8 tips for working with colour

Cake designer to the stars Maggie Austin explains how to get the best and brightest results for a showstopping finish.

Cake designer to the stars Maggie Austin explains how to get the best and brightest results for a showstopping finish. Just as the placement of shapes can direct the eye, so, too, can colour. Unexpected uses of pigment, like dark brown petal dust brushed on the surface of a silvery green leaf, give a sense of realism and dimension to your work. From painting on cakes to mixing the perfect ombré sugarpaste, the use of colour can enrich designs in endless ways. Colour is incredibly subjective –not only in what we like, but even in what we see and how we identify colour. I once had a design meeting with a couple who told me they wanted a fuchsia cake. As the three of us sat there with my portfolio, we each pointed to a different example of what ‘fuchsia’ looked like. At that point, I brought out a Pantone booklet and we settled on a number, rather than a name.  

  • Event planners or designers may be familiar with Pantone numbers, but your client may not be. Ask for a swatch of fabric from the bridesmaid’s dress or paint samples from a DIY store. Not only does this help you, the designer, to have a physical piece from which to colour match, but it gives the client a tool to communicate clearly.
  • Gel colour is the way to go for colouring sugarpaste or gum paste. Massage the gel into the sugarpaste or gum paste, adding it only a little at a time, until you reach your desired colour. Some colours can stain your hands, so have some disposable gloves handy. Use a dab of shortening (vegetable fat) on the work surface as you massage in colour, as the gel makes the sugarpaste or gum paste sticky.
  • If you need to match a specific colour, try your blend of gel colours on a small piece of sugarpaste or gum paste first. Once you have your formula down, colour the entire batch.


Discover a range of products to suit your baking and cake decorating needs here

  • Freshly coloured sugarpaste or gum paste intensifies as it sits. The red sugarpaste you thought was not quite deep enough might be perfect after it has rested in a zip-top bag for 20 minutes.
  • On the other hand, as soon as coloured sugarpaste is exposed to air and light, it starts a slow colour fade. Direct sunlight and fluorescent light accelerate this process. Coloured gum paste is more fade resistant.

  • There are tons of colour dusts available and you could spend a fortune on them. Use these to brush soft colour onto gum paste flowers or for wet medium paint. Just as with fine art pigments, edible colours can be layered and blended to make new ones, meaning you don’t necessarily need to buy orange petal dust if you have red and yellow.
  • Clear, high-proof alcohol or extract turns dry pigments into an edible paint. The higher the proof, the more quickly it evaporates, leaving only the colour behind. I use cheap vodka that I would not be tempted to drink. It imparts no flavour or odour or quantifiable alcohol.

Content continues after advertisements
  • Read the labels. Some dusts, particularly metallic ones, are meant for decorative use only. Save these for display cakes or for elements that will be removed before serving.


This feature comes from Maggie Austin Cake by Maggie Austen.


Last updated one month ago

More in Cake Decorating Hints & Tips

More in Advice Hub

Click here to sign up to our newsletters!

Click here to sign up to our newsletters!