The Ultimate Guide to Royal Icing Cookie Decorating {For Beginners} (2023)

If you are new to royal icing cookie decorating, this guide will give you everything you need to know to get started. It includes everything from royal icing consistencies to cookie supplies and more!

What is Royal Icing?
Ingredients for Royal Icing
Royal Icing Consistencies
Flooding Royal Icing Consistency
Medium Consistency Royal Icing
Stiff Consistency Royal Icing
Royal Icing Consistency Chart
How Long Does Royal Icing Take to Dry?
Where to Buy Cookie Decorating Supplies
Must-Have Cookie Decorating Supplies
Cookie Decorating Splurges
How to Store Royal Icing and Decorated Cookies

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What is Royal Icing?

Royal Icing is typically used for decorating various kinds of desserts, though it is most common for cookie decorating. This type of icing dries hard which allows for layering different colors and achieving more intricate designs. With only three simple ingredients, it is very easy to make. The difficulty with Royal Icing comes with finding the right consistency. The best way to learn is to practice and experiment with what works best for you! I've been decorating cookies with Royal Icing for almost ten years now, and my goal with this post is to share everything I have learned to help you with your Royal Icing cookie creations!

Ingredients for Royal Icing

There are a few different recipes you can follow to make Royal Icing. Some contain egg whites, some powdered egg whites, and some meringue powder. My experience is with making royal icing using meringue powder, so I am going to focus on this method.

My royal icing recipe consists of confectioners sugar, meringue powder, and water. For every one cup of confectioner's sugar, I use approximately ½+ tablespoon of meringue powder, and water to consistency.

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Royal Icing Consistencies

There are three main types of royal icing piping consistencies that will help you achieve most designs: Flood, Medium, and Stiff.

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(Video) How to Make The BEST ROYAL ICING (Quick & Easy Tasty Recipe)

Flooding Royal Icing Consistency

Flood is the thinnest consistency you will use to fill in the base layer of your cookies. It spreads easily to give your cookie a nice flat canvas to work off of. I use the counting method to know when I have the correct flood consistency. For the counting method, if you spoon out some icing and let it drip back into the bowl, it will disappear in a certain amount of seconds. This can vary anywhere from around 5 seconds up to 15 seconds for flood icing. I prefer my icing on the thinner side, anywhere from around 8-10 seconds.

Medium Consistency Royal Icing

Medium consistency royal icing can be used for outlining, text, and some detail. The best way to ensure your flood icing does not run off of the edge of the cookie, is to use the outline method. This simply means, outline around the edge of the cookie (or wherever you want the flood to be contained). I also use this consistency for text and details such as leaves and small areas that need to be filled with icing.

For the counting method, you will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-25+ seconds: closer to 15-20 seconds for small areas that need filling such as leaves; closer to 20-25+ seconds for writing text. The best way to determine what works best for you is, of course, practice!

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Stiff Consistency Royal Icing

The last major type of Royal Icing consistency is Stiff. This is used for florals, ruffles, or any design where the icing needs to hold its shape. There is no counting method for this one, when mixing your Royal Icing, you will use minimal water and if you take a spoon and scoop up some icing, it will stay straight up, and stiff.

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Royal Icing Consistency Chart

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How Long Does Royal Icing Take to Dry?

Drying time for royal icing varies based upon how thin your flood icing is and the level of humidity in the air. On average it takes about 8 hours for the base to fully dry. Once my cookie is fully decorated, I like to let it dry overnight to make sure all of the details are set.

If it is very humid in your area, your royal icing may not dry at all. I live in a humid climate without central air conditioning. During those hot and humid summer months, I put my cookies out to dry in a room with a window air conditioner. You can also try using a dehydrator or dehumidifier.


Where to Buy Royal Icing Cookie Decorating Supplies

There are so many great shops, both small and large, where you can get your supplies from. Here are a few of my favorites

  • Amazon: I mean who doesn't love the great prices and your cookie supplies showing up at your door in a few days.
  • Jo-Anne Stores: Jo-Anne's is one of my go-to's for cookie supplies (and really all crafts). They have a wide range of supplies at decent prices.
    • Pro tip: Jo-Anne's takes coupons from other craft stores! When their baking supplies are not already on sale, you can often get 30-50% off several items. Make sure to download the Jo-Anne's app, Michael's app, and Hobby Lobby App to show those coupons at checkout. Their website coupons are different too, so pull up the website and you can get a fourth coupon to use!
  • Michael's: Another go to baking supply shop for convenience and decent pricing (though they are not as generous as Joanne's when it comes to couponing).
  • Grunderfully Delicious: These are my favorite tipless piping bags!
  • AmeriColor: They have by far the best color selection for bright and vivid food gel colors. They also have a fun Color Coin Loyalty program!
  • Truly Madly Plastics: They have (in my opinion) the best gold color.
  • The Cookie Countess: I don't yet have her airbrush, but I hear it is the best!
  • Etsy: I got to Etsy for all things cookie cutters. There are so many great shops depending on your project and style!

