Royal Icing Consistencies: What's the Difference?

You're ready to decorate cookies. You have your piping bags, cooled cookies, and royal icing mix ready to go. You've checked out some tutorials, and see that they mention "flood icing" and "piping consistency." What do these words mean? We're here to help you demystify the terms around royal icing so that you can achieve picture-perfect decorated cookies every time.

Before we dive in, it is important to note that achieving the correct consistency is more of an art than a science. There isn't really a specific formula for creating the right consistency, but getting the correct consistency is something that you will learn over time. Play around with it, and you'll eventually get perfectly decorated cookies every bake.

First, make royal icing.

How to thin royal icing:

Most royal icing recipes make a very thick icing consistency. To thin the icing, simply add water one drop at a time. Add tiny amounts of water-you can always add more but you can't take it away!

Pro tip: Use a mini spray bottle to spritz your icing with water to thin it. The spray will ensure even coverage (read: less mixing), and also ensures that you don't add too much at once.

How to thicken royal icing:

Confectioner's sugar is the answer. To thicken your icing, add confectioners sugar one teaspoon at a time to achieve your desired thickness. Mix well while adding to incorporate all of the dry ingredients.

What is Icing Count?:

This is a term you might see used by cookie artists. Once you have mixed your royal icing, use a butter knife to cut a 1" deep line through your bowl of icing. Once the line is drawn, count the seconds until it disappears. The number of seconds you count are referred to as the icing count.

Consistency Types:

Stiff Consistency

Most royal icing recipes will result in this consistency. This icing will hold its shape, and is great for decorative piping. If you have a larger-gauge piping tip or would like to pipe flowers, this is the correct consistency.

Stiff consistency royal icing

Pro tip: when mixing this icing, mix on medium-low speed. The icing should be dense without air bubbles. Too much air will cause your piped details to collapse.

Icing Count: Forever-the line in your icing should hold indefinitely, the icing is that stiff.

Consistency: Cream cheese or buttercream

Uses: Piping decorative flowers, embroidery, or details. Best for wider-gauge piping tips.

Piping Consistency:

This consistency is a bit thinner than stiff consistency. It will typically take 2-4 drops or sprays from a bottle to achieve the correct piping consistency. Piping consistency royal icing will form soft peaks in the bowl that slowly lose their form. If it is too thick, the frosting will break as you squeeze it from your piping bag. If it is too thin, it will run off of the cookie. This icing consistency is used for piping borders and for lettering and details. When used as a border, it will form a wall around your cookie so that your flood icing stays contained.

Piping consistency royal icing

Icing Count: 25-30 seconds

Consistency: Toothpaste or soft-serve ice cream

Uses: Piping borders, lettering, & details

Flood Consistency:

Flood consistency icing is used for filling large areas in the cookie. It can be easily moved around with a toothpick or scribe tool to ensure full coverage of an area. It is also used for wet-on-wet piping techniques, which is when you pipe directly onto wet icing. This technique is great for marbling and for creating designs (like polka dots) that are all on the same plane. If you want dimension to your decorating, wait for the flood icing to dry before applying details with piping consistency icing. This icing takes the longest to dry, as it is the wettest consistency, so we recommend using a fan to dry your cookies.

Flood consistency royal icing

Pro Tip: If filling a large area, pipe squiggles on the inside of the filled area to prevent dimpling or collapsing in the frosting.

Icing Count: 5-8 seconds

Consistency: Honey or Shampoo

And there you have it! A crash course in royal icing. Getting the right consistency takes a lot of practice, but understanding the terms and playing around with your icing consistency will result in beautiful, professional-looking decorated cookies.

Get inspired! Watch cookie decorating tutorials here.

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How to Decorate an Apple Sugar Cookie with Royal Icing

Prepare the following items:

6 Tipless Piping Bags

Super Red Food Coloring

Leaf Green Food Coloring

Mocha Brown Food Coloring

Bright White Food Coloring

Spatulas & pint glasses to fill your piping bags


Step 1: Bake and cool cookies before decorating. Make sure cookies are fully cooled. If they are warm, the icing will run off of them. Make royal icing. Learn how to mix different consistencies of royal icing here>>

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

Prepare the following icing colors:

Piping Consistency:

Flood Consistency:

Step 2: Using piping consistency red icing, outline the apple. Do not outline the stem or leaf at the top of the apple with red icing.

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

Step 3: Once you have the red part of the apple outlined, use brown piping consistency icing to outline the stem of the apple. Once outlined, use brown flood consistency icing to fill in the stem. Wait 15-20 minutes for the icing to start crusting over, it is best for it to be mostly dry before moving on to the next step.

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

Step 4: Using piping consistency red icing, pipe some squiggles in the main part of the apple. This will help to give your flood some structure, so that the icing doesn't collapse as it cools.

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

Step 5: Fill in the main part of the apple with red flood consistency icing. Use a scribe tool or toothpick to move the icing around to ensure full coverage.

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

Step 6: While the red flood consistency icing is still wet, pipe a small dot of white in the upper right hand of the apple. Use a scribe tool or toothpick to gently drag the dot downward. This will create a little shine spot on your apple shape. Wait for the flood icing to dry 30-60 minutes before the next step.

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

Step 7: With your green piping consistency icing and a tipless piping bag, you can pipe the leaf of your apple. Pipe first the top half of the leaf followed by the bottom half of the leaf to create a seam. Move the piping back in a zig-zag pattern as you pipe to get good texture.

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

And you're done! These simple apple sugar cookies decorated with royal icing are a wonderful back to school teacher's gift. How to Decorate Back to School Apple Sugar Cookies

Cookies decorated by Julia Perugini of @juliascookiesaz

WATCH: How to Decorate an Apple Cookie