Tutorial: How to Swirl Colored Icing for Cupcakes

CATEGORIES: Frosting, How To...

I don’t know if the universe has it out for me or what, but I swear to you all, the second I start making a conscious effort to eat healthy, I’m suddenly inspired to make all sorts of naughty treats. And not just inspired, like, “Oh, I really, really, really want to make some caramel corn,” but my brain suddenly starts putting together evil ideas for things I’ve never even made. I guess deprivation is great for inspiration, right?

I’m posting my scandalous little treat on Friday, but for today, I want to share a really cool tutorial. I kind of thought I was a genius until I told Sara what I was posting and she told me that she already has a tutorial all photographed. It’s kind of rough sharing a brain sometimes.

Not only is this super impressive (my 6-year-old told me that he thought the way my cupcakes were “designed” was awesome), but it’s a fun and easy way to implement different colors when you’re decorating cupcakes. Like for these Colorburst Cupcakes that Sara posted this last spring during March Madness.

For this tutorial, I’m just using two colors of icing, but you could easily use three (or even four if you’re feeling wild) different colors for a really cool rainbow effect. You can also play around with flavors, using different types of icing or adding different flavors to a something like our Perfect Cupcake Frosting and Filling. Chocolate and caramel, chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate and orange, orange and lemon, vanilla and almond, vanilla and peppermint, peppermint and chocolate…you’ve pretty much got unlimited options.

You’ll need icing, disposable decorating bags (one for each color and then one more to fit them all into), and a large decorating tip (like this, this, or this) and a large coupler.

The most basic thing to remember is that no matter how many different colors you’re using, you don’t want the final bag to be too full. So if I’m using two colors, I’ll fill each color bag a little less than 1/2 full with icing. If I were using 3, I’d fill them a little less than 1/3 full, and for 4, a little less than 1/4 full. Make sense?

After you’ve filled your bags, flatten them out and stack them on top of each other…

and then trim 1/2 inch or so off the tip of each bag and slip them into the bag fitted with the decorating tip.

Firmly squeeze the bag until you’re getting equal parts of each icing from the tip. I will say that it’s a little trickier if you’re using two different types of icing (like I am here) than if you use different colors of the same icing (like Sara did). If you do use two different types of icing, try to make sure they’re roughly the same consistency before icing your cupcakes, even if it means popping a softer icing into the freezer for a few minutes.

To ice your cupcakes, hold the tip close to the top of the cupcake. Using firm, steady pressure, squeeze the icing bag, starting in the center of the cupcake and moving around the edges of the cupcake and then one more swirl on top, moving back towards the center. I actually had a video tutorial of this at one point, but Dropshots spontaneously deleted all my pictures and videos (yes, Dropshots, I’m totally calling you out, jerks!), so I’ll try and get another one up today because it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds.

Prepare yourself for oohs and aahs. And perhaps squealing. Also, your kids (and your spouse…and his/her co-workers…) will think you’re a rock star.


  1. I have never had any luck with trying to do the color stripe down the side of the bag before adding the 2nd color frosting. I can’t wait to try this. It makes so much sense. Thank you.

  2. I love this idea! I’ve decided when I have my book launch party, I want the cupcakes to have swirled frosting! (Well, first I have to sell my book, but my agent is working on that.) I am so thrilled I found this website!!! You are two very talented ladies and I don’t even like to cook!

  3. How do you get the icing into the icing bags without making a massively large MESS. Mine are always crazy messy and then when I squeeze out the icing, it comes out of the tip but also the messy part comes out of the end of the bag.

    1. It can be tricky. One thing is to just be careful how full the bags are. You can also get ties and clips that clamp the opening of the bag shut so it doesn’t come out the top–just look for them in the cake decorating section of Walmart/Hobby Lobby/Michaels/wherever.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

      1. I use bread ties. Not the plastic square ties but the staight ones. Thank you for the tip about flattening and stacking the different colors before putting them in the one bag. I was having problems getting an equal amount of each color coming out all at once. It was either one color or the other

    2. Put the bag on your hand (like a glove), but inside out. Put scoops into your open palm. Make sure the top edges are up enough that you can just flip it back after you’re done filling your palm. Now the frosting is on the inside and you have little to no mess! I do this all the time for frosting and it works fantastic. 🙂 Hope it helps.

