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Learn how to use piping tips with this easy-to-understand Piping Tips 101 guide and decorating tutorial. I break down all the complicated information so you can learn how to decorate cakes and cupcakes like a professional. These are my 5 go-to EASY piping tips.

a plate of cupcakes decorated with vanilla buttercream using various piping tips

Learn How to Use Piping Tips

Here’s a quick and very honest backstory. I’ve never felt super talented at cake and cupcake decorating because it’s extremely intimidating. Do you feel the same way? Bored with my usual swirl and knife-swiped frosting looks, I began playing around with different piping tips. As I started using new tips, my confidence shot up. And, as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised with how EASY it was/is to create beautifully decorated confections.

A couple years ago, I would have laughed if someone asked me to create a plate of cupcakes like this:

cupcakes decorated with vanilla buttercream using various piping tips

But I just threw myself into it and had a lot of fun in the process. And so can you!

Piping Tips 101 Video Tutorial

5 Basic & Beautiful Piping Tips

Piping tips might seem intimidating, so let’s break everything down in this simple piping tips 101 course. It takes a little practice, some visual guidance, and a really dependable frosting recipe like my sturdy creamy vanilla buttercream, or this not so sweet whipped frosting. I gravitate towards the following 5 piping tips. Each create a completely different look, so that’s why it’s a wonderful starter collection. (And these tips won’t break the bank– they’re each pretty inexpensive.)

  1. Wilton 1M
  2. Wilton 8B
  3. Ateco 849
  4. Wilton 12 small round
  5. Ateco 808 large round
5 piping bags fitted with various piping tips and filled with vanilla buttercream

One note: I create TWO looks with the Wilton 1M. That’s the tip I use and recommend for two-toned frosting roses, but it’s also the tip I use to create soft-serve looking swirls as shown in the video tutorial above.

1. Wilton 1M – Rose

Wilton 1M is a classic piping tip and the buttercream rose is a staple decoration. Start in the center and pipe a flat swirl. You can see this lovely rose decoration on this 6 inch birthday cake. You can also create two-toned frosting roses. They’re gorgeous and it’s a lot of fun to play around with different colors. And to prove Wilton 1M’s versatility even more, you can use it to make hydrangea cupcakes too! It’s a piping tip I always recommend as a gift for a baker and we included it on my Best Gifts for Bakers page. 🙂

  • Similar piping tips: Ateco 849 and Wilton 2D can produce the same look. In fact, any piping tip labeled “star tip” can produce a buttercream rose. Some tips are wider to create larger roses and some tips are more narrow to create smaller roses. Does that make sense?
vanilla frosting piped with wilton 1m piping tip

2. Wilton 1M – Tall Swirl

Wilton 1M can also produce a decoration that resembles soft serve ice cream. Start in the center and move slowly around, building a tall swirl on top of itself. Ateco 849 piping tip (also listed below) is a little wider, but produces a similar look. I used Wilton 1M to pipe tall swirls on these chocolate cupcakes.

vanilla frosting piped with wilton 1m piping tip

3. Wilton 8B

Wilton 8B is one of my all-time favorites. It’s very easy to use, but creates a beautiful decoration. You can see I used it on these white chocolate strawberry cupcakes and these chai latte cupcakes. Start in the center and swirl upward.

vanilla frosting piped with wilton 8b piping tip

4. Ateco 849

Ateco 849 is a wide piping tip. You can make a rose or a soft-serve swirl, just like the Wilton 1M above. (Since this tip is wider, the rose and swirl would be wider/larger. You can see a wider tall swirl using Ateco 849 on these yellow cupcakes and these peanut butter cupcakes.) Or you can create a super easy ruffled look as shown in the next picture. You can see the ruffled look on my pistachio cupcakes, too! Just press the tip in the center and lift up while pushing frosting out.

vanilla frosting piped with ateco 849 piping tip

5. Wilton 12

Wilton 12 is a small round tip. Since it doesn’t have any detailed edges, I love using this tip for silky/thin/creamy frostings such as salted caramel frosting and cream cheese frosting. You can see an example of it on my lemon cupcakes with blackberry cream cheese frosting. Just press the tip in the center and lift up while pushing frosting out.

vanilla frosting piped with wilton 12 round piping tip

6. Ateco 808

Ateco 808 is also a round tip, but it’s much larger than Wilton 12. Its decoration looks like a big fluffy cloud! You can see an example of it on these carrot cake cupcakes and these cookie dough cupcakes. Start in the center and swirl upward.

vanilla frosting piped with ateco 808 piping tip

Other Tools Required

If you’re piping frosting, you also need piping bags. Here are my preferences:

Pick up reusable or disposable, whichever you prefer. The reusable piping bags are very easy to clean. Whichever you use, I recommend the 16 inch size. It’s a great size whether you’re adding a lot of piped decoration or even a little.