I could go on and on with the amazing cookie cutter and supply shops out there - but I hope this list gives you a good start.

Must-Have Cookie Decorating Supplies

Hand Mixer or Stand Mixer

To fully get the meringue powder incorporated into the icing, some sort of electric mixing is a must! You can use a hand mixer or a stand mixer, either will work. When I only need a little bit of icing, I typically use my KitchenAid Hand Mixer because it's easier. But when making large amounts of Royal Icing, a KitchenAid Stand Mixer will really help your efficiency.

No matter which you use, you will need to keep the speed low (up to medium with a hand mixer since it's not as powerful). If you beat on too high of a speed, you will get air bubbles in the icing which will show up on the cookie. Trust me, these are a pain in the butt to pop, so it's easiest to try and avoid them all together.

Food Coloring

You can use almost any food coloring for royal icing. The one requirement is it must be water-based. Any oil-based food coloring will ruin the royal icing. Americolor, Wilton, and Sunny Side Up Baker (Hobby Lobby) are all great options.

Piping Bags and Piping Tips

Tipless Royal Icing Piping Bags

For most royal icing decorating, tipless bags are my preference. You can change how much royal icing comes out by varying the pressure you put on the piping bag. You can also adjust how large you want the hole in the piping bag by cutting the tip - typically larger for flooding royal icing and smaller for detail work. I also like this method because cleanup is a breeze!

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Piping Bags with Tips

If you choose to use piping tips, I would use a coupler as well (a plastic piece you put inside the bag and attach the piping tip on the outside). This way you can change the tips as you are decorating. The tips are simply little cone-shaped metal pieces in different sizes and shapes. You can use a larger tip for flooding and a smaller one for detail. I use these primarily for flowers or really fine detail lettering.


Toothpicks can be used to spread out the flood icing around the cookie. I used toothpicks for years until I decided to upgrade to a cookie scribe - see the splurges section!

(Video) Royal Icing 101- All About Royal Icing For Beginners

No Spread Cookie Recipe

You can decorate any cookies with Royal Icing, but you do want to select a recipe with minimal spread, and most importantly one that does not rise. If you have a dome-shaped cookie, the flood royal icing will run off and not spread evenly.

Check out my no-spread Sugar Cookie Cut Out Recipe!

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Cookie Decorating Splurges

Here are a few items that are not needed, but fun upgrades as you dive more into cookie decorating.

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Cookie Scribes

Cookie scribes serve the same purpose as a toothpick - to spread out the flood royal icing over the cookie as well as touch up detail work when needed. However, they are a bit longer, usually have a grip, and are easier to hold. Not a necessity, but really useful and fun to get different colors!

Cookie Swivel

It is very helpful to use a cookie swivel/cookie turntable when doing intricate designs. This allows you to turn the cookie to be able to do detail work without constantly turning by hand and risking touching your royal icing.

Projector or Stencils

I FINALLY got my projector and I don't know how I went so long without one. You can use your projector to display an image onto the cookie and trace the design with your Royal Icing. This allows you to get a consistent design on all of your cookies - and is especially useful for text! I use the AAXA Pico Projector, which I love. If you make enough cookies, it is worth the investment!

You can also use stencils. I used to hand-cut them from my Cricut and then use an edible pen to outline my design before filling in with Royal Icing. Many of the shops I listed above as well as Etsy shops sell really fun stencils!

(Video) How To Decorate Cookies for Beginners | Good Housekeeping

Edible Pens

Speaking of edible pens, these can be a fun way to add touches and details to your cookie design. They can also be a great way to get kids involved in cookie decorating without the mess!

For detail work, I highly recommend this Rainbow Dust Food Pen. These pens are double-sided and give you a thin tip detail pen on one, and a thicker pen on the other. However, for letting your kids color on a cookie, Wilton Edible Markers have some fun colors.

