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7 Adult Coloring Book Alternatives You May Not Know About

Toni used to be cool and wrote about video games. Now she spends most of her time chasing tiny, loud humans who look a lot like her.


Are You Bored With Your Current Coloring Books?

Are you looking for new coloring books? If you're an adult coloring enthusiast, you probably are. But are you feeling a little bored with the selection?

You may feel that you've seen it all at your local bookstore, as there seems to be a coloring book for just about every subject and topic.

  • TV shows
  • Cartoon characters
  • Cities
  • Vehicles
  • Food

You name it—there's a coloring book version of it. Perhaps you need to look beyond standard adult coloring books and explore alternative formats. No, I don't mean a different subject matter or style. I'm talking about gold-leaf pages, transparent pages, and wait—spirals?

Let's explore some alternative coloring books you may want to add to your ever-expanding collection.

1. Color-By-Number

The most common alternative is the color-by-number type. You probably had one when you were a child. The basis seems pretty easy. After all, you don't need to think of what colors to use since the book determines them for you, right? However, adult versions of color-by-number books can be more challenging than what you did in elementary school.

  • First of all, the numbers and letters assigned to each color are printed a lot smaller so your adult, aging eyes may have a harder time seeing them. Is that a 1 or an I? An 8 or a 6?
  • Second, the sections are divided into teeny tiny, minuscule parts. Again, it's hard to see how much to color and where to stop.

Still, color-by-number books are enjoyed by many people, and there are many types available.

Protip: If the adult version is too challenging, consider a children's book. The numbers are printed larger, and each section is significantly larger. You could also consider getting a magnifying glass and brighter desk lamp.

From "Glowing Mandalas" book by Asma Zergui

From "Glowing Mandalas" book by Asma Zergui

2. Black Background

Most images in a standard coloring book are against a white background. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. An outdoor scene with a sky blue background done in pastels can look stunning.

But having the background already colored in for you can look amazing, and pages with black backgrounds can give your end result a dramatic look. Using bright, neon colors can even make your pictures look luminescent.

The image above is from Glowing Mandalas. As you can see, the mandala seems to look brighter as the colors jump out of the contrasting black background.

Grayscale sample from "Beautiful Nature" book by Nicole Stocker

Grayscale sample from "Beautiful Nature" book by Nicole Stocker

3. Grayscale

If you prefer your images to look more sophisticated, consider a grayscale coloring book. Standard images for coloring are two-dimensional and tend to have crisp, dark lines with no shading. The colorist has to provide shadows and depth to the image.

In contrast, the images in grayscale coloring books are composed of various shades of gray, similar to a black and white photo. Since the shading is already provided by the image itself, you don't have to think of where to add shading and can color right on top. Therefore, as daunting as it looks, grayscale coloring may actually be considered easier than standard coloring.

  • If you want tips on how to color grayscale coloring books, check out YouTube for tutorials, or visit websites such as Huelish for techniques.
"Painterly Days: The Flower Watercoloring Book for Adults" book by Kristy Rice

"Painterly Days: The Flower Watercoloring Book for Adults" book by Kristy Rice

4. Watercolor Books

Considering that some colorists use watercolors and watercolor pencils on standard coloring books, what makes watercolor books any different? The answer lies in the paper.

Watercolor paper tends to be thick, so it can withstand getting wet. It also has a textured surface, to allow the watery ink to cling on to the paper rather than slide around.

  • If you're working with watercolors or watercolor pencils, it's best to work with a book that's made for the specific medium. It can be frustrating to spend time blending colors, only to watch them bleed out of the lines because the book wasn't made for watercolors.
From "Foil Fanatic Passion Metallisee" book by Creatology

From "Foil Fanatic Passion Metallisee" book by Creatology

5. Gold Leaf

This particular book format seems exceedingly rare. An online search on "gold leaf" books turns up just a few results. Upon closer inspection, many of these books are merely gold ink printed on the page instead of the typical black ink.

The photo is from Foil Fanatic Passion Metallise and was in the children's section at Michael's, an American art supply store. Unlike other so-called gold leaf books, this one has actual gold foil leaf embossed into the pages to form the images. The paper is exceptionally thick as well.

Protip: When coloring, occasionally inspect the area along the edges of the gold foil.Since the foil part is a little raised, you may accidentally miss some spots around that area.

From "Mandalas: Stained Glass Coloring Book" by Creative Haven

From "Mandalas: Stained Glass Coloring Book" by Creative Haven

6. Stained Glass

Similar to the gold leaf book, true stained glass coloring books are a bit hard to find. More often than not, you'll find books that merely have patterns that you might see in a stained glass window. This image is from the book Mandalas: Stained Glass Coloring Design.

As you can see, the paper is transparent and has a wax paper feel to it. It's not slippery, but markers are the most effective medium for this type of paper. Colored pencil won't stick to it. Tape the completed product to a window to really appreciate the stained glass effect!

Protip: Color both sides of the image. Otherwise, the colors aren't as vibrant if only one side is done.

"Spiroglyphics: Rock Heroes" book by Thomas Pavitte

"Spiroglyphics: Rock Heroes" book by Thomas Pavitte

7. Spiroglyphics

I have to admit that when I first saw this book, it blew my mind. I didn't even know whether to classify it as a coloring book or a puzzle book. Perhaps it's both?

Spiroglyphics is by Thomas Pavitte, who also authored the Querkles series of color by number books. Each page contains two very thin, interlocking spirals for coloring. It sounds boring until you realize the spirals actually have tiny patterns that eventually form an image.

Similar to many color-by-number books, the answers are revealed at the back of the book, but looking there would spoil the surprise.

Welcome a New Coloring Challenge!

If you feel that your collection of adult coloring books is a bit stagnant lately, these alternative formats can hopefully breathe life back to it. Choosing the right book depends on what you want to do.

  • If you want to try a new medium, get a watercolor book.
  • If you're more into puzzles, check out either the Spiroglyphics book or color-by-number books.
  • If you want to practice shading techniques or produce realistic-looking pictures, try a grayscale book.
  • If you simply want to create a uniquely pretty picture, get a stained glass or gold leaf book.

Happy coloring!

Questions & Answers

Question: How did you color the stained glass coloring book?

Answer: I used alcohol-based markers on that particular coloring book. Water-based markers slide right off, and color pencils don't work either. I'm not sure if gel pens will work, but I doubt it. I'm guessing paint pens may work, but the paint may be too thick and heavy.


Dan Reed on March 22, 2018:

My wife is going to enjoy this article. (Not that I didn't) She loves to color and I'm sure she will enjoy learning about new places to obtain something beyond what she gets from the tiny, loud humans that look like her in our house. (well, not so tiny anymore but....)

Toni Schwartz (author) from San Jose, CA on March 21, 2018:

Thanks! I love accidentally stumbling upon a new type of coloring book. What's interesting is that some of these I found in the children's section of a book store or art supply store (the gold leaf and stained glass one, in particular). I wonder if marketers think that children are the only ones interested in whimsical coloring books?

Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on March 21, 2018:

Great hub, lots of information about different kinds of colouring books. I didn't realise so many existed, although I have a couple of the black background books myself.