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How To Color Royal Icing

How To Color Royal Icing

Royal icing (sometimes abbreviated to RI) is one specific type of icing that's used for cookies. What makes it different than buttercream or "frosting" is that royal icing hardens as it dries, so the people delighting in your cookies will not get sticky icing on their hands!

Without any added color, royal icing is white or sometimes off-white if you used a brown colored liquid flavoring like vanilla or almond extract.

One of the top questions we get is...

What's the best coloring for royal icing?

The best colorings for royal icing are Gel Colors.

Why? Gel colors contain bright, food-safe pigments and only a little liquid. This lack of liquid means you can add more color to your royal icing without changing the texture or the taste.

As a bonus our Cookie Countess Gel Colors are free of the 11 major allergens included gluten, soy, peanuts/tree nuts; and kosher certified!

gel colors for royal icing

How much gel color do I need to add to my royal icing?

The short answer is: as much as you need.

Not helpful, I know.

It's best to measure gel colors by units of "drops", one drop from the bottle will instantly add color to your icing. How many drops of you need to get your desired color depends on how much icing you have, and the color of that icing to begin with.

You can get MANY shades from a single bottle of gel color!

gel color variations

My rules for achieving the perfect icing color:

The One Drop Rule

Start with one drop and full mix after each addition. You are not saving yourself any time by squirting half the bottle into your icing! I promise. Sometimes for very pale colors, I even just dab a bit of color on with a toothpick! 

For Pure White Icing

If you want to get true color, one that won't be tinted by brown extracts, use a clear extract like Genie's Dream Clearly Not Vanilla.

To make a bright white icing, use Whipped White Gel Icing Color. Yes, adding white to your already white icing will make it be less opaque and stand out against other colors on your cookies.

Let DARK Colors Develop

Gel Colors are pigments, and just like the 35 minutes it takes for hair dye to develop, your royal icing needs time too.

To achieve the hardest colors -- black and red: add drops of gel color, fully mixing after each addition, until your icing is close to the desired color. Cover your royal icing and let it sit on the counter for 2 - 4 hours, or place it in the fridge overnight if you're not going to use it immediately.

You will find that after a few hours the color will have developed into a darker, richer version.

When you're ready to use your developed color, give it a stir to remix any natural separation.

Can I mix gel colors?

Absolutely! You can experiment with mixing colors to achieve that perfect shade.

When custom mixing it's a good idea though to mix more icing than you think you need, as it can be hard to go back later and make more of the same exact color.

Write down your recipe as you go, so you don't forget!

Here's an example of one way to write down a color chart. You can use colored pencils to show a swatch of the color you achieved.

color mixing recipe example


Bonus "Hack" - Adding Airbrush Colors to Royal Icing

You can use our water-based Edible Airbrush Colors to your royal icing to experiment with some beautiful pastel shades. They have more liquid that gel colors, so you'll want to start with a stiffer icing.

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