Dec 13

58 comments

How to do Royal Icing Flood Work or Runouts

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I’m fairly new to making cakes, so wanted to combine my inexperience with them with something I know a bit more about; flooding with royal icing.

I ended up with this simple fondant-covered Christmas cake design:

gingerbread boy gingerbread girl floodwork

You don’t want to see the edges of this cake at the back; who knew that covering a square cake could be so tricky!?

The nice thing about flood work is that it can cover up many imperfections.  ;-)

If you don’t already know and are wondering what it is…

Flood work, also known as runouts, transfers, color flow (by Wilton), or run sugar, is basically the piping of a runny royal icing onto parchment paper or acetate paper into an outlined shape.

When the shape dries, you have an icing design which you can use for a multitude of decorating purposes; on cakes, cookies, gingerbread houses, cupcakes etc.   You can also pipe onto wires, toothpicks, skewers etc. so that your design can be ‘free-standing’.

If you’d like to try it, here is a simple step-by-step as to how to do your own floodwork:

How to do royal icing floodwork:

1. Make your royal icing, tint and thin it to the proper consistency.  I use Peggy Porschen’s or Antonia74′s recipe and always use the 10 second rule, which is explained in this post here.

crisco and transparency

2. Place the pattern you’re tracing underneath parchment paper or a transparency.  (Transparencies are also known as acetate paper).  I prefer using transparencies over parchment paper.

If you do end up trying the transparency, make sure you lightly smear it with shortening so your icing doesn’t stick.

shortening on transparency for floodwork

Before I go on to the next step I should mention that I often use my KopyKake drawing projector to project my image.  With the projector you can play around with the size of the image, although if you don’t have one, you could photocopy your image and make it smaller or larger as you wish and then trace it.

3. Get your piping bags and tips ready.  I usually use a #2 tip for everything, however, if you’re doing delicate work, use a #1 or #00 tip.  If you’re filling in a larger area use tip #3 or higher.

outline of floodwork gingerbread man

*Sorry this photo is so dark… only the projector light is on here.

4. Outline your image with your flood-work royal icing and fill it right in.  If your icing is the right consistency (not too runny and not too stiff), you have that option.  Again, I use the 10 second rule to help me figure out the consistency, as mentioned in #1.

Some people like to outline with a thicker/stiffer icing, let that dry, and then fill in later with the runnier, flood work icing.

gingerbread man flood work

5. Make multiples of your decoration as flood work breaks easily.

6. Let your first layer dry for 24 hours before you add more details.  (Also see number 7 for drying time information).

gingerbread girl floodwork

7. After your final details have been piped, again let your decorations dry for 24 hours.  How long it takes to dry does depend on the size of the decoration and the amount of humidity in the air, however, I find 24 hours seems to be a safe time.

Some people like to dry their royal icing floodwork under heat lamps, or in a low-temperature oven, however I do find that the colors tend to bleed just a little, especially when a deep color such as red is beside white.

swirly candy run out

These ‘peppermint candy’ shapes above were dried in an oven and you can see a tiny amount of bleeding.  It’s a great technique if you’re pressed for time and probably better for colors which are not in such sharp contrast to each other as red and white.

8. Peel your dry royal icing runout gently away from its’ backing by using a metal spatula or palette knife or peel the parchment or transparency away from the design by putting it near the edge of the table and gently pulling the ‘paper’ away.

9. Put a small dab of royal icing on the back of your flood work decoration and delicately place onto your desired surface.

That’s it!

gingerbread boy and girl on cake

For more information on storing royal icing decorations etc., please see the post here: How do you store royal icing and how long does it last?

Since these sticker-inspired gingerbread people were originally intended for a gingerbread house I made, but I had extra which I didn’t use, they aren’t the right size.  They’d probably look nicer if their height matched the dimensions of the cake.

I’d like to give credit to Martha Stewart’s current December magazine and Cookie Craft Christmas for the ‘swirly peppermint candy’ idea.  Incidentally, I’m happy to share that I’ll soon be hosting a giveaway for the new book Cookie Craft Christmas

If you have any more tips or ideas about flood work, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

I’d also love to hear from you if you know the correct spelling of the term, ‘floodwork’.  Is it two words or one?

Happy piping!

xo,

Marian

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58 Comments

  1. December 13, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
    1

    Hi!

