7 Best Mess Free Coloring Supplies For Toddlers + Preschoolers

no mess coloring for toddlers

Wondering how you can get your kids to stop coloring on the walls and floor? Enter mess free coloring! Sound too good to be true? It isn't! In fact, we've rounded up the best mess free coloring supplies for toddlers and preschoolers so they can enjoy no mess coloring while you get a minute!

Important Note: When To Use No Mess Coloring

Mess is such a critical part of toddlerhood (and childhood). It helps with sensory processing, brain development, and social skills. As a mom of two, I know the importance of letting kids get messy – while also knowing that sometimes you need to just hand them something to play with for a few minutes without feeling like you need to police a rainy day art project.

Mess free coloring is something we personally reserve for travel – whether it's a road trip toy, packed in our carry on as airplane travel toys, or simply we are at grandma's house or another friend's and I don't want to stress if my kids color on their rug. Generally at home, we try to keep all the messy art projects as our primary go-to option.

When NOT To Use Mess Free Coloring

Mess free coloring has a ton of benefits (no mess! teaches cause and effect, fine motor skill refinement, to name a few) but it can also encourage some unwanted behavior.

Toddlers are little scientists; especially a 1 year old or 2 year old! The very act of coloring teaches them cause and effect – so the will inevitably test that out on multiple surfaces.

If you use a mix of traditional and mess free markers, you may end up with bigger messes on your hands as kids try to learn the “limits” so to speak. For some kids, using mess free markers may encourage them to improperly use coloring materials in the future since sometimes it works – and sometimes it doesn't and that's the fun part of the process for them. This isn't true for all kids but is important to consider.

Best Mess Free Coloring Supplies For Toddlers + Preschoolers

Crayola Color Wonder

Honestly you cannot talk about mess free coloring without talking about Crayola's Color Wonder product line.

Crayola mess free markers come in a wide array of vibrant colors. These work specifically with Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Paper and coloring books.

In other words: They look like regular markers, but only work on Crayola's special paper.

This is probably the most realistic coloring experience for toddlers as they will actually get to color using the color they choose.

Additionally, you can choose between blank coloring pages, or get mess free coloring books based off your kids interests or favorite characters.

Lastly, you can get predone no mess coloring kits which include the markers, pages, and some even have no mess stamps! 

There are a few dupes like Melissa & Doug's Magic Color and NuFun; neither of these match the quality or price of Crayola's though so I'd skip them unless they are on an amazing sale.

Pros
  • Most similar to traditional coloring
  • Choose from a wide variety of toddler's favorite characters, interests, or blank paper
  • Can purchase refill markers or paper separately
  • Chunky grip for little hands
Cons
  • Can get pricey compared to other picks
  • Only works on special paper for mess free markers
  • Bulkiest pick for travel
  • May teach kids to “color” things they aren't supposed to

Imagine Ink Activity Pad

You've probably seen Imagine Ink's activity books in the “dollar spot” at Target. They are a little bigger than an adult palm, with a mess free marker for toddlers and big kids built into the top, and special pages with different activities.travel

The marker's are basically clear ink that “reveal” colors on the children's books. Since the ink is clear, you don't need to worry about it getting anywhere.

These are great for their pure simplicity and ease. It's one book and one marker, making it a great travel pick.

However it's not the best option in my opinion for regular use. Kids don't really get to express creativity as these just reveal predetermined pictures. It doesn't teach much about “staying in the lines” either. Babies and young toddlers will likely just scribble in it them move on. For older toddlers or young preschoolers, the activities are fun though, especially if you choose one of their favorite characters! We keep these on hand for travel.

Lastly, Melissa & Doug do offer a dupe for this, the On The Go ColorBlast! Activity Books.

Pros
  • Only 2 pieces (book and marker) + small/compact making it a great travel option
  • Choose from a wide variety of toddler's favorite characters and interests
  • Chunky grip for young children
  • Perfect size for small hands on long road trip
Cons
  • No color choice or creative expression
  • Toddlers can't read what the activities are yet (so you'll need to do it together, or just let them scribble)
  • May teach kids to color things they aren't supposed to

Melissa & Doug Water WOW!

Melissa & Doug Water WOW! coloring books are pretty similar to the Imagine Ink activity books I just talked about with two major differences: they use a water pen and the pages are reusable.

Like the Imagine Ink Books, these are a little bigger than an adult hand, with a built in storage spot for the “marker.”

These “markers” (aka water pens in this case) are basically a tube, which you fill with water, and then a little brush tip.

When toddlers color/paint the page reveals a colorful image. When the page dries, it goes back to white and can be redone again and again.

This is one of our favorites for travel due to the reusability factor. Choose from your child's favorite interests or characters:

NOTE: Dollar Tree does offer a dupe for this – it's not as durable, but it does come with 16 pages instead of 4 so it's worth a try! Plus the bulk purchase would make a great party favor. Shop it here!

Pros
  • Only 2 pieces (book and pen) + small/compact making it a great travel option
  • Reusable pages
  • Pen does not mimic traditional coloring tools
  • Chunky grip
  • Perfect size for small hands on long road trip
Cons
  • Not as many character/interest choices as Imagine Ink Activity Books
  • No color choice or creative expression
  • Only 4 images in a book

BONUS: Dollar Tree Water Coloring Books

Another little trick we do, especially for our toddler as she got older and really hit the preschool years – was pick up the water coloring books from the dollar store. These work with the Water WOW! Pen I just talked about, and are a little more fun for older kids who may get bored after finishing the four pages in the Melissa & Doug books.

Now these “coloring books” act more like watercolor painting pages – so the water needs to dry on the page, or it can run everywhere.

