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Apr 28, 2017 3:11pm

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Blog Recipes and Tips From Julia Usher

Stenciling Technique Tips

A cookie decorating technique after my own heart, stenciling doesn’t require that you be a born-again Van Gogh. With a pretty stencil, the right consistency of Royal Icing, and some practice, anyone can make gorgeous stenciled works of art. Read on for details and/or check out Lesson 10 in my cookie decorating video series.

What you’ll need:

  • As many gingerbread or sugar cookies as you want to decorate
  • Enough Royal Icing to topcoat and stencil these cookies
  • Water, for thinning icing, as needed
  • Powdered sugar, for thickening icing, as needed
  • Liqua-gel (aka soft gel) food coloring of your choice, to desired shade
  • Stencil of choice (my favorite source)
  • Metal trussing needle or toothpick, as needed
  • Small offset spatula (about 3/4 x 3 1/4-inch blade)


1 | Either naked or topcoated cookies may be stenciled, but it you choose the latter, make sure the Royal Icing top coats have dried to the point of being quite hard (ideally overnight).

2 | Mix the remaining Royal Icing not used for topcoating to stenciling consistency, and tint it with liqua-gel food coloring to contrast the color of your topcoated or bare cookies.

3 | Choose a stencil that lies very flat across the top coat and whose pattern fits the top coat with some room to spare on all sides. If your stencil is too wide for the cookie, it can lift up at the edge of the top coat, allowing the stenciling icing to sneak underneath into areas it shouldn’t be. Stenciling-newbies are best off using stencils with relatively wide openings spaced relatively far apart (no closer than 1/16 inch), such as the one used on the cookies, center right. Closely spaced openings make it much harder to achieve a crisp pattern, as the icing is more likely to run together between openings. If you choose a tightly spaced stencil despite my words of caution, then err on the side of thicker icing in order to minimize running and blurring. Remember: you can always adjust the icing consistency whenever needed by thinning with additional water, or thickening with powdered sugar.

4 | Work with one cookie at a time. With one hand, hold the stencil firmly against the cookie top. (When there isn’t a lot of room for my fingers on top, I’ll use a trussing needle or toothpick to steady the stencil.) Check to make sure the stencil is still lying flush against the cookie top coat in all areas. With the other hand, grab a small offset spatula and spread a thin layer of icing over the openings in the stencil. The icing need not be applied any thicker than the depth of the stencil; otherwise, you’ll leave peaks in the icing when you lift off the stencil. However, be sure to apply enough icing so you can’t see through to the top coat. Most important: Do not move the stencil while applying the icing, or the resulting pattern will be blurred.

5 | Lift the stencil slowly and steadily off the cookie; then wipe any icing off the bottom of the stencil before proceeding to the next cookie. For the sharpest patterns, wash and thoroughly dry the stencil after every 2 or 3 cookies. Do not rub the stencil dry, or you can damage the stencil. Instead, lay it flat between sheets of paper towels and gently pat dry.

For more stenciling details, check out Lesson 10 of my new video series, available on DVD here or in the link below.

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I was wondering if you could share what was used to acheieve the beautiful tan/beige color on the Understated Elegance
round cookies above..I have tried so many times to get this shade with no luck or anything remotely close. Thanks

By Deb Moroni on November 10, 2011

Good question - that color is very hard to achieve. The only brand/color that I’ve found that has gotten me close is CK Products Ivory, what was used here! Hope this helps:

By Julia M Usher on November 10, 2011

Thank you so very much!  it is such a lovely shade. I really appricate it and can’t wait to get a couple of bottles…Thank You..Thank You!!!

By Deb Moroni on November 10, 2011

where did you get the stencils especially the swirl one. it is beautiful thanks

By salma essop on August 01, 2012

Hi, Salma, Thanks! I’m not sure I remember (I made those cookies a while ago), but in all likelihood, it came from I get most all of my stencils from them.

By Julia M Usher on August 01, 2012

I am fairly new at decorating and would like to learn as much as I can. I find your instructions very helpful when it comes to decoration cookies, which I like to do.  The best part about decorating is that if you screw up, you can always eat the miastakes yourself.

