This blog post covers all about food coloring including the best food coloring to buy and how to mix colors into frosting and icing.
You’ll need to master food coloring to decorate cookies, cakes, and cupcakes.
Once you have a handle on food coloring, be sure to check out all of my posts on basic cookie decorating.
gel food coloring
Because the icing is so essential in a perfectly decorated cookie, the food coloring you use when cookie decorating is just as important.
There are plenty of options out there, many of them superb, and you may use a brand and method totally different from mine. But I’ll share what I use and do with the disclaimer that this isn’t comprehensive, it merely works for me.
At the end of this post, I included a COLOR CHART you can print on 5 x 7 photo paper, if desired.
And if you want to learn how to decorate cookies like a pro in less than an hour of video how-tos (and with 27 pages of printables), be sure to check out my cookie decorating for beginners course at The Sugar Academy!
what is the best food coloring for cookie decorating?
concentrated pastes vs. soft gel pastes
First and foremost, I use soft gel pastes food coloring exclusively for cookie decorating. Craft stores usually carry the more accessible concentrated pastes. Both work well and in much the same way and both come in a huge variety of colors.
So if your only option is the baking aisle of your craft store, then these will work fine. But I find concentrated pastes have a bitter, metallic taste. So I don’t use them. Instead I use:
Americolor Soft Gel Pastes (You’d think I own their stock, but I promise I have no connection to the company other than as a customer, and they have not paid me to write this.)
Another brand option is Ateco Spectrum food coloring, also very good. Soft gel paste are tasteless, blend beautifully, and come in many colors.
where to buy food coloring
You can find Americolor soft gel pastes at many cake decorating supply stores. Americolor Soft Gel Pastes are also available on AMAZON: Here is a set of 12 Americolor food colorings that’s a good start. I also use a lot of the Electric colors. And I buy the big bottle of White food coloring.
which color food coloring to buy
Americolor sells over 40 colors. I don’t own all of them. I’ll let you be the judge of what colors you like best, of course, but here are the colors I own and use frequently.
Some great colors are missing from my collection, but pretty much everything I need to decorate works with these colors, so I rely solely on these below. Click on each for link.
which size food coloring to buy:
The pastes come in small, .75 ounce bottles, and larger, 4.5 ounce bottles (and even larger, but I think those are wholesale). Even with all the decorating I do, I buy the .75 ounce bottles.
A few drops go a long way, so stick with these unless you have a business and decorate hundreds of cookies a day.
Some colors take lots of drops to get the right shade, so you may consider the larger size if you decorate a lot (for example, white, black, brown and the darker shades of any color).
how to use gel food coloring
You can add coloring to batches of buttercream frosting, to royal icing, to fondant and even to cake and cookie batter before baking.
some food coloring tips:
- Always start with ONE drop and add more as needed. While some colors take a lot of drops, you can always add more, you can’t take it away (if you do go too far, add more frosting to lighten).
- You need white food coloring. Yes, you DO have to tint plain icing with white food coloring. Extracts, butter, and other frosting ingredients make bare frosting off-white, so to achieve a pure white, add White color. A LOT of it. A lot of color may thin your frosting a bit, so either start with a thicker frosting or add confectioner’s sugar to thicken
- How much to color? For whole batches of icing or frosting, add coloring to the mixing bowl and mix with the mixer. But when making colors for cookies, I usually work with 3/4 to 1 cup of icing for each color, mixing in small bowls.
- For different shades, simply add more drops. These take a LOT of color, so just keep adding drops. More than you’d think. You may want to get bigger bottles of darker color or purchase more than one if you have a lot of icing or frosting to make. Also keep in mind that a lot of food coloring may thin your icing, so add additional confectioner’s sugar if necessary.
- Dark colors, red and white. Dark colors and red, like white, take a LOT of color, so just keep adding drops. More than you’d think. You may want to get bigger bottles of darker color or purchase more than one if you have a lot of icing or frosting to make. Also keep in mind that a lot of food coloring may thin your icing, so add additional confectioner’s sugar if necessary.