    First, your gingerbread people are adorable! Second, I have not been doing this long myself, but there are two things that come to mind that I found out from my research. 1. When using a 0 or 00 tip with royal icing, it can often clog even if you sift the powdered sugar. The way around this is, after mixing it, powder it through a knee hi stocking to remove any tiny pieces of the sugar. 2. To help prevent bleeding of red or black: Mix your colors the night before as they will darken over night. For the red, use dark pin( and allow to sit over night, then if needed you can add some red, but sometimes the dark pink is red enough and less likely to bleed than the red. With black, you can add some coco powder first (giving it a wonderful flavor) and allowing you to use less black.

    Sorry this is so long, but this is information I wanted to share as it has been very helpful to me, and I hope it is to you too.

  2. December 13, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink
    2

    Great tutorial! Oh, how I’d love a KopyKake!!! Everything you do is AMAZING!!!

  3. December 13, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
    3

    oh my Mar, i so want to be able to bake pretty things like this!

  4. December 13, 2009 at 5:11 pm | Permalink
    4

    Marion, these gingerbread people are adorable. I have never done this flooding technique and cant wait to try it out! Thanks for the tutorial. do you find that they break easy? Tammy

  5. Celina
    December 13, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
    5

    I adore your gingerbread men. When I make royal icing for cookies my icing ALWAYS seems to come out way too thick. What am I doing wrong? I have tried several different recipes. I found Peggy Porshens and I believe it was in metrics. I would appreciate any help I can get. Oh and by the way I belive the correct spelling is flood work as 2 words.

  6. December 13, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
    6

    Thanks Lovey for the great tips!
    I actually learned about the nylon one on cakecentral a few months ago, and then saw it again in a Bonnie Gordon class. It works really well. Thanks again for all the info. you shared!

    Bridget and Gis, thanks for your sweet comments!

    Tammy, they do break easily. Definitely why I recommend making multiples of each royal icing decoration. As long as you have some back-ups and handle them gently, it should work out. Have fun decorating!

    Celina, thanks for the correct spelling. :-)
    If I understand your concern correctly, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong with the recipes… most of the recipes I’ve tried do come out thick.
    It’s at that point that you add water bit by bit to thin them out.
    Have you tried the 10 second rule? If you haven’t, I’ve explained it in a tutorial. (Look under tutorials in the left sidebar here, and then click under Cookie Decorating Tutorial. It’s a long tutorial but it includes the 10 second rule in there).

    Hope that helps!

  7. December 13, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink
    7

    Those are SO cute! You have such talent! I’d love one of those projectors. I could think of so many reasons to use one! :)

  8. December 13, 2009 at 11:11 pm | Permalink
    8

    Great tutorial Marian!!…as usual! Love your gingerbread men!!!

    Donatella

  9. December 14, 2009 at 1:38 am | Permalink
    9

    sometimes it’s called colour flow too.. great idea to decorate the cake with these floodworks.. thanks for sharing!

  10. December 14, 2009 at 4:16 am | Permalink
    10

    Well it maybe be not too long that you are working with cakes but the result looks beautiful!
    Thanks to your tutorials I have also tried decorating cookies and with some good results… So I will maybe try also the gigerbread! Thanks again for all your useful and beautiful suggestions!
    Ilenia from simplynabiki.com

  11. Ivona
    December 14, 2009 at 5:36 am | Permalink
    11

    I attempted to do some flooding cookies for my sons birthday recently and couldn’t get beyond piping the “frame”. I used #1 tip and for some reason the icing was hardening in the tip making it hard to have the line be the same width.

    When I tried thining the icing it would leak of the side of the cookie. Not sure what I’m doing wrong, I know I have a really hard time getting the cookies to have a flat surface with a sharp edge like yours do.

  12. Amy
    December 14, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink
    12

    Hi, Gingerbread people are adorable…. if your tip(s) #1 is getting clogged, try sticking a straight pin in it; this will help keep it flowing between cookies.

  13. December 14, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink
    13

    interesting tutorials and beautiful art work….
    you are soooo talented.
    ML

  14. December 14, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
    14

    Thanks for all the kind comments and ideas!

    Ivona, it sounds like your icing was too thick at first, and then too thin. Have you tried the 10 second rule? (It’s explained tutorials and then under Cookie Decorating Tutorial). The icing should almost be like the consistency of yoghurt.