    3. I put the bag into a tall glass, spreading the top of the bag down over the edge of the glass. It makes it so easy to just scoop the frosting into the bag.

    4. Something I do is out the bag inside of a glass 🙂 pull the excess plastic down over the glass, and then use a scraper to load the frosting in 🙂 very fast and simple! 🙂

    5. The icing is coming out of the end of the bag because you didn’t twist the end of the bag. If the twist does not stay, you can tie is together with a rubber band. If it comes out of the tip. maybe just put your fingers on the tips and it wont be as messy. Hopefully this helps!

    6. What I have always done is put the bag inside of a cup with the ends king of wrapped around the edges and fill the bag that way

    7. Hold the bag with your left hand and pull the top edges down around your hand till about 1/2 the bag is wrapped down around your hand….fill bag only about 2/3 full, pull it up off your hand twist it shut then put a rubber band or hair tie around the opening down at the level of icing.

  4. Thank you! I tried making cute cupcake swirls last week, but they ended up looking over-worked. Now I know I need a different tip, and I can’t WAIT to try separate icings! Yay!

  5. THank you for this tutorial. I was wanting to make some cupcakes with this effect for my daughter’s birthday and was planning on googling how to do it. You made it so much easier for me! Thanks so much! (ps LOVE LOVE LOVE OBB!!!)

  6. I too have tried putting the 2 colors in one bag and had issues. I’ve never thought about putting 2 bags inside another one. Will have to try this next time. Possibly for my daughters birthday, which is today but the party won’t be until next weekend and haven’t figured out what we’re doing yet. This looks almost fool proof! Thanks again!

  7. Talk about prefect time…my oldest little princess turns 3 on Sunday so I will definitely be trying this out. Love you guys, you are the best!

  8. I’ve done something similar, but I actually just plop spoonfuls of alternating colors in the same bag. You still get a swirl effect, but also get a third color sometimes where the two mix. You can also achieve a similar effect by taking your food color and literally painting stripes of color on the inside of the bag before loading the frosting!

  9. A tip to make filling bags less messy AND not overfilling them: Fold a cuff down until the top of the bag touches the top of the coupler. Then fill the bag just to the top of the cuff. Keep the mess on the inside of the bag, and if you only fill to the top of the cuff you can’t overfill. Then unfold the cuff and twist the bag right at the top of the icing. The twist then goes into the v where your thumb meets your hand to keep it closed.

    1. Awesome tip, Blythe, thanks! (And great tutorial, Kate! I’m actually tempted to make cupcakes today, with absolutely no need for them whatsoever. Maybe I’ll just order a new tip and wait for Friday’s recipe….)

  10. Okay this is AWESOME!! I have seen a few different ways to do this & this seems like the easiest way & the BEST way to make sure you get even good colors!! You girls are amazing & I LOVE everything you do!!!

  11. You totally got the mental vibes I was sending for you to do this tutorial. I’ve been freaking out about how to do this since my almost 3 yr old wants “Jimmer BYU” cupcakes for his birthday. It will be a sad day when he realizes Jimmer isn’t at BYU anymore. However, a super happy day when I whip out the cupcakes for him.Thanks for saving the day…again!

  12. I have tried to do this, but never thought about it this way! Now I want to make cupcakes – wait, decorate some sugar cookies too!

  13. Ugh…why didn’t I think of that. I recently made banana cupcakes with PB and chocolate icing swirled but I tried to shove some of each into one decorator bag and it was a mess…it worked but it wasn’t fun. This would have been so much better! Thanks for the idea!

