A brief history of adult coloring books

The chase of the human spirit to seize the moment in this life has always been around. From the first painting on the wall to this day. We have the need to express ourselves and our emotions. These needs to leave a mark chase us from the first book to modern days. If you look around you will find pictures of all kinds. Moving pictures, big pictures, small pictures, 3D pictures. Wouldn’t you agree if I said that you can leave a mark forever when you color a coloring page? Here is a brief history of how coloring books become not just for kids.


1879 – The Little Folks –the little folsks painting book -1

The very beginning of coloring books that we know of starts with McLoughlin Brothers , in collaboration with Kate Greenaway. The founders of a New York publishing firm active between 1828 and 1920.

Creating a page included – color illustration progressing from hand stenciling to the mechanical relief process of zinc etching, to the planographic process of chromolithography.

Remember this was 100 years ago
in color printing technologies indeed.

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1907 -Buster’s Paint Book-

buster brown coloring book

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.

Until the 1930s, coloring 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.



Fun fact: 1903, Crayola produced the first box of eight crayons and sold them for 5 cents


1953 – A Coloring Book: Drawings By Andy Warhol

a cloring book drawings by andy warhol 1953

It was 1953 when, not long after arriving in New York City, a young artist named Andy Warhol had begun to make his way in the world of commercial illustration.

Over the next decade, Warhol created scores of whimsical advertisements for the Edelmans, including a coloring book that could have only come from the mind of Warhol, created especially for clients’ children for Christmas.

Is this the first doodle coloring book?

Fun fact: Super small coloring book 10.5 x 0.2 x 14.5 inches

Buy it at: Amazon



But we are looking for the very first coloring book for adults!


1961 – The Executive Coloring Book –



In the mid-’60s an answer emerged. A time of the best rock and roll music: Beatles, Hendrix, you name it. The flower children showed us how we really have forgotten who we are. And as a reminder, we got this coloring book.

The first coloring book made expressly for adults  was The Executive Coloring Book (Amazon) published in 1961 by Marcie Hans.

A satirical adult coloring book.

It was a tool for political awareness at that time. No wonder bookstores exploded.

the executive coloring book-first adult coloring bookthe executive coloring book-first adult coloring book-2

check out the The John Birch Coloring Book on Amazon- a classic in the fight against the know-nothings



1964 – Gay Coloring Book –

the gay coloring bookthe gay coloring book-2

Only a handful of these rare coloring books are known to exist.
Chronicling the life of Percy and his friends through 24 drawings, The Gay Coloring Book was one of the first books published by the Guild Press to take readers into all-male social spaces such as gay parties and gay bars, as well as the sexual cruising scenes in public parks, public bathrooms, alleys, and bathhouses.
The coloring book features illustrations by George Haimsohn, who also published gay fiction under the name Alexander Goodman.

check out more pages at:


1969 – Zodiac Coloring Book –

zodiac coloring book

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This coloring book is a limited print  by Troubadour press San Francisco. It was illustrated by Dennis Redmond.

“It’s printed on heavy duty vellum paper. It can be used with many medias including ink, watercolor, crayon, felt tip pens, colored pencils, pastels, and acrylic paint.”

Illustrations are similar to today’s zentangle and doodle coloring books.

Read more at: https://2warpstoneptune.com/2013/08/14/troubador-press-zodiac-coloring-book-1969/

In 1960’s coloring books were so popular even Barbara Streisand made a song:




1971 – American Wild Flowers –

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Displaying the beauty and variety of America’s most popular wildflowers, naming and locating each of the species, this most unusual book is intended for coloring.

Redrawn from the original Smithsonian Rickett plates by Paul Kennedy, a well-known illustrator of children’s books, each of the 46 renderings is ready to be colored as realistically — like the cover illustrations — or as imaginatively as you may choose.

Botanical identifications, common names, and information on habitats are also included.

You can buy it at: Amazon

1972 -Alice in Wonderland Coloring Book –

alice in wonderland

The pictures are reproductions of the ones John Tenniel did for the original publication and are of a good size for coloring.

The book contains more text than most coloring books, but is appropriate because it explains the pictures. This could be for children or adults.

It’s a must have for all Alice fans.

Buy it at: Amazon

Early 1970’s – Altair Designs-

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One of the most famous designer studios was made by Roger Burrows. Burrows worked with Ensor Holiday in the early 1970s, developing a set of geometric patterns called Altair Designs.

