History of Paint by Numbers

Art can be fascinating – both to look at, and to create. Seeing a myriad of different colors melting into each other seamlessly to create a visual masterpiece can be a very rewarding experience, but creating art can be a whole different story. No matter how long it takes us, seeing the result can always be one of the most rewarding experiences. It can show us just how fruitful all our hard work has been. Additionally, seeing the painting come out just how we envisioned it to can be a beautiful moment, and these paintings can be a great addition to our homes or for gifting, as they are truly a part of us. Painters will know too well the feelings I’m talking about here. However, not everyone can just dip a paintbrush in some paint and get to work. While most of us may enjoy art, it doesn’t mean we have to be good at it. For most of us, creating an artistic masterpiece may be just a dream, but using a Paint by Numbers kit can change that.

With the easy directions of paint by numbers, almost anyone can create a masterpiece in just a few short hours. All you need to do is get your hands on a paintbrush!

What is Paint by Numbers?

The name might not seem very explanatory at first glance, but paint by numbers is exactly what the name suggests – it allows you to paint any picture simply by the numbers. Based on Leonardo da Vinci’s technique of teaching new students to paint by telling them to follow numbered patterns on canvas, Paint by Numbers lets you make any artistic masterpiece even if you’ve only dreamt of picking up a paintbrush before. The kits come complete with even the paints, so you don’t have to go on a hunt to find the paints that would be best for your chosen painting. All you need to do is get to work by following the directions! Most of us shy away from painting because we don’t want to end up with an embarrassing, unsalvageable mess on our hands. With a paint by numbers kit, however, we can be sure that every painting will turn out just the way we want it to!  

paint by numbers

The birth of Paint by Numbers

Paint by Numbers is the brainchild of Dan Robbins, an employee of Palmer Paint Co., who was inspired by the way that Leonardo da Vinci used to teach painting methods to novices. More importantly, however, Paint by Numbers was born due to Dan Robbins’ desire to make painting and art more accessible to everyone, regardless of age. However, the initial stages of Paint by Numbers weren’t so smooth sailing, and the idea encountered many obstacles before it could take off. Now, however, Paint by Numbers is a hit phenomenon that makes the most basic to the most complex and revered art pieces accessible to anyone who gets their kits. It allows people, regardless of age, to create complex paintings and put them up in their homes. Most importantly, however, it allows a demographic that would otherwise have never gotten to explore this side of themselves to get in touch with their creative side. With repeated use, Paint by Numbers can help people to even learn the techniques of painting, much like Leonardo da Vinci intended. 


Initial letdowns 

As I discussed earlier, Paint by Numbers wasn’t always the hit phenomenon that it is now. In fact, in the initial years, the brand had to see a lot of letdowns. Paint by Numbers was first introduced in the 1950s by Dan Robbin and Max Klein of the Palmer Paint Company of Detroit. Initially, most companies were unwilling to invest in the product because they believed that customers wouldn’t really understand the concept of paint by numbers, and would also not be interested in such an art project that seemed so remedial. Two events led to the initial release of the paint by numbers kits being further dampened. First of all, the initial kits that were released were paying homage to abstract expressionist painters of that era. These designs may have been popular amongst art circles, but certainly weren’t amongst the locals. In addition to this, not many people at that time were willing to start a new hobby – and painting and art were seen as things that should either be left to the kids or to the professionals. The second event that played a huge part in impairing the initial release was the fact that the first large scale order suffered a packaging mishap, which led the paint kits for the two paintings to be mixed up. Instead of an artistic masterpiece, customers ended up with green bulls and blue caped matadors, leading to all of them asking for refunds. 

The boom in sales

From here, it seemed that Dan Robbins’ idea was destined to fail. Still, Max Klein had an ingenious – albeit slightly shady – idea that would serve as the catalyst to make Paint by Numbers the giant that it is today. In the history of paint by numbers, this was the moment where the tables truly turned. A famous toy retailer was asked to let the kits demonstrated in stores, with unsold kits being returned free of cost. Then, a few trusted friends and family members were given money to buy out all the kits in the store when they debuted. When stores opened, fake customers streamed in; but seeing the rush about getting the kits, real customers began to be intrigued too. Soon enough, fake sales were overrun by real customers who wanted to get their hands on their favorite art piece, and paint by numbers was fully set to become the latest trend. The company was soon renamed Craft Master, and 50,000 Paint by Number sets were produced every day. Soon Paint by Numbers made its way to every household in the country, with President Eisenhower’s secretary even putting together a gallery of paint by numbers art pieces created by government officials. 

The response of the art world

The response of the art world to the huge success of paint by numbers may have been disappointing but not surprising. Prior to the birth of paint by numbers, art was something enjoyed and created by a specific niche. It wasn’t something that you could pick up in the supermarket, and it wasn’t something that you would find hanging in the hallway of every person down the lane. Art critics and artists alike scoffed at the idea of the masses being able to paint without any formal training. The venture was severely criticized by art critics for oversimplifying the artistic process by reducing it to just filling lines in with colors, and it was also criticized for undervaluing the hard work of ‘real’ artists. However, as Robbins clarified, Paint by Numbers was never intended to replace traditional art, but only to make the experience of creating art more accessible. This meant that now even the layperson could appreciate the creative process much more, and may even be inspired to create his own art pieces!

DIY paint by number world

 Paint by Numbers in today’s world

The original paint by numbers created by Craft Master is no longer in the running, but that isn’t to say that the idea has died out. You can get your hands on a paint by numbers kit from many companies, who can help you get started on your own artistic masterpiece right away. Now, there is a wide range of art pieces that you, too, replicate, as opposed to the more commercial ones that used to be available in the early years of the kits. Now, you can replicate the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Klimt, and many others without ever having to go through grueling years of art school. If the classics aren’t really up to your alley, you can choose to get a design that is more modern or commercial – it is really all up to you.


What started off as just another bright idea in the 1950s slowly erupted into one of the most popular and ingenious trends the art world has ever seen. Paint by Numbers did more than bring art to mainstream – it let people who wouldn’t have dreamed of enjoying it to learn to appreciate the process and the hard work that goes into painting. Even though the idea suffered some initial letdowns, today, Paint by Numbers is one of the most popular ways for those of us who aren’t artistically gifted to get a chance to try our hand out at it. It can also be a great way for those who want to learn to paint to get the hang of several painting techniques, much like how Leonardo da Vinci used the technique. Paint by Numbers can be the best way for you to take a break from everyday life and just lose yourself in the beauty of painting even if you’ve never done it before.