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. Hello,
    I just had a question. Am I able to create at paint with the powder or even gel paste?

    1. I think you will find the gel colorings work well for an edible “paint” when mixed with a clear alcohol such as vodka. The powder colorings do not dissolve as readily.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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. Powdered coloring is preferred when adding liquid/water is prohibited or if too much liquid would alter your batch. Liquid colors can be used for all other applications.

  5. Can you use the powdered food coloring in bath products without staining the tub or body?

    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.

    1. Most bakers prefer a gel coloring for red velvet cakes, but a powder coloring would work as well. The amount added depends on the color you’re trying to achieve – I would say to start with 1 tsp.
      LorAnn sells a Red Velvet Bakery Emulsion that lends vibrant red velvet color to cakes (the flavor is subtle). 1 Tbs. emulsion colors and flavors an 8″ or 9″ cake.

  6. 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.

  7. Hi,
    I read in your blog that gel and paste food coloring can be used to color candles. Can powdered food coloring be used, as well? I’m trying to create the richest colors possible that are non-toxic to burn. Thanks for your answer.

    1. Hi Bebe – Our blog post refers to using food coloring in candies (not candles). We are not sure how a powdered food color would perform in candle making, but assume the powdered version would be the right choice over gel or paste. Good luck!

  8. Hi, I’m looking for a food coloring that can be used to make colored cloud dough (flour and oil mixed together). The recipe I have says to use an oil based food coloring. Would gel coloring work for that?

    1. Hi Darcy – The gel food coloring contains water and is not oil based. I tried using our powdered colors in a mixture of flour and oil and that seemed to work well.

  9. wonderful work you’re doing here, it’s really informative and helpful. But please I don’t know if my past comment was sent but please I need to know urgently if powdered food dye can be used in place of gel food dye. I am supposed to do some mirror glazing in two hours but I was only able to get powder food dye. I don’t know what to do, or how to use the powder food dye. please help me out.

    1. I am inclined to say that powdered food color will be fine in the mirror glaze, but I am not 100% certain that the color will disperse as you need it too. My suggestion is to do a test with a small amount of the glaze. If the color disperses well, you are good to go. Hope this helps!

  10. Hi! Thanks for really helpful article, but I’m a bit worried about matallic food coloring. I need to cover my chocolates in gold but I don’t know which type of food coloring will be the best for that task. Will liquid gold stay on place nicely? Won’t working with powder be too messy? What about gel coloring? Will it resemble gold effect good enough on chocolate surface?

  11. I am looking for information on what and if I can use the dry color to spray from a squeeze bottle. Ref: NHO DO

  12. I only have liquid food coloring, how would i incorporate it into something such as a meringue?

  13. I need some help! I’m looking to make a candy powder(imagine fundip), how can i dye mass amounts of powder with no water in the recipe? thank you!

    1. Hi there! Powdered food coloring is the way to go. Simply place the candy powder in a zip-top plastic bag, add the powdered food coloring and shake until evenly distributed. Powder coloring is very concentrated; start with a small amount and add as needed until desired color is achieved.

    1. Hi, Tory! In general, gel/paste food coloring can be used interchangeably with liquid coloring, you will simply need to use much less than you would with liquid food coloring due to the difference in the dilution level. We recommend starting small (3-4 drops) and then add less/more until desired coloring is reached.

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