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Home » Blog » Copyright and How it Applies to Coloring Books and Pages

Copyright and How it Applies to Coloring Books and Pages

2016-08-10 - Flower beetle2This article is based on a post from Nerine Martin on ColorYourWayToHappy.com.

Copyright is such an important subject, with so many people downloading drawings from Pinterest and Google, that I felt the need to share it here, with permission.

I originally posted this on Aug. 18th 2016. On Febr. 4th 2020 I’ve made some adjustments, mainly for better readability.

There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst colorists about copyright and how it applies to coloring books and pages.

Most people who break copyright law have good intentions. So I am writing this to clarify some issues about copyright of coloring images that I’ve seen come up multiple times, both with colorists and artists.

Copyright allows you to color images you purchased for personal use

You MAY:

  • post your finished/colored work online (i.e. in Facebook groups) to share with others
  • give away your colored original piece to anyone you wish


  • distribute copyrighted work, even if you paid for it
  • post blank uncolored pages online
  • give copies/scan uncolored pages to someone else – even if it’s a freebie posted by the artist

If you want to share a free page, share a link to where the artist posted it so others can visit their site and get it themselves.


Common questions and misunderstandings

Here are 7 things you need to know about copyright and coloring books/sheets:

1. “If I don’t make money by giving away the blank coloring sheet or an electronic file, I am not in violation of copyright.”

Wrong! Remember Napster? There was sharing, no money being exchanged, and they credited the artist. It was still illegal.

You didn’t create the coloring sheet, so if you distribute original work that is not yours, you are breaking the law – even if you credit the artist.

2. “I am a big fan of this artist. Won’t giving away their coloring sheets give them more sales?”

This is like showing up at someone’s office, taking their paycheck and giving it away to other people, because you love their work. If you give away a copyrighted image, the people who use it won’t be running out to buy the coloring sheet(s) they just got for free.

If you are a fan and want to publicize an artist’s work, the best thing you can do to support this artist is to share your colored work with the artist’s name and where you got the original from (such as the name of the artist’s book or their website).

Usually colorists want to know where a colored page is from and what media was used to color it. You might as well answer those questions in advance when you post the colored image.

3. “I bought and paid for the coloring book/image so it’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it.”

Copyright prohibits any distribution or reproduction of the original work. When you buy a movie or a CD it doesn’t give you the rights to burn copies and give them away or post it online for others to download. The same rule applies to coloring sheets/pages and books.

4. “Is sharing scans or copies of blank coloring sheets with a friend considered personal use?”

Personal use means for your own use. If you want to give away a copy to a friend, you need to give them your original physical page that you bought. Or you’ll have to buy another book to give away. As with any physical object, you need to purchase it every time you give it as a gift.

So yes, you may cut out an original uncolored (or colored) page out of a physical book you purchased and give it away. You can however NOT copy it or scan it to distribute. You also should not share an electronic file you purchased (i.e. PDF file/eBook).

If you want to share a file with a friend or give it as a gift, you need to purchase another electronic copy. Or simply ask your friend to purchase their own copy.

5. “I found this image on Pinterest or Google search, and can’t give an attribution, because it didn’t have one. It’s the artist’s fault, because they should have put their name on it.”

Most of the “free” coloring sheets posted online and on Pinterest are unfortunately stolen from artists. Coming across a bike without someone’s name on it doesn’t mean that it’s yours.

As with any other item, just because it isn’t labelled doesn’t mean it belongs to you. We are adults and are well aware that the Internet is not a game of “finders keepers”.

You can trust images posted by the artist as a free download or sold from their Facebook page or website. You probably have not noticed that all images in Google search results have a warning: “Images may be subject to copyright” – so the argument that they’re free of copyright because you found them on Google or Pinterest is invalid.

Using the words “Credit to the artist” when you post copyrighted work does not mean you’re not breaking copyright law.

Artists today need to post their work online to promote it – that does not mean it’s OK to steal it. You don’t steal store displays – the same applies to an artist’s online presence.

6. “I have cancer/some illness/am disabled, can I just color this sheet without paying for it? It’s not hurting anyone.”

