How to Color Icing

I’ve seen a few posts lately on Facebook and on my message board asking how to color icing, so I thought I would write up a quick tutorial.

When you think of food color, you probably think of this:

The basic liquid food coloring in the little squeeze droppers. This kind of color is great for coloring liquids (like for dying eggs) or for making pastels where you only need a tiny bit of color.

The problem with liquid colors is that if you need to make a dark color, you’ll need to use a ton of dye and the liquid will affect the consistency (and possibly taste) of your icing. So what’s the alternative? Concentrated gel colors.

The above pictured gel colors are made by Wilton and are available in tons of different shades. You can get them at stores like Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or JoAnn’s (or online too of course). They cost about $2 for a 1 oz jar.

To give you an idea of the difference in concentration between the liquids and the gels, let’s look back to a full sheet cake I made about a year ago. I was making red velvet cake and I would have needed about 12 oz of liquid red color for that cake (to the tune of about $30). Instead, I used gel color and used about 1/2 an ounce (about $1).

So how do you use gel colors? It’s pretty easy actually. All you need is…

  • Bowl of icing
  • Gel colors
  • Tooth picks
  • Spatula and/or mixer

To color your white icing, dip the tip of a toothpick into the jar of color and then swirl the toothpick around in the bowl of icing. A little goes a long way, so just add a tiny bit at a time. Mix with a mixer and/or spatula.

If the icing isn’t dark enough yet, get a new toothpick and dip it in the color again, then swirl in the icing and mix. Repeat until you have the color you want. Color the whole batch at once since it will be very difficult to mix up another batch later and match the color.

The color will darken the longer it sits. Check out these cupcakes for example:


These were both iced from the same batch of icing (and cropped out of the same photo). The one on the left I iced first, then stuck it in the fridge. I also put the remaining icing (in a sealed plastic container) in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I put the remaining icing in the mixer for a few minutes, then iced the cupcake on the right.

Mixing the right shade can be a little difficult. Especially with a dark color, like red. True red is so difficult to get right! Wilton has 3 different shades of red to choose from: Christmas Red (kind of blueish), Red-Red (true red), and No-Taste Red (more coral-y). The fact that a no-taste version exists is proof that it takes A LOT of dye to get a true red. However, I always use Red-Red for my reds because I don’t like the lighter shade of the no-taste version and I have never noticed a taste left by the dye.

Below on the left is one of my very first cakes, when I still used liquid red food coloring (and before I learned how to pipe a shell border – yikes). The one on the right was made using a gel color.


For more info on decorating cupcakes specifically, check out my Cupcake Tutorial post!


One Response to How to Color Icing

  1. Kelly Smith says:

    Thank you for this!!!!

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