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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lim

MF 258 : Design tips and illustrations for your coloring book

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

On this episode, I share some market research findings for adult coloring books plus some tips on designs and illustrations. More at

Moving Forward is also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

Part 1: Self-publishing platforms and market research findings

Today, we’re going to do a brief discussion of self-publishing your adult coloring book. I refer you back to episode 246 for an overview of self-publishing platforms, in which I cover the many platforms that are out available.

In 2016, after I learned adult coloring books were popular, I did some research on the publishing process. I discovered that you can self-publish coloring books and at the time, Createspace was a great go-to platform for many creators.

Createspace was acquired by Amazon but separate from its KDP platform at the time. We had no trouble uploading and publishing our book on Createspace. Once I hit the publish button on December 1, 2016, Corporate Cliches appeared within an hour for sale on Createspace and later that evening on Amazon.

Last year, Createspace merged with KDP and our coloring book migrated over with it and has been housed there ever since. KDP’s process is very much the same as I discovered when I published Making Fake Star Trek: 1) upload your manuscript, 2) upload your cover, 3) order a proof copy, 4) make any last-minute changes, and 5) publish.

So, if you are self-publishing your coloring book, KDP is a great platform but there are many to choose from. Do some research and see which one may be a good fit for yours.

Before we leave this part behind, I also want to share some market research findings that we discovered through informal focus groups on coloring books. We did a couple of tests and even consulted with a therapist to get her thoughts on the adult coloring book phenomenon. Below are some of our key findings that may help you as you design or market your book.

  1. Therapeutic benefits: The therapist we asked was a big fan of coloring books and recommended them to many of her patients as a form of relaxation therapy. I had read this about coloring books but was glad to actually hear this from a professional. This helped us with writing the copy for the book description.

  2. Market feedback and “wish list” features: As for coloring books themselves, we heard two major complaints about books currently on the market.

  3. First, many of the adults we asked didn’t like that many adult coloring books were the same size as kids coloring books, which tend to be big and bulky. Several said they would prefer a smaller size which would be easy to carry, a little inconspicuous, and something they could easily pull out of a backpack, purse, or even large coat pocket. Since Createspace (now KDP) offers a range of paperback sizes, we decided to go with 5.5″ x 8.5″ which is approximately the same size as A5 padfolio organizers. Given that our market was working professionals, many of whom probably owned or carried padfolios, it was a logical choice for Corporate Cliches.

  4. Second, another complaint was directed at coloring books that had images on both sides of the page. We learned that some adults like to use pens or markers, and the bleed-through would ruin the experience of coloring an image on the reverse side. So, in designing Corporate Cliches, we decided to stick with single-sided images per page.

Based on our market research, we decided to spruce up our book to distinguish it from other coloring books on the market.

  1. First, since the market research indicated a desire for single sided images, we didn’t want to just leave the other size blank as that’s a lot of wasted real estate. As I researched corporate clichés, I fell into the rabbit hole, learning a lot of history and trivia. We decided to write short synopses for each cliché, providing some fun historical context for each one. We also put a branded hashtag in case people wanted to snap photos and post on social media.

  2. Second, since we wanted to market this book as the “perfect office warming gift” or the “perfect white elephant” or “office holiday party gift,” we created a cheeky checklist of different occasions and blank spaces for the buyer to write in the recipient’s name. We simply used a page to create a built-in greeting card.

As you design your adult coloring book, don’t just limit your imagination to the images. Think about your target audience and how you want to market your book. What are some little touches you can add to differentiate yours?

Part 2: How do you get the illustrations for the book itself?

Speaking of imagination and creativity, let’s turn our attention to the illustrations themselves. The most frequently asked question I get about creating a coloring book is how do I create one if I can’t draw?

Although one of my friends that helped me co-create Corporate Cliches was a graphic illustrator, she didn’t have time to do the artwork. So, we outsourced it. You can find many freelance artists on platforms like Fiverr or Upwork (which is what we used).

Outsourcing / freelance – budget

Below are some considerations for hiring a freelance artist:

  1. Job description: Be specific about what you’re looking for when you write out and post the job. The more detailed you are (the type of images, theme, size), the better quality submissions you’ll receive. Carefully look at the person’s resume, their pitch and most important, any work samples they send you.

  2. Experience: Ideally, you’ll want someone who is experienced with computer illustrations and vector diagrams. Vector diagrams is simply a fancy way of saying line drawings.

  3. Technical: In terms of software, look for someone adept at using Adobe Illustrator. This was a tip from my graphic illustrator friend: she believes it’s the most versatile and best program to use for vector or line drawings.

  4. Budget: for Corporate Cliches, we budgeted around 1-3 hours per week for approximately 2-3 months total. Come up with a budget and find an artist that can work within it. If you don’t have a large budget, you may have to take your chances with a new or less experienced artist.

  • If you go with a freelance site, it’s generally understood that this is a work for hire. However, if you need extra assurances, you can come up with a simple copyright release form for the artist. If you decide to negotiate with an artist outside of a freelance site, then I definitely recommend a copyright release form as part of the contract.

Additional tips to make the most out of working with freelance hire.

  1. Time-saving tip: Find someone who can work with existing images and translate them into vector or line drawings. This will be much easier than having someone create wholly new images from scratch. Vector drawings can be created off of existing photographs on programs like Illustrator. If you can provide the source material, either photographs you own or existing photos (make sure they’re copyright-free), then this will make their jobs much easier. Give them instructions on enhancing the photo or what you want in terms of patterns or designs to make it into a coloring book page. Of course, you can have an illustrator create wholly original images but that will usually take more time and cost more dollars per hour.

  2. Project management: Make sure to communicate regularly. Working with a freelance artist is all about communication, setting expectations, and more communication. As images come in, give him or her feedback. You may have to add additional time for enhancements or corrections. Find a workflow that works well for you both.

  3. Closing out the project: Once the project is complete, make sure to leave a rating and review especially if they do good work.

You can also look for artists within your network and negotiate separately. Some artists work per project while sites like Fiverr and Upwork are usually per hour.

  1. You may want to come up with a simple contract that outlines the terms and conditions, the agreed-upon rate, and a copyright release for the images.

DIY – skilled

If you have experience with Adobe Illustrator or have a graphic design background, have at it! Putting together a coloring book won’t be much of a stretch for you.

DIY – no skills, no budget

If you have no budget and no graphic design skills, it’s not impossible to create an adult coloring book. You’ll just have to get even more creative with the process. I recommend look at photo apps. There are many that will vectorize existing photos for you. You can use these to compile your own coloring book images. Just make the app churns out high quality and high-resolution images.


Start designing your coloring book specs and look for an artist, either within your network or on a freelance site. Be sure to vet a lot of artists until you find one that fits your time, budget, and whose artwork fits the book you want to create.

Part 3: What I’m reading

The Long Walk by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman (****) The story revolves around a teenager in a post-apocalyptic world who enters a contest where all the contestants have to walk and the last one remaining wins whatever prize he desires. It’s a haunting, riveting book and King proves he can write best-selling masterpieces no matter which name he publishes under.

Books by John

  1. Check out my Amazon author profile.

Support the Podcast

  1. The Corporate Cliches Adult Coloring Book: makes the perfect stocking stuffer or white elephant gift.

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