Wikipedia says – “Altair Designs were variations of a unique and unusual Islamic design constructed on an arrangement of close packing of circles, with variation in circle sizes”.
I would say : “ it’s first mandala adult coloring book series.

Burrows redrew all of the original Altair designs for Wooden Books published in 2009.

Buy Roger Burrows designs at: Amazon

1975 – The Cunt Coloring Book –

1975 - The Cunt Coloring Book -

Feminist artist Tee Corinne used it as a tool of female empowerment.
Corinne made pencil sketches of female genitalia, which she then inked and printed on card stock. A very adult coloring book indeed.

See it on Amazon



1982 – Human Anatomy –

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Dr. Elson formed Coloring Concepts, Inc. was founded in 1980. The first college-level coloring books in the natural sciences by CCI were published by HarperCollins (New York) in 1982. These are truly educational adult coloring books.

In 1982 still popular today, the Human Anatomy Coloring Book was the first published science coloring book.

The Human Anatomy Coloring Book contains careful, scientifically accurate line renderings of the body’s organs and major systems: skeletal, muscular, nervous, digestive, reproductive, and more.

A total of 43 plates (often with several illustrations to a page) offers numerous views, cross-sections, diagrams and detailed closeups, labeled and numbered to correspond with suggestions for coloring.

Buy latest version at: Amazon


1985 – Great Women Paper Dolls –

great women paper dolls

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With Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S. a coloring book was needed. So it came Great Women Paper Dolls coloring book with intricate drawings and the stories that went with each great woman.

Famous women include Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Beatrix Potter, Sarah Bernhardt, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony.

Buy at: Amazon

End of 1980’s beginning of 1990’s and the Lisa Frank

lisa frank

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Lisa Frank and psychedelicrainbowunicornglitter trend appeared in mid-80’s.

Lisa Frank‘s line of products—folders, pencil cases, erasers, Trapper Keepers, and notebooks were so popular that the company was grossing over $60 million a year in sales during its peak in the 1990’s.

Buy the latest coloring book at: Amazon

1997 – Famous Buildings –

famous buildings by frank lloydfamous buildings by frank lloyd-2Perhaps the most influential architect of the twentieth century, Frank Lloyd Wright inspired making of carefully researched and expertly rendered coloring book: Famous Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright

In addition to providing students of architecture with an excellent sourcebook of imaginative designs, these masterly drawings also offer coloring book enthusiasts an opportunity to color a rich selection of innovative buildings that have helped transform the modern American landscape.

Buy at: Amazon

2003 – A Walk in the Woods –

a walk in the woods

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On January 27, 2003: A Walk in the Woods by Dot Barlowe was published. A #1 best seller.

It has a very adult coloring book vibe although it was meant for children.

This book is about nature. It takes you on a beautiful tour of the four seasons with great artistic mysteries of nature.

Buy at: Amazon

2013 – Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book –

secret garden


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“I draw pictures and I make coloring books! Welcome to my world…”  Johanna Basford

“My creativity is cultivated by a curious imagination and a delight in the fantastic. Much of my work has roots in the flora and fauna that surrounded me growing up on my parent’s fish farm in rural Scotland.”

As of March 2015, more than 10 million copies of this book have been sold worldwide (three million sold in China alone).

The book has over 40 foreign editions and has appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list.

This is THE adult coloring book!

Buy at: Amazon

2013 – Doodle Invasion –

doodle invasion doodle invasion-2

Called as the ultimate doodle coloring book.

Crammed with little critters in all sorts of daft situations, just waiting to be given life through coloring.

Doodle Invasion by Zifflin (illustrated by Kerby Rosanes) was published also in 2013

Buy at: Amazon

2015- The smartphone era

colorfy_landing_app colortherapy-app

With the smartphone era, coloring books become mobile, allowing you to color on the go and take your coloring pictures in your pocket. Certainly you have heard about colorfy and colortherapy apps.

And what about the future?

A virtual reality book by Disney

A Disney Research team has developed technology that projects coloring book characters in 3D while you’re still working on coloring them.

If Disney’s technology can make its way to the consumer market, it’ll mark another step forward for coloring book technology. Of course, it’s a little too early to start hyping this up with your children — this kind of live texturing is still in its infancy, and it could be a while before you’re shopping for coloring books that have this capability.


Do you agree with this list? Have any more coloring book for adults you would like to add?

Let us know in the comment section and happy coloring!

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