Silicone Mats

I use these Silicone Mats for baking and decorating. When I bake my cookies, the silicone mat allows for a more evenly baked cookie. I also like to lay a large silicone mat out when decorating because they are easy to clean and royal icing easily washes off. Not a necessity, but helpful!

How to Store Royal Icing and Decorated Cookies

Extra Royal Icing

The best news about Royal Icing is it saves very well! My method is to leave the royal icing in the piping bags and refrigerate until my next use. I would freeze your Royal icing if you are not planning on using it in the next few weeks. Storing at a colder temperature will help reduce the water pooling in the bag. When this does happen, simply massage the bag until the water is reincorporated.

Royal Icing Cookies

Once your royal icing cookies are fully dried, you can store them in an airtight container (my recipe stays fresh for about 5 days). You can also freeze and store them in an airtight container for several months. I prefer to heat seal my cookies and then freeze them to help keep them fresher for even longer. If you do not have a heat sealer, you can put them in ziplock bags and then an airtight container before freezing. This will also help to keep your designs intact!

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I hope this article helped you to get an idea of what will be needed and how to use Royal Icing. You could ask ten different cookie decorators and get ten different methods on Royal Icing decorating. There is not one right way to do things, the best way to figure out what is best for you is to practice!

Now it's time to decorate!

Here are a few recipes that you may like:

(Video) Guide to Royal Icing Consistency

  • Simple 3-Ingredient Royal Icing Recipe!
  • No Spread Cut Out Cookie Recipe
  • Cookies and Cream No Spread Sugar Cookie Recipe
The Ultimate Guide to Royal Icing Cookie Decorating {For Beginners} (12)


What is a trick for royal icing? ›

What is the trick for the perfect flooding consistency royal icing? To achieve this perfect runny-but-not-too-runny consistency, I use the 10-20 second icing rule. Take your bowl off the mixer, smooth out the icing, pick up your paddle, drizzle a ribbon of icing along the surface, and then start counting.

What is the 10 second rule for royal icing? ›

To check the consistency, all you need to do is drag the tip of a butter knife through the surface of your icing, letting the knife go approximately an inch deep, and slowly count to 10. If the surface of the icing smoothes over in approximately 10 seconds then your icing is ready to use.

What is the 15 second rule when using royal icing? ›

It's called 15-second royal icing because if you run a butterknife through the royal icing in your mixing bowl, the icing should blend back together in 15 seconds. This royal icing consistency holds its own, but softens or floods lightly so that any peaks made in the icing smooth out.

Is milk or water better for royal icing? ›

This recipe uses milk instead of water, which gives it more flavor and just a tad of creaminess. The corn syrup keeps the icing soft – unlike the varieties that get crunchy – and gives it a glossy sheen – so pretty!

What does Karo syrup do for royal icing? ›

Conclusions: This experiment generally confirms what has been written about adding corn syrup to royal icing: it gives a bit more sheen, especially when the icing is fan-dried, and makes the icing slightly softer, particularly if added in quantities greater than 1 tablespoon corn syrup to 2 pounds icing sugar.

How long to let royal icing dry before stacking? ›

How long does it take for the icing to dry? It takes at least 6 hours for flood consistency royal icing to dry completely, but I always allow the base layer of icing to dry overnight to be on the safe side.

How far in advance can I decorate cookies with royal icing? ›

Although I've tested them for longer and the batches I've tried seem fine for up to 4 weeks, my general rule of thumb is up to 2 weeks. I know they're fine to eat at 4 weeks, but I feel better about giving the cookies away when the recipients don't need to eat them right away.

What are the must haves for cookie decorating? ›

The basic tools that you need for cookie decorating are decorating bags, decorating tips (or piping nozzles as they are also called), a scribe tool or a toothpick to help spread the icing on the cookie, and bag ties or rubber bands to help keep the icing from spilling out the back of the bag.

How do I get better at royal icing piping? ›

  1. Don't overfill your piping bags. ...
  2. When piping don't put too much pressure onto the piping bag. ...
  3. To pipe even straight lines put even pressure on the piping bag.
  4. Try to lift up the tip of the piping bag slightly above the surface so the icing slowly falls on the surface. ...
  5. Try not to rush.
Sep 16, 2019

What piping tips are best for cookies? ›

Use a Squeeze Bottle or Piping Bags/Tips

Disposable Piping Bags or Reusable Piping Bags. Use Wilton piping tip #4 for outlining and flooding the cookies with icing. This is the same tip I usually use for royal icing, too.