When someone is ill, it doesn’t mean they can just grab items from the grocery store shelves and not pay for them. Copyright laws apply to everyone regardless of their health condition. Check with your hospital or doctors.

Many artists generously donate coloring pages/books to cancer centers and other medical offices to be used by people undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis and many other medical procedures.

Many times people who know someone with an illness want to help and don’t know how. Let your friends and family know that you would love to have a particular coloring book. Ask for them on your birthday or for holiday gifts. Coloring books are a gift that gives hours of enjoyment for a low price.

Check the artist’s site for legal samples. Almost all artists legally offer free samples posted on their sites or Facebook pages.

Join ethical coloring groups and enter some of the many giveaways. Most of all, ask yourself, “Will it truly improve my health and recovery to color stolen artwork?”

7. Violating copyright is a crime with victims!

The cliché about starving artists rings true, because art is generally not the most profitable profession out there. Coloring book authors are real people struggling to pay bills and feed their families.

Many are single parents, have disabilities that keep them from being able to work outside the home, or have health issues that keep them from being able to work in a regular office environment.

More things to consider

Some artists work full time and stay up late after they get off work, and their children are in bed, and lose sleep to work on their material – hoping for a little side income to help make ends meet. Art may look easy, but there is a lot of work and expense that goes into it.

Expenses include pens, papers, markers, pencils, erasers, scanners, computers, cameras, printers, and software. 

It takes a lot of time and effort

Add to that the time that it takes to research one’s subject, draw a coloring sheet, clean it up, get it ready to publish (and to learn how to publish in the first place), and either get it formatted for a book or on an online store, publish or post for sale, plus the extensive time that goes into marketing one’s work, and in the event money is made – bookkeeping time and expenses.

This doesn’t even include the time it takes to learn to draw the art itself, through hours of grit and hard work, or the bills related to art classes and college courses. People tend to think artists are born with this innate talent, but no one seems to notice the countless hours they spend honing their skill.

As any artist who ever figured out how to draw lips, hair/fur, eyes, hands, or a landscape that looks 3-dimensional instead of flat can attest, there is real struggle and work involved in learning to make art.

“Now I feel like I can’t post anything online in fear of breaking the law.”

It’s fine to post your coloring work in progress or finished coloring sheet. Just cite your sources for each picture posted. Coloring should be fun and relaxing.

Drinking is legal; drunk driving is not. Police are not killjoys for arresting people driving while intoxicated. Neither are artist’s killjoys for protecting their copyrighted work and source of income.

There’s no need to steal

You can buy coloring books (they truly are everywhere now – bookstores, supermarkets, dollar store, you name it), or download coloring sheets from the artist’s online store. If you’re on a tight budget, look at the artist’s page for free samples. Or ask your friends and family for coloring books as gifts.

Don’t download from Google or from any sketchy web sites full of free coloring pages. Particularly foreign ones, because you may end up with viruses and spyware in addition to stolen images. And don’t download from Pinterest.

Those easy rules of thumb will keep coloring fun and stress-free, like it’s supposed to be.

Nerine’s personal experience

I am addressing copyright, because I have seen several coloring book artists leave the field. Or they’ve become discouraged, because of art theft. If you believe artists are killjoys for talking about copyright, then I imagine that if someone steals your wallet you would not call the police so you don’t ruin that person’s fun.

Artists enjoy sending take down notices about as much as you’d enjoy filling out a police report after someone stole your property. I’ve seen several artist friends find out their work has been stolen and have seen their reaction: shock, grief, frustration, anger, helplessness. Many hours are used up dealing with the incident and some are not able to draw for days or weeks after.

I know those feelings well, because that’s exactly how I felt after my home was broken into and after my purse was stolen. It grieves me to see my friends feel that way.

Keep it legal

Why have fun at someone else’s expense? Let’s keep it legal! Otherwise we may all end up coloring stick figures – and where’s the fun in that?

Keep coloring enjoyable for yourself (guilt free!) and for the artists so we can work together to do what we love: color and relax!

Final note from me

Nerine Martin has drawn a lot of lovely coloring books, available on Bookdepository.com. Nerine made the coloring page that I’ve used, and colored, for this article.

