How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing

Welcome to the first in what I plan to be a recurring “How-To” series here on Brown Eyed Baker. While recipes are all well and good, there are some techniques that are best explained in a step-by-step method, with pictures included (at least this is how I learn best). As I was decorating my Stanley Cup Playoffs cookies last week I thought that doing a tutorial on how to decorate cookies with royal icing would be a great first How-To post.


I was always very good at baking snowmen, Christmas trees, angels and the like in December, slapping on some buttercream, a few sprinkles and calling it a day. Not that it isn’t good. It is definitely good. But then royal icing came onto my radar. The possibilities seemed endless – a completely smooth finish to the cookies and intricate designs? Now THAT looked fun! I’m here to guide you on a step-by-step tutorial on how to achieve any design you want on any shape cookie. Ready? Let’s begin!

Step 1: Find a Good Sugar Cookie Recipe

This might seem obvious, but not all sugar cookie recipes stand up well to heavy-duty decorating. If you don’t already have a favorite, let me point you to mine: Dorie Greenspan’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies. They’re incredible.

Step 2: Cool Cookies Completely

Again, maybe elementary, but we’re going step-by-step here. You can’t decorate cookies that have just come out of the oven. Or even cookies that are slightly warm. They need to be completely cool before you can move on to decorating.

Step 3: The Equipment


Now, you don’t necessarily need fancy equipment for decorating with royal icing, but investing in just a few decorating tips and couplers, some disposable pastry bags and squeeze bottles will make your cookie decorating experience exponentially more pleasant. Here is a run-down of what I typically use:

♦  12″ disposable pastry bags. So easy to just throw away when you’re done instead of washing them!

♦  Decorating tips. For outlining the cookie I use a #3 tip and anything from a #1 to #3 for intricate designs on the cookie. It’s not a bad idea to have a few of each number, as I find myself using them a lot.

♦  Couplers. These make it easy to switch the size tip you are using in the same color.

♦  Squeeze Bottles. I use these for flooding my cookies. Since the royal icing is very thin at this point, it’s a much neater alternative to a cut-open pastry bag. Plus you can put the cap on and save any extra icing for next time.

♦  Small bowls or Tupperware (to color your icing)

♦  Toothpicks.

Step 4: Prep, Prep, Prep!


This got me the first time I decorated with royal icing, and is especially important if you are going to be using multiple colors and different tips. I flew by the seat of my pants and ended up making a huge mess, it took twice as long as it should have, and I was trying to fish used tips out of pastry bags to re-use them somewhere else. Your plan of action:

♦  Write down how many different colors you will be using and take out that many pastry bags and couplers and prepare them. Also figure out what size decorating tips you will be using and fit them to the pastry bags.

♦  If you don’t have squeeze bottles for flooding, add additional pastry bags for however many colors you will use for flooding, in additional to the bags of that color you will use for detail work (if any).

♦  Have your icing colors ready and as many small mixing bowls (Tupperware works great for this) as you have colors planned.

Step 5: Make the Royal Icing

The recipe for royal icing is very simple:

4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder
6 tablespoons water

Mix all ingredients on low speed for 7-10 minutes or until the icing loses its shine. Add more water by the teaspoon if it appears too stiff. At this stage you want to be able to pipe it easily:


Step 6: Color the Icing

Divide the icing into your containers based on how much you will need of each one. Proceed to color the icing and then cover each container with a damp paper towel. It is key when working with royal icing not to allow it to dry out.

Step 7: Outline the Cookies

You will want to outline the cookies with whatever color you will be using to fill them in with. Place some of the icing into a disposable pastry bag fitted with a #3 tip and outline the outside of the cookie. I find that keeping the tip about ½-inch above the cookie while moving it allows the icing to lay on the cookie more easily.


You’ll want to make sure that the outline is pretty well set before moving on to flooding the cookies, but I generally find that by the time I am done outlining the first ones are already dry.

Step 8: Flood the Cookies

Take whatever color you are using to fill in the cookies and slowly start adding a few drops of water at a time, until the icing reaches an almost liquid consistency. The test here is to pick some icing up with a spoon and let it drizzle back into the bowl – the drizzle should disappear into the bowl within 10 seconds. Once you have achieved this, you are ready.


Either fill a squeeze bottle with the thinned icing or transfer it to a disposable pastry bag with a ¼-inch hole cut off the end.

Now squeeze in the icing to almost completely fill the inside the cookie.

Then take a toothpick and gently use it to distribute the icing to any empty spots.


Once you are done the cookies need to dry completely before moving on to any intricate piped designs. Some bakers will let them sit overnight but I generally find that a 2-3 hour rest will do the trick.


Now use whatever colors and tips  you’d like to achieve the design you want!