- Skin tones. Caucasian flesh is always a tough one to get right. I usually make it with ONE drop ofAmericolor “Peach.” Just one drop. Mayyyybe two. You can also add a touch of Egg Yellow. For African American and Hispanic and/or Latino skin tones I use a different number of drops ofAmericolor Chocolate Brown. For Asian skin tones, I use a mix of Chocolate Brown and Egg Yellow. Just be sure to start with ONE drop of each and add more as needed.
- Color mixing. Mix colors for different effects, such as egg yellow and leaf green for chartreuse or purple and royal blue for cornflower.
- Fondant. To mix colors into fondant, add a couple drops to a palmful of fondant and knead well. If the fondant gets sticky from overhandling, let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes or until easily pliable.
- Brown is tricky. Even using Chocolate Brown, it takes a lot of drops. Tan is a tough color to get, as a few drops of Chocolate Brown tend to look pink-ish. I add a drop of Egg Yellow to achieve a better tan.
- Pastels. I add a bit of White coloring to Sky Blue, Electric Pink (I use Electric Pink for all shades of pink rather than Soft Pink as I feel it’s more vibrant), Egg Yellow, Regal Purple or Leaf Green to get my pastels.
food coloring mixing chart
Below is a color chart with more tips on which pastes I use for which frosting colors. Again, this isn’t comprehensive! There are plenty more options.
Click on the chart to enlarge and or CLICK THIS COLOR CHART to print on 5 x 7 photo paper with your color printer for a postcard to keep for reference
can I use gel pastes with white chocolate?
Have you seen seen oil-based “candy color” food coloring in the craft store or cake decorating store, and wondered what is so special about this food coloring?
Oil-based candy colors are specialty food coloring for CHOCOLATE and CANDY MELTS. If you use gel paste food coloring to try and color white chocolate or white candy melts, the chocolate will seize. So the answer is, NO, you can not use gel paste food coloring with white chocolate and candy melts.
how long will food coloring last?
Another reason to love Americolor products? Their customer service is always spot on. Whenever I’ve dealt with the company, they are always quickly responsive. Joan asked in the comments about the shelf life of the soft gel pastes, and I realized I’ve used some of mine for years. Yikes! Well, I asked the company and they quickly responded as follows:
“This product will last many years if stored properly i.e. ambient temperature, away from any source of ultraviolet light. The reference to ultraviolet light is generally for the end user maintaining that any light source will fade certain FDA Certified Food Colors. If this product is stored in its carton the light radiation will not be a factor. Ambient temperature is defined as common range of 18°C (64°F) to 23°C (73°F) Variations in temperature +/- 20° will not affect product. After several years the Soft Gel Paste may break down, if stored properly the color will remain intact, generally recognized as safe for human consumption.”
Phew!!! Looks like I’m in the clear….
HERE ARE SOME HANDY AFFILIATE LINKS TO FOOD COLORING:
Loretta Lopez says
Does anyone ever use marshmallow frosting with paste food colors? I like the frosting better because it’s not so sweet, but it only gets to soft pastel colors with cheapy drops. I was wanting to try something different for my son’s birthday on Sun.
Definitely Loretta, I’d try these! They make such vibrant colors.
please i need to know the difference between the soft gel and the electric colors of americolors? and both can be used for icing, fondont and white chokolate?
Americolor food colorings are all “gel paste” colorings. The electric colors are the same consistency of the others, just brighter and more neon-like. You can use gel paste food coloring for icing and fondant, but for chocolate, I would suggest “candy colors,” made especially for candies with a higher fat content. I’m not sure if Americolor makes candy colors, but Wilton does, available in the craft store. Hope this helps! 🙂
i don’t know how to thank u for your fast reply and your explanation,, really it helped me alot 🙂 thanks again
I bought a couple about 2 years ago…they are rather “liquidy” now. Do you still think they are safe to use? I live in Hawaii so it’s obviously very hot & humid…
I bought some about two years ago and I noticed they are rather liquidy now. Do you think it’s safe to use still? I live in Hawaii so it’s very hot & humid. Thanks for your time 🙂
If they were exposed directly to heat and humidity, probably not, but kept in a dark place and sealed, they actually do last quite a few years! I had asked someone at Americolor about it awhile back, and that’s what they told me. 🙂
Hi! I bought just about the entire Americolor gel family (lol) but every time I use them, my icing dries very crumbly to the touch (it literally crumbles off the cookie) and I can’t seem to get the colors to come out right. I’m adding them in after the Royal icing is fully mixed. Has this ever happened to you?
