Piping Techniques for Cake Decorating [Tutorial]

Today I am going to teach some basic piping techniques, which can be used for just about any (and possibly every) cake you’ll ever make.  Obviously, if you’ve ever browsed cake decorating supply stores, you’ll know that there is a LOT more than these three tip shapes that I’m going to show you today!  But this is a start, and a good one. 

To start off, make sure you have a handle on How to Prepare a Cake to be decorated and How to Frost it well.  These things will provide a beautiful “canvas” on which to use your creativity, and believe me when I say, a well frosted cake makes a BIG difference in the finished product!

Once you’ve got those things down, you’re going to want to pepare your Piping Bags.  From there, choose your tips, and here we go! 

First, I’m going to tell you about round piping tips.  All piping tips have a different number, which is very helpful when you’re trying to tell someone else how to do something… Imagine how we would be without that…

“Use that one that’s bigger than that other one, which is round, and you can get it at Michael’s…”

“This one?”

“No, that will not work.  Something smaller.”


“Put that back.”

That kind of thing.  It’s nice to say “Go get round tip #2” and then we’re all on the same page.  😉  Below, I am going to talk about the tips a little bit, and recommend some sizes for you… And then I’ll explain, the best I can, how to get the best pressure and even result in your piping.

Round tips are used for writing, beading, or doing small detail work and intricate patterns.    For these pictures, I have used a round tip #5, which is a larger round tip.  Typically, I would recommend using a tip like this for large beading or dots on the cake, or making icing “pearls.”

Other round tips I tend to use a lot would be tips #2 and #3.  I generally use tip #2 for small detail work (on wedding cakes where you want fine, delicate lines) or #3 for writing on birthday cakes, making dots, and making drop garlands along the edge of my cakes.  There are smaller tips yet, even a #1 and #0, which I only use when I want very fine detail, usually for wedding cakes.

Since most general occasion cakes are going to be frosted with some type of buttercream, you’ll probably want to opt for a larger tip, like #3 and #5, to keep your lines from breaking and to suit the style of the cake.   


Then there are star tips.  I’ll talk about two basic sizes today, which suit most basic cake decorating needs.  They are tips #14 and #18.

Tip #14 is a smaller tip, which I would use for small shells, ropes, stars and rosettes, mostly.  

Tip #18 is a larger star tip, which is great for making borders along the edge of your cake.  I don’t usually use a large star like this for anything other than shells, or reverse shells.


The next tips I’ll tell you about are tips #103 and #104, which are basically rose or ruffle tips.  #103 is the one I have here, which is smaller.  Both of these tips can be used to make the same things, since they are the same shape– just, one is bigger than the other one!  So you decide what you want to create, and how big you want to make it.  #104 is a pretty standard size, and would suit most basic cake designs.

Alrighty!  Now that you have that visual, I’ll try my best to explain how to pipe specific patterns.  First, remember:  So much of this is experience!  There’s only so much I can write, but I hope that from what I do say, you’re inspired to experiment.  Also, remember:  There are not really any rules here.  This is your creativity, and if you want to try something new, go for it!

Piping in general:  The first thing you need to understand is pressure consistency.  Make sure there is not too much icing in your bag… the smaller amount you have in the bag, the more control you have over it.  And you can always refill, no fear! Starting with a smaller amount is also a good thing because it gives the icing less time to heat up in your hands and melt as you work.

Next, make sure the end of the bag is neatly twisted up, keeping the icing contained and locked into the front of the bag.  Hold the bag on the twisted end, to keep it secure, and squeeze with that hand.  Guide the bag with your fingers on the other hand if you need to, just to keep it steady.

As you’re piping, you’ll notice… If you give it too little pressure, the icing will break and you won’t have continuous, clean lines when you try to pipe.  If you give it too much pressure, the icing will come speeding out of the bag, and usually build up in little blobs around your cake.  So, practice.  I started exactly like I have piped in the pictures; practicing on wax paper.  Then scraping the icing back into the bag, and going at it again.  Practice makes perfect!  And you’ll develop a feel for pressure consistency as you work with it and get to know icing consistency.

Note:  Don’t handle your bag too much, especially if you have a lot of butter in your frosting… It will melt in the heat of your hands!  If you find that your icing is thin and melty, you can stick it in the fridge a little while to firm up again.  Just don’t leave it too long, or it will be impossible to pipe with!  If your icing is too stiff, it will also be hard to pipe.  Try adding a little clear piping gel, water, or milk to your frosting to thin it out a bit; but not too much… 1/2 tsp. at a time is plenty, or even less, depending on how much you’re working with.  Smaller amounts are always better, since you can always add more if you need it.

Round tip piping:  
Round tips are pretty self explanatory.  Squeeze, release pressure, lift.  Just move the bag in the shape you want it to go.  Beading with a round tip is done the same way shells are done with a star tip.

Star tip piping:
Stars:  Squeeze till you get the star shape, then release, and lift.  If you want to pack a whole bunch of stars together, like many character cakes are decorated, just make them smack beside each other so that the icing of one star squeezes into the gap of the one next to it.  You don’t want any empty spaces between them.

Rosettes:  Squeeze in a circular motion, and then finish at the end of the circle by pulling the end of the rosette across the whole thing as you release pressure.
Ropes:  Make a little “C” shape on your work surface.  Next, stick the nose of your piping tip at about 7:30pm on the “C,” squeeze, and pull it out to make backwards “S” which will cover up the rest of the base of your C and lay over top of it.  The base of the S should make another small “C” shape beneath the original C; repeat the process, using all “S’s” to make the rope shape.


Shells:  Squeeze, let it build up a bit, and pull back as you release pressure.  Then start the next shell a little distance from the first; squeeze, let it build up until it meets the end of the last shells, and pull back as you release again.  This takes practice.
Reverse shells:  Make a sort of question mark shaped shell.  Start piping the circular shape like a rosette, increasing pressure to build it up a little (or the top of the question mark), and then bring it down into the base of the question mark as you release pressure.  Then do the same thing for the next shell, but this time making a backwards question mark shape.  Each shell should be a reverse of the one before it.  This makes a really nice, unique border.

Rose/Ruffle Tip (#103/#104):  
I am not going to teach you how to make a rose today, but the ruffle is very sweet (no pun intended), and I wanted to include it in this tutorial.  
Ruffles:  This tip is shaped with one fat end and one thin one.  The thin end is the side you want to stick up as your ruffle, and the fat end is the top, which is best finished with beading or small shells once the ruffle is made.  To make a ruffle, hold the tip with the fat end against the surface on which you’re piping, and pipe with steady pressure, moving the thin end of the tip in and out as you move it along the surface of your cake.  The fat end always stays close to the surface.  This will also take practice!  
Now, there are a lot more things I could teach you about this… And looking at these pictures now, well… I could have done better, I think. So if I do another piping tutorial, perhaps there will be better pictures.  But for now, I think I’ve talked your ear off enough for one day… And I’ll be back next week, with a recipe.
Thanks for reading!



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