♦     ♦     ♦

Was this helpful? I’d love your feedback on this post since it’s the first of its kind on Brown Eyed Baker! Any questions or additional tips to share?

What do you want to learn? I’d love to hear what you would like to see featured in the How-To series. A reader has already mentioned that she’d like to see a tutorial on baking bread with yeast. What’s on your list?

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Brown Eyed Baker RSS feed to ensure you don’t miss any upcoming posts!


481 Responses to “How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing”

Comment Pages 1 2 3 4 5 8
  1. mom of 3 on April 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Finally! I now know how to do this correctly! I have struggled with this. thank you for your post!


  2. Michelle Magee on April 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    This was really helpfull! I like that you included pictures so I knew what everything was supposed to look like.


  3. Heather on April 23, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Can you make and store royal icing ahead of time in fridge for a cookie decorating party? Is it okay icing to use with preschoolers in squirty bottles or should I use something else??? Can you substitute egg white powder for meringue powder?


  4. Michelle on April 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Hi Heather,

    Yes, you can store royal icing ahead of time in the refrigerator. Store it in a Tupperware-type container, with plastic wrap pressed down against the surface of the icing so that it doesn’t dry out.

    You can definitely put royal icing in squirt bottles, in fact that’s often what I use to decorate since it’s much less messy!

    And yes, you can substitute powdered egg whites for the meringue powder.

    Enjoy your decorating!


  5. Betsy on April 25, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial!!!!! I have been all over the web looking at royal icing sites and yours was the first that made sense. I felt i was right in the kitchen with you!! I have one question. My daughter is getting married in the middle of June and we are making weddin cake cookies as favors at the reception. The cookies are all made and frozen. How soon can I decorate them and leave them bagged in indvidual bags before the big day? Thanks so muc!


  6. Michelle on April 26, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Hi Betsy,

    I’m so happy to hear that this tutorial will be of great use to you! I would say that you could decorate and bag them about 2-3 days ahead of the wedding. Congratulations to your daughter!


  7. JenetHart on April 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Very helpful! I have done limited cookie decorating and had never heard the tip about outlining your cookies in icing before flooding them. I have always had trouble making them neat around the edges and now I know why. Thanks. Also, I would love some more instructions from you on decorating with royal icing, geared towards those of us with minimal artistic abilities.(aka tricks to make my cookies look fabulous, even though I can’t draw very well, and my letters are usually crooked).


  8. Sharon on April 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    This was wonderful, thank you! I would never have thought to do many of these steps, such as outlining, thinning out the icing flooding, and using a toothpick. VERY helpful tips. These will go a long way for me; I am so glad you posted this. Thanks again!!


  9. LouLou143 on May 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

    I am scared to death as a 1st time royal icing user & your wonderful step by step’s are a life saver! I printed them & the pictures & will attempt 60 wedding cake cookies for my future dgt-in-law’s bridal shower. I wish I could give you a big hug for giving me a little more confidence. Thanks so very much.


  10. Nicole on May 10, 2010 at 10:02 am

    This is helpful!I want to make black royal icing. I will be using quite a bit of black because I am making Groom cookies and black is used for the tux. Would you suggest to start with chocolate royal icing? Just add about 1/3 cup coco powder? Let me know! Thanks!!!


  11. Michelle on May 11, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Hi Nicole,

    I wouldn’t add cocoa powder to your royal icing, it would affect the consistency and the way that it sets on the cookie. I have made black jersey cookies and things like that and always start with just basic royal icing and keep adding the black gel until you get the black shade you are going for. Also remember that colors will darken as the icing dries.


  12. Marty on June 4, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Love your site. Helped a lot with your tips on royal icing. Thanks.


  13. Pingback: Pea in a Pod Baby Shower Cookies | Brown Eyed Baker

  14. Pingback: Classic Baby Shower Cookies | Brown Eyed Baker

  15. Pingback: Rock n’ Roll Baby Onesie Cookies | Brown Eyed Baker

  16. Pingback: Easter Egg Sugar Cookies | Brown Eyed Baker

  17. Holly on June 30, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    THis was a very helpful tutorial. I now have more confidence to make favor cookies for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. One question, any tips for using two colors to flood coat? Or doing polka dots with royal icing?


  18. Nicole on July 3, 2010 at 11:02 am

    I have been decorating cookies with royal icing for awhile but I always have the same issue. Dark colours, especially black, bleed into adjacent colours. I did a bus cookie outlined in black (I allowed the black to dry almost 24 hours before I added the next colors) it looked great for a few hours but by the next day it was a mess because the black ran so badly. What is the solution to this problem? Is it because of humidity? Help…



  19. cheryl hampton on July 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    thank you so very much for the informative demonstration on decorating with royal icing! I have tried and tried with other instructions and these ones are by far the best. I am going to attempt some baby shower cookies for my stepdaughter’s shower and feel quite confident now in what i”m about to do. thanks again and God Bless!