By Thomas L. Fessler on December 23, 2012

Thanks, Thomas. You’re so right (speaking of the part about eating your mistakes)! If you’re looking for more cookie decorating instruction, I thought you might want to check out my new video series, a cookie decorating course. I have put together 16 lessons that range from the basics of making royal icing to more advanced techniques like stenciling, stamping, wafer-papering, etc. Each lesson ranges between 8 to 30 minutes with a total of 4 hours of footage. You can find it in my site store at the bottom of this page, here: Best of luck with perfecting your craft! Also, feel free to ask me questions at any time; I’d be happy to help out!

By Julia M Usher on December 23, 2012

I used to use this technique in card making, using a palette knife and spackle. lol

Gorgeous cookies. :-)

By Carole on January 10, 2013

Thanks, Carole! It’s a really fun and easy technique, once you get the hang of keeping the stencil steady and how much (or rather little) icing you need to stencil.

By Julia M Usher on January 13, 2013

hello i like your site very very much

By shahrzad rahimi khosh avaz on January 30, 2013

Thanks so much for visiting me here, Shahrzad!

By Julia M Usher on January 30, 2013

Ben bunlara bakmaya doyamıyorum nasıl yenirki.Süper süper süpeeeeeeeerrrrr ellerinize sağlık şahane şahane bende yapmak isterdim ama bu bir sanat olsa gere.

By Emel on February 24, 2013

Hi, Emel! I don’t read Turkish, but I think this is what you said, thanks to Google Translate:
How do I not get enough of looking at them I would love to make beautiful beautiful yenirki.Süper super süpeeeeeeeerrrrr hands, health requirement, but this is an art.

In return, I say thank you! I very much appreciate your kind words! Alternatively . . .

Karşılığında, ben teşekkür! Ben çok nazik sözleriniz için teşekkür ederiz!

By Julia M Usher on February 24, 2013


My friend and I are needing to experiment with stenciling on cookies, but were wondering if the material that the stencil is made of makes a difference as we will be needing to make our own stencil.

Thanks so much!

By Nissa on April 26, 2013

Hi, Nissa, I use a thin gauge acetate when making stencils (or custom templates for cutting out cookies). It’s easy to cut with a Xacto knife, plus it’s cleanable (unlike cardboard). However, wash under warm, not hot water, as too hot water can cause the acetate to warp or bend, which can render a stencil pretty much unusable.

By Julia M Usher on April 26, 2013

Dear Fellow cookie lovers….If you have any doubts what so ever on rather to buy Julia’s 16 lessons on the ultimate sugar cookie ...DON’T Hesitate to purchase…this DVD is worth every penny ...Amazing DVD, and a value that you just can’t pass up. It even more reasonable than most instructional DVDs out there Thank you Julia for the great DVD as well as inspiring some great ideas!!!

By Deb on April 26, 2013

Thanks so much, Deb, for the kind words about my video series! For anyone following this post, the series does contain a fairly detailed lesson on stenciling, which you may want to check out. It’s available in my site store (link at the bottom of the home page). Or here:

By Julia M Usher on April 26, 2013


I’ve seen beautiful cake pops with perfect swirl designs, are there any stencils for cake pops?  If so, what is the best way to apply them?

Thank You

By Kim on November 30, 2013

Hi, Kim. It’s really hard to stencil on small curved surfaces like those of a cake pop, so I suspect the patterns you saw were just expertly piped. But if you email me an image, I would be better able to tell you how it was done. Email is Thanks.

By Julia M Usher on November 30, 2013

Can regular stencils be used for cookie decorating? And what size id the R stencil you are using above?

By Candy Moody on June 24, 2015

Hi, Candy. I don’t know what you mean by “regular stencils,” but it is always best to use food-grade ones on food when you can. Others (i.e., from the craft store) will work, of course, but they may not be made in ways that are food-safe. As for the R stencil, I don’t know the exact size offhand (I made it more than a year ago), but I think it was about 2 inches tall, or slightly less. Hope this helps, and happy decorating!

By Julia M Usher on June 24, 2015

I just found you on Pinterest today. Your cookies, designs and techniques are exquisite! I hope to be able to do at least a few of these one day! Maybe I could learn to master just one! Thanks for sharing your beautiful cookie art! Shondra from GA

By Shondra Pruitt on April 01, 2017

Hi, Shondra! So nice to meet you - thanks for the very kind words. I hope you enjoy the site (before I overhaul it later this year - my next big project!)!

By Julia M Usher on April 02, 2017