How to Fill Piping Bags

It can be pretty difficult to fill a piping bag with creamy frosting without making a mess! My trick is to use a big cup. Fit the piping bag with a piping tip, then place it in a large cup, folding the top of the piping bag around the rim of the cup. Watch me do this in my Two-Toned Frosting Rose video.

Now that you’re totally equipped with this piping tips 101 guide, go pipe some frosting LIKE A BOSS! (Ateco 849 used below!) ♥ ♥

Vanilla buttercream on cupcakes

These piping tips work perfectly for other frostings like Swiss meringue buttercream, chocolate buttercream, not-so-sweet whipped frosting, and even my sturdy whipped cream recipe.

Print
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cupcakes on a plate topped with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles with pink polka dot cupcake wrappers

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 2.5 cups 1x
  • Category: Frosting
  • Method: No Bake
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This is my favorite vanilla buttercream. It’s the perfect vanilla frosting that’s simple, creamy and smooth and tastes unbelievable on vanilla cupcakes!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 45 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar (see note)
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream, half-and-half, or whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add 4 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, the heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to medium-high speed and beat for 2 full minutes. Taste. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. I always add 1/8 teaspoon.
  2. Adjust if needed: You can control the consistency at this point– add up to 1/2 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin or more heavy cream if frosting is too thick (add only 1 Tablespoon at a time, beat together, then taste and add more if desired).
  3. Use immediately or cover tightly and store for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer. After freezing, thaw in the refrigerator then beat the frosting on medium speed for a few seconds so it’s creamy again. After thawing or refrigerating, beating in a splash of heavy cream or milk will help thin the frosting out again, if needed.

Notes

  1. Quantity: This recipe is enough to frost 12-16 cupcakes or a thin layer on a 9×13 inch quarter sheet cake. Follow these ratios for a 2 layer cake and these ratios for a 3 layer cake.
  2. Confectioners’ Sugar: If your confectioners’ sugar is particularly lumpy, I recommend sifting it 1-2x before measuring and using.
  3. Heavy Cream: I love using heavy cream for the creamiest consistency. You can use half-and-half or whole milk instead if needed. The lower the fat, the less creamy your buttercream will be. Whichever you use, make sure it’s at room temperature. Otherwise your frosting could separate or appear grainy.

Keywords: Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Hi Sally. Thanks for your wonderful recipes and helpful tips. I am planning on making your banana cupcakes with the chocolate and peanut butter frosting this weekend (for my birthday). I know you need to let cakes cool before frosting, but was wondering why your “total time” on these is over 3 hours. I just want to make sure I’m not missing something. Thanks

    1. Hi Mike! The total time includes making the batter, baking, cooling, making the frosting, and frosting the cupcakes. Not all of that time is working time, though! Hope you love them.

  2. Hi Sally,

    Which milk product is going to produce the best texture for decorating? I wanted to use this icing for decorating a cake with poinsettias using a Wilton 352. Which one will create the best texture – heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk? Also, is this frosting close to an American buttercream? I was also going to paint on the cake and the tutorial I watched suggested a base (smooth) layer with a crusted icing. Just wondering if this icing will also be acceptable for a smooth layer to paint on as well as making flowers with. Maybe I could make two different batches with different milk products if that’s best? Do you have any suggestions? Thanks as always. Your site is the most trusted to me and I always come here for ideas and suggestions. I really appreciate your recipes and advise.

    1. Hi Emery! We prefer to use heavy cream with buttercream when possible. This is an American buttercream recipe – using our vanilla buttercream. It is definitely suitable for making smooth surfaces as well – we use this buttercream recipe with cakes with smooth sides frequently. Hope this helps!

  3. Which icing tips should I use for mini cupcakes? I’m very intimidated by cupcakes. But also I believe I can to this with your great tutorials. Please help me out :), I promised to bake mini cupcakes for baby shower…

  4. I tried to pipe but epic fail I think I filled the bag to much my frosting came out the top. Do you fill it halfway then fill more when needed??

    1. Hi Holly, It sounds like your piping bag may simply be too full. Try adding a little less buttercream next time, or, we often like to tie off the top of our bag with a rubber band, clip, or twist tie to help keep the top sealed.

  5. Hi Sally, for the Alteco 808, the instruction is to “Start in the center and swirl upward.” But how can you “swirl upward,” or swirl at all, starting from the middle? Do you start in the middle and bring it to the edge first?

    1. Hi Ben, that’s correct. Start in the center and then bring it to the edge– having that center portion gives the swirl a stable foundation.

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