How do you use food coloring pens?
Those of you who have been here before may already know this, but I have a thing for drawing on food with edible writers, also known as food coloring pens. Particularly marshmallows. See? HERE are a billion ideas for drawing on food. I came up with this idea for marshmallow art in 2009 in the midst of a housing search when our belongings were in storage, we were living in temporary housing, and then we went through a kitchen renovation. Marshmallow art is so quick, easy, kid-friendly, versatile and oven-free, so it was perfect for our transient life at the time.
Edible markers, gourmet writers, food writers, food coloring pens… the many different terms are just as confusing as the many different brands. This post is all about food coloring pens: what brands to buy, where to buy them and what you can do with them. Food writers are markers that have edible ink, NOT to be confused with “candy writers” that you find in the craft store. Those come in tubes. I don’t use those. So they are essentially markers for food.
brands of food coloring pens in order of my preference
Americolor Gourmet Writers, set of ten. These are my favorite writers. They have good flow and are easy to use. You can get finer detail by using the tips and cover thicker areas by using the sides more. If you only buy one set of writers, buy these. You can buy Americolor Gourmet Writers on amazon.com and many other online sites.
FooDoodler. My next most-used writers are the FooDoodler Fine Line set of ten. The fine line is even finer than the Americolor Gourmet Writers and I use this a lot for very fine detail. FooDoodler also carry thicker food markers, which are good, but I rarely use those, only because I draw such small things. If you don’t need a super-fine line, then they work well. The perfect combination of markers–if you buy two sets–are the Americolor Gourmet Writers with the FooDoodler fine line set. Learn more about FooDoodlers on their site.
FoodWriters. Wilton, the masters of food craft, of course sell food writers. They are good writers and have a good flow, but the tips are a bit thick for the detail I like to draw. However, the pros: they are widely available in most major craft stores, they come in a variety including lime green (yay), and they are great for kids. When my 3-year old decorates marshmallows, I give her the FoodWriters. You can buy them on the Wilton site, in craft stores. Amazon has some FoodWriters here or this set if FoodWriters with the lime green missing from Americolor and Foodoodler. The sets are smaller, so you end up needing to buy a couple different sets. I’m partial to the “neon” colors.
KopyKake pens. The set of KopyKake pens are also OK. They have two ends, one thick and one fine, which is great. The fine end gives the same detail as the fine line FooDoodlers. The other big bonus? The set has two greens, including a lime green. I use lime green a lot, and I miss this with the other sets above. The down side to these? I feel like the flow is a little dry and they run out of ink more quickly. Much more quickly.Find KopyKake pens at amazon.
how to draw on food with food coloring pens
- fondant (roll out and cover cookies, cupcakes or cakes with fondant, or, if you make dimensional designs, use writers for the details)
- royal icing that has been flooded and left to dry overnight
These sweets are LESS or NOT compatible with edible writers:
- candy melts (You can use edible writers with stuff that’s been dipped in candy melts and hardened, but the writers do react with the fats in the melts and don’t work quite as well. If you’ve tried to make cake pops, you may have experienced this. I suggest markers with a good flow, like the Americolor’s, use the tips and use them sparingly for small details, like dots for eyes.)
- buttercream frosting. Frosting won’t fully harden, and the bumps and grooves make this a bad surface for writers.
TIPS on using food coloring pens:
- Let your surface dry well before using the writers. Marshmallows and fondant will stiffen if left out for an hour or so. And flooded royal icing MUST dry overnight.
- Don’t try and layer colors, unless it’s for effect (like the spring flower marshmallows above). The bottom color will show through. Only black witll cover other colors, so I often outline with black last.
- When switching colors, let the first color set about ten minutes so you don’t accidentally pick up another color with your marker and to prevent bleeding.
have forever wanted to try with my rubber stamps….will have to get a set.. 🙂
I heard about painting candy color with alcohol works too. Have you tried this before? And if so what type of alcohol and candy colors? Thanks!
Yes, you can use food coloring as paint and dip your brush in alcohol instead of water so the surface doesn’t become soggy (as the alcohol evaporates)… though I actually use water instead of alcohol and have had no problem, even on fondant, since I use water sparingly. But I’ve also used a bit of vodka or clear vanilla extract and it works.
I am wondering if I can use Staedtler Noris Club markers on my food, it says they are made with food coloring but I haven’t seen any example of someone using these on food online. Do you think they would work and especially would they not make people sick? It says non-toxic. Thanks!
Hi Natinha! Unless the markers are specifically for food, made with food coloring, I wouldn’t use them on edibles even if they say non-toxic. Unless of course, the food is for decoration only and not to be eaten! Oh, what a wonderful world if we could, though, given the detail you could achieve with real markers!