  15. Kimberly Myers-Schuh
    December 14, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
    15

    Wow that is gorgeous. I simply love it. Too cute! Great tutorial also.

  16. December 14, 2009 at 11:38 pm | Permalink
    16

    First, the cake is so super cute! Second, covering square cakes with fondant stumped me until I watched a couple videos. These are two of the ones I like best:

    http://www.vimeo.com/298002
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyRy2QX2wKo

    Love your gingerbread people!

  17. December 15, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink
    17

    Great tutorial! I love this idea of using the royal icing instead of fondant! Also, the very first cake I ever tried covering with fondant was square…what was I thinking??

  18. December 15, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink
    18

    I used your 10 second rule to decorate some gingerbread cookies and it works perfectly! Thank you, thank you for teaching us all your wonderful tricks!

  19. December 16, 2009 at 8:36 am | Permalink
    19

    oh i soooo can’t wait to try this technique.
    thanks for sharing this…i’ve got an upcoming baby shower i could use this for…
    you are sooo awesome!

  20. December 17, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
    20

    I love those gingerbread men!!!! They are so cute!!

  21. January 25, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
    21

    Marian,

    Thanks for this tip.. it will be useful in drawing cartoons and stick them onto the cookies rather than drawing straight onto cookies and risk spoiling the whole thing (which I normally do)

    One question: thought grease is No.1 enemy to royal icing? so what about the crisco on transparency, wouldn’t it break down the icing?

  22. January 25, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
    22

    Angela,

    I beg to differ; your cookies are gorgeous!

    A very light coating of crisco helps prevent the flood work from sticking to the transparency so that it comes off easily without breaking when it’s dry. (Flood work is very fragile).

    The small amount used on the tranparency (just enough to make it slightly greased) doesn’t seem to harm the royal icing at all.

    Happy flooding!
    Marian

  23. Alice
    January 30, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink
    23

    What a wonderful tutorial. I shall make sure i try this out soon. I was just wondering how long you would be able to store these if you had some leftover?

  24. January 30, 2010 at 6:44 am | Permalink
    24

    Thanks Alice.
    As long as the icing isn’t made from raw egg whites, and as long as they’re sealed well & carefully packaged, you can store them indefinitely from what I’ve heard and found.

  25. Colleen
    February 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
    25

    Question: I’m showing my utter ignorance here, but I know that any grease or oil at all will ruin my royal icing. What happens if you put the shortening on the transparency, and then pipe the icing on it? I’ve seen books suggest that you grease before putting down royal icing, too. Can you help me understand this aspect of things? Thanks!

  26. March 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
    26

    I am doing some intricate designs for a cake, and I thought of using royal icing to make (large) runouts, and then placing them on the cake. Will runouts work if placed directly on buttercream? Will they melt, or bleed into the white frosting? I appreciate your help! Your tutorials are great!

  27. May 14, 2010 at 4:36 am | Permalink
    27

    I just gotta say that I seriously love this blog’s illustrations. Totally reminds me of the Candy Land board game…or the Santa’s Village theme park in California. Love it.

  28. marian
    May 14, 2010 at 4:50 am | Permalink
    28

    Colleen; not ignorance at all! I can’t explain it perfectly but from what I noticed, MIXING any type of grease (fat, shortening etc.) into royal icing wreaks havoc with it, however a small amount smeared onto the transparency doesn’t do anything to the icing itself except help it not stick to the transparency surface. I can’t give you more detail than that at this point, but will email you if I find out!

    Jami; they should sit on the buttercream just fine as long as it’s not too humid. Humidity will make anything melt or bleed!

    Thanks DebT!

    • Lisa
      November 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
      51

      I tried using this technique to replicate a Martha Stewart snowflake cake. I put the dried royal icing transfers directly onto a buttercream cake, before the buttercream had crusted (I figured that would make them stick and allow me to skip a step). BAD idea. The white snowflakes became transparent and started to melt – not pretty. I would definitely recommend limiting the transfers to fondant-covered cakes or (at a minimum) well-crusted buttercream ones!