Let’s respect copyright and have fun coloring!


Signature, zwart met dropshadow

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  1. Thank you so much for all the info!! I’ll pass this along to people I know that use Pinterest and Google. Great information!!

  2. So I can’t color the picture, use it in my frame that I design and sell it?? That has certainly changed things for me! Just about everything that you choose to decorate, paint, color came from someone else but they chose to sell the raw finish and I chose to go a step further and give it color, design and expression. Guess I better take some drawing classes!!??????

  3. Hi, I am from Australia and am currently organizing a colour-in activity for the kids at church to help them learn about Christmas and I found some pictures online that might be useful. I am still puzzled after reading this article. Does it mean it is a definite NO to distribute these colour in works even for educational purpose as well? Is it possible to use them at church if I asked for the artist’s permission to use them?
    Sorry for the stupid questions. It would be great if I get a clarification.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Anastasia, thanks for reaching out. This is not a stupid question, I’m glad you’re asking!
      To answer it: in fact it usually means exactly what you already figured. Unless these pictures are copyrights free, CC-0 according to the Creative Commons. If they are not copyright free, you are not allowed to distribute them, not even for educational purpose. UNLESS… you’re able to track down the original artist (not some re-poster on Pinterest or Google!) and get their permission. In that case you are allowed to do what the artist allows you to do, and what that is depends on the artist.

      Another thing you could do is search for free coloring pages. I’ve found you a website where they link to several websites that give out free Christmas coloring pages for children that may be used by churches and schools: https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/free-christmas-coloring-pages-1357368
      In that case you’d be covered and wouldn’t have to worry about infringing copyrights.

      I hope this answer has helped you. Thanks again for asking.

      Colorful greetings,

  4. I’ve been wanting to create time-lapse videos on YouTube of coloring in pages from various books that I’ve bought. Is that considered reproduction or duplication? I would be linking where I purchased the book, how someone else can buy the book, and as much other information as possible to provide patronage to the publisher/creator. Thoughts?

    • Hi John,

      You can create videos of coloring pages, that is not reproduction or duplication in my understanding. It’s not so much that you need to link to where you purchased the book, it’s more important to link to the artist that made the drawing/book. In addition you can add where you purchased it, but most important is to credit the author of the work.

      Hope this does answer your question.


  5. I want to turn coloring pages into a mixed media, (fabric applique, felt, buttons, beads) on canvas wall hanging. Where do I stand with the copyright on that? it’s reproduction but not in the electronic format that most rules mention. I’d like to then be able to sell them to keep me well stocked in my crafting hobby.

    • Hi Emma, thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, you can’t use coloring pages just like that to turn them into whatever other things than coloring sheets. If you want to make such things as you’ve mentioned, you need permission from the author! Otherwise you’re risking a fine (which are getting higher these days, since people are more and more aware of their rights!). Especially when you want to sell your products, you have to make sure that the designs you use are either in the public domain (and even then, be careful, not everything in the public domain can be used with impunity) or you’ve paid for a license and have proof of that. Or if the author doesn’t expect payment, you’ll need a written permission of the author.

      Reproduction is reproduction. Taking a picture of a drawing and publicizing that, is also reproduction. Painting it is also considered reproduction. Making a canvas wall hanging too.

      I hope I’ve answered your question sufficiently and wish you all the best with your crafting projects!

  6. Hi Tabby
    Thank you for the advice, this has helped quite a bit…. but I still have 1 question.
    I want to adapt the numbering system on some Dot to Dot’s for my son, so if I googled ‘free dot to dot’ on images (of which lots come up), and then opened them as a PDF document and used some graphics software to change the numbers, (making them odds or evens or something?), and then printed it for him, would that be ok ….. ?
    But presumably, selling this on ‘Teachers pay Teachers, for resources’ for example would be allowed or not….as the image has been amended, and I read somewhere that if you update or change some work, its no longer under the original copyright ?
    Sorry to ask

    • Hi Chris, I’ll have to get back to you on this one, since I’m not quite sure whether that’s true that altering an image sort of surpasses the original copyright.

