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Getting Started With Colouring Books

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

There’s been a rise in the popularity of adult colouring as a way to relieve stress and express creativity through use of colour. Here are a few tips to get you started with your colouring pages or take your colour pencil work up a notch :)

colour pencils and an  incomplete colouring page

Pencils and Colouring Books

I’ve been using Prismacolor Premier pencils for the images in this post. They are a mid-range pencil and have a soft and waxy feeling to them, and can lay down vibrant creamy colour. You don’t need the most expensive pencils or the largest set of colours to get a good result. Here's a few reasons you might want to avoid the cheapest dollar store pencils:

  • Cheap pencil cores tend to break easily throughout the shaft of the pencil and will fall out as you sharpen the pencil.

  • The wood on the pencil may not shave off smoothly (leading to more core breakage).

  • Pigment that is laid on the paper will be harder to saturate and achieve rich tones.

  • Some cheap colour pencils have very hard cores and have a poor tactile feeling of scratching the paper as you work.

Not all pencils are equal and different brands (and their individual product lines) will have different effects on paper.

Prismacolor colour pencils and tin

Regarding paper, you’ll notice depending on the paper supplied with a printed colouring book that some papers can tolerate more passes over each area whilst others may feel thin and more susceptible to tearing. If you are working with a digital colouring book and printing it yourself at home, consider the weight of the paper you’re using. Most common office copy paper is about 80gsm, and a visual art diary is often about 110gsm with more of a ‘tooth’ or texture on the surface. GSM refers to the weight of the paper (grams per square metre) and a higher GSM paper stock will be thicker. You can still get great results on copy paper but with a lot of work it will tend to curl the paper. A pad of drawing paper or cartridge paper at 90-110gsm can be great for printing on, or even a light brown or grey toned paper can make a nice base (especially if you use waxy pencils as the white will work great as a highlight).

Tip: If you’re working on a single sheet of paper, make sure you have a few pieces of paper underneath to soften the pencil marks and prevent your pencil picking up the texture of the table or surface you’re working on. Start with lighter pressure so you can do more passes over the same areas without damaging the paper.

Picking Colours

I like to have a loose plan approaching a colouring page. You might prefer to throw caution to the wind and just pick your colours as you go, and that is perfectly fine too. Colouring does not need to be a stressful activity.

Colour pencils and a swatch sheet

I tend to pick and group my colours and sometimes pick 2-3 tones for each colour, looking for a light, medium and dark value.

If you are a seriously organised individual or truly enjoy pre-planning, you might even like to run some tests with the colour of the pencils first and make a separate swatch and blending reference sheet. Check that the colours you picked work well together and look good when blended into each other. This can also help you if you take a break and forget which colours you used if you do own a larger set of pencils or multiple brands.

Tip: If you’re stuck picking colours that work together, there are plenty of colour wheels and colour palette generators online you can use to harness the power of colour theory without having to be familiar with it yourself. Try challenging yourself to stick with a predefined palette.

Layering Colour Pencils

Even 2 tones for each colour will dramatically improve the depth and vibrancy in your colouring page. Layering colours together can also creative the illusion of a greater range of colours than you might have access to - so if you only have a set of 12 or 24 pencils, you can mix colours together to achieve new effects. Create gradients and transitions between 2 or more colours. Tint an entire section with an undertone softly (perhaps blue or purple for shadows) before colouring on top, or saturate most of an area and then tint a subtle wash of light colour on top of it (yellow for creating warm light).

Colour pencil drawing of flowers demonstrating colouring techniques

With colour pencils, you can use pressure to control the amount of pigment you lay down on the page. This means that if you work gently, you can layer or blend gradients of pencil in the same area and make several passes on it. If you press hard on your pencil you will build up the pigment very quickly and make it difficult to blend. Pressing too hard may also damage the paper quickly. Tilt your pencil to the side to soften the stroke on the page and increase the surface area you touch with the pencil. If you sharpen your pencil to a fine point and point it perpendicular to the page, you’ll create hard fine lines. Both ways can be used to create different texture or effects.

This post is a pretty carefree guide but if there’s one serious tip I have it is to avoid colouring each area with just one pencil. Learn to blend and create gradients between colours and you will breathe more life and depth into the page.

Colouring page completed in colour pencil of a forest spirit greenman

Hopefully this post gave you a few new tips for working with colour pencils. At the end of the day, remember that there are no real rules with colouring in pages and as long as you’re enjoying yourself that is all that matters! Experiment with your materials to find pencils or paper you like working on and you will find what works for you.

My first colouring book Fantasy & Florals is now available on my online store in both physical and digital format and contains 40 line art illustrations ready for you to colour in, with varying levels of detail and room for you to express your own creativity in blank areas.

24 views2 comments


Aug 20, 2023

Your explanation is easy to understand. I feel inspired to try some layering/blending with my colours.

Joel Thongbai
Joel Thongbai
Aug 20, 2023
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