If you’re an artist of any kind, there is a good chance that you’re aware of the emergence of adult coloring books. Not to be confused with “adult” coloring books, which are a completely different thing that also totally exists. No, I mean the often intricate patterns, characters, and landscapes that make up coloring pages designed for the steady hand and the patient mind. It’s possible these were conceived by individuals who didn’t want to grow up, but these books have since been found to have zen-like benefits that can reduce stress and increase focus. Much like assembling the model of a battleship, or piecing together a 1000+ piece puzzle, this previously kid-associated activity has made its way into grown-up culture. And, why not? It’s fun!
But, if you are an artist, then there’s a chance that you may have considered making your own coloring book at one point or another. With self publishing options and venues at an all time high, why not create one? It opens new pathways for your work to be discovered and enjoyed by fans. It adds potential streams of revenue. And did I mention it’s fun?
Maybe you’re uncertain about whether or not you can create a coloring book. For example, my primary form of artistic expression is 3D renders, which are the total opposite of flat, colorless pages. While researching coloring books that were available, I did discover what is called ‘greyscale’ books, which is to say, the images are simply desaturated and you color over them. However, I found this method lacking because it forces shading. I’m the kind of person that likes to add my own shading and light sources when I color a picture, and that’s made difficult, if not impossible, with a grayscale image. What I was looking for was genuine line art.
Having said that, I’ve rendered thousands of images, and the prospect of rendering hundreds more, just for a coloring book that may or may not generate interest, seemed like a big time investment. So I sought to find a combination of Photoshop filters that mimicked the look of a coloring page as closely as possible. It would never match the full potential of drawing a coloring page from scratch, which I recommend if you have the talent, but it would be an option for my specific artistic medium, as well as a potential way to convert images I’d already done. So, what follows is the best method I’ve found so far, as well as some tips about how to help it along with new images you create. For the purposes of this article, I’m working with 3-dimensional renders and Adobe Photoshop, but it can be accomplished with other programs/mediums as well. It will all depend on preference and familiarity.
Converting an Existing Image to a Coloring Page
(Note: the version of Photoshop I’m using is likely older than yours (I’m slow to upgrade), but the general principals should still be there.)
1- Open the image you wish to convert and remove all color. Also, make sure that the two colors you have selected are black and white.
Edit > Adjustments > Desaturate
2- Add the “Poster Edges” filter from the filter menu. A good way to think of this filter is that it mimics a comic-book style, with the bold edges and simplified shading. I use this one first because it helps define the edges of the scenes/characters before I break it down to two colors. You may want to adjust the settings for optimal results.
Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges
3- Add the “Note Paper” filter from the filter menu. When removing the relief and noise from this filter, it breaks the image down into just two colors (hopefully white and grey) keeping only that which is boldest. If the poster edges filter worked right, this should primarily be edges and dark areas. Again you’ll want to adjust the settings to match your preference.
Filter > Sketch > Note Paper
4- Equalize the image to just black and white. Once you’ve applied the two above filters, you’ll want to equalize the picture. This will reduce it to just black and white, making it optimal for a printed coloring page. If the results aren’t exactly what you were going for, you can go back to the original image and adjust the settings as you go.
Edit > Adjustments > Equalize
Creating a New Image for Coloring
This section isn’t so much a step-by-step as it is a tips section since your art style will heavily dictate how you create a brand new coloring page.
-Be sparing with shadows, or don’t use them at all. I’ve discovered that the best use of shadows is to convey texture. You can quickly show that a surface is shiny, bumpy, or fuzzy, by using very subtle shadows. But if you’re not careful, it can negate areas of coloring altogether. I’m specifically thinking of a super hero comic I colored once where an entire section of the hero’s costume was black, with the exception of a small white line to indicate sheen in the costume. The problem is that this part of the costume has color, it’s just a traditionally dark color. So, if you can help it, don’t force your artist into a specific color, or worse, prevent them from coloring. I know that images without shadow can look odd, or even too basic, but personally I think it offers the most creative expression for the person coloring it.
-Render/draw dark hair and clothes with light colors. This ties in closely with the suggestion above, but I separated it because a dark haired character, is still dark haired, even if there are no shadows. If you’re creating a coloring book of very specific characters, that have dark hair, it’s logical that you would make them identifiable to the reader. But there are ways to convey a darker shade, without blacking out a head of hair or a pair of pants. Bolder edges and seams are your friend. Just don’t feel bad if you’re rendering a brown haired character with white hair, for the sake of the final product.
-Be mindful of your backgrounds. I learned pretty quick that a busy background can quickly overtake the main focus of the image. This is a bigger issue if you’re doing character pages, as opposed to scenery and designs. And, admittedly, it’s a bigger issue for converted images than it is for originals, since you would know this going into a brand new picture. But just remember to keep your focal point, and not add too much in the background that might muddle the lines of a foreground that has no blurring or shadow distinction.
-Be mindful of your light source. This is more so a suggestion for the rendering side of things (or photography), than it is a hand drawing. It’s also separate from the shadow section because a light source can blot out all the wrong things. Say, for example, you’re doing a page of a character’s face, but you use too much lighting. Then, it doesn’t matter what filters you use, photoshop can’t pick out any definition and you end up with a white blob on your coloring page. Shadows can create too little space to color, light can create too much. For a more in depth guide to rendering techniques, see links below.
How many pages you include in your coloring book is up to you. However, a minimum will likely be set based on whatever self publishing service you use. For example, Create Space can’t produce a book any shorter than 24 pages. Your self publisher will also dictate the largest page size you can use. Most coloring books tend to be a little larger than the standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, but a self publisher might not have larger sizes available. Small coloring books have their appeal as well, but it comes down to your ultimate vision. So it pays to research the print sizes of the venues you’re considering. This will also help early on by giving you dimensions to draw/render with, in order to ensure optimal page use.
You may also decide to approach an agent or publisher with your coloring book, or just keep the pages for yourself, for use on days where you’re feeling extra stressed. In either case, it can be a great exercise to rethink your artwork and share it in an entirely new way. Whatever you choose, just remember to have fun!
M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on January 23, 2017:
MizBejabbers - Yes, this method is for forms of original artwork, not for converting images you don't own the rights to (in instances where you intend to sell the coloring book). So, for example. if you're a photographer and you own all the rights to a photo you took, you could use this method and include the colorless version in a coloring book for sale. Anyone seeking to publish their final result should be absolutely certain they have the rights necessary to do so. Thank you for the comment!
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on January 17, 2017:
M.T. this sounds like loads of fun. I just wish I had Photoshop. Anyway, if you offered it for sale, isn't there some kind of copyright that would cover an image that was altered in this manner, that is, unless it was a free image opened for commercial use?
Isn't technology wonderful? This is a digital take on a method of doing line drawing that I was taught when I worked at a museum 40 years ago. Using a photocopier, we copied and recopied the image until the details faded out into a line drawing. Then we inked in lines we wanted to emphasize. We could use the historical building or house for a post card or even water color it. I''ll have to bookmark your other tutorial hubs for later use. This is great stuff.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on January 15, 2017:
This is helpful, it is something I have been thinking doing about for some time. I don't have Photoshop, I use Serif and Gimp. I am just wondering if they are up to the job or not.
I am so pleased to know that coloring pages for adults are popular. Whenever someone can sit down and relax in a stress free way, it can only be positive.
Thanks for the tips.