Piping Tips for Beginners: Decorate Your Cake Like a Pro

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Do you want to learn how to cake decorate?

It’s a lot of fun and will take any cake you make (or buy!) to a whole new level. It’s a great way to get lots of oohhs and aahhs from family and friends.

I learned how to decorate cakes many years ago when I was in grad school and decided I needed I hobby.

I bought some basic supplies (see below), took a couple classes, and was amazed at what I could create in a short amount of time.

With a little practice you can decorate cakes just like cake decorators at the grocery store or local bakery!

What Kind of Cake Tools Do I Need?

On the most basic level, you really only need a few simple tools to get started:

  • Piping tips
  • Pastry bags
  • A cake and icing

That said, while you can create a variety of different designs with just icing tips and a decorating bag, there are a few more tools that can make decorating layer cakes so much easier:

  • Offset spatula / palette knife (for icing the sides of the cake and smoothing the edge of the cake)
  • Cake turntable (makes it a whole lot easier to ice round cakes and get a consistently smooth finish)
  • Cake stand
  • A larger tip or “jumbo tip” (speeds up the icing process, especially helpful for icing an entire cake more quickly)
  • Storage bags or bins (to keep all of your frosting tips, bags, and everything else clean and organized)
  • Bench scraper
  • Parchment paper
  • Food coloring (so you can create frosting in many different colors)
  • Tip set
  • Disposable pastry bags (great for using colors that might stain reusable bags)
  • Reusable pastry bags (standard size and large size)
  • Couplers that fit the pastry bags (so you can easily switch tips)

When I first started decorating cakes I didn’t have any supplies at all. Before my first class I bought almost everything mentioned above, and then added to my collection as time went on. The cake turntable and the large frosting bags were a couple things I didn’t buy right away — and once I did buy them I wished I’d gotten them sooner.

Now, speaking of piping tips, here are lots of different cake tips that you can choose from, depending on what kind of design you want on your cake. If you’re not sure which one to pick, don’t worry! Everything you need to know, you’ll find below.

Which Cake Decorating Tips Do I Need to Create Amazing Designs?

The easy answer to this is, the type that you want! But if you’re wanting to build your collection the following tip styles are a great place to start.

  • Large round piping tip
  • Small round piping tip
  • Leaf tip
  • Flower tips (petal tip)
  • Star tip (in a few different sizes)
  • Jumbo tip

I like using a jumbo tip to easily add my homemade frosting (usually buttercream frosting or the Swiss meringue buttercream) to my homemade cakes. I then use an off-set spatula to smooth out the icing.

If you’re a beginner, the best tip for decorating the top and sides of a cake is an open star cake tip. It’s easy to use and you can create tidy borders and fun designs.

A leaf tip can also create a pretty border. Round tips can create borders, polka dots, swirls, and more. A small round tip is great for writing. With a little practice you can use flower and leaf tips to create pretty floral designs for the tops and sides of your cake.

When you’re just beginning, I recommend making a batch of basic buttercream frosting, getting out a piece of parchment paper, and trying out each tip. It’ll help you get a feel for what you can do with the different tips. It’s also a great way to practice making buttercream flowers, writing, and borders. I did this a lot when I first started learning how to decorate cakes!

Do I Need To Use A Coupler?

It depends. A coupler enables you to easily change tips. So if you want to pipe a shell border, add large blue dots on the sides of the cake, and then write “Happy Birthday” on top – all in the same color icing – a coupler makes it easy to use the 3 different tips you’d need.

If you don’t have a coupler, you can simply use 3 different piping bags with the same color icing.

Tip: you use jumbo tips, you’ll need a large coupler.

What Kind of Cake Works Best for Decorating?

Any kind of cake! You can decorate homemade cakes – or buy a plain cake and add your own decoration.

Which Frosting Works Best When Using Piping Tips?

If you’re going to decorate your own cake, I recommend making your own frosting from scratch.

The easiest frosting is regular buttercream. Some frostings can clog cake tips, but buttercream typically doesn’t do that. Whether you choose an American buttercream, Italian buttercream or Swiss meringue buttercream is up to you. American buttercream will be sturdier (especially if you use shorting) and hold up better however Italian or Swiss buttercream will give your decorations a lighter texture.

When I started decorating cakes I was taught to make American buttercream using white shortening and butter flavoring. That kind of icing was easy to work with and held up very well. But I didn’t like the taste, so I switched to using either all-butter American buttercream or Swiss meringue.

How To Fill A Piping Bag With Frosting

If you’re new to cake decorating, it can be intimidating when trying to figure out how to fill your piping bag without making a huge mess.

First, make sure your cake tip is fitted securely on the end of your piping bag (a coupler helps with this). Hold the pastry bag in one hand (or set it in a glass with the sides of the bag turned out over the top of the glass) and use an off-set spatula to add icing to the bag a little at a time. Fill the bag no more than two-thirds full. Twist the top of the pastry bag closed.

I like to squeeze a little icing out onto a piece of parchment to see there are any air bubbles. If there are, I use an offset spatula to “stir” the icing a bit.

How to Prepare a Cake for Decorating

First, level your cake layers.

Then add the filling and adjust the cake layers so they’re straight and even.

The next step is to put down a crumb coat on the sides and top of the cake. A crumb coat is a small amount of frosting that is spread into a thin layer on the cake to lock in all of your cake crumbs.

You can use any buttercream for this, but it will work best with stiffer ones like American buttercream. Applying this coat you want to keep the frosting thin and as even as possible. Use an off-set spatula for this task.

Once you’ve applied the crumb coat, place it into the fridge for 30 minutes to set before you add the next layer of icing and start decorating.

How To Pipe With Cake Tips And Frosting

Now that you have cake tips and a piping bag full of frosting, it’s time to start decorating!

I like to keep a sheet of parchment next to me so I can test each bag and do a practice run of the design I’m aiming for before I apply it to the cake. That way I can see if there are air bubbles or if I have too much icing in the bag before I start decorating

Make sure to keep your piping tip parallel with the cake’s surface so you don’t get any unwanted marks. Applying and releasing even pressure will also help ensure an even application of the design. Go slowly and don’t rush. And if you make a mistake, don’t worry! You can always scrape it off the cake and try again. I like to keep a bowl of extra icing nearby so I can re-frost the cake as. needed.

When you’re just starting out, keep things simple. Use just 1 or 2 colors and 1 or 2 tips – say a star tip to create shell border and a small round tip to write something on the top of the cake. As you become more proficient with using decorating bags and pipping tips, add more complexity.

3 Basic Techniques

Here are 3 easy ways to start decorating homemade cakes:


Use a round tip for writing messages on the top of your cake or on the cake board or cake plate. You may want to practice what you want to write before decorating your cake. Tips: apply even pressure and go slowly. You can also squeeze the top of the bag with your less dominant hand, while using your dominant hand to hold the tip and shape the writing.

Flowers, Leaves and Stars

Use a star or flower tip to make simple shapes and designs. You just need to point the tip down, carefully apply pressure and pull the piping bag up to create the shape. You can give it a little twist for an added effect too. You can also use the star tip to create shell borders and star borders. Tip: add two or even three icing colors to your pastry bag to create a pretty multi-color swirl effect.


A round tip is great to make dots in various sizes. These are made by applying pressure to the top of the bag. More pressure will create a larger circle. If you have a whisp on top of the frosting when you pull away you can smooth it with a slightly wet finger or a little cornstarch on your finger. You can also use a round tip for creating different kinds of borders.

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