Why Does Royal Icing Bleed?
I bet you have probably asked yourself, “Why does royal icing bleed?” I know I have asked that question many, many times. I’ve been making cookies for years now and have realized a few things about RI. The one thing I can say for sure is there is not just one reason that causes it to bleed. I wish I could say, “Don’t do _____ (fill in the blank)” and all your icing bleeding problems will be over, but it is not that easy. Don’t get stressed out because I do have some tips that might help.
I’m sure you recognize some of these cookies that I’ve been hoarding for months now testing my theories about why royal icing bleeds. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve learned a few things that I do to help prevent myself from asking the dreaded question, “Why does royal icing bleed every time I need my cookies to look good?”
These tips work for me, but they may not work for you. I hope this post will shed some light on your issues and inspire you to experiment with your icing so you can pinpoint what works and what makes your icing behave badly.
Why Does Royal Icing Bleed?
Where you live has a lot to do with the way your icing behaves. Humidity can cause royal icing to bleed. I live in a humid climate so I have to be careful. I have a friend that lives in a dry climate and she has never experienced bleeding problems. Isn’t she a lucky girl?
If you live in a humid climate, there are a few things you can do to help with the bleeding problems. You can dry your icing with a fan-like Sweet Sugar Belle suggests. It really helped my icing and it is very affordable.
Lila Loa suggests using a food dehydrator. I have not tried this method myself because the fan did the trick for me. If you are interested in a food dehydrator, click here.
I have also heard you can use a dehumidifier. I have a friend that uses one and she swears by it, but dehumidifiers are expensive.
Don’t Rush the Drying Time!
When I look at Goldilocks I know exactly what I did to cause the dress to bleed onto the legs, arms, and hair. I was in a hurry or just plain old impatient. If I would have waited 20 minutes before I added the dress she would have looked fine. After I saw the blue color on her legs I found myself starring at her asking, “Why does royal icing bleed?” DUH! I know why. I was impatient.
Don’t get in a hurry. Let the sections dry before you move onto the next color.
Use a Good Royal Icing Recipe
I once used a royal icing recipe that drove me crazy. Everything I did was a giant mess. I started using this recipe and Ta-Dah, instant improvement and no more bleeding. Experiment with different recipes until you find one you like that likes your climate.
Use Less Food Gel to Color the Icing
When I began decorating, I would add a ton of gel colors when I mixed my icing. I really don’t know why, but I thought the more color I added the better things would be. Boy was I wrong. The more gel I added the more I asked myself, “Why does royal icing bleed?” Once the gel is added to the icing, the colors begin to darken. It continues to darken even after you pipe it onto your cookies. So it makes sense to use less gel and therefore you will have less bleeding.
I know a lot of decorators mix their icing colors the night before they use them, but to be honest I don’t always have time. However, mix my colors and wait an hour or so before I use them which means I can let them darken without using a ton of gel colors.
Airbrushing and Painting are a Great Way to Stop Your Icing From Bleeding
I have never had a cookie that I have painted or airbrushed bleed. Never! This is all the reason in the world I need to airbrush and paint more. It puts my mind at ease to know that the colors will not bleed so my cookies are safe. I have never asked myself, “Why does royal icing bleed?” when I use these techniques.
I love airbrushing and painting on cookies and if you have not tried it yet, I want to encourage you to do so. Here is a video on how to paint on a cookie if you want to give it a try.
I made these cookies a long time ago and you can see the red didn’t bleed on the white of the cotton candy cone or, the red didn’t bleed on the pink of the bunny. If I would have pipped red icing onto the white cone, I know in my gut that it would have bled.
I am sorry, but it bears repeating, “Consistency!”
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I have had these cookies for a long time. Remember when I made this Royal Icing Consistency Video? The bear cookies are from that post. The date was March 18th and the cookies were made a week or so before that. I would have thought for sure the dark brown icing would have bled onto the paws, nose, and mama bear’s pearls, but to my surprise, they didn’t. The red bunny nose didn’t bleed onto the white rabbit either. And the tan on the monkey face didn’t absorb the brown.
If your icing is thin, it has a tendency to bleed more than thicker icing. I like to use 15-second icing to flood these days. It really has helped and I can build up my icing more as I did in the video.
I think there are 4 reasons these cookies didn’t bleed.
- The paws, pearls, flowers, eyes, and noses were RI Transfers. Transfers are a great way to help stop icing from bleeding. You can let the transfer dry for a week or so before you use it so it doesn’t absorb the base color.
- I used a fan to dry them. Thank you so much, Sweet Sugar Belle.
- I was patient and let the sections dry a bit before I added the next section.
- CONSISTENCY! I used a thicker icing consistency to flood. The 15-second icing works great in my area.
These are the things I do that work for me and I hope it will help you answer the question, “Why does royal icing bleed?” I don’t claim to be an expert or have all the answers and I’m just trying to help give tips on things that I’ve noticed through the years.
I am also a firm believer that two heads are better than one and if we all put our heads together, we might be able to help prevent others from being frustrated when they decorate. What do you do to stop your royal icing from bleeding? Do you have a tip, trick, or technique that you are willing to share with us? If so, we would love for you to leave a comment.
