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:
After reading all of the above comments I am going to give AmeriColour Soft Gel Paste food colouring a try when I dye some 100% pure wool shortly. I have found 2 places in the UK that sell them and with all the encouraging comments about the dye colours and quality, I would like to say ‘thank you’ in advance! 🙂
Ooh, Denise, I would love to know how it works on wool! I’ve never tried dying anything but food.
Hi…please temme the difference between AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste Food Color Cake Decorating Student & AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste Food Color Cake Decorating Electric Sets?
Can we use both for frosting/icing/whipping and fondant? I wanted to buy online?please help me and clear my queries.Thanx in advance.
Hi Geetha, I’m not sure what colors each set contains, but they probably both contain the same KIND of food coloring (which means, they would both work for frosting, icing and fondant), but the difference would only be what colors you get. Looks like the Student set would be good for beginning because it has all the basic colors you might need. The electric set contains their brighter colors. But they are all the same in terms of how they work. I tend to buy colors individually because I have my favorites: Super Black, Bright White, Chocolate Brown, Red Red, Orange, Egg Yellow, Electric Pink, Electric Green, Sky Blue and Electric Purple. But that’s just preference. And you can get them all on amazon!
Dot Cash says
I’m new at decorating royal sugar cookies. It’s a hobby when your stricken with MS! I made some beautiful royal icing sugar cookies for Thanksgiving to take to my daughters house. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go. I sent the cookies over, so they could enjoy them. They were all amazed I could make something that professional looking.
They could hardly wait to eat one. I received mixed reviews. They were in awe how beautiful they were, but didn’t like the taste AT ALL! I have to agree royal icing cookies are eye catching, and festive, but I would never ever crave one of those cookies!
I followed the recipe to the t. The cookies taste awesome, but the icing is so bad it’s hard to get down. I just can’t understand how these nice bakeries sell thousands of them. I would sure appreciate all the feed back on this. It’s sad because I love, love love decorating them, but I’m embarrassed to give them a way. I’m positive they would trash them. Can you tell me why some people say that royal icing cookies are so delicious!
Hi Dot, The recipe that you used simply must not have been a good one. Traditional royal icing is designed to harden, and it’s no more than egg whites and sugar. But there are a lot of great recipes that taste fantastic and still harden enough to handle. I encourage you to try my recipe for icing. I love it and have had fantastic feedback. Also, the food coloring has a HUGE effect. A lot of food coloring adds a metallic taste to icing. I also encourage you to use the Americolor food colorings (nope, they don’t pay me or even know that I promote them! I just love their stuff). It adds no taste to the icing. Here’s the link to my icing recipe: https://thedecoratedcookie.com/2008/11/cookie-dough-and-frosting-recipes/
I like the Americolors. By the way, they are peanut and tree nut free (who knew that some are not?). But I need a good neon color, and the electric pink just doesn’t do it. Any suggestions?
Are they really Lisa? I had no idea some aren’t! That seems sneaky. Have you tried Americolor’s Fushia? I think that’s a little more of a neon-esque pink!
I have referenced your chart many times. I have it pinned on Pinterest. My cousin is getting married and he and his bride chose “Champagne” and “wine” for their colors. Wine I get (burgundy). But what is champagne? Is that gold? Is is cream? I’m making butterfly cookies for the bridal shower and I don’t want to ask for a swatch since it’s just the shower (not the wedding). What do you suggest?
Ha, Beth, go you!! I forgot that answer and I was just racking my brain trying to think of the answer! Especially if they have more of a metallic color (that’s tricky unless you get gold lusterdust). Also, if their invite has the colors or if they have swatches in helps immensely to have those in the kitchen when mixing up colors.
Sorry. I just read someone’s question for blush and champagne and found your answer. You don’t need to post mine 🙂
“For champagne I would try the Ivory. If needed, you can add a touch more yellow with Egg Yellow. Hope this helps! 🙂 meaghan”
Hi….how can I avoid color bleeds? I added pink flowers on top of a black iced cookie and the black bleed onto the pink flower and leaves
Aaah, Valerie, great question. Adding light colors on top of dark (black is the worst culprit) often leads to that frustration. There are a few things you can do that have helped me, but never a total guarantee. One, I don’t thin my icing too much. I know it’s useful for flooding, but I keep it as thick as possible to still achieve a smooth(ish) look. The more water, the more bleeding. Second, I find Americolor pastes hold up well, but it’s in its nature to bleed, so even the finest food coloring will bleed. Third, I let the background dry completely, sometimes overnight, before adding the detail on top. Fourth, I serve within a day or two. Freezing cookies usually works super well for me, but if there is a light color on dark, the risk of bleeding in the freezer is greater. And even without freezing, using the techniques above holds off the bleeding, but after a few days, it may start, so I don’t make them too far in advance in that case.
Overall, the best thing you can do is tip 3: Let the black icing dry super duper well first. It doesn’t work for wet on wet techniques, but is the best way to prevent bleeding otherwise. Hope this helps Valerie!!