  20. cheryl on July 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    this is my second comment and am adding it because I was reading further into your site and noticed something you said about placing your cookies back in the fridge before baking. I’m like you, in that I cut my cookies a bit thicker than the 1/4 in. I’m sure I’ll get chastised for this but I do not chill my dough prior to rolling and cutting. Since they are a bit thicker they come up fine so I cut them out, place on a c. sheet and then in the fridge to chill. then onto the oven. believe it or not it saves time chilling only about 15min. I make up three or four sheets then pop them in and rotate them out of the oven for a quick process to get lots of cookies. hope this is helpful!


  21. Tiffany on July 16, 2010 at 1:26 am

    This is such a great tutorial! Very helpful tips for the future when I decide to bake some sugar cookies of my own. Thank you!


  22. Michelle on July 19, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    FABULOUS step by step directions. I followed your tips on outlining, thinnig the icing and everything in between. While my bridesmaid cookies were adorable and cute, it’ll take soem time before they are as cute as your playoff jerseys!


  23. Adelaide on July 26, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Just wanted to thank you for your step-by-step tutorial. While I’ve been baking for years, I’ve never tried the intricate designs that you show here,(beautifully I might add). I now have a list of items to go get and do a test run before I need to do the real thing.

    Thanks so much, your tutorial is the best I’ve found after looking for quite a while.


  24. heni on August 8, 2010 at 12:44 am

    waow thank you so much…i love your site


  25. Melessa on August 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Great tips! I’m so glad I stumbled across your website. In my area decorated sugar cookies start at $3 each and that adds up quickly. I want to use some edible pearls and glitter on the cookies that I will be making. At what point in the process should I add them? Should I do it right after I flood with the royal icing or wait for them to harden a bit? I’m worried that if I add them to quickly the pearls will sink. Please advise. Thanks!


  26. vonda on August 18, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    I am new to cookie decorating and making. I have never been able to bake cookies let alone decorate them. This is so helpful, i am going to start this week so i will let you know how i did, wish me luck.


  27. Alyse on August 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Thank you so much for your steo by step intructions. I decided to make football related cookies to send to my son. he recently left for college at University of Miami. I had time on my hands. Your guidance made this a fun, rewarding experience,The cookies look awesome. Go Canes.Thanks, ALyse


  28. Amie on September 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    LOVE your site!! I am getting ready to start decorating cookies for a cheerleading competition. I just have one question how far in advance do you think I can make and store these cookies?


    • Michelle on September 13th, 2010 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Amie, Thanks! These cookies can definitely be done in stages over several day. What I typically do is make the dough one day, then throw it in the fridge to chill. The next day I bake the cookies. If I have time I will outline and flood them. Then let them dry overnight and do the details on top. Once they are decorated you can store them in an airtight container or bag (just be careful stacking!) for 1-2 days. Have fun!


  29. Pingback: Pittsburgh Steelers Football Jersey Cookies | Brown Eyed Baker

  30. Janice on September 26, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you so much for the detailed instructions on decoarting the cookies. I recently made cookies for my granddaughters birthday and school party but the cookies were rounded and uneven. I notice that the cookies I purchase and your cookies are flat. Any ideas as to why my cookies are uneven which makes it difficult to decorate them as well as takes away from the appearance?


    • Michelle on September 28th, 2010 at 7:12 pm

      Hi Janice, I have found that cookies sometimes turn out bumpy and uneven when the dough is too warm before getting it into the oven. I would try refrigerating the cookie sheets for 15-20 minutes before popping them into the oven and see if that helps!


  31. Pingback: Decorated Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

  32. Johanna on September 30, 2010 at 6:34 pm



  33. Jill Overn on October 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Your tutorial is absolutely FABULOUS! I am the worlds worst baker… I followed your instructions and recipes to a T and not only were me cookies edible, they were adorable and delicious too!! I have a pic of the pink & zebra cookies in this post,, and I linked back to you. Thank you sooooo much for this tutorial!!


    • Michelle on October 5th, 2010 at 11:09 am

      You are very welcome, Jill! Those cookies are absolutely adorable, you did fabulous work!! Love your site too!


  34. Evelyn in Colorado Springs on October 10, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    This is FANTASTIC!! I have looked all over the internet to get the simplest directions to decorate sugar cookies with royal icing (since I’ve never used royal icing before), and your tutorial and photos make this seem very easy. I’m baking 150 pink ribbon cookies (6″) for my co-workers to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness month.
    Thanks for your time!!


