How To Color Your Icing

Learn how to make custom icing colors with these helpful formulas as well as tips for special icing effects, such as striping and marbling.

Icing Colors

Use a paste or powder icing color. Paste or powder icing color is designed for coloring icing. They are concentrated, giving vivid or deep colors without changing the consistency of your icing. Using food colors not only will thin your icing, but will limit your color options. If your icing consistency changes, you may have difficulty in piping some decorations. 

Mixing Color In Icing

If you are using an icing color paste, insert a toothpick through the foil cover, then swirl the toothpick into the icing. Leaving the foil cover on the jar will extend the life of your paste. Add small amounts of color at a time, using a fresh toothpick each time, until you have the desired color. If you are using red, royal blue, black, brown, or orange, you can remove the foil cover and use the tip of a knife to add the paste to your icing. Clean the knife blade before inserting into the jar to add more color. Use a spatula to blend the color, making sure the color is evenly distributed. Royal icing requires more color than buttercream icing to achieve the same color intensity. To keep the color consistent on the cake, mix enough of any one icing color for the entire cake. It is difficult to match the same shade of color again. 

Intense Colors

When making deep colors, such as black, brown, red, orange or royal blue, use paste food colors in larger amounts than normal. It can take as much as 1 oz. paste food color per one cup to obtain deep colors. Deep colors are recommended for accent colors only. When icing is colored deep red, a bitter aftertaste may be detected. Wilton No-Taste Red should be used when a large portion of red coloring is used on the cake, such as for flowers and borders. Wilton No-Taste Red does not contain red 3 which causes the bitter taste. When white buttercream is tinted dark black, it also can have a bitter taste. Instead add black paste food color to dark chocolate icing. 

Color Changes

Colors deepen in buttercream icings after setting or exposure to light. Color your icing 1-2 hours before decorating. Colors might fade slightly in royal, boiled or Color Flow icing after they have set. Lemon juice or cream of tartar can cause colors to change, for example, violet will become blue. If the recipe has one of these ingredients in it, omit it. In addition, water can cause color changes depending upon your geographical area. If buttercream icing is made with water, replace some of the water with milk or milk powder. Brown color occasionally has a green overtone to it. This usually occurs with the presence of acid in the icing, such as lemon juice or cream of tartar. Omit the acid if tinting icing brown. Dissolving brown color in 1/4 teaspoon water before adding to icing will eliminate the green tone. 

Marble Effects

By stacking different shades of tinted icing in your bag, you can achieve a marble effect to your decorations. 

Bag Striping Effects

To achieve a two-tone effect, add a different color on the side of the bag before you put in your tinted icing. This way, you can create flowers with light and dark tones or create a clown with striped shirt and trousers. 

Brush Striping

Produces more intense multi-colors because it is done with icing color brushed directly on the side of a bag. Apply one or more stripes of icing color to the sides of the bag with a decorating brush, then fill the bag with white or tinted icing. Your decorations will come out striped. 

Spatula Striping

Produces two-tone and realistic flowers and figure piping. Use a spatula to strip the side of a decorating bag with tinted icing. Fill the bag with white or a contrasting shade of icing. Your decorations will consist of soft contrasts. 

Lightening Colors

White-white is used for lightening icing that has been colored too dark. White buttercream made with butter or margarine can be whitened with white-white paste food color. 


Paste colors can stain teeth, skin and clothing. Washing the area with soap and warm water will remove color from skin and clothing. Bleach can be used on counter tops to remove stains. Lukewarm water should be used first to spot stained color. Rinse thoroughly, allow to dry. If color is still visible use a commercial cleaner on the garment, carpet, upholstery, etc. In the case of a color that has Red 3 as an ingredient use an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice to soak the stain first. Continue with lukewarm water and allow to dry before using a commercial cleaner.

The Color Wheel

In the center are the primary colors - Red, Yellow, and Blue. From these, all others are made.

In the inner ring are secondary colors - orange, green, violet, made by mixing equal amounts of primary colors. Mix red and yellow for orange, mix red and blue for violet, and mix blue and yellow for green.

In the outer ring are the tertiary colors - achieved by mixing varying amounts of one primary color with the adjacent primary. Mix a large amount of red with a small amount of blue and you will get a red-violet color. Do the opposite for blue-violet. Increase or decrease amounts form many hues in between.

Because it takes such a strong concentration of color to produce black, it is easier to buy black color. Mixing black color IS possible, but you need to use very strong paste colors and a LOT of it which makes the recipe bitter. A pinch of salt will help with the bitterness, but the only way to get a good strong black is with a LOT of color, especially when using gel color. Be careful with black. It will stain just about anything it touches.
Use white icing with a combination of royal blue, red, orange and lemon. Or, start with a dark brown color or chocolate icing (made with melted chocolate and/or black or Dutch process cocoa) and add black. I Just keep adding more black color SLOWLY until you reach your desired color. Remember colors darken as they sit. For small amounts of black icing (for piping buttons, dots, etc) you can just add enough black food coloring to your white icing to create black

To make brown, mix red and green gel or paste color or melt unsweetened chocolate or use cocoa powder and mix it into your white icing. Brown color occasionally has a green overtone to it which occurs with the presence of acid in the icing; lemon juice or cream of tartar, so omit. Also dissolving brown color in 1/4 teaspoon water before adding to icing will eliminate the green tone.

Making dark red icing can be a challenge. Make your icing a day ahead of time. That dark pink icing will darken over time and turn into the red you need if you give it 24 hours.

If using purple color for buttercream icing make sure there is milk added for the liquid. You'll find your icing won't fade blue as it crusts.


add 2 parts of white icing to 1 part of any colored icing

2 Orange + 1 Golden Yellow

5 Sky Blue + 1 Leaf Green

4 Lemon Yellow + 1 Leaf Green + touch of black

5 Rose Pink + 1 Violet

5 Lemon Yellow + 1 Leaf Green

8 Orange + 2 Red + 1 Brown

1 Golden Yellow + 1 Brown + 1 Xmas-Red

Hunter Green
Kelly Green + small amount of black


3 Rose Pink + 2 Lemon Yellow

5 Pink + 1 Violet

Silver (Gray)
1 Black + 1 Blue

6 Sky Blue + 1 Lemon Yellow

9 Sky Blue + small amount of Lemon Yellow

Dusty Rose
5 Rose Pink + 1 Violet

5 Rose Pink + 2 Orange + 2 Red + 2 Black

1 Violet + a touch of Christmas Red

10 Lemon Yellow + 3 Orange + 1 Red

Maroon 4
 Red Red + 2 Burgundy

Use ivory paste

Moss Green
2 Violet + 3 Lemon Yellow

Navy Blue
1 Sky Blue + 1 Violet

1 Sky Blue + 6 Rose Pink

3 Rose Pink + 1 Christmas Red

Ruby Red

1 Red Red + 1 touch black

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