Tutorial: How to Swirl Colored Icing for Cupcakes

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.

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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

    1. Sounds like your frosting was too thick. I would make it a little softer next time and make sure the tips are in there nice and straight. Good luck!

  5. 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 😉

  6. 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


  7. Thank you SO much for this tip. I have been wondering how to get those pretty swirls of colour when cake decorating. I had no idea how to do it until now. Thanks again.

  8. Very Smart 🙂 Going to take cupcakes at husbands work. Everyone is going to love it. Thank you.

  9. 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!

  10. There are also pastry bags you can buy with a separator in the middle. Fixes everything.

  11. 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 !

  12. What a great idea! I am going to do this the next time I make cupcakes! (Maybe tomorrow)!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.