A little liquid, paste, or gel food coloring can transform icing into an artist's palette for decking out cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and more. We’ll show you how to color royal icing, cookie icing, cream cheese frosting, and powdered sugar icing to dress up your confections to fit any occasion.


The first step to coloring your cookies and other confections is to choose the base, such as a cake or cookie icing, frosting, or a glaze. Is there a difference? While casual cooks often use these terms interchangeably, pros might point out a few differences:

  • Frosting is usually fluffy and holds its swirly shape when spread.
  • Icing is thinner and a bit glossier than frosting.
  • Glaze is slightly translucent and even thinner than icing.

Follow along to see how to color your icing of choice. And if you need to know how to make icing, we have that here, too.

How to Color Icing and Frostings

Here’s how to color royal icing, powdered sugar icing, cream cheese frosting, cream cheese icing, 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 a many colors and shades. Look for paste or gel food coloring at hobby stores and specialty cooking stores. They are becoming more readily available at many grocery chains, too.

  • Icing tips for paste and gel food coloring: A little goes a long way when using paste or gel food coloring, 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

Readily available at most grocery stores, liquid food colorings generally come in four color options: red, yellow, green, and blue. To use, stir drops of food coloring 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.

  • Tip: Cooks wishing to avoid additives often found in gel food coloring and other commercial food colorings can try their hand at making a natural food coloring. Check out ways to color buttercream frosting by using natural food coloring such as blueberries, strawberries, peaches, mangos, and even spinach!

How to Make Powdered Sugar Icing

Powdered Sugar Icing is one of the easiest recipes for a quick cookie icing. You can also use it to drizzle on cakes and cupcakes.

Here’s how to make Powdered Sugar Icing:

  • Using a sifter or fine-mesh sieve, sift enough powdered sugar into a medium bowl to measure 3 cups sifted powdered sugar.
  • Stir in enough milk (about 3 to 5 tablespoons) to make the icing piping consistency or other desired consistency.
  • Color the icing as directed below. Makes about 1 cup Powdered Sugar Icing, enough to decorate 5 dozen cookies.

How to Make Royal Icing

Royal Icing is easy to color and pipe, plus it sets up firmly when dry. Royal Icing is our go-to cookie icing. It is often used for decorating cutout cookies and gingerbread cookies and for piping decorations and writing onto any kind of cake.

Here’s how to make Royal Icing:

  • In a large bowl stir together 1-3/4 cups powdered sugar, 4-1/2 teaspoons meringue powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar. Add 1/4 cup warm water and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
  • Beat with an electric mixer on low until combined. Beat on high 7 to 10 minutes or until mixture is very stiff. This makes about 2-1/2 cups icing.

Tip: Meringue powder is a mixture of pasteurized dried egg whites, sugar, and edible gums. Look for it in the baking aisle of your supermarket or at a specialty food store.

Recipes Using Colored Icing


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