    • Michelle on October 11th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      You are very welcome Evelyn! What a nice gesture to make all of those cookies! Have fun!


  35. Megan on October 12, 2010 at 12:02 am

    This is an awesome tutorial! I definitely have to try this for the next time I make sugar cookies! Thanks!


  36. Liz on October 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Thank you for the great step by step instructions!!!


  37. Zahra on October 19, 2010 at 11:10 am

    When letting the cookies sit before decorating, do we need to store it in a container or just leave it in the open?


    • Michelle on October 24th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Zahra, You can let it sit out. I always just lay them out on my dining room table. The icing keeps the cookies moist.


  38. Alex on October 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Thanks so much for posting. It is a very helpfel recipe.

    But I was wondering,

    Is there anything I can use to replace the meringue powder?

    Would cream of tartar work?


    • Michelle on October 24th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

      Hi Alex, Hmm that’s a good question. The meringue powder is really essential in the icing, as it is what allows it to dry hard. I have never substituted it with anything and am not sure that cream of tartar would work in this instance. Is there a particular reason you don’t want to use meringue powder?


  39. Liz Doherty on October 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    I have been a “decorating fool” since I’ve seen your tutorial about decorating cookies with royal icing!! I do have a question though, it seems that the top layer of royal icing gets hard and almost dried out on the cookie after just a day or two.Like when you bite the cookie, it is almost like a candy coating. I did cover the cookies with plastic wrap. Any suggestions? Thank you so much.


    • Michelle on October 30th, 2010 at 7:16 pm

      Hi Liz, The royal icing is actually supposed to dry rock hard. That way you can easily decorate on top of it.


  40. Sarah @ pão e queijo on October 28, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    This is so helpful! Wonderful tutorial, thanks!


  41. Pingback: How to Decorate Cookies

  42. pearse on October 30, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    very informative. I however do not like cookies decorated with royal icing. tried the ones from stores. Haven’t tried it home. I am wondering whether we could do the same thing with buttercream – making it thin and various consiastency? if so how do you thin buttercream for flooding? adding more liquid or melted butter?


    • Michelle on October 30th, 2010 at 8:39 pm

      Unfortunately the consistency of buttercream is totally different and doesn’t have the same properties as royal, so it would not dry smooth and hard.


  43. Lauren on October 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I just made footballs using your tips, which were extremely helpful. The only trouble I had was that some of them dripped down the sides. Is this because I didn’t pipe a thick enough line in some spots?
    I also used the all-occasion sugar cookie recipe. Delicious once they’re baked. I had trouble with the dough, though. I couldn’t get the cookies off of the wax paper, even after chilling them for an extra 30 minutes. I ended up using my cookie cutters in a makeshift way, but my footballs are anything but perfect and smooth. Any tips?


    • Michelle on November 1st, 2010 at 10:18 pm

      Hi Lauren, the icing running off the edge could definitely be attributed to the border not being thick enough. I usually use a #2 tip with consistent pressure to pipe the borders. Also, making sure that the borders are dry before flooding is another important step.

      Regarding the cookies sticking – if you roll out the dough between pieces of wax or parchment paper, you need to be sure to flour all of the surfaces really well.


  44. Pingback: Maple Sugar Cookies — Savvy Eats

  45. Kori on November 18, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    This was beyond helpful!! You should have seen me trying to microwave my icing to make it pourable!! Ha ha ha :)


    • Michelle on November 19th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      Yay so glad you found it helpful! Woo for cookies! :)


  46. Dee on November 22, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Thank you for the helpful tips and demo. I am looking into picking up cookie decorating as a hobby and this was very helpful for me.


  47. Yin on November 22, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks for such detail explaination on icing decoration. I’m totally dummy in this. I will bookmark this for sure.


  48. Georgia on November 23, 2010 at 12:17 am

    I have a problem when using sprinkles on royal icing on cookies or buttercream icing for cake. If I put the sprinkles on when the icing is damp, the sprinkles bleed into the icing. If I let it dry a bit, then the sprinkles do not stick. Do you have a solution for that?


    • Michelle on November 23rd, 2010 at 4:53 pm

      Hi Georgia, What you’ll want to do is let the royal icing dry. Then, brush it very lightly with some water and then add your sprinkles. Let it dry completely, and then shake off any excess sprinkles.


  49. Pingback: Holiday Cookie Decorating |

  50. Georgia Cuevas on November 24, 2010 at 3:55 am

    Thank you, Michelle, I’ll try that. We need a hairspray for sprinkles!! hahaha


Comment Pages 1 2 3 4 5 8

Leave a Comment

(Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for your patience! If it is your first time commenting you may want to review the Comment Guidelines.)