Now if there’s one thing that I’m known for, it’s bright colours and glittering all the things! There's a variety of products on the market now when it comes to glitter, metallics and food colouring, and it can be overwhelming for a beginner to know where to start. What to use for colouring icing, painting and airbrushing - especially when you start comparing them in terms of what's edible vs non-toxic. This post will guide you through the options and give you confidence in finding the products you need!
When I opened my online supply shop, the goal was to provide both essential baking supplies along with those that are more of a novelty item. You know, the fun shiny ones! Edible art is meant to be enjoyable and a way to express yourself in the best way - eating obviously! There are so many options when it comes to products and I wanted to ensure I was offering what people want, while also being clear about the intended use of each one with a lot of the misinformation that floats around. Being a cookie artist myself, I personally use these products and can give you insight based on not just written facts, but my own experience too.
To be honest, I had no clue in the beginning of my baking career that some of the products I was buying from bakery supply shops weren’t classified as edible. I figured because they sold them right along side all their other items, that there was no problem. My fault for not doing my research, but I believe that it’s also the retailers responsibility to be transparent about what they are selling. Bonus points if you can provide info on how to use them too!
I ended up choosing to represent The Sugar Art’s products and offer them in my shop for a few reasons, and these are the products I’ll be focusing on when explaining the differences between the types. Simply put, Ed and Holly are amazing (like duh!). They are very active on social media with their customers and provide so much information on their products and how to use them. Helps too that they are super likeable, love what they do and are great to do business with. Are we great friends? Yes. But that friendship formed after I discovered their products which spoke for themself. I'm very proud to share their brand along side mine and help others make the most out of their products. You'll notice that they offer both edible and non toxic options for glitter and metallics, but with NO mystery as to which is which. More importantly though, when it comes to vibrancy, pigment & shine, you just can't beat what this brand offers.
The Sugar Art offers a wide range of products for all aspects of culinary art. Their patent pending micro-blend technology produces the strongest and most vibrant colours in the industry! Shown above is the pump brush that is great for using with diamondust, or even cornstarch to brush over your icing that's been airbrushed to avoid bleeding!
Now before we get to the hotter topics, lets focus on THE biggest product to hit the baking scene in a long time...
In an industry accustomed to gel food colouring, many are familiar with the struggle that comes with oversaturation, colour bleed, and bitter aftertaste. While dust pigments aren't new to the baking industry, they had never been introduced to the world of royal icing, buttercream and batters with the quality and education to bring them to the forefront like Ed & Holly have.
What makes them different? Master Elites are a straight dry pigment with no added preservatives (fully edible and FDA compliant). This means you can achieve much more intense colour with very little product, much ease and no after taste. Because of how little of the dust is needed, you greatly reduce, if not eliminate the risk of colour bleed - especially when you use the white to colour your white icing which is usually the colour to experience the most bleed from surrounding colours.
These pigments are only for tinting ingredients like royal icing, buttercream, fondant and batters. They cannot be used for chocolate as they are not fat soluble, or for anything other than tinting such as painting and airbrushing - but don't worry, there are products for that which you will love!
Also important to note - Master Elites are water activated. Before mixing, add just a touch of water to dissolve the dust. This will help it combine into your mixture with no speckling. Example below:
A few photos here as well of my own work and I can tell you first hand that achieving these colours was no issue with this product. Having used gels before this, its always been a fine line between getting the colours I want and having them become bitter in taste. While you can get some great pigments right off the bat with the Master Elites, start a little lighter and you'll notice how much they develop in just a short amount of time. And if bright and intense isn't what you're going for, just adding a touch of pigment will get you the most beautiful pastels - the versatily in the shades you can achieve with just the slightest amount of product makes it so that you really have a variety of options with just one jar!
Products for Painting, Dry Dusting & Airbrushing:
I am all about having one product with multiple uses and that is the beauty of the Sterling Pearl (luster dust with a shimmer finish), and standard Elite Color (petal dust with a matte finish). Both are 100% edible & FDA compliant and work amazing as topical applications but can also be used for tinting which I'll explain more on. So lets break down the uses:
Dry dusting is the simplest way to use these pigments in dry form by brushing them over your completely dried icing. With light and even strokes of a soft paint brush, you can easily add shading and even dust and entire surface for a unique look like the seashell below. Ensure your icing is dry prior to dusting.
Painting & Airbrushing are usually the ones that beginners are more skeptical of, but I can assure you that its not as complicated as you think!
To activate the dust to a liquid form, most use an alcohol such as vodka or everclear. This is because the alcohol evaporates when applied, just leaving the pigment. Water doesnt evaporate right away and as such can pool and eat away at the icing. Your first instinct might be to worry about the use of alcohol, but neither it nor the dust leaves an aftertaste and your baked item is still completely safe for consumption. An alternative to alcohol is lemon extract, some will say that you don’t get the same intensity of colour, but it’s an option you can also try if you like!
When it comes to consistency for painting, it best to keep it a little on the thick side for optimal coverage. You’ll notice when using that it does start to dry up because of the evaporation rate of alcohol. It it starts to get too thick or clump, just add a few more drops to thin it back down. Some prefer vodka over everclear because it doesn’t evaporate as quickly. I like to use a lidded paint pallet so that when it does dry up, I can close it and use it again later just by adding more alcohol. Great way to reduce waste of your products!
Painting has always been my favourite because there's really no right or wrong and you can let the creativity flow! Always ensure that your icing is fully dry before painting - about 8-10 hrs depending on your climate.