Hi Meaghan, very informative post! I recently tried my hand at cake pops. I’d planned to paint designs on them after the candy melt coating had set. But the paint wouldn’t stay on … it just kind of separated and formed individual droplets. I used a standard Wilton gel paste, tried diluting it with lemon juice first, and then just the paste by itself, but it didn’t work. Any ideas? Thanks!
Yep, I know exactly what you mean. Some surfaces take the food coloring-as-paint (you can also dilute a bit with alcohol, vodka is best, as it evaporates, though I just use a couple drops of water). For example, fondant that has stiffened a bit and royal icing that has totally dried takes food coloring paint very well. But candy melts don’t. There are just too many oils/fats in them. It’s also difficult to use an edible writer on cake pops dipped in candy melts, though it can be done, as evidenced by the jillions of cake pops online that have been decorated with edible writers. When I draw on cake pops, I use a good edible writer (such as Americolor Gourmet Writers), draw on them sparingly (such as just dots for eyes or a smile), and use the tip of the marker. If you want to TRY painting on cake pops with food coloring, the craft store carries another Wilton brand of food coloring called candy colors. They come in sets of 4 in little tubs that look like the concentrated gel pastes, but it’s special food coloring for chocolate and candy melts that don’t react with the fats. I’ve not tried to paint on chocolate or candy melts with it, but if any food coloring works at all, that would be it.
Hope this helps! Thanks!
Hope's Creative Cookies says
Have you tried the new Wiltons Food-Writers that are specially designed to work on their candy melts? I would appreciate your opinion on them. Do they truly work well on the candy melts? Do they work on the fondant and marshmallows, like the normal food writers? Any light you can shed on the subject would be fantastic.
Wait, Wilton has new food writers that work on candy melts??? I’ve GOT to try them. I haven’t. My guess would be they would work on fondant and marshmallows, too. I’ll see if I can find some and try them. Thanks for the tips!
Hope's Creative Cookies says
Oops! got busy and haven’t been on here recently. Meaghan– Yes; I’ve found them at Michael’s. They call call them “Candy Decorating Pens,” and are kept next to the rest of the candy molding tools. Here’s the link for them on the Wiltpn’s site: https://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?id=BFA4E766-0012-FA7F-6EBC902AF1149563&fid=BF74482D-D0E6-5ED3-705B468D4F11B5A3
They also have light green too! 🙂
The sight doesn’t say if they work on marshmallows or fondant, and I STILL haven’t bought them, so I don’t know.
I use those exact markers sometimes, because of the green! They work on marshmallows and stiffened fondant, definitely :).
Lise-Anne Grégoire says
Thanks so much for your reviews! I have the Wilton ones but I think I’ll try out the Americolors next. Never would have thought to draw on marshmallows – such a fun idea!
I use my wilton markers to draw designs on cookies before flooding. Sometimes the marker bleeds into the icing. Any ideas why? Btw I use glaze icing not royal.
It’s basically food coloring in there, so it can seep into the designs. I’d try a super light touch on the cookie and less water in the icing. Or, skip the design part of light colored cookies.
can you tell me how far ahead I can use the wilton markers on fondant? I am doing cupcakes of the periodic table and I want to write the elements ahead of time. I was going to use sugar sheets, but I would have to do them all the day of. Then I thought I could write on fondant and store it air tight, do you know how long the writing lasts in storage?
STephanie, I’ve written on fondant ahead of time. I’d not go more than three days before. Let the fondant dry a couple hours first (it will stiffen a bit, but not fully harden) and then draw. Then store in a single layer in a tupperware container. Don’t stack the fondant. Are these for cupcake toppers? Do NOT refrigerate though. The moisture will smear the writing. Sometimes, if you go too long, darker colors (such as black) will bleed a bit into white fondant and get pink edges. But I’ve not had that problem when I’ve done fondant toppers a day or two before.
Margaret Mechler says
Thank you so much for the info on the edible writers! Now I can add to cake and cookie decorating.
Margaret Mechler says
Thank you so much for the info on the edible writers! Now I can add to cake and cookie decorating.
Jenny M. says
I am going to make a cake for my husband’s 40th birthday and would like to have the kids (ages 2 & 6) draw on the cake with decorating pens. I’ve never made fondant but found a fairly simple looking recipe for marshmallow fondant. Do you know about this fondant and if the decorator markers would work on it? I plan on buying the Gourmet Writer Decorator pens.
Thanks so much!