Can you overbeat royal icing? ›

Don't overbeat: Do not overbeat the royal icing base. This will incorporate too much air, which will create bubbles. Vigorous stirring will also create air bubbles. Cover with a damp towel: Cover the decorating tip with a warm, damp towel to prevent the royal icing from drying when not using.

What happens if you over mix royal icing? ›

Overmixing the icing

If you overmix or mix the icing on a high setting, you'll whip too much air into the mix, leaving you with a frosting that looks more like a crunchy sponge than a smooth finish.

Can you store royal icing in piping bags overnight? ›

If storing your royal icing right out of the mixing bowl, Maddie recommends transferring the icing into a glass container for storage. However, you can also store your royal icing right in the piping bags! Simply tape the tip of each bag closed to prevent your icing from leaking or drying while being stored.

What is the best tip size for royal icing? ›

For tip sizes, my favorite tip is #2; it's great for outlining and filling in. For larger cookies use tip #3 or #4 and for smaller cookies use tip #1. 4. Seal the top end of your piping bag closed with an elastic band for less mess.

How do you keep royal icing shiny? ›

Dry the Royal Icing Quickly

Creating as much airflow around your drying royal icing cookies is one very simple way to get a shiny cookie. Increased air movement allows the top of the icing to dry quickly into a thin crust, creating a sheen on the cookie and also helping to avoid craters.

How many days in advance can you make royal icing? ›

Royal icing can last longer than three days when stored in the fridge, but for best results, try to use or eat it within those three days. If not, you may find an unpleasant texture change in your icing. Royal icing lasts in the freezer for up to one month, though you will have to thaw it completely before using it.

Why does my royal icing taste bad? ›

A: Bad tasting icing is very disappointing. It is likely caused by bad powdered sugar or vanilla extract. Not all powdered sugars are created equal. Make sure you use a good quality powdered or confectioners sugar that only contains cane sugar and corn starch.

Why is my royal icing not drying hard? ›

You've added too much water to the royal icing. The best way to fix this is to start adding a little extra powdered sugar. If you need a large amount, also add some extra egg white to keep the ratio egg whites:powdered sugar the same. Just add a little extra water.

Should I add cream of tartar to my royal icing? ›

The sugar adds sweetness and helps to stabilize the icing. A small amount of cream of tartar provides extra insurance to prevent the weeping of moisture in the eggs. The mixture is whipped in a stand mixer or hand to aerate the egg proteins to create a stable foam with a pipeable consistency.

What are the three types of royal icing? ›

There are three main types of royal icing: stiff consistency, piping consistency, and flood consistency. They are used for different decorating techniques, although sometimes you can use different consistencies to achieve the same result.

Can I leave sugar cookies out overnight to dry? ›

Once I decorate the cookies (either the day they are baked or a couple days later), the cookies need to be left out over night to fully dry before packaging. They will not get stale from being left out one day.

How do you store royal icing cookies overnight? ›

TIP : I store my royal icing in the fridge in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap tightly covering the top, with the lid. I store it in the fridge as it doesn't separate as much.

Why is my royal icing cracking as it dries? ›

Trapped air will definitely cause pitting in your royal icing. As the royal dries, that air will escape and leave that horrible gap behind. Don't let your flood fully dry before adding details! If you let the flood (base coat of royal) completely dry before adding the details it will cause cratering much easier.

Do you let cookies cool before decorating? ›

The first step to making beautifully decorated cookies is making sure the cookies are completely cooled when you begin adding the icing. Play it safe by making it a two-day process: Bake the cookies one day, then decorate the next day.

What is the easiest piping tip to use? ›

The star is perhaps one of the easiest, and most versatile, of the beginner piping techniques. The great thing about the star is that the tip does all the work for you… simply squeeze and pull away.

Do you leave royal icing cookies out overnight to dry? ›

The only sure-fire way to dry royal icing is simply time - letting royal icing cookies sit out at room temperature to fully harden. This typically takes a minimum of 6-8 hours. Though there is no substitute for time, there are a few tips and tricks to help speed up the process.

Do cookies decorated with royal icing need to be refrigerated? ›

Icing made with raw egg whites needs to be kept in the fridge, however, icing made with meringue powder can be kept at room temperature.