  14. This is BRILLIANT! [insert head slap here] I am so excited you decided to share this for us less-brilliant people.

    I’m doing a baby shower for my sister-in-law coming up and this will be the PERFECT way to make a classy cupcake without a lot of extra work!

  15. The easiest way that I’ve found to fill the piping bags is to place them (with the tip in place) in the inside of a drinking cup or glass (depending on how big the bag is). Then just fold the sides over the top of the glass and simply fill it with frosting using a spatula. Then pull it out of the glass and start twisting/folding the top…the frosting will move down to the tip and you’re ready to go!

  16. You have made this awesome technique so simple! So may people tell you to just put two different colors in the same bag and do you best to get one on each side, it’s a genius idea to just use two piping bags! I need to try this!

  17. Two separate bags! Why have I never thought of this? I made such a disastrous mess with less-than-desired results trying to put them in the same bag last year that I swore to never do it again. Now I can actually make swirled frosting!

  18. SHUT UP! I seriously cannot believe how easy this will be!!!! I am very excited to do this! You two are making me into a culinary genius! Thanks!

  19. Hmm…. maybe I’ll make cupcakes for my birthday this year? I’m gonna be turning 34 and I can have what I want, right?! LOL Oh wait, yea…. it’s DH’s bday too and he’ll want a cake made from his Aunt Marla. I guess cupcakes will have to be made next week for something else then.

    Seriously love this tutorial – was wondering how to do this!

  20. Oh yeah! Rock on! I’m dieting too right now, so I won’t be able to actually eat any of this stuff until my “baking season” kicks of in October. But man are we gonna have an awesome holiday season thanks to y’all!

  21. This is so totally awesome! Thanks for the tip!! Now my husband and kids will think I rock when I make these for the bake sales at the middle school and high school! Thank you ahead of time for making me look like one of the “cool” moms! 🙂

  22. Just wondering which frosting recipe you used for the two color frosting? I know when you add color gel to the cooked frosting it doesn’t work well (did it once and it didn’t look pretty, tasted good though). Was it your Swiss Buttercream? Which I might add is fabulous with blueberry puree. Thanks so much! Love your blog by the way, visit everyday!

  23. Awesome! You can also make swirls by running lines of gel food coloring on the inside of your decorator’s bag and using the same tip you mentioned in the original. The colors are very bright (at the first) and start to fade but last through the whole bag of icing.

  24. Shut the front door! So easy and yet so completely out of my range of thinking. Thank you for sharing. My backside doesn’t need one more cupcake, but I have to try this!!

  25. Well, the universe must be conspiring against the both of us because I literally just thought the same thing the other day…yet I found myself in the kitchen whipping up something else because i want just one “bite” of something sweet 🙂

  26. you posted this just in time!! my little boy is one today and i am SO going to do this! you guys are awesome

  27. I seriously want to send you so much hate mail for posting all of these amazing desserts. But, I cannot because you two girls are so amazing… and although you aren’t helping me decrease my waistline, you have the best recipes in the whole wide world!!! 🙂 I look forward to every single post!

  28. Can you share with us the size tip you used? The swirls are perfect and rather than experiment and take a chance of cursing, pleez, just tell us…what size tip?

  29. Thank you so much! I will definitely be trying this – something I would never have thought of and now will never forget!

  30. I love this! I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without trying peanut butter frosting, but I made it for my son’s birthday party this year and about had a heart attack of joy. thanks for the great tutorial…I would totally have stuck both frostings in the same bag…and then cried tears of frustration.

  31. omgoodness! You have helped me so much! I was looking for a sweet way to do a cute combo for a college soccer team theme and I wanted to tie in a polka dot paper and this would be sooooo cute with it. Thanks so much for helping me blend it together. I believe all things through others shared will always prosper. 🙂

  32. the tutorial is great, I thought it would be really difficult. you made it look manageable. looking forward to the video tho’. thank you

  33. It seems to me that not only would this work well to even out the swirl effect, but refilling the bags must be easier too! Have you tried it? Does a re-fill work just as well as the first round?