  29. cheron
    May 27, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink
    29

    Hi Marian
    Like Jami I’m making floodwork ‘art’ to be placed on top of a cake. I read that buttercream was not recommended as a base so I was going to use fondant but I see you say it is fine so will try it, it would make it more tasty I think.. My question is about the aesthetic of the finished cake though. In your opinion do you think cutting into a cake (with the hardenend Royal Icing) on top and having it break-up into many little pieces as it does, will be awful? also having the soft cake and really hard bits of icing in one mouthful might be a bit odd? I know its fine with cookies but with soft cake?
    Just thinking ahead, its my first time attemping it this way.. any thoughts would be so appreciated
    Thank You ♥

  30. marian
    May 27, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
    30

    Hi Jami,
    I know that many cakes in Great Britian were traditionally covered with royal icing, so it must have been a normal thing, at least at some point in time.

    In North America at least, I don’t think we’re accustomed to have royal icing either totally covering the cake or eating bits of it sitting on top of the cake either.

    I would recommend maybe mentioning to guests that the sugar decorations are royal icing and can be taken off and enjoyed later if they chose.

    When I give my cupcakes with gumpaste flowers out I usually do something similar. I’ll let people know that the gum paste is edible, but is mainly decorative as most people don’t love the taste.
    Most men don’t care; they eat everything. The women usually end up want to keep the sugar decoration anyways. ;-)

    Hope that helps!

  31. August 26, 2010 at 2:54 am | Permalink
    31

    Great post! Very helpful as I am just starting out with flood work and royal icing. Thank you ;0)

  32. Shannon
    December 16, 2010 at 2:22 am | Permalink
    32

    I have used the royal icing before.. it’s ok.. Could you add flavor to it?? (mint, vanilla, rootbeer.. etc) to give it a better flavor?? Can’t wait to try this.. I made some Angel cookies a few months ago and everyone loved them.. Can’t wait to get better pastery tips to make them again!!

  33. Trish
    April 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink
    33

    Are any of the royal icing on this page edible once they dry onto the cookie or cake?

    Also, do I first bake the cookie, cake, muffin, etc then add the royal icing or do I first put the royal icing onto the dough, then bake them?

    • marian
      May 1, 2011 at 12:32 am | Permalink
      34

      Trish, yes all of the royal icing runouts are edible once they dry onto the cookie or cake.

      You bake the cookie, cake etc. first, and once they’ve cooled, then you add the royal icing.

      My cookie decorating tutorial might be helpful for you; it’s in the tutorial section of the blog under the name “Cookie Decorating Tutorial – General Tips and Butterfly Cookies”

  34. Becci
    July 3, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
    35

    Great post by the way,
    I was wondering what ‘shortening’ was? Is it just butter/margerine? Sorry if this was covered elsewhere.
    Thanks

  35. marian
    July 28, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink
    36

    @ Becci: It’s a fat/lard sometimes used in baking. One popular brand in NA is Tenderflake. Try googling as well for pics; you may have already seen it.

  36. Jessica
    January 17, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink
    37

    I know this an old post, but I am making a cake for my daughter’s birthday, and I wanted to create some cute characters that I’ve seen on cookies, but obviously I want to put them on a cake instead. The question I have is, if the decoration is going to lay flat on the cake instead of on the sides, and if I trust my workmanship enough, would it work to just pipe the design directly on the cake? Would I have to use fondant if I wanted to do this? I trust myself more to pipe it one the cake once than to make multiples, and have the best one break as I try to transfer it.

  37. marian
    January 17, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
    38

    Hi @ Jessica: Absolutely you can pipe right onto the cake; I just don’t trust my drawing skills. Have fun decorating!

  38. Debbie
    March 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
    39

    @ marian:
    Hi. Thank you for the shortening tip. I ruined 25 transfers putting them on wax paper. I used parchment paper with shortening this time and they turned out great. I do have a question though. I plan to put the RI transfers (colored Royal Blue) onto white RI flood when it is wet. Will the dried transfer bleed into my wet flood? If you think that it will I will attach each one after the flood has dried. Of course, it would be easier to drop them onto my cookie when it’s wet. What do you think???

  39. marian
    March 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
    40

    HI @ Debbie: There is a chance, yes, of more bleeding happening that way, especially with such contrasting colors (more noticeable), but, it does also depend on what kind of environment you’re working in. This post will be relatable if you live in a humid environment:

    http://sweetopia.net/2011/07/how-to-avoid-spots-on-icing/
    and this one for bleeding:

    http://sweetopia.net/2009/10/how-to-prevent-your-icing-from-bleeding-7-tips/

    You will get a slightly dipped look as well, if you put a dry transfer on top of a wet icing. (the weight of it makes it ‘fall’ in a bit… kind of like pressing a pillow). It looks fine, it’s just a different look than sitting on top of a dry icing.

