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How to Avoid Color Bleed

Picture it: dozens of freshly-flooded soccer ball cookies drying on the counter, meticulously piped with carpal-tunnel-inducing black and white sections. Gorgeous, right?


Ok, now picture it 12 hours later, when those crisp black and white sections are now crisp black sections, and white sections that suddenly have a whole lot of grey happening at their borders. Now that cookier has carpal tunnel AND fuzzy soccer balls, to boot. THE WORST!


This, my friends, is the devastation that is color bleed. Let’s have a moment of silence for that poor cookier…

color bleed meme

"Noooo, God! No, God, please no! No. No! Noooooooooooo!!!!" --Michael Scott finding out Toby is back, and Me waking up to color bleed

Ok, now let’s talk about how to avoid falling into this same devastation. Nine out of ten cookiers admit to dealing with color bleed at some point or another, and that tenth cookier is a dang liar, so they can’t be trusted (statistics may or may not be completely fabricated, but still sound right). The good news is that, since color bleed is such a widespread issue, there are lots of tips and tricks for how to mitigate the possibility of color bleed. The not-so-good news is that there is nothing you can do to 100% guarantee you won’t run into it, but it’s still worth a shot!

Color Corrections for Color Bleed

Start with a base icing that has white gel added to it. Uncolored royal icing has an off-white natural tinge and is more likely to allow bleed and absorb color. Add white gel to your base to act as a stabilizer to prevent color bleed right off the bat.


The biggest culprit in color bleed is usually oversaturated color. If you know you need a dark color icing, your best bet is to make it a day or two ahead so that you can use as little food coloring as possible and let it sit and develop, checking in on the progress and giving a stir every now and then. Get in the habit of making your icing the day before you need it, and color everything then so that it will all have time to develop. If the color you’re struggling most with is black (which is pretty typical), aim for a dark grey instead of true black.

color bleed quote

Consistency & Color Bleed

Another tactic to prevent color bleed is to use a medium consistency flood instead of a really loose flood with a lot of water in it. Again, we are looking for stability, and the thicker flood can help each color mind its own business. 

Piping & Color Bleed

Pipe full borders in each adjacent section, and let them dry a bit before adding the flood to prevent color bleed.

 

Use the same consistency in each color. Mismatched consistencies react differently to each other, so this starts them off on the same level and lowers your chances of color bleed. 

 

Flood dark sections first and allow them to dry for a while before flooding lighter sections. Dried sections want to absorb moisture from freshly-flooded sections, so dried white will suck up black color, but dried black sections absorbing white color are harder to see and are less problematic. (This method obviously isn’t always possible, depending on the design, of course—especially if you have to add dark color on top of a light color, instead of next to it).

 

If you do have to flood a light section first, don’t allow it to dry completely before adding the dark neighbor. Again, you don’t want your dry lighter color to start to leech color from the fresh dark section.

color bleed example

When in Doubt

Make royal icing transfers ahead, or use edible marker or paints.

Again, unfortunately there’s no guaranteed way to avoid color bleed, but hopefully making a combination of small tweaks to your process can help make a difference.

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Comments

Colleen - June 3, 2024

This is so helpful. Thank you!

Jenny - March 28, 2024

How much white color do you add to the icing?
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The Cookie Countess replied:
For a full batch of icing, you can start with at least a teaspoon of white food coloring and go from there. We typically just give the bottle a good squeeze as the mixer is going and adjust as needed. Good luck!

Susan - March 26, 2024

If you’re making PYO cookies with a white background when is the best time to stencil black icing?
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The Cookie Countess replied:
You can stencil your PYOs once the flood is 100% dry. Stenciling icing tends to be very thick and have minimal water in it (plus you leave so little of it behind on the cookie!), so the risk of bleed is lower with PYOs in general.

Casey - December 12, 2023

Amazing article! Thank you for all of the great information and tips!
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The Cookie Countess replied:
You are so welcome! ❤

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