  34. Wow! I never would have thought of this! I put all my colors in the same bag and it was a such a pain, and a mess. Thank you for this awesome tip, definitely will be putting it to use tomorrow! 😀

  35. OMG! I never thought of it this way; I always put all my colours in one bag. (._.) I was wondering if it was possible to do it with a large round tip?

  36. Thank you so much for this! I’ve tried bag striping in the past for a similar effect, but it rarely worked right. I can’t wait to try this out!

  37. Hey there! Just wanted to let you know we featured you in our Favorite Find Fridays post over at Whimsically Homemade. We used one of your pictures. If that’s a problem let us know and we’ll remove it immediately. Thanks for your great inspiration!

  38. I once made neapolitan cupcakes and put 3 different coloured icings in one bag, it was messy and only a few worked as I wanted. This is such a simple solution I love it! No more messing but a lot more flavours 🙂 Thank you!

  39. You can do this without wasting extra piping bags (expensive!) if you wrap your icing in plastic wrap like a ‘burrito’ first. The ‘burritos’ are tied at both ends, one end snipped off, and the snipped off end placed down into the plastic piping bag. Best thing about this is that you never have to worry about the icing leaking through the wrong end of the piping bag!

    If you make small ‘burritos’, you can place several different colors in just one piping bag. Very little mess, and you can quickly and easily refill the piping bag as you go. http://tinyurl.com/7dmqfv4

  40. Just love this and your blog re: eating healthy, and then that urge to bake something gorgeous. hmmm, know that feeling.

  41. Just used this technique for the first time and it turned out great! Can’t wait for my daughter to see her cupcakes in the morning. Thanks for the inspiration and the easy instructions!

  42. This worked great!! Took some time to get the twist going, but once it started coming out I was so excited! I used this on my friend bday cupcakes because I didn’t have to much time to actually spread the icing and decorate and this was perfect.

  43. I tried this and the frosting ended up coming out the top of the bag that didn’t have frosting. It came out of the tip nicely but a lot also came out of the bigger bag. Can you think of what I may have done wrong?

  44. could I please get the directions for how to do the blue and white swirled cupcakes at the top (not just the icing but the actual cupcakes.

  45. This is such a great way to frost a cupcake. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be happy to see the tutorial when it’s up and running. Shame on Dropshots!

  46. How neat. that is a great way to do that.

    Now what kind of cupcake liners do you use? They are so pretty even after being baked in.

    thanks !

  47. I just used this technique to practice for some cupcakes I am making for my best friend. I was worried it wouldn’t work but omg! This was easy and awesome! I made ice cream cone cupcakes and the chocolate and vanilla swirl officially makes it look like and ice cream cone! Will use this technique again. Thanks for sharing!

  48. wonderful instructions–I worked with another cake decorator a while back and she moved (she was my trainer) she would post pictures of her designs on facebook but I could never figure out how she made zebra stripe flowers. but, now, you have helped me learn


  49. Thanks for a great tip. I’ll Pin it so my daughter gets to see it, our Pastry Cook in the making. And by the way, do not despair about getting all those evil tasty thoughts when trying to lose a few pounds. Simply remember the following “You were meant to think them at this time” and don’t worry. He’ll help you with those pounds another time 😉

  50. I followed your tip today with hazelnut cupcakes. However, it was extremely hard to pipe, and when it finally started flowing better, the two inside bags jammed up. How do you prevent that?

  51. I always thought how people do colored icing. Today I just landed on your site and saw how easy this is. Thanks for this great idea.

  52. I tried these last night and they turned out amazing. My kids think that I can work at a bakery now 🙂
    Thanks for such a wonderful tip.

  53. I have a problem with my hands melting the frosting as I decorate. The squeezing hand is always too hot by the time I’m halfway through a bag. Any hints on how to keep the frosting the same consistency across a batch of cupcakes?

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