Food Coloring 101: Liquid vs. Gel vs. Powder

So what’s the difference between liquid food coloring versus a gel/paste or a powder version? And more importantly, why should you care?

Basically the difference between the three types of food coloring is dilution level.
Less liquid = more concentrated color.  In general, gel/paste food coloring can be used interchangeably with liquid coloring, you will simply need to use much less (gel/paste colors can be very cost effective!).   A powdered color is used most often in applications where water is prohibited, such as in chocolate and dry mixes.


Liquid Food Coloring

  • Produces the softest level of color.
    (Note:  LorAnn’s liquid coloring is professional strength and is more concentrated than typical grocery-store liquid food coloring).
  • To use:  Add liquid food coloring by the drop until desired color level is achieved.
  • Ideal for tinting hard candy & lollipops, frostings, cakes, cookies, ice cream, and Easter eggs (mix with water and vinegar).

Gel/Paste Food Coloring

  • Produces dark, saturated color.
  • To use:  For gel food coloring in a pot, we recommend using a toothpick and adding a small amount, adding more as needed.  For gel colors in a squeeze bottle, add by the drop.  It’s easy to over-do it, so start with a small amount of color and work your way up.
  • Can be used interchangeably with liquid food coloring, just use less.
  • Ideal for adding color to larger batches and where adding too much liquid is an issue.


Powder Food Coloring

  • Produces the deepest, ultra-dark level of color.
  • To use:  Scoop a tiny amount of powder food coloring and add to dry ingredients.  For tinting chocolate or confectionery coating (candy melts), start with a small amount of melted chocolate or coating and mix in powdered colorant to form a deeply colored ‘marble’.  Mix this ‘marble’ into your larger batch of melted chocolate or coating.  Repeat if necessary to create a darker hue.
  • Ideal for tinting chocolate, dry mixes, and anywhere water is prohibited.  Can be used to color hard candy and lollipops.
  • Fun fact:  Those colorful clouds of powder that runners enjoy in a Color Run is typically a mixture of a small amount of powdered food coloring and corn starch.







  1. Great information here. New bakers need this kind of information. Would have helped when I first started out, that’s for sure 🙂


  2. Inspired by your Fun Fact above, I tried making Color Run powder by mixing your powder food coloring with corn starch. It took a ton of coloring to get the starch to have any color at all, and the resulting powder ended up staining my hands 😦


    1. Sorry to hear the blending was not successful. The powder color is definitely concentrated enough to stain your hands. We have not tried to make the corn starch & powder food color blend, we just know that customers purchase the color in powder form for that purpose.


  3. If I want to color a cheesecake black, am i better off using powder or gel to get the blackest cake possible? Btw it would be a chocolate cheesecake, so it would already be brown in color.


    1. Either will work. Even with the black powder, you will need quite a bit of color and it will likely end up to be more of a charcoal gray, than shoe polish black. If you use the black powder, I suggest mixing it into your cream cheese. Hope this helps!


    1. Hi Julie – We have added the powdered color to bath fizzies with no staining issues. Here is a link to one of the recipes on our website:

      We have only added the coloring to achieve a pastel-look. I’m not certain whether or not there is a ratio at which staining could be an issue. If you want to color liquid-based bath products such as scrubs and bath oils, you may find liquid soap colors to be more appropriate. We offer 3 different soap color assortments as well:


      1. Thank you so much for the information and the recipe! I will experiment with the powder in my bath fizzies and salts, then use the liquid in my bath scrubs and soap.


  4. Hi I use gel food colouring, when i do butter icing i can not get a true red, any suggestions please? love your tips above thank you in advance


    1. Hi Julie – Red food dyes can be tricky. Years ago, the FDA allowed more dye options for red, but some were de-listed in the 1970’s. LorAnn offers two gel colors in the red family: Christmas Red and Ruby Red. The Christmas red is a bit more orange-red than the ruby.


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