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Dec 01


10 Keys to Cookie Decorating Success {Or 10 Mistakes to Avoid}

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10 Keys to Improving Decorated Cookies {If you’re not already doing them}

These are just a few simple things which would have saved me some frustration had I known them when I first began decorating cookies.  I still make some of these mistakes now and then, especially if I’m in a rush, which leads me to my first point…

1) Time – If possible, give yourself enough time to make your cookies so that you enjoy the experience more and fewer mistakes occur. Of course, that’s not always feasible, especially if running a business, but as much as possible, make sure you’re not rushed or pressured.

2) Mixing food paste or gel colors – Make sure the coloring is thoroughly mixed into the icing.  When it’s not, you’ll often see a ‘streaking’ effect once the icing is applied (See image below).  This can also happen if your icing is too runny or when the water separates from the icing sugar (More on that coming up).


3) Avoid over mixing royal icing – When making your royal icing, over mixing it can create a sponge-like texture when the icing dries.  Too much air gets incorporated and when the icing is dry, it easily crumbles when touched.

In this case, over mixing means quite a while;  the royal icing in this image had been mixed on low speed in my kitchen aide mixer for a good 20-30 minutes! {Or more?  I had forgotten about it 😉 }.

4) Consistency of icing – The consistency of your icing is key for decorating success. Different consistencies can be useful for different purposes. For more detail, use a thicker icing, for a smoother finish, a runnier icing. For outlining and flooding the cookie right away, I use the 10 second rule.

The 10 second rule: Drag a butter knife through the surface of your royal icing and count to 10.  If the icing surface becomes smooth in anywhere between 5-10 seconds, then your icing is ready to use.  If it takes longer than approximately 10 seconds, the icing is too thick.  Slowly add more water.  If your icing surface smoothes over in less than 5-10 seconds, it is too runny.  Mix your icing longer or slowly add more sifted icing sugar to thicken it.

If you like visuals, here’s a video which shows the 10 second rule.

5) Runny royal icing – This ties in with icing consistency, but is worth mentioning on its own. If the icing is too runny it will flow too quickly out of the piping tip, making it difficult to control how you pipe, especially for outlining.

Runny icing is great for marbling, but even marbling isn’t as successful when the icing is too thin.

6) Make fresh piping bags each time – The water and icing sugar in your royal icing will separate over time.  How long it takes to separate depends on how runny your icing is; mine usually takes at least 4 hours or more before it begins to separate.

It’s for this reason that you cannot leave your icing in the piping bags for a long periods, for example overnight, and continue decorating with the same bags.  The water will pool in the piping bag and on your cookie when you go to apply it.

7) Planning your cookie design – Make sure you’re able to do a particular design before you say yes to it.  Years ago I said yes to a friend who had asked for 100 motorcycle cookies.  When I realized how detailed they would have to be to look good and when I realized I wasn’t capable of implementing the design (I didn’t have the KopyKake then and I’m really not good at drawing freehand), I had to go back to her and ask her to pick something else.

8) Bleeding – Whenever using intense color such as red or black, bleeding seems to happen more.  The best way to prevent bleeding is to minimize the amount of humidity the cookies are exposed to (de-humidifier, air conditioning, air-tight storage once they`re dry).  More on preventing bleeding here.

9) Tint your white icing white – Confused yet?  When I first began decorating I would leave my royal icing I was using for white cookies, untinted.  The difference is subtle, but to avoid an off-white look, actually color your royal icing white.   The snowflake above is an example of untinted royal icing, and the snowman is an example of icing tinted white.

10) Practice! – Although these tips all contribute to decorating success, good old-fashioned practice always helps!


For more detail and cookie decorating tips please check out my Cookie Decorating Tutorial or my Top 10 Tips.  If  you have any tips which you’d like to share you’re welcome to leave a comment below.

Happy decorating!



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  1. marian
    May 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Hi @ Bee: Absolutely you can do that!

    Thanks! @ The 36th Avenue:

  2. December 15, 2013 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    OMG!! thanks a bunch for this.
    This is great. I’m gonna start have my eye on ur blog from now on!!

    Keep up dear!

