Red icing in blue bowl

When baking cookies, cakes or other treats that call for dark red food coloring in the form of red frosting or when coloring the treat itself, there are a few tips and tricks to achieving the perfect color. By darkening the red slightly, a bright red will look a little less artificial. By adding more dark food coloring to the mix, the overall color will darken as well, but use caution as dark food coloring can add a bitter aftertaste.

What Color Makes Red Frosting Darker?

Most food coloring packages come with primary colors red, yellow, blue and one additional color, green. Combining 1 drop of each primary color, red, yellow and blue, will make black food coloring. Add 1 drop of the black food coloring to a separate dish of red food coloring. Continue to add 1/2 drop of black food coloring to the red coloring mixture until the appropriate color is achieved.

Alternatively, use food coloring gel, which comes in a variety of colors. Brown will make any color darker, so use a combination of bright red, a deeper red and a brown gel to make a wide variety of reds. Americolor Soft Gel Paste Food Color tends to lack the bitterness that Wilton Red Food Gel can sometimes have. If Wilton is a go-to brand, try their No-Taste variety of gel food coloring. Finally, consider using chocolate buttercream frosting if the flavor of the baked good itself is less of a concern. Chocolate frosting can be colored with a host of colors ranging from bright pink to purple to make even richer, darker varieties of red like cherry red, maroon or even burgundy.

How to Make Cherry Red Frosting With Food Coloring

Total Time: 8 minutes | Prep Time: 2 minutes | Serves: 24 cupcakes


  • 1 cup vanilla or chocolate frosting
  • 65 drops liquid red food coloring or 1/4 teaspoon gel red food coloring
  • 5 drops liquid black food coloring or 1/8 teaspoon gel brown food coloring


  1. Allow the frosting to sit at room temperature prior to mixing to ensure it can be smoothly combined with the food coloring.
  2. Using a white mixing bowl, place 3/4 cup of vanilla or chocolate frosting in a bowl.
  3. Save the last 1/4 cup of frosting for color corrections.
  4. With a spatula thoroughly mix in the red food coloring first.
  5. Evaluate the color to decide how much darker the finished frosting should be.
  6. Using the same spatula, add the black or brown food coloring, combining thoroughly.
  7. If the color is still too light, continue to add black or brown food coloring 1/2 drop or 1/16 of a teaspoon at a time, heavily mixing between each additional portion until the right color is achieved.
  8. If the color is too dark, add 1 tablespoon of the original frosting. Mix well to ensure the color is right before continuing to add 1/2 tablespoon at a time to further lighten the frosting.

How Much Food Coloring to Use

Always start small and try to use a white bowl or dish to mix colors so that the true color of the frosting or batter can be easily seen. If using liquid food coloring, begin with 2 to 4 drops of red food coloring and add 1 drop of black food coloring followed by 1/2 drop until the right shade is reached.

For gel food coloring, begin with 1/4 teaspoon red coloring and add an 1/8 of a teaspoon of brown coloring, slowly adding more as necessary. Again, less is better until the perfect shade is found. Remember, if the frosting gets too dark, add a tablespoon more of the original frosting or batter. Be sure to do a small test batch first.