Yep! The writers should work on the marshmallow fondant. I have a recipe for it here: https://thedecoratedcookie.com/2010/03/finally-homemade-marshmallow-fondant-and-swirly-pops/. I also have lots of info on edible writers here: https://thedecoratedcookie.com/2011/06/how-to-draw-on-food-ending-the-confusion-about-edible-writers/ And lastly (shameless plug), my book has info on how to cover cakes with fondant. https://www.amazon.com/Sugarlicious-Meaghan-Mountford/dp/0373892543/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377789519&sr=8-1&keywords=sugarlicious
To cover a cake, I’d frost the cake lightly with any of your favorite frostings, then use that as the “glue” to cover the cake with a big piece of rolled out fondant. (Lay it over the top, then smooth the sides slowly, starting from the top, then cut away the excess). One idea to make it more manageable for you is to make a small cake, like a 6-inch cake, for the fondant/kid version. I do that sometimes, because it can be a pain to work with big pieces of fondant. Also, it’s best to let the cake sit for a couple hours, at least, more if you have it, at room temperature uncovered to stiffen some before having the kids write. The 2 year old may be especially firm with the pens. (I have a 1 and a 6 yo myself.)
Hope this helps! Good luck! 🙂 meaghan
Hi! I’m trying to write messages on m&ms, which pen do you recommend for that? I’ve tried the Wilton candy melt pen, it’s too thick and it bled. Thanks!
I find the finest tip and easiest to use is the FooDoodler Fine Line pack of 10. (not the regular ones, the “fine line.”) They would be your best bet, I think. The candy shell on M and Ms isn’t super duper conducive to the writers, and you may find it smears or resists it, but I think it’s the best chance you have! Hope this helps!
I have the Duff Goldman food writer. I bought the set on clearance at Michaels, but I found them dried out. Can I soak them ahead of time? Any suggestions that I could use to restore them?
I’ve never tried the Duff food writers, but now I have to find them to add to my list! Bummer about them being dried out, too. I’m guessing they are similar to the KopyKakes. I found those dried out very quickly, whereas the Americolor and FooDoodler ones are more marker-like and didn’t. Although, unless there is a chamber you can access inside, I’m not sure there would be any way to truly restore them. I suppose you could try soaking the tips in a matching color of food coloring, but I would imagine that would be a temporary fix, more like a tool to dip in food coloring and write with, more than fully restoring.
I know they were on clearance, but I wonder if Michaels would take them back? Sounds like they were on the shelves a wee bit too long (by my guess, at least a year or more).
I’m making a cake tonight, so I hope someone could get back to me asap… I am hoping to put a sugar sheet on the cake, and write on it with a black Wilton Food Writer marker.. Will is bleed? Should I not refrigerate it? Will it be okay? HELP PLEASE!!!
Hi Amber! Hmmmm…. Although I have used the preprinted ones, I’ve never written on a sugar sheet, so I wish I could give you a definitive answer. But in my view, the markers should be fine if it’s for tonight, but I think that putting it in the fridge would NOT be a good idea. Is there fruit inside the cake? Or any need to refrigerate it? I also put my plain cakes with buttercream frosting in the fridge because I like them, but I think the moisture could cause the bleeding.
Hi! My daughter’s birthday in on May 17th and yesterday I wrote her name in a piece of fondant so as to use it as the top of the cake that day. I’d like to know if in two weeks’ time the taste is going to be ok or if it’s better to draw the design with edible markers the day before of the event. I have the Americolor Gourmet Writers. Thanks a lot!! Regards!
Taste-wise, fondant lasts a pretty long time if you keep it sealed. You MAY be OK with the writing that long. I’ve had fondant that I drew on last weeks/months which I realized only because I packed up a lot of stuff I made to photograph for my book and was surprised at how well it held up. However, I’m not super-confident that the writing will be exactly the same on May 17 as it is today. The markers can bleed a little (I love the gourmet writers, they are the best). So my not-very-committal answer is that there is a chance you’d be OK, but you’d have a much better chance if you wrote on fondant only a day or two before the event. It would help to let the fondant stiffen and dry at room temperature for a few hours before putting it in a sealed container, but I would vote for closer-to-the-event the better! Hope this helps!!
Thank you very much for your prompt reply!! I think I’ll follow your advice just to be on the safe side. Thanks so much! Regards.
Hi, am wondering if the americolor gourmet pen colours will fade if I use them to decorate on cookies flooded with royal icing? Can I draw a week ahead of event or I should wait till a day or 2?
Hi Waheeda, The colors surprisingly last well and likely won’t fade in a week, though I do think 2 or 3 days before an event is better. The cookies start to lose freshness by about a week.
Will the markers work on cookies with no icing, like a sugar cookie?
Yep! The markers will work on cookies without icing, Charlene. It’s a rougher surface, so the markers won’t “glide” as much and the drawing may be a little rougher. And the tip can pick up some of the butter/crumbs which makes it a little harder, but it will work.
Hi! Thanks for this very informative post! God Bless!