    Personally, I put mine on dry icing, juuuust in case. I don’t feel like taking a risk, most of the time, but that’s just me.

    I hope this answer isn’t too late for you! Somehow I missed it in my email. If you did already do them, how did it go?

  40. sabeen riaz
    March 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
    41

    Hi Marian,
    thanx for a great tutorial its been a great help.Just one question do we dry the flooded royal icing @ room temperature for 24 hrs or do we refrigerate it for 24 hrs.
    your help will be really appreciated.Thanks & God bless.

  41. marian
    March 28, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
    42

    No problem, @ sabeen riaz! Let them dry at room temperature; they won’t dry well in the fridge. If you like, watch my video on drying cookies decorated with royal icing (essentially the same as a royal icing transfer)… it’ s on my youtube channel.

  42. April 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
    43

    Oh no, no no. I’ve seen this technique on your blog and thought I’d ‘remembered’ it all. Started outlining 9 Monster High skulls last night for the black parts on the face and bow. All went well. It’s been drying for almost 24 hours now and I was about to flood in the bow and face when I thought I’d re-check if I was doing everything correctly.

    Turns out I’ve made a boo boo, and a huge one at that! I forgot to put shortening on the acetate sheet. Pah! Now I need to re-do the little blighters again now. Oh well, you live and learn and learn from mistakes along the way, I guess I won’t be making this mistake again, lol.

    I’ve only got 2 days left to make a 2 tier cake and matching cookies. Looks like it’s going to turn into a 1 tier cake now! hehe.

  43. marian
    April 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
    44

    Oh no, @ Lisa @ Sweet 2 Eat Baking! I’ve made my fair share of mistakes too… and yes, you probably won’t forget next time! Good luck getting your cookies and cake done!

  44. June 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
    45

    Beautifully done runouts. They really give it the finishing touch.

  45. Charlene
    November 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
    46

    > Hiya love your work and site. My question with the run outs since I need
    > to make a dora this week is, how do you mix the colors with the icing? I
    > usually put my icing in a little bowl and add colour and water for
    > filling in. I then stir with spoon. However I sometimes get a lighter
    > patch once dried and I know it’s to do with air etc but can’t understand.
    > Thanks xxx
    >

  46. Darcy
    November 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
    47

    @ Lovey:
    Great tips, thank you.

  47. Felicia Wong
    March 6, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
    48

    Hi Marian,

    I’m about to do some transfers and was wondering if I can grease with butter instead of shortening? Will that negatively affect my runouts? Or, if I use wax paper, can I not grease it at all?

    Thanks, Felicia

  48. April 19, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink
    49

    Hi Marian. I’ve been trying to make royal icing transfers and they break every time :( I also use acetate paper, grease these papers and let them dry 3 days. Could you help me please? Do you know why that happens? I made 3 batches and 40 transfers and all them crack.
    I just outline the shape, I don’t flood them.
    Thanks for your help! xoxo

  49. April 19, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink
    50

    Hi @ IFeelCook: Frustrating! It sounds to me like they’d be too fragile to move if it’s only the outline. On this snowman example here:

    http://sweetopia.net/2011/02/video-royal-icing-consistency-made-easy-the-10-second-rule/

    … his thin arms broke (well one did), when I tried to peel the transfer away, and I had to pipe it again when the snowman was on the cake. I mention that in the post or video.

    Hope that helps!

  50. September 19, 2014 at 2:42 am | Permalink
    52

    What would you want to know, why would you want to know this, when could you see http://www.assurance-revolving.fr results, where can you find all of the needed information?

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  1. By Baking for Haiti | Sweetopia on January 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    [...] The students made the cupcakes and icing in class, and I contributed some leftover flower and flood work icing bird toppers I had from a cake decorating class (more on that later), and my Christmas gingerbread [...]

  2. [...] cookies in royal icing, then when dry fill in with a runny icing. For a great how-to guide visit Sweetopia. A simple and visually effective decoration is simple stripes or dots, or even words. A lovely idea [...]

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