Coloring books are integral to kids’ creative development, with thousands of titles featuring thick black outlines of cartoon characters, just waiting to be scribbled on, torn out, and hung on the refrigerator. But kids aren’t the only ones showing off their creativity with coloring books. Specialty retailers such as Michaels and Barnes and Noble are stocking the shelves with dozens of titles designed with adults in mind.

Instead of simple images of Queen Elsa from Disney Frozen or snuggly puppies with lolling tongues, adult coloring books feature intricate geometric patterns, natural scenery, and even some characters based on mature series they can’t get enough of, such as Game of Thrones.

Going Viral
While adult coloring books have been available for more than a decade, Michaels reports that they really took off in 2015, thanks in large part to growing popularity on social media.

Adult coloring book author Johanna Basford’s debut book, Secret Garden, has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 14 languages. The book features 96 pages of elaborate animals, insects, and floral scenes for adults to color in. Basford’s success quickly went viral in March, thanks to featured articles on social sites such as Bored Panda and Buzzfeed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of shares.

Basford is tagged in more than 159,000 Instagram photos posted by consumers showing off their completed work from her books. “There is definitely a social element that is fueling the trend with people posting and sharing their creations,” says Idalia Farrajota, senior vice president of merchandising at Michaels. Millennials, who are the most plugged-in generation, make up a large group of people who are getting into adult coloring books, and they are showing us that through social media.”

Basford has since published two additional titles, Enchanted Forest and Lost Ocean. Michaels carries all three books, along with nearly 100 additional titles, some of which are exclusive to the specialty retailer. “Animal-themed books consistently have been our most popular sellers, but we’re making the coloring book trend accessible to everyone,” says Farrajota. “People can pick from all sorts of designs, from jungle and floral themes to Zen-inspired mandalas.”

Therapeutic Effects
Though social media largely fuels the adult coloring book trend, coloring gives adults a great way to relax with some unplugged quiet time. Christa Trivisonno, brand manager of Faber-Castell Premium Children’s Art Products, says coloring is especially therapeutic for women. “Women are [sometimes] balancing work, children, schoolwork, and home life—they just have a lot on their plates. This is a very simplistic throwback to their youth. [Coloring] lets them be creative and spend some quiet time decompressing.”

According to Michaels’ Farrajota, women make up the majority of the adult coloring book audience, but more men are getting interested in the trend as it continues to thrive.

Easy Access
Coloring books provide adults with an easy way to get creative, and accessible price points are partly to thank for their popularity, with most books ranging in price from $10 to $20. “Back in the days of scrapbooking, you had to have specific cutting tools, different stickers, templates, special markers, special papers, and special adhesives,” explains Trivisonno. “With this, you can pick up a colored pencil or a marker and you can choose tools that are readily available to you. It’s kind of like the low-hanging fruit of hobby items—everything is right there in front of you.”

While some parents may choose to dig through their son or daughter’s pencil box in pursuit of some crayons to use on their new coloring book, other adults may elect to purchase new tools just for them. From colored pencils to dual-tip fine line markers, manufacturers and retailers alike report rising sales of creative products thanks to an uptick in popularity of adult coloring books.

Faber-Castell Pencils

Faber-Castell has multiple product ranges for consumers at all different creativity levels, from products designed for children to those meant for professional artists. Every product is fade-resistant and color-matched across all lines, so whether consumers choose to begin with a set of children’s colored pencils or one from the pro series, they will always be able to find the same colors. “It makes it very easy to transition from one brand to the next,” says Trivisonno.

As the trend continues, the books are popping up at unlikely retailers, including clothing and gift store Urban Outfitters. “We’re trying to balance providing service to our customers that have had the product in stores for a long time and serve new business as well,” explains Trivisonno. “We’re struggling and trying to keep our inventory robust. It’s taken off far quicker than we ever thought it would, and keeping up with that demand has been crazy.”

Even More Options
In September, Crayola launched Color Escapes, a line of four coloring kits for adults sold exclusively online. Each of the four kits includes 12 11- by 17-inch prints, a set of colored pencils, and a set of fine line markers or watercolor pencils. Consumers can choose between four themes: geometric, kaleidoscope, nature, or animals. Some prints feature heavy lines and simple patterns, while others are more intricate and detailed, allowing consumers with a range of experience and ability to engage with the product. All kits, however, include classic Crayola products. “They are the same formula that we sell to children, but that’s OK,” says Craig Skinner, director of innovation and business development at Crayola. “Our current Crayola colored pencil performance rivals some ‘fine art’ colored pencils.”

Color Escapes_Contents

Unlike Basford’s books, the Crayola Color Escapes prints are all unbound, free-standing prints. “While books are very portable, we wanted to create something bigger so it could be shared and displayed when done,” Skinner says.

From increased color assortments for crayons, markers, and pencils, to even more coloring book titles, Crayola, Faber-Castell, and Michaels all plan to expand their adult coloring product assortments this year, as long as the trend continues. And it all comes back to creativity and self-expression.

“I think there will always be an innate desire to express yourself visually,” says Skinner. “Coloring could be replaced by painting or sketching or sculpting, but that desire to create something in a physical space—as opposed to a virtual space—will always be there.”

With millions of books sold worldwide, activity toy sales consistently on the rise, and massive appeal to a wide audience, adult coloring may be more than just a passing fad. “We are predicting that the trend has not even hit its peak yet,” says Michaels’ Farrajota. “There are still so many people that have yet to try it, and we’ve learned that as soon as our customers pick up a book they are hooked.”

This article was originally published in the December/January issue of the Toy Book on January 4, 2015.


About the author

Marissa Silva

Marissa Silva

Marissa Silva, AKA That Toy Girl, is the editor-in-chief at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider. With more than a decade of experience in the toy industry, Marissa is a trusted toy expert, providing parents, gift-givers, retailers, manufacturers, and licensors with information on the latest news related to toys, games, kids’ products, pop culture collectibles, and licensed merchandise for adults. A board game pro and puzzle queen, Marissa spends most of her free time shopping for superhero T-shirts, dominating at Mario Kart, and anxiously awaiting her Hogwarts acceptance letter. She is also a new mom to her baby girl Lucy Jo and has quickly become an expert in high-contrast cards, wooden toys, and plush. Marissa has been featured on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, the Tamron Hall Show, Access Hollywood, Fox & Friends, ABC World News Now, MSNBC, CBS, NY1, WPIX, and more. You can follow her on Instagram @thattoygirl.