Create a sensation this Christmas with these easy-to-decorate Santa faces inspired by clip art of vintage images. All that’s required are the images (as a guide or to trace), edible marking pens, and some Royal Icing for simple borders and embellishments. Looking for other cookie decorating techniques? Be sure to check out my new cookie decorating video series available on DVD.

The Many Moods of Santa Photo by Julia M. Usher

What you’ll need for a few Santas:

  • A few large-ish (4- to 5-inch) fluted or plain round cookies, topcoated with white Royal Icing and thoroughly dried
  • A clip art image of choice (Note: Be sure to check licensing terms before using and reproducing the image for public consumption.)
  • Black edible marking pens (I like Americolor pens because they last a long time, but others swear by FooDoodlers because their tips are relatively fine. I used Americolor here, but my images weren’t especially detailed.)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup additional Royal Icing for borders, thinned to various consistencies, depending on the border
  • Red and green soft-gel (aka liqua-gel) food coloring
  • Parchment paper pastry cones (or substitute disposable plastic piping bags)
  • Pastry bag fitted with a metal tip (optional; I used a #352 Ateco tip to pipe holly on some of the cookies)
  • Large (6 mm) red dragées and assorted petal dusts, for embellishments (optional)
Start Drawing by Eye, If You Can
Start Drawing by Eye, If You Can Photo by Julia M. Usher

To make:

1 | Select an image and start drawing. Choose an image that will translate well in one color (black, in this case) and size it to fit close to the size of the cookies you want to decorate. If you’re a skilled artist, a marker and the image as a visual guide (photo 2) are all you’ll probably need. I started this way, but wanted to work faster and neater, and so sought help after a cookie or two in the form of an image projector.

Otherwise, Consider an Image Projector
Otherwise, Consider an Image Projector Photo by Julia M. Usher

2 | Size the image for projection. I have a Model 300XK Kopykake projector, which clamps onto my tabletop as pictured in photo 3, but projectors come in other forms, so shop around if you want. Most are pretty darn bulky, however, so think twice about storage and how frequently you’ll want to trace images before you make the investment. With this model, I have to size the images that fit in the box at the top of the projector much smaller than the actual size I want them to fit; otherwise, I can never get a sufficiently sharp focus. I work in Photoshop and re-size the image through trial and error until I get a crisp projection on the cookie. Note: For image size adjustments on this machine, you have to loosen the thumbscrew lock knob (photo 4) to raise and lower the projector box; and for fine focus adjustments, you’re theoretically (underscore: theoretically) supposed to be able to move the lens tube up and down. However, my tube invariably sticks so I make all image size and focus adjustments by moving the box up and down. BTW, it’s helpful to have a properly sized wrench, as pictured in photo 4, to do this.

Be Sure to Adjust for Good Focus
Be Sure to Adjust for Good Focus Photo by Julia M. Usher

3 | Continue to trace. With the image now focused on your cookie, simply trace with the marker (photo 5). If you have any trouble seeing the projected image, it helps to dim the lights in your work area. Be careful about running your hands over the coloring, as it can take a few to several minutes to dry, depending on the ambient conditions. Before you know it, you’ll have cranked out a bunch of Santas (photo 6). If not, my best suggestion is to turn up the Christmas carols to get you in the groove!

Tracing with a Projector is Much Easier Photo by Julia M. Usher

4 | Fill in any areas beyond the image. For an especially striking effect, I like to fill in with black (leaving space for stars and snow) beyond the image, as shown in photo 7. You’ll have to do this freehand, but if you keep the surrounding design simple, you should have no trouble.

Faster, Too! See!
Faster, Too! See! Photo by Julia M. Usher

5 | Add borders and details. But do so sparingly, so the graphic black and white images really pop. I started by piping green Royal Icing wreaths around the Santa faces using a #352 Ateco tip for the holly, but I felt this design would look too busy if on more than a few cookies. So I resorted to straightforward red and green beaded borders and single holly and berry embellishments.

You’ll Have to Draw Freehand Beyond the Image
You’ll Have to Draw Freehand Beyond the Image Photo by Julia M. Usher

For the holly to hold its shape, be sure to use a very stiff icing; whereas, for the beads, you’ll need a relatively loose icing so as not to end up with peaks on top. (For icing consistency adjustments, read to the end of my earlier post about Royal Icing.) For the holly berries, I used large red dragées, but you could pipe larger icing beads just as well. Color can also be added to the core image, as I did in the woodcut variation of this cookie (last photo); but, again, I prefer a light dusting of dry petal dust, so as not to distract from the picture.

Another Cookie Using the Same Approach
Another Cookie Using the Same Approach Photo by Julia M. Usher

Yes, that’s it! I told you this cookie was fast!