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How to make sanding sugar

Learn how to make sanding sugar at home with this simple, 2 ingredient recipe. In only a few minutes, you’ll have sparkling sugar in any color you want for a fraction of the price of store-bought.

You can use colored sugar to top your favorite cupcake recipes or frosted cookies.

I’ll give you variations and substitutions where I can, plus helpful tips and tricks for success. Read on for this info as well as the recipe. If you’d like to skip straight to the recipe, use the jump to recipe button at the top of the post.

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DIY sanding sugar in glass containers.

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DIY sanding sugar

Buying jar after jar of colored sparkling sugars to top your creations can get very costly rather quickly. Not to mention that you might not be able to find the exact color or amount you are looking for.

Six small bowls of colored sanding sugar.

By learning how to make sanding sugar at home, you can make the exact shade you want, and the quantity that you need. This translates into saving quite a bit of money in the long run, especially if you bake a lot during the holidays.


DIY colored sparkling sugar is only minutes away with this quick and easy recipe. You’ll need gel food coloring and coarse white sanding sugar (also called sparkling sugar).

Liquid food coloring doesn’t work the same as gel food coloring in this recipe, so please don’t try it. You will be disappointed in the result.

2 ingredients for DIY colored sparking sugar.

You can also make this with regular granulated sugar, raw sugar or sanding sugar that is less coarse than what I’ve used.

Colored sugar in glass jars.

How to make colored sanding sugar

First, you’ll need about 1/2 cup of clear sparkling sugar and gel food coloring.

Coarse sanding sugar in small dish.

You can see how coarse the sparkling sugar is that I’ve used. I like its crunchy texture, but if you prefer something finer, you can use a different sugar.

Drop of gel color in sugar in plastic bag.

Place the sugar in a zip top bag, or a mixing bowl. I use a plastic zip top bag, because it is easier to see if I’ve missed any.

Add one drop of gel color. Work the gel into the sugar by kneading it in the bag, turning to make sure it is evenly coated.

Colored sparkling sugar.

If you are happy with the color, you’re done. If you want a deeper or darker color, add another drop and repeat the process. Lay the sugar out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let it dry completely before storing.


Can I use regular sugar?

Yes. You can use granulated sugar to make this colored sanding sugar.

Do I need to bake the sugar?

You don’t have to bake it, but you can choose to heat it in the oven if you want more sparkle.

How long does this colored sanding sugar last?

Forever. Sugar doesn’t spoil, so the only things to look for would be faded color or if it begins to clump.

Variations and substitutions

I have used a very coarse sparking sugar, but you can also use raw sugar or granulated sugar in this recipe.

Once you’ve achieved your desired color, you can let it air dry, or you can give it a quick bake in the oven if it needs a bit more sparkle.

Lastly, once you have a few colors, you can make your own custom blends with any colors you like!

Serving suggestions

I like adding coarse sugar to the tops of my blueberry mini pies for a bit of texture.

Purple colored sanding sugar in jar.

Add colored sparking sugar to classic Christmas sugar cookies, cupcakes or roll any of my rum ball recipes in colored sugar to make them extra festive.

Helpful tools and equipment

  • Bright white sparkling sugar (bulk)
  • Gel food color set – This set comes with 12 colors: Super Black, Royal Blue, Sky Blue, Chocolate Brown, Lemon Yellow, Teal, Leaf Green, Orange, Deep Pink, Super Red, Violet, and Fuchsia.
  • 50 pack gel color – If you like to bake and decorate cookies, cakes, cupcakes, etc., this is the set for you. Another option is to split it with a baking friend and share the cost.
  • Baking sheet – These are my go-to baking sheets. They are heavy duty and don’t warp in the oven.

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How to make sanding sugar

Cheryl Bennett
Learn how to make sanding sugar in any color, or quantity, you want with this easy 2 ingredient recipe.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Course Desserts
Cuisine American
Servings 1 /2 cup
Calories 16 kcal



  • Pour sugar into zip top bag and add 1 drop of gel food coloring. Seal the bag.
  • Mix it around in the bag, kneading the gel into the sugar until color is consistent throughout.
  • If color isn't dark enough, add another drop and repeat until you've reached the desired shade.
  • Once you have reached your desired color, pour the sugar out onto your lined sheet pan and spread it out evenly into a thin layer to dry completely. *See notes 
  • When sugar is no longer "tacky", store in airtight jars. It will keep for years.



*If your sugar loses a bit of its sparkle, here's how you can get it back:
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Pour the sugar into a mound (DO NOT SPREAD IT OUT) on a parchment lined baking sheet. Heat sugar in the oven for 4 – 5 minutes. Shut oven off. Let sugar cool in oven for another 2 – 3 minutes. Remove from oven, spread out and let dry completely before storing.
All ovens are calibrated differently! Please keep an eye on the sugar while it is in the oven. If you aren't sure if your oven runs hot, purchase an oven thermometer so you have an accurate reading.
**Keep an eye on the sugar while it is in the oven. Do not walk away. If it begins to melt, pull it out immediately.


Serving: 1tsp.Calories: 16kcalCarbohydrates: 4gSugar: 4g
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Thanks for stopping by! Have a delicious day 🙂

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Originally published December 2012.


    1. LOLOL! ME TOO! That’s why I started making it… Well, THAT and I ran out one day & didn’t have time to buy more.
      It’s crazy what they charge for a teeny bit of colored sugar. Harrumph!

  1. Cheryl, this is brilliant! And you’re so right, the dollars doled out for these sugars is a fleecing of sorts when the actual cost is considered against the price tag.

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