It hasn’t… that’s really odd. Wonder if you got a bad batch? Though I doubt it, Americolor lasts a long time and is a quality product. I would actually contact the company. I’ve done that with questions before and they always respond, they are super nice. Their website: https://www.americolorcorp.com/ If you scroll to the bottom there’s a link that says “Email me” and they also have phone numbers. I bet they’ll have an answer for you! 🙂
kristen Rizzo says
Anyone ever have problems with taste of the pink gels and/or dark pink color specks showing up on pink cookies? Any help or insight appreciated!
Hmm, I haven’t seen specks, anyone else? My Electric Pink sometimes kind of clumps though. And when I paint with it, it separates into granules a bit. I wonder if there’s something in that color. Do you use Americolor? I shake super duper well first and stir like crazy.
I know it’s been a while but I just wanted to say that I have problems WITH PINK ONLY with specks!? It’s crazy. I have no idea what it is. Have you ever figured it out?
You know what Beth, me too!!! My Electric Pink clumps sometimes. I have NO idea why! I will replace that one more often than the others, assuming it just doesn’t last as long, but it does still clump. Don’t get the science behind that one!!
Can you use these gels for cake batters?
Yes, Veronica, definitely! I have done that.
Thank you so much for your post!
I read that someone was asking about coloring for candy. I just checked and Americolor does make oil based candy coloring.
Oh really??? I didn’t know that. Love Americolor, I’ll definitely use their oil-based coloring. Thank you!!
I just bought the Wilton starter kit for cake decorating. I tried to use the thick red that came with it, and it gave the ugliest pink. Calamine lotion would have looked prettier. It was not bright or happy. It was a dusty rose. I was adding it to homemade buttercream. Should I have added some not-included whitening? Thoughts?
No, whitening only would have made it pinker. Unfortunately, red is a tough color to get. You need a LOT, lot lot of red. Probably almost that whole bottle, to get past the pink stage into true red. However, the more coloring you add, the more the taste (and consistency) is affected. I highly recommend ordering the Americolor Soft Gel Paste super Red coloring. I use the smallest bottles, even, and they last a long time. You can use less to get a true red (though you still need quite a bit). You can find links to buy here: https://www.americolorcorp.com/ and they have it at amazon. https://www.amazon.com/AmeriColor-Student-Soft-Paste-Color/dp/B0029YDR82/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1375807664&sr=8-3&keywords=americolor+soft+gel+paste+red
Thank you for the chart and all of the other very useful information. How do I substitute with the gel color for a red (rather hot pink or purple) velvet cake? I usually mix 1 oz liquid color with my cocoa. Thanks
Hi Latonya! I add gel paste to cake batter just as I would color icing. For red, I just add maybe 4 or 5 drops (or until desired shade).
May I ask the difference between americolor’s electric kit and assorted kit? I’m kinda confused.
Hi Boomy, It’s just a difference in the shades of colors. Americolor has tons of options, so it’s really your preference. The Electric colors are more vibrant. I’m a big fan, but the assorted may have more basics. I tend to buy individual bottles. My favorite colors are: Super Black, Bright White, Chocolate Brown, Electric Pink (I just like that instead of the “Soft Pink”), Red Red, Orange, Egg Yellow (I prefer to the “Lemon Yellow” or Electric), Electric Green, Leaf Green, Sky Blue, Electric Purple (vs. Regal Purple).
I purchased the AmeriColor in Regal Purple and the taste is horrible. Do you think it could be a bad batch or is it normal to have that bad taste? I bought it recently at Hobby Lobby. I have other colors and none of them have any flavors. This purple makes me gag it’s really gross.
