Colorful Keepsakes: Make a Personalized Coloring Book from Your Favorite Photos

Colorful Keepsakes: Make a Personalized Coloring Book from Your Favorite Photos

flamingo wrapping paper
Flamingo fun printed wrapping paper | Image courtesy Etsy seller Clare Shrouder

It was just days away from my best friend’s birthday and not only was I short on her favorite flamingo-printed tissue paper, but I didn’t even have a good idea for her present. After some serious mulling, I decided I wanted to give Ellie a gift that expressed how much fun I always have with her, whether it’s an afternoon coffee date or our trip to the Caribbean last summer. We had taken some pretty amazing shots on our island-hopping journey—if only photo albums weren’t so passé and framed photographs didn’t tend to fade into the background on overstuffed shelves.

I thought about having our faces printed on a mug, but Ellie hates kitsch, especially in her kitchen. I wouldn’t win any best friend points there. No, what I wanted was to make her something beautiful, surprising, and emotive—not to mention fun—all of the things Ellie represented to me. But with limited time, I started to have visions of slipping a gift certificate into a store-bought birthday card—and that just wouldn’t do. Then, inspiration struck when I remembered discussing the new craze for adult coloring books with her on our last trip to the bookstore.

Nothing Beats Nostalgia

adult coloring book
Make them smile with cute imagery | Image courtesy Etsy seller StudioMagdaPolakow

The best gifts are ones based on little hints the person has dropped, whether intentionally or unintentionally. My own favorite strategy for gift giving is to sneak off during a shopping trip to discreetly purchase something my shopping partner was salivating over, but wouldn’t buy for themselves.

Ellie definitely had a glimmer of childish glee in her eyes when looking through the adult coloring book section at the book shop, but I could tell she felt too silly to actually buy one. Remembering that happy gleam, I started to devise a plan to reduce my best friend to a giggling schoolgirl—with the help of a color pencil. I use the mantra nothing beats nostalgia” when picking out presents, so I decided to incorporate photographs of our adventures, like our recent Caribbean vacation, into a personalized coloring book for her. The only problem was, I had no idea where to start.

Crafting a Personalized Coloring Book, Step by Step

How does someone with a few ingrained craft skills, but not much else, make their own printed coloring book from scratch? Turns out, it’s pretty easy. Here are my start to finish tips, based on my own coloring book conundrum.

Step 1: Choosing a Theme

For Ellie’s coloring book, I decided to forget drawing my own images. But, if you want to give freehand drawing black and white outlines a try, all you need is a black fine tip felt pen and some patience.

Try drawing things that are colorful in real life, and also try to pick large-scale, easy to decipher images, like animals, plants, or nature scenes. But, to keep my project personal, I decided to turn my favorite friendship photos into Ellie’s coloring book pages.

Step 2: Transforming Your Photos

I decided that pictures from our Caribbean vacation would take center stage in the pages of Ellie’s birthday coloring book. I picked out some of the most interesting shots, with lots of detail and funky shapes to fill in. Then I scanned and uploaded them onto my laptop so I could use free online software to convert the color photographs into simple black and white outlines at the simple touch of a button.

photo before and after
A photo “Before and After”

Step Three: Printing Your Pages

I put Ellie’s pages in order based on when the photos were taken so they would walk her down memory lane, although you could order yours based on events, themes, or level of difficulty.

I also spent some time designing the front and back covers using photoshop, although it could also be done in Microsoft Word, or by hand if you’re a little extra artistic. And, don’t forget to add a personal message or two!

Printing out your pages is easy, and can be done right from your home printer. Once printed, check the arrangement of your pages, making sure they’re all right side up, including the front and back covers. And, for the cover, pick a heavier and slightly larger piece of paper, to give your book that quality, professionally-made feel.

Step Four: Basic Bookbinding

Once printed, the final step is to bind your pages together. For this, you’ll need a few simple craft supplies:

hand-bound books
Cute binding with simple needle and thread | Image courtesy Etsy seller emilyjtillustration
  • A paper cutter or cutting board
  • A pencil
  • A bone folder or ruler
  • Thread or string
  • A large sewing needle
  • A bookbinding awl

First, fold your cover. The best way to fold paper accurately is to use a bone folder, or, if you don’t have one of those, a ruler. Fold the paper cover in half, making sure to line up the edges exactly. Hold your bone folder or ruler at a right angle to the paper and press down firmly. Take your time with this, as the neater your cover, the neater your finished coloring book will be.

Next, hold the coloring pages in order with a large clamp or paper clips secured at the side (not the spine), making sure not to damage the paper. Using a ruler, measure out five points at equal distances down the spine. It may be a good idea to find the center point, then work your way out on either side. Then you’ll use the bookbinding awl to poke out five holes at the points you marked.

Finally, thread your thick sewing needle and insert it into the center hole. Pull the thread almost all the way through, leaving some excess length to tie it off at the end, then go through hole 4, pulling the thread through. Next, poke your needle through hole 5 before going back through hole 4. Now pull the thread tightly. Inside the center fold, push your needle through the center hole again, then, from the outside, push your needle through hole 2 and pull your thread tight. Thread hole 1 from the inside page next, and then through hole 2 from the outside. Finally, thread your needle through the center hole one more time and pull the thread to the outside. Tie it off by looping it around the thread between holes 3 and 4 and then pulling it back to the inside to hide the knot.

Step Five: The Finishing Touches

colorful art supplies
Don’t forget the color pencils to up your gift ante | Image courtesy Etsy seller ColorprismArt

An artist grade box of color pencils or pens is an essential add-on to your gift, as well as wrapping it all up in brightly colored tissue paper for a subtle hint at what’s inside. You can even personalize the gift wrapping by matching the colors of the tissue paper to the theme of the coloring book.

Go ahead and really shock someone with a fun, creative—and colorful—gift guaranteed to bring out anyone’s inner child. Whether your friends are the serious, professional type or tend towards silly and creative, the adult coloring book is definitely a new trend perfect for the savvy gift-givers’ repertoire. I was so delighted with the finished result that I’m planning to make one for yet another unsuspecting loved one—my mom. I just hope that she loves it as much as Ellie did! I can’t wait to gift my mom with countless hours of joy spent coloring in her fondest memories, one little detail at a time.


Let Elfster help you pick the perfect, colorful gift from any of our featured gift guides—and be sure to connect with us on Facebook, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on twitter @elfster, for more thoughtfully creative gifting tips and tricks.

Jeni W

Jeni W

Jeni is a music-loving, crafty boy mom of 2. When she's not crawling on the floor after her toddler, she can be found DIY-ing up a storm, coffee cup in hand—there's always a reason to party in her world.
Jeni W
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