Great post Lisa. For me personally bleeding is associated with the climate, it bleeds especially in the summer when the humidity hits, I have a dehumidifier that I run in the summer, it helps a little, I try to avoid using problem colors. Another thing I learned, icing that is too thin has a tendency to bleed more.
I totally agree and I am glad to hear you use a dehumidifier. Our spring and summer is very humid and before I started using the fan, I considered buying one.
I also think it’s down to consistency and being patient. But as I ‘make’ most of my cookies in my head they turn out brilliantly and I never have problems with bleeding 🙂
I think you are on to something there Michelle! Making them in our heads will allow us more sleep and the will never bleed! You are brilliant!!
Great information, Lisa! As always, it is so fun to see your designs as well! On this end, I use a dehydrator and thicker RI as you mention. A fan too. lol It is so discouraging to put your heart and soul into a cookie and then have that happen. This article will help a lot of people! Great points, wonderful ideas and fabulous pics, as always!
I hope we all put our heads together and rid the world of bleeding royal icing! LOL All jokes aside, it is very discouraging to put your heart and soul into a cookie and then have the colors bleed. I hope something in this post will help someone out there. 😉
Thanks for the tips. I don’t have a humidity problem where I am but I think the thin consistency is the bigger problem. Also see more bleeding with glaze than with RI. Awesome post!
I have never used glaze icing but, I would love to try it. I am so glad you don’t have to worry about humidity. It is a challenging thing to figure out.
Great tips Lisa. Consistency and patience are the two big ones for me. Since I started flooding with thicker ri I have way fewer issues than I used to. And living in the Houston area with all the humidity I’m constantly turning my furnace house fan on/off to get the right airflow around my cookies to speed drying which helps so mich with bleeding. Love reading your blog!
I found that thicker icing helped me tremendously with bleeding. I wish I could push a button on my brain so it would give me more patience! LOL
Thanks for the informative post because I really need help in this area. I really like the idea of the transfers! I may need to try the fan too. Such cute cookies!
When Callye did the post on the fan I had to try it and I was amazed at the results. It also makes your cookies dry nice and shiny!
I am loving RI Transfers. Spring is very humid here and they help a lot with the bleeding.
I live in FL, so it is Hot and Humid. I have only experienced bleeding once and that was during the nice 70 degree weather outside where I had windows open. Normally it is too hot to not have the AC or ceiling fans running 100%. I feel that my savior has been the fact that I always have those running in my house. Hopefully I will have a bleed-free summer!!! I may be off to the store for a dehydrator .
I love the name of your blog! Public Display of Confection is super cute. Hopefully your summer will be bleed free! LOL
Great posting as usual!
Awe, you are so sweet Shauna:)
Such awesome tips, Lisa! Even though I haven’t had too many bleeds (despite my humid climate!), it is so crazy frustrating when it happens!
It is very frustrating Jennifer. I thought your climate was like mine. I am so happy you don’t have to stress about humidity.
I’ve made all these mistakes you listed. However, my worst enemy is my lack of patience. I never seem to learn, so that’s for the reminder with this post!
I think we all need a shot of patience. Waiting for icing to dry is like waiting for water to boil. Not much fun:/
Thanks for the tips. I’m going to bookmark this post for future reference. BTW, how’d you get the adorable texture on Goldilock’s hair?
I am glad you like Goldilocks hair. I outlined and flooded with yellow and when it was dry, I used a very thick icing and make the curls.
Bear Hugs Nessa!
Thank you for such great tips! I stress out whenever I use royal icing … I’m impatient.
Just know you aren’t alone Brenda! Hahahah
Hi my sweet friend. Even here in California I have had bleeding problems with both royal icing and my favorite glaze. One thing I do is, which I discovered by accident in an attempt to keep my kitties out of my cookies, dry my cookies on a cookie sheet in a cold oven. I think even the tiny amout of heat that must come from the pilot light seems to help. Also, and this is just my odd thinking… I try to always (as much as possible) use my darkest colors first, allow to dry, then add the lighter colors. again, not always possible but my theory is that the dry frosting acts almost like a sponge and sucks the moisture out of the wet icing. So for instance, dry white sucking in the moisture from wet red would result in visible bleeding but reverse that and when the red sucks in the moisture from the white it doesn’t show because it’s a darker color. That make sense? Again, just my silly way of thinking. Hugs!
Thanks so much for sharing these great tips D.J. I have heard of people using a low temp oven to dry their icing but, never a cold oven. I can’t wait to try it.