Oh, yikes!! I think maybe the batch. While the stronger colors MAY have a slight taste (black, red, even purple) if you use a lot, lot, lot of drops to make a dark color, it shouldn’t be any different than the other colors. If it’s that bad, I’d take it back to Hobby Lobby. Or, even write to Americolor (their website is Americolorcorp.com). I’ve had great luck with the customer service at Americolor!
Hi! I just wanna ask how long can I keep using those food coloring? I have quite a few and it doesn’t say the expiration on it. Thanks.
I actually called the Americolor company once because I was curious, too. Kept in a dark place (ie not in direct sunlight), they last for several years. I’ve had some of mine for about that long!
have you made the following colors and if so which colors did you start out with and what proportions of each? This is for a wedding and I don’t have any swatches to match.
Great questions! For blush I would try just a drop or two (then add more depending on how much icing you have) of Deep Pink. They used to have a “Rose” color, I think, but not any more. For champagne I would try the Ivory. If needed, you can add a touch more yellow with Egg Yellow. Hope this helps! 🙂 meaghan
Hello. This question was probably already asked and answered but is the AmeriColor soft gel paste perfect for coloring candy melts? I plan on coloring white candy melts so I can have colored cake pops?
The fats in candy melts tend to resist regular food coloring, so they are NOT ideal for coloring candy melts. You should use special food coloring just for that purpose. They are called “candy colors” and they should be available in the craft store (though your color choices will be more limited). Hope this helps!!
Thank you Meagan so much for responding back so quickly! I purchase the 4 color Wilton Candy Color Set. Will this work for coloring white candy melts? I tried to look for a product that would need the flo coat. I just wanted a simplier way to color my white candy melts.
Yes! Those are the ones I have, too, for coloring candy melts, so they should work. Sometimes adding coloring can harden the candy melts a little more quickly. So if you find that’s the case and you need them runnier for dipping, I often (almost always) add a teaspoon or two of crisco when melting to make it runnier.
I meant to say I tried to look for a product that wouldn’t need the flo coat.
Delynn Tracy says
GREAT INFO! THANK YOU!!! Wonder if you know or could find out for us and post here… how to tell just how OLD the color is by the LOT #? Quoting your quote “After several years the Soft Gel Paste may break down…” I’m wondering if THAT’S what was wrong with my Maroon color… VERY RUNNY!!! Example #1: Electric Orange #163 (.75 oz)has the Lot#23020 printed sideways above the bar code. Example #2: Red Red #119 (.75 oz.) has the Lot#3121B on the cap. Thanks in advance 🙂
Oh wow, that’s such a good question Delynn! I have no idea how I’d figure out the lot number/date, BUT I have contacted Americolor directly and they are super-responsive! I bet they could tell you exactly. If you go to their website: https://americolorcorp.com/ and scroll to the bottom, they have a 1-800 number listed. I think that’s what I called to find out the other info!
Delynn Tracy says
Here’s an update regarding how long the Americolor Soft Gel Pastes last, which I just found out from them today: They’ll guarantee quality for 2 years, however they will last many years… EXCEPT 3 colors: Maroon, Dusty Rose and Mauve which they only guarantee 1 year. If you happen to find the lot # on the .75 oz. bottles (on the cap or above the UPC #) you can decipher by Googling the Julian calendar). For example look at the first 3#’s: Lot #2302D means it was made on the 230th day of the year. The 4th # represents the year = 2012. Here’s a quick reference chart… https://www.fs.fed.us/fire/partners/fepp/julian-calendar.pdf Don’t ask me what happens when 2022 comes around… Do they start over? If so, I’m left wondering… how can I be sure the bottle I mentioned above isn’t from 2002??? YIKES Also, another interesting tidbit… “Spectrum” by “Ateco” is MANUFACTURED BY AMERICOLOR! According to the rep I talked to, they make it for them under a private label. Hmmm Needless-to-say, I’m going to check dates on supplies I buy from now on just so I can buy the freshest possible, especially since I’m a 1 woman show here 🙂
Can I just say Delynn… you ROCK!! This information is fantastic!!!! I’m going to do exactly the same and also go through the colors I have. I have tons of REALLY old ones. This is great, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!