How to Decorate a Cake

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How to Decorate a Cake

Decorating a cake can be as simple as adding some buttercream icing or as complicated as a 3D design. No matter how a decorator plans to decorate a cake, there are a few basics that should be kept in mind. First, a decorator should remember is that the cake is a like a canvas; therefore, if the canvas is faulty, the painting may not come out right. In essence, the cake has to be properly baked and prepared for icing and decorating before any work can begin.

There are essentially three popular types of icing: buttercream, royal, and fondant icing. Buttercream icing is often used on party cakes, while fondant icing is becoming the popular choice for 3D cakes and wedding cakes. Before a decorator attempts to decorate a cake, they must first learn to prepare a cake for decorating, learn about the various types of icing, and become familiar with basic decorating techniques.

How to Prepare a Cake for Decorating

Before a cake can be decorated, it should be cooled and trimmed to render the top and all the edges flat. This is especially important if it is a two-layer cake. For two-layer cakes, the top of the bottom layer should be covered in buttercream icing to serve as the filling. This technique is best conducted on a cake turntable.

A spatula should be used to crumb ice the entire cake, so that all crumbs are sealed in. With the icing applied, the cake should be left to stand for at least 15 minutes to allow the icing to form a crust. At this point, the cake should be spread with the finishing icing coat. To have a smooth finish, decorators can heat the spatula so that it melts the shortening in the icing, thus making it smooth.

Prepare a Cake with Fondant Icing

Heavy pound cakes, fruit cakes, and some 3D cakes use fondant icing. Before adding all the additional fancy decoration, the fondant has to be prepared and covered over the cake.

Steps to Prepare Fondant Cake

First, lightly cover the cake with buttercream icing. Then knead the fondant to a play-dough-like consistency and roll it out. Use a non-stick rolling pin or lightly dust a regular one with confectioner's sugar. The sugar can also be used to dust the rolling mat and be added to the fondant if it is too sticky. Afterwards, lift the fondant, which should be big enough for the cake, onto the rolling pin and over the cake. Position it properly and begin the smoothing process. Shape the fondant to the cake with a smoother because fingers may leave impressions in the fondant. Begin in the middle of the cake top and move the smoother towards the outside and down the cake sides. If there are any air bubbles, prick them with a pin and smooth over.

Icing Types and Usages

Icing can take many forms, whether it is just covering a cake and making borders or making delicate patterns of flowers and petals. Either way, the key to making decorator icing is the proper consistency. There are three basic icing consistencies: soft or thin, medium, and stiff. Icing that can peak to 2.5 centimetres or more is considered stiff; any peak less than that is considered medium. Thin or soft consistency icing can flow easily from a tip without being runny.

The chart below introduces the various icing type as well as their recommended uses, tinting requirements, consistency, storage requirements, and any special features associated with them.


Recommended Uses


Flavour and Consistency

Icing Storage

Special Features


Borders; writing; roses; drop flowers; icing cake smooth

Deep colours; colours becomes deeper when set

Sweet; butter flavoured; medium to stiff consistency

Refrigerate in airtight container; lasts 2 weeks

Buttercream flowers remain soft enough for knife cutting

Snow-White Buttercream

Borders; writing; roses; drop flowers; icing cake smooth

Deep colours; colours becomes deeper when set

Sweet; almond flavoured; medium to stiff consistency

Refrigerate in airtight container; lasts 2 weeks

Buttercream flowers remain soft enough for knife cutting; true tint colours due to pure white background

French Buttercream

Basic borders; writing; icing cake smooth

Pastels can be achieved

Vanilla ice cream flavour; whipped cream consistency

Use immediately

Iced cake needs refrigeration

Royal Icing

Flower making; figure piping

Deep colours; colours may fade when set

Very sweet; stiff consistency

Store in airtight container at room temp; lasts 2 weeks

Dries candy hard; cover icing with damp cloth to prevent crusting

Quick Pour Fondant

For icing cakes, cupcakes and cookies


Very sweet; soft consistency; pourable

Use immediately; excess can be reheated and used later

Dries to a shiny smooth surface; seals in freshness

Rolled Fondant

For covering heavy pound or fruit cake


Rich, sweet flavour; dough-like consistency

Use immediately; refrigerate excess for max three weeks; room temperature for kneading

Smooth velvet finish; seals in freshness and moisture; further decorated with royal icing

Cream Cheese

Basic borders, writing; shells, stars; drop flowers; icing cake smooth


Cream cheese; medium to thin consistency

Refrigerate in airtight container; lasts 2 weeks

Iced cake must be refrigerated

Decorators can use this chart and any details written on their icing packaging to determine the type needed for a specific decorating outcome. If the icing is home-made, decorators should follow the recommendations of the recipe.

Decorating Techniques

There are many tips and techniques that can be used in decorating a cake, but three most important things to remember is icing consistency, hand positioning, and applying the right amount of pressure to the decorating or piping bag.

Icing Consistency

The consistency of the icing varies depending on the type of decoration that is being considered. For instance, one icing type and consistency is used for smoothing the cake, while another is used to create additional decorations and borders. Decorators should select the desired consistency based on recipe recommendation or the chart above.

Hand Positioning

The angle at which a decorating bag is held and the attached tip should be correct in order to produce the desired decorative outcome. To hold a decorating bag correctly, the decorator should grip the bag close to the top where the twisted or folded section is situated.


In general, there are two main basic positions for holding the decorating bag. They are 90 and 45 angles. With the 90 degree angle, the decorating bag is held perpendicular to the surface being decorated. The bag is generally held with the right hand, and the left hand is used to guide the bag while it is in use. With the 45 degree angle, the decorating bag is held slanted, midway between perpendicular and the surface being decorated.