    • marian
      January 2, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Thanks Suna! 🙂

  3. December 27, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi Marian! I just wanted to ask a question. What do you use to tint your white icing? Also, how much time do you mix royal icing for and how much water do you usually use for an average consistency? Thanks! –Emily

  4. January 24, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Marian,
    Thanks for all the great tips. I have a few related questions for you. You say not to leave the icing in the piping bags overnight because the icing will separate, however, I’ve heard elsewhere (Haniela’s) that darker colors will develop better if they are left overnight, Additionally, your 6 day cookie schedule reccomends making and coloring icing on day 3, but, not applying the first layer until day 4.

    I love using the plastic-wrap icing bullets in my piping bags that Karen’s Cookies came up with, it really saves at clean up! http://www.karenscookies.net/Cookie-Decorating-Video-Color-Mixing-Bag-Filling_ep_74-1.html I had been putting my colored icing into the bullets overnight, but now I’m seeing that they are separating into liquid and solid. However, if I put it in a bowl, the top crusts. So, finally my first question: where should I store my colored icing overnight?

    Next, If my icing *already* crusts even while I’m making it, don’t I need to worry about the crusty bits getting into the mix and clogging the tips later? My icing was so thick it was crusting over before I could divide, color and thin each portion last night. I had a big bowl of icing that I’d mixed a whole recipe in, then I had a half dozen little bowls, and I scooped some out into each little bowl and I started mixing each color, but while I was mixing one color, the others were crusting over. I did use a mist bottle to remoisten the surfaces, that was my solution, but I just feel like there’s got to be something to the process that I’m missing.

    Okay, and next, when I’m making a complex design, I have trouble deciding how much royal icing to make in the first place. I don’t have a good sense of how many cookies (or how much area) a batch of icing will cover, and I have even more trouble knowing how to divide my batch into portions for each color. I always get nervous that I’ll run out of a color and won’t be able to match it again. How much icing should I make at a time and how do I determine how much of each color I’ll need? (I’ve finally learned that while I’m learning I shouldn’t bite off more than I can chew and I should only make and decorate a few cookies at a time to keep it fun.)

    Finally, if you need one color, but two consistencies, because you need to pipe and then flood, I assume you color it all first and then divide it and thin one portion of it more than the other. Again, how much do you need of each consistency, and where and how do you store it until the next day, will you need to mix it again the next day because it’s separated?

    What would be great, is a tutorial video of day three! Show us how you mix, divide, color and store icing, including all those little batches of colored icing, until you’re ready to decorate the first layer on day 4. I want to know how many times you have to rinse of you beaters. 😉

    Thanks so very much!

  5. marian
    January 25, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Julie,
    I’ll try my best!

    Yes, darker deepen over time – https://sweetopia.net/2011/05/how-to-color-royal-icing-black/

    I only put my icing in the piping bag when I’m ready to use it. Let your icing sit in containers until you need it. Put plastic wrap over the top, inside the container, if you like: https://sweetopia.net/2011/01/how-do-you-store-royal-icing-and-how-long-can-you-keep-it/

    Never leave royal icing exposed to air for long. If I’m coloring a bit of my royal icing from a large batch, the icing I’m not coloring is stored in air tight containers.

    For how much for each color, practice helps (sorry). i honestly eyeball it and guess. Again, practice and experience helps.

    I generally use one consistency:
    Check out my videos… I outline and flood with the same icing.
    (Category section at top of site.. choose videos).

    Hope that helps!! xo

  6. cheryl
    September 22, 2014 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    hi marian,

    i have a question. i live in south america where its always summer and hot. what can i do to make my cookie icing not melt. ps i dont have any airconditioning cause i tried keeping it in the fridge but once i put it outside it starts to melt. thank you
    ps love your site

  7. Polly
    January 26, 2015 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi Marian,
    Thanks for all the tips, i’m keep trying the make the perfect royal icing transfers, but i always have some problem…

    1.i make a character transfers for cakes, let it completely dry, around 1.5 day
    due i afraid the cream will make the transfers wet,
    i put it on a royal icing base,
    the base not yet completely dry, but i found the base color is started to bleeding into my transfers,
    you can see the pink base and the edge yellow hair,
    i didn’t make the gradient for hair…it only yellow,
    and the white shirt become light pink…the face too.



    although the effect not too ugly,,, but i would like to know why …
    i was uses the same consistency royal icing (20s icing), the transfers completely dry

    2. the black color icing become sponge-like texture when the icing dries,
    i mix my icing around 2~3 minutes, all color used same icing base,
    but only black color become sponge texture, is that i mix too many when i adding the color??


