If you've ever been intimated with how to paint on a buttercream cake, don't be! Trust me when I say that it's fun and easy! In my short video tutorial below, along with a few tips and suggestions, you'll be on your way to painting your first cake! The most important thing with all of this is to have fun!
Items You'll Need Before You Start
Paint tray. Paint trays come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be found in just about any craft store like Michaels, A.C. Moore, or Hobby Lobby. You can also purchase them online.
I prefer the smaller-sized paint trays like the style shown below, but buy the one that works best for you and your cake painting projects.
Synthetic paint brushes. You'll want to use synthetic, sterile brushes for applying your gel colors to the buttercream frosting. Wilton sells this 5-pack decorating brush set, but you can typically find other companies that sell something similar. I have these as well as some other generic brushes.
Icing gel colors. When it comes to coloring buttercream frosting, I typically use Wilton's brand. A little bit of their gel coloring goes a long way and the colors are fabulous. They also have the Color Right system that can match the color you previously used based on the number of drops.
You also have the Chefmaster food coloring brand and McCormick as well.
For this particular tutorial, I used the following colors (brand in parentheses)
- Buttercup Yellow (Wilton)
- Cornflower Blue (Wilton)
- Juniper Green (Wilton)
- Kelly Green (Wilton)
- Violet (Wilton)
- Bakers Rose (Chefmaster)
Vodka, Grain Alcohol, or Clear Vanilla Extract. If you want, you can paint using just the gel color itself, which will give you a much more concentrated, bolder color.
To thin it out, though, and to achieve a watercolor effect, you'll want to add a few drops of either vodka (the cheapest you can find), Everclear Grain Alcohol (look for the 151% proof - not the 190% proof which is obtainable by permit only in the state of PA and banned in most other states), or a clear extract (vanilla- or a lemon-flavor will work) to the gel color.
I prefer the Everclear Grain Alcohol which I can get for roughly $19 (750 ML bottle).
Buttercream Painting Tips and Suggestions
Remember the colors you're using. I like to place the gel color bottle I'm using behind each paint well so I can remember what color it is I'm using.
You can also take a sheet of paper, draw circles to match the paint tray wells, place a dab of each color inside the circle, and then write the name next to it.
Clean your paint brushes. Rinse out your paint brush in water before changing paint colors and clean your brushes thoroughly after you're done using them. Allow to air dry standing up in a dish caddy.
Brain freeze. If you're stuck on what to paint (I've been there), look at different examples on Pinterest (check out my Floral Inspiration board for some ideas!) or magazines that inspire you!
If you like to doodle in sketch books like I do, look back at some of your drawings and see if anything creates that spark.
My very first painted buttercream cake that had flowers on it was inspired by one of my favorite companies ever—the Rifle Paper Co!
The sky is the limit with what you want to paint! As I've said before, just remember to have fun!
Keep the house cool. I like to keep the house at a much cooler temp so the buttercream doesn't begin to sweat while I'm working on it. The cats don't seem to mind it (they have fur coats on) and I just put on a light sweater, if need be. My husband hates the cold though, so I make sure to try and do it when he's not home.
Buttercream softening. If you find your buttercream is softening up while you paint, place it in the fridge for about an hour (or however long it takes for the frosting to feel firm again). An hour seems to be the sweet spot for me.
Be creative. Don't just stop with painting the cake. If the mood strikes you to add sprinkles or gold accents (like Truly Mad Plastics, super gold powder), go for it!
Be social and share your painted cake creations! Take pictures of your painted buttercream cake masterpiece and post it to social media! And don't forget to tag me in the photo with #beyondthebutter and @beyond.thebutter (Instagram), @beyondthebutter (Facebook and Twitter), so I can feature your beautiful work!
Thank you for this comprehensive guide!
Which butter cream do you prefer? Which one will hold better?
Hi! Thanks for your questions! I like both the American Buttercream (ABC) and the Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) for different reasons. SMBC is quite stable (because of the meringue) in hotter temps, and holds up well with piping and frosting cakes. ABC holds up equally well with piping and frosting, but isn't as stable in hotter temps and can sweat when the cake is taken out of the fridge. Unfortunately, I haven't tried painting on SMBC yet, but I would image it would work just as well! And for taste (if you'd like to know), I prefer SMBC because it's not as sweet as ABC.I hope this helps!
Hi can i use essence since extract type is hard to find here in my country
Hi! I apologize for the late reply! I haven't used essence in place of vanilla extract before, but it is a common replacement, so I don't see why not. Just be aware though that if it's not clear, it will darken the icing gel colors you're using to paint your cake with. Other clear alternatives are grain alcohol and vodka.
Hi, every time I try to paint on the buttercream, the gel & clear extract mixture is super watery and does not apply smooth with a brush stroke at all (more like a brush stroke would be left with drips of colour like rain on a window). Any advice on how to get a smooth stroke line? I’m using the chef master gel set. (This also occurs if I use the pure gel colour on the cake as well)
Hi! You can try 2 things...1) use less of the extract, which will give you a more concentrated color, but less watery and/or 2) you can still use the same amount of extract but blot your brush on a paper towel to remove some of the extra liquid. Hope this helps!
Maria Clarence Samonte says
Hello! Does any type of buttercream will do? Can I use swiss meringue butter cream? And can I paint as well on fondant ?
Hi! I have only tried with this American buttercream, but I would imagine that using swiss meringue or italian would just as well. And you can definitely paint on fondant!
Hi there! Will the food coloring painting come off or start to run if the cake starts to sweat after the painting is complete like during delivery in the Summer?
Hi! Yes, the colors will more than likely run if the cake starts to sweat. I would highly recommend keeping the cake chilled for as long as you possibly can after the painting is done. For deliveries having your vehicle pre-cooled with A/C before you head out is also a good idea!
Joanne Queenan says
How do you keep colors from running? I am using homemade buttercream, food coloring mixed with vodka and I am try to make a white brick cake. It looks great to start! But runs after a few hours. I am a novice. Please help!
I would suggest doing a few things... 1) not diluting the food coloring as much and 2) refrigerating the cake every 45 minutes or so for 20-25 minutes to allow the cake to become firm again. If you work on it straight through for hours the buttercream will start to soften. Another good thing to check is the temperature of your home. I like to make my home much cooler with A/C when working on cakes like this. Hope this helps!
Hi! Thanks for your detailed guide on painting on buttercream. I am very excited to try it. I saw in your responses to some commenters that we can paint on SMBC too. Any idea if using edible gold paint (I use Edible Art paint) works on SMBC too? Thanks!
You're welcome! To answer your question, yes you absolutely can! I have with a lot of my cakes—using SMBC and ABC.