How to Paint on Royal Icing Cookies (The Basics)

May 5, 2024 | Cookie Decorating Resources | 0 comments

Delving into the world of cookie decorating offers endless opportunities for creativity and expression. While piping intricate designs with royal icing is a classic and timeliness technique, adding painted details (or doing the whole thing printed) can add depth and dimension to your creations. While I can’t freehand for the life of me, I do have some insights on how to still be successful and create some beautiful effects without having to be someone who draws well. In this post, I’ll walk you through the process of painting on royal icing cookies, using a variety of tools and techniques to achieve stunning results.

These sailor moon cookies I did a while back were a combination of paint, icing, and edible markers.

sailor moon decorated sugar cookies

Choosing the Right Tools for Painting on Royal Icing Cookies: Before you embark on your cookie painting journey, it’s essential to gather the necessary tools. Invest in high-quality food-safe paint brushes with a variety of brush heads, as well as vibrant gel food coloring or edible paint in a range of colors. If you’re looking for the best gel colors on the market, check out The Sugar Art’s gel colors and don’t forget to use code BORDERLANDS at checkout for a discount. Additionally, a palette (like the 3D printed one we designed below!) or small dishes for mixing colors and clear alcohol or water for diluting your paint will ensure you have everything you need to bring your designs to life. We go through a lot of paper towels during this process, so I recommend investing in some reuseable and biodegradable eco towels.

Preparing Your Cookies for Painting: Ensure your royal icing has fully dried on your cookies before you begin painting (with the exception of wet-wet technique, see next section). This will provide a smooth surface and prevent smudging or bleeding of colors (unless if you’re going for a watercolor look!!). If desired, outline and flood parts of your cookies with white royal icing beforehand to create defined borders for parts of your designs, creating additional dimension (Check out the lemon cookie below in our Painted Tiles course).

Creating the Edible Paint: You can use a few different mediums to water down your gel colors to create edible paint. The amount of water to gel differs based on the color you’re trying to achieve and how vibrant/dense the color appears- this is where you’ll need to experiment a lot. These are some of the ways you can dilute your color, and it’s a very personal thing- each option has its pros and cons, and I recommend trying each option out to discover what you prefer.

  1. Gel color + a neutral, high proof alcohol such as Vodka or Everclear. The higher the proof, the shorter the working time you have because it evaporates FAST. This also means painting with alcohol reduces the pitting that might occur if you used just water. The alcohol will evoporate within an hour or so of painting, leaving no flavor or actual alcohol behind. This will get you a glossier finish depending on how much your pigment is waterered down.
  2. Gel color or The Sugar Art Elite Powder diluted with The Sugar Art’s Color Solution. If painting with Elite Powders, note that your finish will be matte.
  3. Gel color + extract: if you’re in a bind and you don’t have access to anything else, an expensive but workable solution is to dilute with extract, which is usually alcohol based. It will give your cookie some extra flavor depending on how much you use.
  4. Gel color or Elite Powder with water: I know some people who use water, and I find that this is the method that tends cause the biggest trouble for beginners- water tends to eat away at the icing causing pits or porosity. It can be used, but be careful here and use as little water as possible.
  5. Straight up airbrush color out of a bottle: I do occasionally paint with food safe airbrush colors directly onto dried royal icing – works well, but it means you need to have airbrush colors on hand. If you don’t normally airbrush, I don’t recommend you go out of your way to buy it. (Airbrush colors can also be used to color your icing… in case you have any extra laying around and you don’t know what to do with it!)
  6. Diluting edible markers. If you don’t want to fuss with any of the above, you can also paint on your royal icing with edible markers, and go over it with a brush dipped in alcohol or color solution to dilute and spread the color out to fill the desired area.

Also, you can make your liquid based pigments in bulk and store them in clear dropper bottles.

Exploring Painting Techniques for Royal Icing Cookies: Experiment with various painting techniques to achieve different effects on your cookies:

  1. Wet-on-Wet Technique: Apply paint directly onto wet royal icing for a seamless, watercolor-like effect.
  2. Watercolor on dry: Apply paint direclty onto completely dry royal icing for a watercolor effect. Don’t wait for your layers to dry to allow some color to “bleed” into each other.
  3. Layering: Build up colors and details by applying multiple layers of paint, allowing each layer to dry completely before adding the next.
  4. Dry Brushing: Use a dry brush to lightly apply paint to the surface of your cookies, creating a textured finish.
  5. Stippling: Dab small dots of color onto your cookies using a stippling brush or stiff-bristled brush to add texture and dimension.
  6. Detailing: Use a tiny, precise brush to create fine lines and details. A lot of our customer LOVE our fine detail brushes.

Adding Finishing Touches: Once you’ve completed painting your cookies, allow them to dry completely before handling or packaging. For added flair, consider embellishing your designs with edible glitter or metallic luster dust to make them truly sparkle. Sometimes, depending on your environment, the surface of your cookies might still be tacky. Brush a generous layer of cornstarch onto the painted areas and dust off – the corn starch will absorb some extra moisture so that the cookies don’t stick to your bags when you heat seal them.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out our video course for painting with icing HERE. The class walks you through painting these beautiful tile cookies PLUS I go over how to use a projector.

Conclusion: Painting on royal icing cookies offers a creative outlet for cookie decorators of all skill levels. By mastering the art of cookie painting and incorporating various techniques into your repertoire, you can elevate your cookie decorating skills to new heights. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned decorator, experimenting with painting on royal icing cookies is a rewarding endeavor that allows you to unleash your imagination and create edible works of art that are sure to impress. So grab your brushes and let your creativity flow as you paint your way to cookie perfection! (so. um, I used AI to generate the conclusion and I think it sounds like AI, do you? lol)

As always, let me know in the comments sections if you have any questions or additional insights, we’d love to hear from you! I’m only one of many incredible resources for decorating so do not take this as the gospel for painting. Look around, you’ll see many amazingly talented painters showing their skills via video courses such as The Painted Box and Kirkie Kookies.


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