Left Handers

It goes without saying that left-handers should hold the bag with their left hands and guide with their right. Therefore, if a left-handed decorator is reading instructions that advise holding the decorating bag to the right, they should hold it to the left. A right-handed person should decorate from left to right, and a left-handed person should decorate from right to left. However, this rule is thrown out when writing or printing is being done. When a left handed person is decorating on a turntable, it should be turned counterclockwise.


Whether a decorator is right- or left-handed has no bearing on the amount of pressure that they apply, as long as they use the correct hand to do it. When making decorations, the desired effects are achieved based on the amount of pressure that is applied to the decorating bag. Therefore, pressure is sometimes varied during the application of a decoration. For instance, it may sometimes begin with evenly applied, heavy pressure, and then changing to a light pressure, or a release and a quick jerk to break off the icing. Pressure control and steadiness in guiding the decorating bag is the two key factors to consider when practicing.

Printing and Writing

Writing should always be done with thin consistency icing and round opening tips, such as numbers 1 or 2. Decorators should remain aware that letters are made up of straight and slanted lines, as well as circles, half circles, and curves. It is always a good idea to practice these motions on an individual basis before combining them to form words. There are two different ways to form words on a cake; one way is referred to as printing, and the other is writing.


Printing refers to the block-like letters that are generally separated and not usually curvy. To print letters, decorators should hold the bag at a 45-degree angle with the back of the bag to the right to make horizontal lines, and to make vertical lines, the back of the bag should turn towards the decorator. The tip should be raised slightly and then pressure applied to squeeze out the lines. To end a line, the decorator should touch the tip to the surface and pull away.


Writing refers to the more cursive script writing that is often joined together and elongated in nature. To write letters, decorators should hold the bag at a 45 degree angle with the back of the bag to the right. They should then use their arm, not fingers, to guide the formation of every line, letter, and word. The tip should touch the cake lightly as the letters are being formed.

Creating Decorations

After the cake has been prepared with icing or fondant, it is time to add various icing decorations to the mix. Different tips may be needed for different designs, so it is a good idea to have various types of nozzles and icing ready. Below are some of the basic decoration designs that are always seen on cakes for various occasions.

Outline and Fill

Decorators can make easy designs by using a cookie cutter or impression mats to make design impressions in the icing, but to truly make the design rise, it can be outlined and filled with icing. To begin, the bag should be held at a 45 degree angle, and the tip should be touching the decorating surface. The tip should then be raised slightly, while the bag is being squeezed. This should be done for the entire outline. Then stop squeezing, touch the tip on the surface, and pull away to end.

Thinner icing should be used for the fill in. Tip 2 or 3 should be used to squeeze connected rows of icing until the area is filled. If the area is large, tips 4 and 5 can be used. The fill may resemble silly string; these should be immediately smoothed out with a brush, spatula, or a finger that has been dipped in corn starch.

Beads, Hearts, and Shamrocks

This tutorial demonstrates how to make beads, hearts, and shamrocks with the same round tip. It all comes down to the amount of piping that is done.


A bead chain is pretty popular on cakes, especially wedding and birthday cakes. To get started, the piping bag should be held at a 45 degree angle with the tip slightly above the decorating surface and the top of the bag leaning to the right. Squeeze and lift the tip slightly so that the icing fans out into the base. As the tip is drawn down, pressure should diminish to draw the bead to a point. The other bead would start at the point of the first bead and continue until the chain is complete.


Hearts are created by following the same instructions. However, after the first bead is complete, another bead would be piped directly beside it with its point joining the point of the first bead; this forms a heart.


The shamrock also requires the same technique, but there is a simple way to think of and create a shamrock flower. Consider making a sideway heart with its point facing east, and then make another with its point facing south and connected to the first heart at the lower half. Then finally make a third heart with its point facing west and directly connected to the second heart at the lower half. The end result should be a shamrock, and a stem can be added if desired.


Shells are also a common design seen on many cakes. With the basket weave number 47 tip attached, the bag should be held at 45 degree angle with the tip held slightly above the surface and the top of the bag leaning to the right. Squeeze the bag with heavy pressure and slightly lift the tip as the icing builds and fans out into a full base. The pressure should be eased while the bag is pulled down to the right and a tail is made. At this point the pressure should be completely released and the tip pulled away. Each new shell should be started slightly behind the tail of the previous shell.

How to Buy Cake Decoration Equipment on eBay

eBay is a great place to find all the items needed to decorate a cake. To get started, you simply need to perform a search for cake decoration equipment. This search may provide overwhelming results, but you can always narrow down your options using the integrated filters. For instance, you can filter your options to only include icing equipment, and then further filter that to piping bags and tips or nozzles, sugarcraft cutters, or a combination of both.

If you know exactly what you want and would rather bypass the filtering, you can perform a more keyword specific search and get straight to the point. If you need tips to do your decorations, you may consider buying a nozzle set with most if not all the basic tip types and sizes. Therefore, you could perform a search for a 24 piece nozzle set to filter out other decorating equipment and stay on track. With all searches and filters put in place, you can now select the item of choice and make your payment.


Decorating a cake can be fun if all the right tools and procedures are known and used. The first thing that decorators should know is that a cake needs to be properly prepared for icing before any decorating can be done. Preparations may be slightly different for standard icing as opposed to fondant icing.

Once decorators learn the various preparation techniques, they should then familiarize themselves with the various types of icing, when they are used, and the consistency that is ideal for each stage of decoration. With that covered, decorators then learn more about the decorating techniques, including hand positioning and pressure. With the very basics covered, decorators then learn how to design some of the most popular decorations used in cake decorating. Even when decorators know all the techniques and have all the desired skills, proper work tools are needed, and eBay is a good place to get a wide variety of cake decorating supplies.

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