Now for airbrushing, you want a very thin consistency. This is so that the liquid runs through the gun without clogging. It’s helps to have a dropper or pipette to transfer the liquid colour to the well of the gun with ease. Always mix your dust and alcohol right before so that it’s the right consistency and doesn’t thicken upon sitting for an extended period. Do a test spray first on paper towel to ensure the liquid is spraying with ease, never spray onto the icing before you know its the right consistency. Immediately rinse your gun when complete so that the alcohol doesn’t cause any corrosion of the metal interior pieces of the gun. Your icing should be dry for at least 2 hrs before adding elements like shading, and fully dry if using a stencil and holder over top for designs.
I get it - you're probably thinking this sounds like a lot of work and yes, it does take a few more steps than a ready use product but the benefits do outweigh the argument of convenience if you think about it. Again, one product with multiple uses and the pigments you get are stunning! I'm not against ready to use paints or airbrush colours at all, but I do love the versatility these provide so you can save money and still get an amazing quality all in one product.
The Pegasus airbrush system also by The Sugar Art has stood the test of time for many sugar artists with superior power, flow and precision. It has a single action gun which makes it perfect for beginners. I've personally tried several brands prior to the re-release of the Pegasus and can vouge for the quality of this system - I LOVE it!
The photos above show some of the airbrushing I've done with these products. On the left is Diva Elite Colour and to the right is a mix of Ultra Pink, Yummy Berry, Turquoise and Green Touch Sterling Pearls (the built in shimmer is beautiful!).
And to further the versality of these two product lines, the standard Elite Colors can be used to colour icing, batters, fondant and chocolate (remember that the Master Elites cannot be used for chocolate but standard Elites are fat soluble and can). The standard Elite Colors don't offer the same intensity as Master's, but are great for small amounts of icing! Sterling Pearls can also be used for tinting, but you will lose the shimmer. Below, I've used Ultra Pink to tint, paint and airbrush. ONE product!
Edible vs Non Toxic Products
Highlighter and glitters - shall we? This is where we get into the more controversial territory and I’m going to break it down in the simplest of terms to keep it straight forward with no room for interpretation. To be clear, I personally use all of the products. I am not biased either way. I see everyones point of view and respect it. Yes I sell them all, but I also provide education and resources like this as a landing point for many of the questions that people have about them. Everyone can make their own educated decision as to what they want and feel comfortable using. It’s just like bottle vs breast feeding (yeah, I’m taking it there). We all do it differently and everyone is JUST FINE! Make decisions for yourself and be responsible for relaying your knowledge of products available to your customers if your are selling your baking.
What does non toxic actually mean?
Non toxic means that it’s not classified as edible and has no nutritional value. It cannot be digested and will not cause harm or long-term gastrointestinal damage.
How do I know if a product is deemed edible?
A certified edible product must have three things - a lot number, expiration date and ingredient list.
Its important to note that all countries and even states are different with how and what is approved. In some regions, you must use fully edible products when selling baked goods or you can lose your licence if you are a business. Look into your local food laws to ensure you are aware of the guidelines that apply to you.
So lets do it!
Highlighter vs Sterling Pearl (luster dust):
Straight up, you wont find a fully edible product that compares to a highlighter but you can come close with a luster dust. Below are the ones that I carry and can show side by side.
Highlighter dusts give a true metallic finish and can be paintied or airbrushed. They are not classified as edible and DO contain metal. To activate them, you mix the dust with a high content alcohol such as everclear for best results. If you dont have access to everclear, try Spirytus vodka or a high content rum. As explained earlier the alcohol evaporates when applied to leave the sheen with no residue or aftertaste. This product is intended for ornamental areas or keepsake items that will be removed before eating, like a fondant accent bow for example. You'll still often see them used for detailing or as a splatter effect on pieces that are consumed. Every artist has their preference.
Sterling Pearl metallic coloured dusts are a great alternative to highlighters. They do not give the true metallic finish, but a gorgeous final look none the less! They are 100% edible, FDA compliant and kosher certified. The dust can be activated with regular proof vodka, everlclear or lemon extract and used on any baked item as detaied earlier. They are available in a gorgeous range of metallic colours for gold, silver and rose gold.
Disco vs Diamondust
A non toxic glitter product. It's hard to compare to the intense sparkle of a disco dust. You can apply it immediately to wet icing and it will not lose its shimmer. Just like highlighter, it is intended for pieces that would be removed prior to eating, but many decorators use it lightly on any area their baked goods.
A 100% edible glitter, FDA compliant and kosher certified. Unlike disco dust, its a larger particle and cannot be applied to wet icing or it will absorb and lose its sparkle. You need to wait until your icing has crusted over to apply it. (The tackiness allows it to stick but doesnt absorb it). It is a topical application and must remain above the surface to reflect the light. Intended for the heavy handed glitter lover, so sprinkle away!
Both products are available in a wide variety of colours, and add a beautiful sparkle to your edible art!
Hopefully this answers many of the questions you may have about these products and intended uses. It’s important to be educated and make your decisions accordingly. I’m thankful to have teamed up with a company like The Sugar Art who provide full transparency and education, and I always will as well for my customers! As always you can refer to both of our Instagram’s for a wealth of video tutorials, tips and inspiration. Remember too that each listing for these products in my shop includes a chart showing the intended use just in case you’re not sure.
Thank you so much for reading and if you’ve made it this far, I have a surprise! Drop a comment here and tell me something you learned, or what your favourite The Sugar Art product is! Then go back to my Instagram post and let me know you’ve entered so I can use an online generator to choose the winner from that post. The winner will be selected on Wednesday April 8th and will receive a $50 shop credit to Cookie Couture!