I also try to decorate with certain colors first. I think it helps. You are so sweet!
i used to thin my royal icing with corn syrup but it wasn’t glaze icing it still had the look of royal icing when i switched to water ive had less color bleeding but ive had a new problem which is grease bleeding i guess i would call it my royal icing will get splotchy and then the whole color will get darker within two days i usually wait a day after baking to ice but it still happens lol
Do you make cakes also Amanda? If there is any grease in your mixer or your bags it will cause spots to develop. I make butter cream icing and I use vodka to clean my mixer before I make my royal icing. I hope you find out what is causing the issue. I know that would be frustrating.
i dont use my mixer to make my icing just a huge bowl and a whisk ya i know im nuts lol and i use the disposable bags so i dont know what it could be lol
This splotchy look is caused by butter bleed. Place paper towels under vibrant or dark colors (like red, green, blue, etc) and it will help absorb some of the butter coming off of the cookies rather than coming up through the icing 🙂
I too live in a humid area, Memphis, and have dealt with this for years.. Still do! I use a fan, which helps, lower temp in my shop at night and seems to help a bunch. I too think its consistency , thicker icing.. If I make my icing on the runnier side not as much air is incorporated into it as the thicker icing.. More air quick to dry .. Less bleeding. And DJ I do the same thing.. I try to start with the darker colors first.. not silly thinking at all!! Thanks for a great post!! Love your cookies!
Thanks for all your tips Laurie! I like the “lower temp in my shop at night.” I try to keep the air on in the spring vs opening the windows. It seems to help.
You must have been thinking about me when you starting talking about impatience! You’d think I’d have learn never to decorate in a hurry but sometimes, it’s just unavoidable. Regardless, it never works out when I rush because things like bleeds happen and then I have to start the job over again…so, I never really saved anything by trying to hurry the process along.
This was a wonderful comprehensive post. Thanks for sharing all your tip and tricks and your amazing cookies.
I do the same thing sometimes Paula. You would think that we would learn but, maybe we can add a few hours into the day so we won’t be rushed all the time. LOL
I don’t know why, but even my buttercream bleeds too! For me, I really think it’s after I’ve held the pastry bag for so long and it gets warm and kind of melty, that’s when I have problems. (Sorry, I don’t think melty is a word) L)
I wish I had read your blog about a week ago! I almost ruined about 114 black poker chip cookies because of bleeding. I was near tears when I had to tell my client that I ruined her order. Luckily, I could save it by painting silver over it, but it took me a looooooong time. I could not figure out why the black icing had seeped into the white, because I had made extra sure to let the black dry enough so it wouldn’t be a problem. Now that I read your post I realized that it had rained a couple of days after they were all finished and packed away in individual bags. I’m pretty sure that was the problem! Grrrrr!!! So the moral of my story is to probably stay away from dark icing during the rainy season….Thank you so much for your very informative blog posts. I’m enjoying reading them 🙂
Sorry about your cookies bleeding. That is so frustrating.
If I have to make black and white cookies, I pipe the white first and let it dry completely. If I pipe the black or darker colors first, the white becomes a sponge and soaks up the other colors. You could make a practice set and experiment and see if this works for you.
How far in advance can you make the dough and bake the cookies and still taste good and are soft?
The good thing about sugar cookies is they freeze well. You can bake them and then place them in an airtight container and freeze them up to three months. If you don’t want to freeze them, you can bake them and store them in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks.
I personally don’t like cookies older than one week. I prefer to give the cookies when they are 3-4 days old unless they have been frozen. I suggest you make a batch and test your recipe to see what you like the best. Place them in Ziploc bags and date each bag to conduct your own taste test and see how long they taste fresh.
Hope this helps,
Do you dip the black pearl dragees in the corn syrup before using them as pupils in white RI to stop them from bleeding?
I don’t dip them in corn syrup before I place them on the cookies. Have you tried it? Does it work?
I put black round sprinkles in as eyes for my bunny. I did use only a 7-10 sec consistency to flood the cookie. Now the sprinkles have a black rim around them. Do you think that it is possibly a thin icing issue? Or should I not use round sprinkles as eyes.
I live in a humid area so I have to be careful what I use for the eyes. Some people say the 4mm Pearl Dragees bleed but my icing is a little on the thicker side and I don’t have issues with it. I’d suggest making different consistency flood icing and test it. Make one 7-10 seconds and make another one about 15 seconds and see what happens.
This is the hardest thing about royal icing. You just have to play with it in your area and see what works for you. Good luck!
This is so helpful. I’m in Massachusetts and just started making cookies for people other than my family. I have found off and on that color bleeds and I had no idea why. I think the flood icing was too thin. I would let it dry overnight and put a dark color on top and insta-bleed. I’m going to try your methods of:
using a fan
using thicker flooding icing
using transfers for the darkest bits if necessary
Also- any good places to buy the more expensive ingredients of creme of tartar and meringue powder? I’ve been using pasteurized egg whites in my icing because they are cheaper, but maybe that could be an issue too?
I have sillouette cookies up next. Black on white. Fingers crossed!!
Isn’t bleeding icing the worst? UGH!
I hope the fan and thicker icing help you. It really is a cookie saver when I use them. Also, egg whites are very tricky. I use meringue powder because it does seem to work better for me in my humidity. If you do decide to use meringue powder be sure to check the ingredients to make sure they have or have not added cream of tartar. If it’s listed as an ingredient you don’t have to add it.
Different people use different brands of meringue powder. Let me ask people on Facebook which ones they like the best. 🙂
So much tips and info that i need for my recent issues and projects… some of my friends also having the same difficulties… its an awesome sharing… have a great day ahead for u…