Need to decorate a detailed cake in a flash? Stencils are your secret weapon! Keep your pulse rate low and the piping bag in the drawer and let stencils do the heavy lifting.
You can stencil on fondant-covered cakes, buttercream cakes and even unfrosted or naked cakes. Use buttercream, royal icing or even luster dust to create intricate designs that are nearly impossible to recreate with piping. Or make playful and whimsical cakes with stenciled sprinkles or even cocoa powder.
We’ll show you how to stencil using the classic method — royal icing on fondant — and then give you some ideas on how to use your stencils in new ways.
How to stencil on a cake
Stencil detailing can completely elevate a cake design, and there are so many creative possibilities. But messy stenciling looks anything but impressive. Follow along with this tutorial to create sophisticated masterpieces every time.
What you need:
- Fondant-covered cake
- Cake stencil
- Thick, toothpaste-like consistency royal icing
- Icing scraper
- Small angled spatula
- Small, heavy glass bowl
- Food-safe paintbrush
- A method for attaching stencil: shortening, dressmaker pins or toothpicks, or a new stretchy bandages and clothespin.
Step 1: Plan your designChoose (or make!) your stencils
Premade stencils will get you decorating faster, and many offer more detailed designs than you could create on your own.
For a custom design, make your own. Find any pattern or shape you like, print it out and lay the template under a piece of mylar or other transparent, food-safe plastic. Cut the design out of the plastic using a craft knife. Remember to leave an edge around your design — you’re going to keep the “negative” of the design and toss the bits you cut out.
Make a plan
Sketch your ideas out and figure out where you’d like certain design elements to go. Make sure you know how tall your cake will and how tall your stencil is. Stencils with repeated prints, like damask patterns, are often 6″ tall, so make sure your cake is tall enough to accommodate the stencil. If your stencil is too tall for your cake, you can trim it down or block out part of the pattern with masking tape.
Get in shape
When you’re working on the side of a cake, you want to make sure every part of the stencil follows that curve. If it doesn’t, the icing can sneak in through the sides of the opening and ruin your design. Try storing your stencils in a small, round cake pan. A new stencil can take a long time to shape, but it’s worth it. Let it sit for about a week if you can, but at least try to plan for a couple of days.
If you’re new at stenciling, don’t jump right into stenciling a whole cake. Opt to stencil on flat fondant disks and lay them on top of buttercream cupcakes, or try a simple pearl pattern to edge around a single tier.
Let the cake rest
Let your fondant-covered cake rest at least overnight and preferably 24 hours before applying the stencil — this will help prevent damage to the fondant while applying the royal icing.
Step 2: Attach the stencil to the cake
Holding or attaching the stencil to the side of the cake can be the toughest part. There are different ways to do this, and it all depends on how you like to work. Here are a few options:
For top stencils
Top stencils are very easy to attach: Just gently lay it on top of your cake and hold it down with your hand or tack down with a bit of shortening.
Some decorators use Crisco or another form of vegetable shortening to stick the stencil onto fondant. Just dab a little shortening on each corner of the stencil and press it to the cake.
Ribbons or bandages and a clothespin
If your fondant has already set, you can use a ribbon, clean bandage or medical tape and a clothespin to keep the stencil in place. Cut 1″ slits on each end of the stencil and slide the ribbon through, securing it to the stencil with tape. Use a clothespin to hold the ribbon taut at the back of the cake.
Toothpicks or pins
Attach your stencil to the cake with ultra-thin toothpicks or dressmaker pins. (Check your local laws about inserting metal or wire into food.)
These will leave holes in your cake, so you’ll need to be clever in covering them up. We recommend mixing a bit of fondant with water to create a thick paste that you can use to patch the holes. Or cover the holes with additional embellishments like a sugar flower or a piped design.
Step 3: Make the icing
Aim for a thick yet pliable consistency for your royal icing — something a little thicker or stiffer than toothpaste. If your icing is too runny, it will seep under the stencil and create a messy, gloopy-looking print. If it’s too stiff, it will be hard to work with and may crack or lift off the stencil and cake surface.
If you’re using a dark icing color like black or red, use a premade, pre-colored mix. Adding too much gel color to your icing will cause it to break down and won’t spread as well.
Step 4: Apply the icing
Using a palette knife or angled spatula, apply dollops of royal icing along one end of the stencil. Consider which way you’d like to drag the icing before placing your icing.
Place your icing scraper right beside the royal icing and drag it over the stencil. Use your turntable to help you keep an even pressure all the way across the stencil. You might want to use non-skid under your board to make sure it doesn’t move around.
As you go, you’ll run out of royal icing. That’s normal and perfectly OK. Add a few more dollops of icing wherever the icing ran out, then continue dragging the icing across the stencil.
Some sections of the stencil may not get fully covered — don’t panic! Simply add a little more icing onto the area and scrape with a steady hand and an icing scraper. Work quickly: Taking too much time to deal with a problem area can be worse than just adding a little more icing and dealing with it quickly.
Step 5: Remove the stencil
Before ripping the stencil off the cake, lift it just a little to check if it comes off cleanly. If all seems OK, gently remove the entire thing to reveal your prettily patterned cake!
Step 6: Continue the pattern around the cake
If you’re continuing the design around the cake, wash the stencil with a damp cloth and let dry for about 15 minutes to dry.
Carefully move the stencil, positioning beside your previous stenciling to continue the pattern. You can even overlap just a bit to make sure everything lines up. Just don’t re-apply icing over the already stenciled areas.
If you get to your last repeat of a stencil and don’t have enough room, just mask off the part you don’t need with some tape, stencil the rest and finish the seam with a little extra decoration.
(By the way, when you’re finished with your cake, make sure you wash the stencil, dry it and put it back in your pan.)
Stenciling beyond royal icing
While royal icing on fondant is the classic way of stenciling, there are really no rules on what you can use to get your stenciled design on a cake. Try these other mediums for a variety of effects!
When stenciling with luster dust, make sure the stencil is completely flush with the cake. You don’t want little specks of dust to get under your stencil. Brush dry luster dust on the fondant with a soft, clean paintbrush or new cosmetic sponge. Peel off the stencil to reveal the beautiful pattern.
This is a great option if you’re planning to panel your cake: You can work flat on the fondant and then attach the panels to your cake. If working flat, just press the stencil lightly onto a panel of fresh fondant using a fondant roller.
Layer a different royal icing stencil design over a dusted design for added interest and depth. You can even pipe over your stencil for added dimension.
Turn your luster dust into a thick paint with a little bit of vodka or lemon extract and brush it on to your cake, attaching the stencil just as you would for a royal icing stencil. Gel color works well here, too. Work quickly, be sure that your stencil is flush and your paint isn’t too runny.
Sprinkles, cocoa powder or powdered sugar
This works best for the top of a fresh buttercream cake so the sprinkles or cocoa have a place to stick. You can even use this technique on baking projects like pies and other cakes.
Simply place your stencil on the top of your cake and gently shake a sifter filled with powdered sugar or cocoa, or sprinkle on jimmies and remove the stencil. Be sure to bring the stencil up carefully so that excess powder doesn’t drift on to your finished design!
Stenciling with and on buttercream
Lightly press the stencil up to the side or top of a cold cake, attach with toothpicks if needed. Work quickly to apply buttercream over the stencil. Plan on seeing a rustic finish when you pull the stencils away. You can learn more about how to stencil with buttercream here.
Overall, cake stenciling is low stress and yields highly impressive results! Enjoy people’s reactions as you present your masterpiece.
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