Can royal icing be left out overnight? ›

According to Wilton, leftover royal icing made with meringue powder can be stored at room temperature for up to two weeks. Store your royal icing in an airtight container; when you're ready to decorate with it again, beat it using a hand mixer or stand mixer at a low speed to make the icing smooth and shiny again.

Do you decorate cookies hot or cold? ›

Cookie-Decorating Tools

Note: Make sure your cookies are completely cooled so the frosting or icing will stick to the cookie and set up properly, otherwise a warm cookie will melt the decoration right off. It's often easier to bake cookies on one day and decorate the next.

What is a cookie decorator called? ›

In fact, Mézesmanna's viral video gave the wider internet a glimpse into the world of cookie decorators—"cookiers," they're sometimes called—who've formed a robust online community in recent years. They share an astounding, oftentimes artistic cookie-decorating technique, though the similarities pretty much end there.

Do you decorate cookies before or after? ›

Our Test Kitchen recommends decorating your cookies the day after you bake 'em.

What Wilton tip is best for royal icing? ›

Using Royal Icing for Sugar Cookies

For easy outlining, we suggest using a round #3 or #4 tip. This tip size gives you better control without putting too much stress on the decorating bag. Fine lines and detailing can be piped with a thin round #1 or #2 tip.

What consistency should royal icing be for cookies? ›

Piping consistency royal icing is stiff icing that has been thinned down with a couple spritzes of water from the spray bottle. The icing still forms peaks, but the peaks are softer and fall after forming. When piping with this consistency, the icing should flow nice and smooth out of the tip.

How long should royal icing dry before decorating? ›

If the icing is applied thinly then it should take 4 to 6 hours to dry completely (though the surface will be touch dry quite quickly) but if it is a very thick layer (such as "snowcene" icing on a christmas cake) then it can take a few days to dry completely.

How long does it take for royal icing to set on a cookie? ›

It takes at least 6 hours for flood consistency royal icing to dry completely, but I always allow the base layer of icing to dry overnight to be on the safe side. The cookies need to be left out in the open to dry properly, so make sure to let them breathe – don't cover them up!

How can I use royal icing without a bag? ›

The Basic Dip

Hold a sugar cookie by the sides, then dip the top of the cookie in the royal icing. Lift the cookie from the icing and gently shake away the excess. That's it! (You could use a spatula or knife to spread the icing out, but it's really not necessary.)

Why hasn't my royal icing gone hard? ›

You've added too much water to the royal icing. The best way to fix this is to start adding a little extra powdered sugar. If you need a large amount, also add some extra egg white to keep the ratio egg whites:powdered sugar the same. Just add a little extra water.

Should cookies with royal icing be refrigerated? ›

Royal icing can last longer than three days when stored in the fridge, but for best results, try to use or eat it within those three days. If not, you may find an unpleasant texture change in your icing. Royal icing lasts in the freezer for up to one month, though you will have to thaw it completely before using it.

What do professionals use to decorate cookies? ›

Royal icing is what professional bakers typically use for this kind of cookie decorating. It's made with either whipped egg whites or whipped meringue powder along with powdered sugar and water, and it tends to be a little more stable and thicker than straight powdered sugar icing.

What is the simplest cookie shaping method? ›

It's easy as 1-2-3.
  1. Pat cookie dough into a 1”-thick square. Pat your dough onto a piece of greased parchment or waxed paper; I'm using our Oatmeal Cookies recipe here. ...
  2. Cut the dough into 1” cubes. ...
  3. Transfer the cubes to a baking sheet and bake.
May 14, 2019

Do you decorate sugar cookies before or after? ›

Add sprinkles after baking

Whichever method you use, start with cookies that have cooled completely. Top the cookies with frosting (homemade or purchased) that is soft but not too runny. (Sprinkles will not stick to dry, stiff frosting.) Drop on fancy sugar or colorful sprinkles before the frosting has set.

Can you store royal icing in Ziploc bags? ›

Yes, you can freeze royal icing.

I usually freeze it in the piping bags and in ziploc bags. It can be frozen for up to 3 months. Learn more about freezing royal icing and how to use icing previous frozen for cookie decorating.

Can I use a Ziploc bag for icing? ›

Yes, a Ziploc bag will do in a pinch, but it isn't ideal, and if you plan on piping regularly or even more than once a year, disposable piping bags are easily found and very cheap.


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