How to Color Icing for Beautifully-Decorated Desserts

Just a little liquid, paste, or gel food coloring can transform icing into an artist's palette for decking out cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and more.

Before we get to coloring your cookies and other confections with beautiful designs, you need to know what you're going to use as the base: frosting, icing, or a glaze. For anyone new to the cookie- and the cake-decorating world, frosting is usually fluffy and holds its swirly shape when spread or piped. Icing is thinner and a bit glossier than frosting. A glaze is slightly translucent and even thinner than icing. Follow along to learn how to color your icing of choice. And if you need to know how to make frosting, there are some great tips here for that, too.

butter slime add food coloring red
Brie Passano

How to Color Icing and Frostings

Here's how to color royal icing, powdered sugar icing, buttercream frosting, and other white or neutral-color recipes for icing cakes and cookies.

Paste or Gel Food Coloring

These highly concentrated food colorings are available in many colors and shades. Look for paste or gel food coloring at hobby stores and specialty cooking stores. They are also becoming more readily available alongside traditional liquid food colors at many grocery stores.

A little goes a long way when using paste or gel food coloring ($13, Michaels), so start with just a speck. To use, twirl a toothpick into the coloring and then into the icing or frosting and mix well. If desired, add more color a little at a time.

Liquid Food Coloring

Available at most grocery stores, liquid food colorings generally come in four color options: red, yellow, green, and blue. To use, stir drops of liquid food coloring ($4, Target) into the cake or cookie icing or frosting until you achieve the desired shade. You can also mix colors to get the color or shade you want.

Test Kitchen Tip: Cooks wishing to avoid additives often found in gel food coloring and other commercial food colorings can often find natural food coloring ($7, Target) at grocery stores. You can also try making your own natural food coloring with ingredients such as blueberries, strawberries, peaches, mangos, and even spinach.

Pretty Package Almond Sugar Cookies
Blaine Moats

With just some powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk, our powdered sugar icing is one of the easiest recipes you'll want to keep on hand for a quick cookie icing. You can also use it to drizzle on cakes and cupcakes. For a firmer icing texture, check out our best tips and hints on making royal icing. This type of icing is most popular for creating those beautiful cake decorations you've come to love for holidays and special occasions.

Once you've got your type of icing and colored frosting ready, you'll need plenty of baked goods to practice on! Try your hand at making these simple (but oh, so beautiful) pretty package cookies. There are also a ton of different variations of sugar cookies and classic cakes to bake that will be begging for colorful frostings.

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