Pros
  • Only 2 pieces (book and pen)
  • More advanced coloring technique/ fine motor skill practice as colors can bleed into other areas
  • Pen does not mimic traditional coloring tools
Cons
  • Watercolors can run easily

Scratch & Color Books

You may remember scratch cards from childhood – the all black page you scratch off to reveal a picture?

Well toddlers still love these and they make great no mess coloring books for toddlers! Especially during travel as they are only two pieces: the book and scratch pen.

These come in a huge variety of activities: basic coloring, numbers, letters, animals, shapes, and more:

Pros
  • Two pieces – making it great for travel
  • Great preschool / older toddler learning options
  • Pen does not mimic traditional coloring tools
Cons
  • Young toddlers may not be able to hold tiny scratch pen or have enough coordination to apply pressure and scratch properly

LCD Writing Board

LCD Writing boards are the most minimal mess free coloring option out there in my opinion.

These boards have the pen attached – making it a one piece pick. Additionally, the slim design makes it one of the most perfect toys for travel. As you won't have to stress if your toddler drops their pen and it's small enough to fit in somewhere.

Basically your toddler just colors the black board and it reveals a multi color background. You click the center button to “reset” the page and color again!

Pros
  • One piece (pen is attached) and thin design make it the best travel pick
  • Full expression on coloring/drawing
  • Pen does not mimic traditional coloring tools
Cons
  • Battery required for resetting LCD screen (typically it comes with one or two, just keep this in mind for future)

Magnetic Drawing Boards

Magnetic Drawing boards are SO fun and kids love coloring with these! Even though you don't get the full spectrum of all the different colors, toddlers can draw whatever they like and it's a great way to color mess free!

We pick these up at the Dollar Store to have on hand through the year in the car. However you can purchase larger one's for more regular use.

Basically kids use a magnetic pen on a whiteboard which pulls the magnetic dust across the screen to form pictures. Some magnetic drawing boards come with “stamps” too – and some have colorful backgrounds.

Pros
  • Depending on style this is either one or two pieces with the board and pen being attached or detached
  • Full expression on coloring/drawing
  • Pen does not mimic traditional coloring tools
Cons
  • Dollar store magnetic board is small (smaller than adult palm)

FAQs about no mess coloring for toddlers

How do you introduce coloring to toddlers?

Toddlers innately will pick up pen or marker like objects and scribble. The key to refining this movement is begin with chunky markers and crayons before moving onto more precise coloring tools like pens.

In the early coloring years, just let them scribble away. It helps if you color next to them as toddlers and children typically learn by watching others more than verbal instruction.

Lastly, art supplies make the perfect gift at an early age, from one year and up. It works a variety of skills while encouraging your little artist to blossom in different ways with a endless creative ideas and colorful fun options.

Is coloring good for toddlers?

Yes! Some benefits of coloring for toddlers include:

  • Refines fine motor skills,
  • Depends concentration
  • Improves hand eye coordination
  • Strengthens hands
  • Increases self esteem and confidence
  • Opportunities for language and speech development
  • Can soothe and relax the nervous system (why do you think adult coloring became so popular??)
How do I get my toddler to stop eating crayons?

If your toddler is eating crayons, simply state “Crayons are for coloring” in a calm, soothing voice, while gently moving the crayon (while it's still in their hand) from their mouth to the paper to model it. Do this one or two times.

If they keep eating the crayon calmly say, “Crayons are for coloring. I'm going to put these away and we can try again another day.”

While no mess coloring tools may seem like a great option to stop your toddler from eating crayons, they may still eat those too!

It's important to remember babies and toddlers explore the world by mouthing items and boundaries should remain the same across coloring tools.

How does mess free coloring work?

Mess free coloring ultimately depends on the materials you choose to do it with! Some options include:

  • Special markers and paper that only work together,
  • Clear or water based “ink” to reveal pre colored pictures,
  • Magnetic or LCD pens on a drawing board
  • Scratch and reveal colors

Are there markers that only work on paper? 

Yes, Crayola Color Wonder markers and Imagine Ink‘s markers are two of the most popular style markers that work with specific paper. Melissa & Doug also have two dupes for the latter picks that only work on special paper.

Do you need special paper for mess free markers?

Yes, you typically need special paper for mess free markers.

How does Color Wonder Mess-free work?

The Color Wonder markers look clear, but actually contain a leuco dye that changes to the predetermined color once it touches a chemical on the matching Color Wonder paper. When the two chemicals touch, they cause a reaction (the color) that cannot be replicated on your couch, walls, or clothes making it a fun way to color mess free!

Are Mess-Free Color Wonder markers toxic?

According to Crayola's website, they are nontoxic.

Do color wonder markers work on regular paper?

No, Crayola Color Wonder markers are specifically designed to work with special Color Wonder paper (or similar paper dupes) which feature a special chemical that trigger the development of color (it's why the color is always a little delayed actually!).

Final thoughts on mess free coloring

The ability to color mess free is the perfect solution for toddlers, preschoolers, and caregivers to skip the clean up and enjoy on road trips or while traveling.

Personally we suggest starting with a magnetic drawing boards, Melissa & Doug Water WOW! books, or the LCD Board to start. These are great toys focusing on cause and effect.

The writing tools don't mimic traditional crayons or markers either. This is especially important if your toddler likes to eat crayons or color on your walls – as you don't want accidentally encourage your toddlers inner scientist to test out every marker and crayon on every surface of your home!

Now for travel, we love the LCD Board, magnetic drawing boards, Imagine Ink Activity Books, and Water WOW! books. Each of these offer a slightly different mess free coloring experience while being compact and having minimal pieces.

As kids get older, and know not to color on the walls, you may want to introduce Crayola Color Wonder series to just limit mess. We like this option (even for younger toddlers) at grandparents houses or long stays in AirBnB's etc. as to not risk damage other people's property on accident.

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