What Is an Adult Coloring Book?


At the time of writing this article (August 2015), a quarter of Amazon’s top twenty best-selling books are coloring in books. So what is an adult coloring book, and how is it that they are currently outselling top fiction authors with new releases such as E.L. James and Paula Hawkins?

Adult coloring books are, very simply, coloring in books for grown ups. Like children’s coloring books, they are full of outline illustrations designed to be filled in with colored pencils, markers, crayons, or whatever other media you wish to use.

What’s in an adult coloring in book?

The main difference between adults’ and kids’ color books is that the grown up versions generally feature less juvenile images and designs. Instead of superheroes, barnyard animals, and television characters, adult coloring in books are more often filled with:

  • elements of the natural world, such as trees, flowers, leaves, gardens, animals and insects;
  • geometric designs;
  • psychedelic patterns;
  • repetitive ‘wallpaper’ type patterns;
  • cities and buildings;
  • anatomical drawings;
  • goddesses, angels, and mermaids;
  • mandalas; and
  • celtic designs.

There are also many ‘theme’ specific books available, featuring diverse subjects such as cars, steampunk designs, and Art Nouveau patterns.

Why are they so popular?

A Scottish illustrator named Johanna Basford published a coloring book called Secret Garden in 2013, featuring pages of beautifully hand-illustrated ink drawings. The New York Times reported in March that a Korean pop star named Kim Ki-bum posted a photograph on Instagram of a ‘delicately colored-in floral pattern’ from Secret Garden. At the time, Ki-bum had a massive 1.8 million Instagram followers. The post went viral and helped to ignite the craze.

The growth in popularity of the books reportedly has much to do with adult relaxation and stress release. Many adults who use the books report that they find the repetitive, low-stress nature of coloring in to be soothing, relaxing, and a way of de-stressing away from the pressures of life and work.

Among the other benefits of adult coloring in books, they also claim to enjoy recapturing the nostalgia of childhood by engaging in an activity usually reserved for children. It takes people back to a simpler time, and can also be a way for parents to connect and bond with their children by sitting down to color in with them. Of course, many parents have been happily coloring in kids’ books for years, but now they have choices that are not limited to Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob SquarePants.

In summary, coloring for adults appears to be a growing past-time that allows adults to relax and unplug from the stress in their lives, by engaging in a hands-on activity that involves minimal commitment and maximum nostalgia.