6 Tips for Taking Printables from ‘Eh’ to ‘Excellent’


Adult Coloring PrintablesPrintables can be great (yay, free goodies!) – and can be awful. 

Coloring book publishers and artists give away printable coloring pages as a try-and-buy technique.  Oodles of websites offer free printables pages. And artists sell unique ones on their websites or shops such as Etsy. Printables are usually single pages, but you can also find printable collections or books; in fact, many of the coloring books on Amazon are also available in electronic (Kindle) format, with online links to print the illustrations at home. And you can print printables as many times as you want, so you can try different tools, palettes or techniques on the same illustration.

There are a lot of variables to consider when you print a coloring page. If you are like me, your experiences with printables has probably included some or all of the following:

  • paper jams
  • too-small illustrations
  • cut-off illustrations
  • smudging
  • bleeding
  • lifeless color from my pens, pencils and markers

The result? Wasted paper, ink, and supplies. And instead of the meditative calm you are  looking for, you get frustrated.

However, getting a printable that is perfect for how you like to color can be tough, especially with an inkjet printer, which is what most of us have.

Here are some tips for getting the most from adult coloring page printables.

Tip #1: Look for printables that are PDF files.

Coloring pages that are in PDF (“portable document format”) are easy-peasy to print, and have been sized correctly so the image doesn’t print in a corner of the paper or extend over the edges of the paper.

If a site or seller doesn’t tell you that the coloring page file is PDF, usually all you need to do is right-click on it the image and “Open in a new tab”; you will see the file type in your browser’s address bar. If not PDF, it will probably be a JPG or GIF as in this example:

Adult Coloring Printables
Click image to open a new tab and see detail.

Info VectorYou need Acrobat Reader on your computer to view and print PDF files. You can download Acrobat Reader for free here.

Tip # 2: Let your printable dry completely.

If you made an investment in a laser printer, you have a head start and can ignore this tip. Laser printer ink is “dry” and even fresh from the printer it won’t smudge when you go over the lines with pen, pencil or marker, no matter what paper you use. If you are looking for a good laser printer, there are quite a few popular and highly-rated ones under $100.

Inkjet printers, such as the one I use, are more challenging because the ink is water-based – and wet. To avoid smudging and smearing the printable’s lines, wait at least 30 minutes after you print it before you start to color, and keep your hands dry and free from creams or lotions. while you are coloring

Tip #3: Avoid water-based markers & be careful with colored pencils.

Because inkjet ink is water-based, water-based markers will smudge the printed lines, even if it is completely dry. If you use colored pencils, the oils from the wax in the lead may smudge the printer’s ink as well. To see what can happen with printables on ink-jet printers, I made the same printable on three different types of paper, waited a whole day, and then tested 4 different media to compare the results.

Adult Coloring Printables
Click image to open a new tab and see detail.

As you can see, even after a full day of drying the water-based Crayola Supertips still smudged the ink, regardless of the paper type. The best performer? Our great Prismacolor Premier Markers.

Tip #4: Use the right paper.

If you are printing a coloring page and have no interest in displaying or keeping it for a long time, or using advanced techniques like burnishing or blending, plain old multi-purpose copy paper will be just fine although alcohol-based markers will bleed through the paper and on the illustration itself (learn more about why in this post).

However, if you manhandle your coloring pages like I do, you will want a more substantial paper. My go-to is 65 pound white card stock. Almost every inkjet printer will let feed this card stock without jamming. If you have a newer printer you can go for an even heftier 80 pound card stock.

Info VectorCard stock uses more ink – from the printer and your markers – than regular paper.

Tip #5: Tell your printer what paper you are using

Your printer has all those settings for a reason: to give you the best quality printing possible.

Printers don’t know what type of paper you are using and usually default to “plain paper” unless you tell them otherwise. If you are using anything other than plain old paper, change the printer’s Paper/Quality properties before printing, ideally to “Best Quality” and “Specialty Paper.” The “Specialty Paper” setting will use more printer ink, however.

Adult Coloring Printables
My Printer’s Print DIalogue

Almost every printer has a different interface for doing this, so I can’t cover all of the options here; best to check your printer’s manual. Most manuals are now available online – simply do an internet search for your printer’s make/model and the word “manual.”

Info VectorSome colorists like their illustrations to have very light lines. If that is you, choose “Draft” quality.

Tip #6: Unsure? Test!

Not sure your printer is ready to give you the best? I recommend printing “draft” quality copy on regular paper before actually using my card stock. I save paper that I use before and simply print n the blank side.

Do you print at home? Did you find this post useful? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please share with us in the comments section below, or feel free to contact me directly.

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9 thoughts on “6 Tips for Taking Printables from ‘Eh’ to ‘Excellent’”

  1. Linda Davis says:

    Great article!!! I will definitely consider printables in the future using you article as a guide. Thank you. Linda

    1. Thank you for the printables.

  2. Penny Levalley says:

    I use110 weight card stock and have no problems with it at all.

    1. Hi Penny
      What cardstock are u using to print on?

  3. Great tips! You’ve opened up a whole new interest for me, will be sharing!

  4. Patricia Case says:

    I have been downloading coloring pages for years. When I started I used a desktop computer. Now I use my phone, it doesn’t have a right click to see what formats the pages are in. I do lots of editing and when my computer worked I loved the Printmaster programs. Sadly there is nothing in comparison as far as apps go and I really wish someone would develop a phone app that would compete with PC editing programs like Printmaster.

  5. Patricia Case says:

    Almost everyone I know who colors use gel pens. Why didn’t you test them with the others?

  6. Hi
    What heavy weight cardstock would u recommend for printing coloring postcards? Is possible bleed proof.

  7. These are wonderful tips! I just saw a coloring contest for adults, and I thought to myself, wow, I’d love to try, then further thought, naw, I’d never win…. tips like this could put me right up there!!!

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