  8. Kena R
    March 10, 2015 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    hi! can a rescue over mixed royal icing?

  9. Cristina
    March 27, 2015 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    How do I get a dark black and dark red royal icing without over mixing? I always get flaky icing on my cookies when I make black and red Royal icing!

  10. Cynthia
    November 29, 2015 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Why is it that the royal icing the day after cookies are decorated, breaks up and falls off the cookie?

    • marian
      November 29, 2015 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Hi Cynthia,
      That has happened to me when I’ve dried out cookies for an extended period of time, to keep them as demo examples. It’s like they’re extremely dried out.
      It hasn’t happened to me with freshly made cookies.
      How are you drying them and what royal icing recipe are you using?

  11. Jude Cole
    November 21, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi I have been making Christmas cakes on and off for years, but I have always had the problem that my royal icing ( made with icing sugar and egg whites- no glycerine) won’t harden properly.
    I have followed the recipe to the letter, but even after using different cookery books/ or on line recipes my icing still fails to harden!
    I have just recently read someone say online that you shouldn’t use a plastic bowl, especially if it has been used for creaming fats!…as plastic is porous and can effect the consistency of the the icing! WELL I was astounded, as I have always used my trusty old plastic mixing bowl that I’ve had for 30 years! for everything… including royal icing! Do you really think this could be the cause of my ‘not so hard royal icing’?
    Thanks Jude

    • marian
      November 22, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Hi Jude,

      Hmm, that’s interesting! I took some courses at the Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts, and they did keep their buttercream piping bags, bowls, tools etc. separate from their royal icing tools etc. It’s possible the residue grease is affecting your royal icing, but I have a few questions for you as well. What is the envirnoment like that you’re decorating in? How are you drying the iced cookies? Check out this post on drying cookies and please let me know your feedback.

  12. Gabriela
    April 16, 2017 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    Hi Mariam

    Great tips! I am an amateur baking enthusiasts and I have a question: which last longer and better on cookies: royal icing, fondant or frosting? Amd how many days each last? How long can they last in a carton box or wrapped in plastic?
    I want to make a few cookies to sell for charity but i have no idea how long in advance I can make them, and if they will last a 3 day week event or how can I package them to last long.
    Thank you in advance for your answer!

  13. Charlotte Janse Van Rensburg
    February 19, 2018 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    Hi there,
    Lovely post and beautiful cookies!
    I was wondering if you had any advice on strengthening glacé icing, when eggs cannot be used?
    Thank you,

  14. sarah
    March 8, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Hi There,
    your tips are super helpful thanks so much for posting them!
    I have a question – have you ever used the edible markers on your royal icing? Im embarking on a little cookie project and have my icing at a perfect consistency, I waited overnight for my royal icing to harden completely and went ahead to draw on my cookies, everything was perfect and the writing completely dried. I even wiped my hands across the top – no smudging. The problem was however when i put them in their cellophane bags the writing bled. I know this is because of the moisture created by the enclosed bag, but i need my cookies packaged. Any tips?

  15. Deb
    May 3, 2019 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Can you buy white coloring to tint white?

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  1. […] Now that you are organized here are 10 Keys To Cookie Decorating Success (or 10 Mistakes To Avoid). […]

  2. By Lingerie Sugar Cookies on January 27, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    […] Before you dive in, make sure to read over Sweetopia’s Top 10 Royal Icing decorating Tips and 10 Royal Icing Mistakes to Avoid.  Whew!  You’ll be a pro in no time.  Don’t hesitant to ask Marianne if you have […]

  3. […] channel here, a good place to begin might be my Cookie Decorating Tutorial, my Top 10 Tips, some Key Mistakes to Avoid, and How to Flood with Royal Icing. Scrolling through this tutorial section to see what you need […]

  4. By Royal Icing Cookie Decorating Tips | Sweetopia on December 14, 2018 at 11:45 pm

    […] Here is a post I wrote with some common mistakes to avoid for cookie decorating, please let me know if you have any to add, I’d love to learn more! […]

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