Pixel art coloring book apps are the newest App Store craze

Has your kid bugged you to let them download Sandbox Coloring? You’re probably not alone. The latest trend blowing up on the App Store is a new twist on the coloring book apps that have been popular for a couple of years. Now, instead of having users pick and choose their colors as before, this new group of coloring book apps – four of which recently snagged spots in the App Store’s Top 10 – are color-by-number books featuring retro-looking, pixel art designs.

Also unlike the previous lineup of coloring book apps, which were often marketed as “coloring books for adults,” the pixel art books appear to be an App Store trend driven by kids.

For starters, they’re coloring books – and while grown-ups have gotten in on that action in recent years, it’s a type of app that also largely appeals to children.

The pixel art coloring apps come up at the top of the App Store search results, when someone looks for keywords like “coloring” or “coloring book” – search terms kids are likely to enter.

More importantly, a signal the trend may be driven by a younger audience is that the new downloads appear to be coming from word-of-mouth, in many cases. This is mentioned repeatedly in the App Store reviews, where users say their friend told them about the app.

You can get a sense of the age of the user base by reading the App Store reviews, as well.

Clearly, a number of kids have shared their opinions on the matter of pixel art coloring, as in this sampling of reviews:

“My name is boobs I love boobs”


“Hello this is my favorite game I hope you make other games like this you guys are the best game makers” 


“Have u ever had a McChicken”


“I love this game so much! I play it in school, at my house, in the car. What I thought you could add is where you can take a pucture and slide a bar from hard witch would have lots of number/blocks and easy witch less numbers/block. I love the new search bar. Plz add my idea”


This app is so good you should get it rate it a 5555555 that’s what I did❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️it”

Just going out on a limb here, but these users are probably children.

And the kids can download.

In December, four apps hit the top 10 on the App Store, including Sandbox Coloring, Pixel Art – Color by Number, UNICORN – Number Coloring Book, and Color by Number: Coloring Book.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the top four pixel art coloring apps have a combined 12 million downloads – half of which are from the U.S. alone – since the beginning of November. Roughly half of those downloads occurred this month.

While Sandbox Coloring may have started the trend, the app called Unicorn is in the lead for the month of December, narrowly beating Sandbox for the most downloads.

Also notable is that apps generate revenue through subscriptions, not one-time purchases as other “kid” apps have done in the past, when offering access to premium content for paying users. Instead, these apps offer options like weekly, monthly, and annual subscriptions. These promise features like the regular release of new images, ad removal, or the ability to unlock unlimited pictures, among other things.

We reached out to the app makers to confirm Sensor Tower numbers, but none responded. One of the published support emails didn’t even work.

Yep, that’s right – you’re not dealing with game makers like EA or Supercell here; but rather indie developers for the most part.

The original trendsetter, Sandbox Coloring, comes from Russian developer Alexey Grigorkin, for example. His app’s support site is the barest of web pages.

Sensor Tower estimates that Grigorkin has made over $500,000 this month alone from Sandbox’s in-app purchases.

Unicorn, from U.K. developer AppsYouLove, is in the lead by downloads at present, but not ranking. It made more than Sandbox in December – as much as $630,000, estimates Sensor Tower.

It doesn’t appear these developers are bothering with traditional social media marketing, thanks to their ability to ride the trend to get surfaced in App Store search, and from kids telling other kids. AppsYouLove’s Facebook Page, for example, has 3 Likes. That’s not a typo. Just 3. I guess the kids aren’t on Facebook.

Belarus-based Easybrain, which makes Pixel Art – Color by Number, hasn’t even bothered adding the app to its website or giving it a Facebook Page for it, the way it did with its prior success, Sudoku.

Only Color by Number seems to come from a larger company: TFG.co, a game developer in Latin America, with over 100 employees. (It’s also the maker of the popular coloring book for adults, Colorfy.) But Color by Number hasn’t made it to TFG.co’s site yet, either. It just has its own basic landing page.

Of course, App Store trends like these don’t always last. And in fact, the top four slipped a bit as of today, with only Sandbox retaining its top 10 ranking. Color by Number dropped to #12 and Unicorn is #17. Pixel Art, which was the #27 Top App yesterday, has moved over to the Top Games chart today, where it’s #8.

But these apps may again see a spike in a few days’ time – if kids unwrap new tablets and iPods at Christmas, that is.