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14 Cookie Decorating Tips You'll Wish You Knew About Sooner

From how to make royal icing to the right way to add sprinkles.

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For many people, decorating holiday cookies is a tradition — but sometimes those cookies can end up looking like a #PinterestFail. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So we rounded up 14 of our favorite cookie decorating tips — from preparing the whitest royal icing to picking the right food coloring to use — to take your cookie creations from #nailedit status to cookie perfection.

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1. For perfectly shaped cookies, roll them out directly on parchment paper and pop them in the freezer before baking them...

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Transferring cut outs from your work surface onto a baking sheet can be difficult. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they tear, and using a spatula to move them can ruin their shape. To prevent this, roll your cookies directly on a piece of parchment paper and move the entire sheet onto your baking tray. After that, pop the whole thing in your freezer for at least 10 minutes before baking them. This will help firm up the butter and prevent them from spreading in the oven, resulting in perfectly shaped cookies.

2. And if you don't have the proper cookie cutter for the shape you want, make a stencil out of cardboard or parchment paper.

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Just because you don't have a specific cookie cutter doesn't mean you cant make custom cookies. An easy solve is to make stencils out of parchment paper or cardboard. Cut them into your desired shape, then place them on top of rolled out cookie dough and cut around them. For shapes with smaller details, using an X-ACTO knife can make cutting them easier and give you more defined edges.

More: How to Cut Cookies Without a Cookie Cutter

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3. If your cookies turn out misshapen, sand the edges down with a microplane until they're the right shape.

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For super clean edges, sand your baked and cooled cookies down with a microplane. It'll work similar to sanding paper and help smooth out any imperfections.

Get a microplane on Amazon for $14.95 and watch how to do it.

4. Invest in a piping bag with a coupler to pipe perfectly straight lines with ease.

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For detailed frosting jobs, using a piping bag is a must. While you can use a Ziploc baggie with the tip cut off, it won't give you the same level of control that a piping bag will — and to make things even easier, get yourself a coupler, too. It's a two-piece plastic tool that helps secure your tip onto the bag. One piece goes inside the bag, and the other stays on the outside holding the tip in. This not only makes piping easier (because you don't have to worry about frosting dripping out of the sides), but it allows you to switch what piping tip you're using without taking apart the entire bag.

Get a 100-piece piping kit on Amazon for $16.90.

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5. If aesthetics is what you're after, use royal icing...

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There's a handful of frostings you can use to ice your cookies, but royal icing is the go-to for detailed decorating. It's a simple frosting made with egg whites and powdered sugar that dries into a hard, smooth surface — and because you can easily adjust the consistency with water, you can make it super thick for fine details or thinner for covering large areas. To make the frosting even whiter, you can also add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or white food coloring — but it's not necessary.

Pro tip: To thin out your frosting, spray it with water out of a misting spray bottle. The mist will evenly distribute the water and prevent you from thinning out the icing too much. (Which is much easier than you would think.)

More: Get a recipe for royal icing.

6. And use the pipe-and-flood method to evenly cover your cookies with icing.

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Piping and flooding is the go-to technique for cookie decorators — and for good reasons. It gives cookies an impossibly smooth texture and professional finish. To do it, prepare a batch of thick royal icing and outline your cookies with it. Then, take that same frosting and thin it out with a few drops of water until it's pourable. "Flood" the inside of the outline with it, and allow it to touch the piped border. The border will prevent the frosting from oozing off the cookie and give you a crisp, clean edge.

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7. Use a toothpick to pop air bubbles and guide thick icing all the way to the edges.

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If the loose "flooding" icing doesn't ooze to the edges, gently guide it with a toothpick until it reaches it. And if any air bubbles show up in your frosting, use that same toothpick to pop them so your cookies have a perfectly smooth finish.

More: Get step-by-step instructions for piping and flooding cookies with royal icing.

8. For the most vibrant frosting colors, tint them with gel food coloring, not liquid.

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Because royal icing can easily be thinned out, liquid food coloring is not ideal. If you wanted to create a vibrant red color, you would have to add so much liquid coloring that it would thin out your icing too much. Instead, use gel colors that are much more concentrated and won't change the texture of your royal icing.

Pro tip: Gel food coloring can be thinned out with a few drops of water and used as paint on top of dried, white royal icing. This painting technique can give you stunning results without going through the hassle of piping icing.

Get a set of six soft gel fool colors on Amazon for $16.

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9. Use colored sugars to hide any icing imperfections — but be careful about adding it to icing that's too wet.

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Colored sugars are great for masking imperfections on your cookies, but they can bleed their color if added to wet royal icing. The key is to add them while the icing is still slightly wet yet almost set — keeping in mind that sugar won't stick to icing that's fully set.

Get a set of four colored sugars on Amazon for $7.57.

10. Let your cookies dry overnight before attempting to package them up.

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While royal icing does dry quickly, it's important to let your cookies fully dry before packing them up. Icing that's not fully set can crack and chip, while dried icing is sturdy and can withstand being banged around. A good rule of thumb is to leave them uncovered overnight before packing them up, just to be safe.

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11. If royal icing isn't your thing, go for a stunning-yet-easy powdered sugar pattern using an old doily....

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For people looking to skip the royal icing hassle this year, powdered sugar is a great option. One trick is to place a patterned doily on top of your cookie and dust powdered sugar over top. Carefully remove the doily and a delicate pattern of powdered sugar will be underneath.

Pro tip: If you want to display the cookies for a long time, invest in some non-melting powdered sugar (sometimes called "snow sugar") that will last for hours.

12. Or use regular buttercream frosting to create height and texture on your cookies.

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Regular buttercream frosting is much tastier than royal icing, but decorating with it is not the same. It's good for building height or creating texture, but won't ever give you a completely smooth finish like royal icing will. If you're OK with some texture, try applying it with a small offset spatula to create a cake-like finish. You can also use candy melts to create a quick frosting, but you'll have to move quickly before it dries.

More: Get step-by-step instructions for making homemade buttercream frosting.

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13. For a super simple, semi-transparent finish, brush your cookies with a confectioners glaze.

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Confectioners glaze is basically just royal icing that's super loose. It's used to glaze cookies (usually gingerbread) in a thin, almost transparent coating that adds sweetness and a bit of crunch. If you're looking for a quick, no-fuss icing technique, this is the one. Some people will glaze their cookies in it, then sprinkle them with sugar or sprinkles for a festive look — or you can keep them simple like the picture above.

More: Get a recipe for a basic cookie glaze.

14. Get a head start and make your components in batches, and remember to have fun!

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Cookies can be rolled out, cut, and frozen (unbaked) for several days — or baked and stored in an air-tight container as well. Royal icing can be made in advance too, but you'll have to adjust the consistency with water before using it. Getting ahead will help make decorating more fun and less hectic, so get your cookies and icing prepped the day before and have fun while decorating.

Looking for more helpful baking tips? Check out these posts:

33 Genius Baking Tips Every Beginner Needs To Know

19 Life-Changing Baking Tips From Professional Bakers

31 Things That Will Make Baking So Much Easier

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