Gina Carver says
Thank you for the post., Can you use the Americolor Gel Paste with Wilton Fondant? According to Wilton, you can only be tinted with icing colors (from them of course). I am new to working with Fondant, so sorry if it seems like a silly question. I don’t want to fondant to seize or fail.
Not a silly question at all! Yes, you absolutely can use americolor gel pastes with wilton fondant. I do all the time. In fact, that’s my exact coloring-fondant combo. I sometimes use Satin Ice fondant, but Wilton is more readily available in my craft store.
Wow this is great info. I use to decorate cakes a lot and have a lot of old colors of assorted brands, thought recently I’d throw them out and get some new ones that aren’t so messy to touch. lol My frustration with the Wilton colors has been in initially removing the foil from the top. Do the Americolor gels have a tab or something to help remove it? I have ended up trying to poke a hole through the Wilton ones with something and still can’t get it removed as it has a tough plastic under and I just make this huge mess. I get that they need to be sealed tight but really?? Thanks for any advice.
Oh my gosh, Karen, that’s my food coloring pet peeve too!!! I end up jamming scissors in there and have the same problem. Americolor DOES have covers too. In theory they have sort of edges on the side you can grab, but it doesn’t always work. Hence, my jamming of scissors. Grr!
Just found your page, thanks for sharing this awesome info, I have a question, may I use this colors for glazed cookies? You know, powder sugar, milk, and escense base glaze…?
Hi Isa, Yes! Absolutely. I use the gel pastes for every combination of icing/frosting, royal, buttercream, glazed… It works beautifully!
Hi just read post have to try these colors! Want to do a gold bday cake for my daughter… wondering if the gold is true gold….not a yellow
Hi Gloria, The gold will be more of a mix of orange and yellow, NOT a metallic looking gold. To get a real metallic gold, you’ll likely have to use more of an airbrush/spray thing. Americolor does make a true gold airbrush color.
What are the differences in between
Chefmaster Liquid oil color and Americolor Candy Oil color in the color, taste Stability when Working with chocolate
Hi Teto, I’m not as familiar with Chefmaster products, so take my answer with a grain of salt. My guess is… very little difference. Both are the right choice for coloring white chocolate. Overall, I’m a big fan of Americolor products, so I tend to vote for them, but I think you’d be absolutely good with either, so I’d choose the less expensive/easier to get one.
Will the food color expired if I keep it and never use it often?
Lori, I had actually asked Americolor directly this question awhile back, and they said that it should keep for several years. (I actually have some that I’ve had for a few years and it works great.) That said, if it’s been exposed to sunlight, the shelf life is much shorter, so Americolor had recommended storing it in a cool-ish, dark place.
Have you tried diluting the gels with a clear extract, water or, high grain alcohol? I need a thin almost liquid type for the cookies im making.
I am making marble dip cookies and find that the gel is to heavy/thick to get swirled/marbled without mixing it so much that, it mixes too much in the royal icing. It has also caused some spots on the cookie to be heavily concentrated with gel, that you can taste the gel.
Hi Heather. I have done so when using the paints for a watercolor technique. I think your best bet is the alcohol or extract, although I have used water (a few drops). I’ve had good results, but every now and then I get a random bottle of food coloring that is more clumpy and it gives me trouble. (no clue why, but I find I have trouble with the Electric Pink). Here is an example. Also, I made sure the background icing was super dry. https://thedecoratedcookie.com/2012/06/painting-watercolor-on-cookies/
Is very informative. A quick question, I used americolor gel colours for my psychedelic rainbow cookies. However , they came
Out from the oven faded. What can be the reason ?
Hi Isha, If you’re adding food coloring to cookie dough, it won’t have the vibrancy of icing or frosting that’s colored, due to the baking process. But you could try adding just a lot more food coloring to see if it helps!
This is the best blog post I’ve read concerning coloring! Thank you so much for all the details and handy chart!!
Aw, thank you so much Amy! So glad it’s helpful!!!
I’ve always used Wilton coloring, so I’m really excited to read this post. My son has requested a Pittsburgh Steelers logo cake and cookies for his birthday party, and the thought of all of that black scared me! I never would have done it with Wilton, it would have tasted terrible!
I know I’ll need to add a lot with Americolor, also. But are there any other tips for getting a good black?
Hi Sara! Ah, my husband is a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan! I know what you mean about the black icing. I really do love Americolor and use black a lot (mostly for outlining, not too much aside from logos calls for a larger area of black.) You do need a good bit of the Americolor icing (although you should still be fine with the smaller .75 ounce bottle). Even though the coloring is pretty good about not thinning icing, it CAN thin it somewhat, so I would start with a thicker icing. You can always thin it later with drops of water (if it’s royal icing) or milk (if it’s buttercream frosting) if your icing is too thick after you color it.
There are some awesome products and vibrant colors at https://www.thesugarart.com/ for edible glitter and quality food coloring! And they have vegan products!