    • Okay Chris, I’ve looked it up. For personal use it’s allowed to alter images, like you did for your son. That’s ONLY to use yourself (or your child), it’s not allowed to post or share it anywhere, either on or offline. And it’s not allowed to alter images and sell them as your own. They are still under the original copyright. In fact, you’re infringing copyrights when you alter an image and then sell it. What you’ve heard is thus not true. Hope this answers your question.

  7. Hi Tabby….

    (Me again), that is such a quick reply, thank you so much….

    I did have one other thought just occur to me, what about scanning in a colouring in page, which I then add my own dots to, and number up, and then ‘remove’ the original drawing leaving just the dots ?

    This is such a minefield !
    Thanks again

    • Hi Chris, I must say, you’re a very creative thinker LOL. Unfortunately, even though you would ‘remove’ the original drawing, the end result of connecting the dots would be the original drawing. So you’d risk getting fined if you would share that in any way, shape or form. And I agree, it is a minefield. Having an issue about copyrights myself because someone has been infringing my rights… while they think they did nothing wrong. Very annoying. So all I can suggest is that you contact the author of the original drawing(s) you want to use, and simply ask them if you can get approval or a license to alter their work and sell it. You might be surprised, so I’d give it a shot! Good luck!

  8. Thank you for the post! This is such an important topic. Here’s my question: I bought a human body coloring book as part of my family’s homeschooling curriculum. I have three sons who will be participating, so I was planning on making copies and leaving the book in tact. I looked very carefully at the copyright information and it doesn’t say one way or the other that this would be acceptable. Would this be considered a copyright violation or fair use?

    • Hi Natalie, thanks for your comment and question. If you’re only making copies for your own sons, to use for their homeschooling, this would be no problem. As long as it’s not for others to use, outside your family, there is no problem at all. You’ve bought the book, and in this case it’s like e.g. making a copy of a CD for yourself, to use in another room than the living room. Just don’t share it with the world, then you’re not violating the copyright of the book.

  9. Hi, I have a question. I am planning to open a business and I recently found a coloring page in which there is a ghost. I think that the ghost character would be a great logo for my store. I tried to reverse image search the page but I can’t find the original creator. Am I allowed to base my logo off of this character in a coloring page? I wouldn’t be selling any products with the ghost, but I do want it shown on my website. I would redraw the ghost and change parts of it. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Madeleine, tough question, to be honest. I’ve searched and found some information (you can find it here: https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/copyright-for-artists-1122610). Personally I wouldn’t take the risk of using that exact ghost picture. Even though the author is not known, someone has the copyright. The only thing you could do, is to let this picture inspire you and you draw a ghost of your own. Not just changing a few bits, but drawing a complete new design. Which will also be giving you much more satisfaction when you use it as a logo for your website and/or business!
      Hope this is helpful, although it’s probably not the answer you were hoping to get.
      Thanks for asking anyway!

  10. Hi Tabby I sure hope this comment works. I do have a question I really hope you can answer. Is it illegal for me as the artist of the coloring book, to draw line work based off someone elses photography? Let’s say flowers, can I design my coloring pages based off flowers from a professional photographer or do I need their permission to draw print and sell my flower coloring book? Thank you for your time.

    • Hi Liam, thank you for your question. The law is pretty clear about this: a photograph is owned by the original author. Drawing a replica of a photograph is an infringement of copyright if you do so without permission of the author. Unless it’s a photograph that’s in the public domain. Drawings based off of someone else’s work, not in the public domain, is only allowed for personal use, such as practicing your drawing skills, but may never be exposed in public or sold.

      Even if the author of a photograph is unknown or untraceable, doesn’t mean it may be used. What you can do, is use pictures from e.g. Pixabay or Pexels. But make sure that you take a screenshot (or print a pdf file) of the permission where the name of the author plus the given permission is clear, so that you can always prove that you’ve used a royalty free photograph. The latter because sometimes photographers delete their pictures from platforms like Pixabay, which could cause problems if you cannot prove that it was free to use at the time you used it. Just a tip that I got from a lawyer who’s specialized in copyright ;).

      I hope this answers your question.

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