I love the Outside the Lines series of coloring books - I was gifted one that someone found in an museum gift shop. The designs are all original line drawings from a wide range of artists and look more fun than some more traditional books. But what I really love is that they are all easy to color and complete in one sitting, plus the pages tear out for easy removal - I put mine on the fridge, as any proud artist might. A quick note - some of the images in here are NSFW so beware if you're sharing with a younger audience. 

I also love the Harry Potter coloring books being put out by Scholastic. The images are reasonably simple, and as long as you aren't coloring pictures of the characters (which can look unsettling in an uncanny sort of way) I find them fun to color and satisfying to display. I have the original and Magical Objects editions and both are lovely. The paper is a bit thin for markers too, so colored pencils or crayons might be better unless you're not attached to the backing image. 

But, you do not need bound coloring books to color. So here are some free printable pages that are also deeply satisfying. 

  • Crayola, supreme rulers of all things coloring for millennia, regularly update their free coloring page offerings. The adult section is nice and detailed, if you're looking for a challenge, but I usually use the patterns meant for a younger audience, as I find them more satisfying and easier to finish in one sitting. Plus, they have licensed Disney characters, if that's your jam. 
  • Pop Sugar has some fun ones - especially if you like the extremely detailed variety. The animal images here are particularly stunning, and only one is a culturally appropriative mandala! For more on the history of the mandala, see this succinct and well-researched summary. Personally, I'm turned off by the idea of coloring mandalas when they're removed from their cultural, historical, and religious context, but your milage may vary. 
  • Or, go the full mile and make your own coloring pages. This instructable walks you through the steps using a free online photo/image editor, Pixlr. 

I wish that there was a free app I could recommend for coloring, but alas, I find most super irritating. Either you have to pay for images beyond simplistic ones, or pay for a satisfying color palette, or the images/categories are insensitive or downright racist. If you know of a good coloring app, let me know! 

Coloring Tools

Okay, so you've narrowed down what you want to color, and now you must pick your coloring tools. There are a lot of high end items out there, and a lot of basic tools. I'll run down the pros and cons of the ones I've tried, and give my endorsements along the way. 

Coloring tools come in three basic categories: crayons, colored pencils, and markers. 

If I could only have one tool, I'd pick crayons. They're less expensive, easy to keep sharp, and they vary density of color wonderfully. The only downside is that they can be difficult to sharpen to a very fine point, so if you're working with an intricate design, they might not be your best choice. But, for my money, they do the best at both line work and shading large areas. As far as crayons go, I cannot in good conscience recommend any crayon that isn't Crayola. They're long lasting, highly pigmented, come in a wide range of colors, and they're cheap. There's a reason they still make so many of these amazing little things. 

Second on my list is the marker/gel pen. I lump them together because they perform similarly - fine tipped, rich color with no variation, and less effective at covering wide areas. If I had to pick just one, I'd pick gel pens, although I find that their ink runs out frustratingly fast. They do, however, have less bleed through than markers do, so point in their favor. My favorite markers for coloring are the Staedler Triplus Fineliners - the ink lasts a long time, the tip is fine and durable (important if you press down hard like me) and the colors are reasonably varied. 

This pack of gel pens is well reviewed on Amazon, and has the highest number of colors for the price. But do be forewarned - these colors can easily smudge if you brush them with your arm while wet, and can run out quickly. But the neons and metallics are particularly good with gel pens, so if that is a palette that appeals to you, gel pens might be the way to go!


My last choice for coloring are colored pencils. This is a controversial opinion! Many people love colored pencils. They are great if you want to do any shading or blending, or if you need to keep a very fine point for your complicated, intricate designs. They also come in the most colors, and a wide price point. I was gifted a set of "professional" Prismacolor colored pencils that I link to here, and I do love them, but I get frustrated when I have to resharpen them every four seconds, and that they don't cover large areas as well as my crayons do. If you're better at art things than me, you might do better with colored pencils, but more often than not I just get frustrated that I'm not using them the "right way." 

And that is a very long post on coloring books and coloring tools! May you find ways to incorporate creativity and screen free time into your lives, and make something you want to hang on the fridge!