Cake Decorating on A Budget

As an artist, every time you make something do you feel compelled to do it in the most creative way you can think of? Every store bought birthday cake is a missed opportunity to discover how awesome you are at cake decorating! Although it is definitely a time consuming thing to decorate a cake, if you have the time, it might be something you’ll want to try. It doesn’t have to cost you much either.

Cake decorating can get expensive if you don’t get creative with your use of techniques. This post is about how to decorate cakes WITHOUT all those fancy, expensive molds and stuff. (Sorry wilton) Here are my tips on how to save a little money & still get the same effects:

Tip #1  –  Use Your Favorite Cake Mix

It can really be your favorite! Even if it is just a cheap cake mix that you & your family or friends like. If you’re trying to save money, don’t overlook the cake mix.

Tip #2  –  A Fun Idea

Have you ever noticed at grocery stores that a nasty plain, dry, “yellow cake” with sickening loads of frosting dyed with scoops of food coloring, that’s shaped like a frog costs just as much as it does for a cake that actually looks tasty, like this:

If you’re not going gourmet with the cake then an option to make a simple cake awesome is to come up with a unique idea. Who is the cake for? It’s easy to think of things for children’s birthdays, but what about adults? I can think of things pretty easily for the first cake..

What are their interests?
My dad I’d make a chess piece (the king.. ha ha..) My husband I’d make a bass leaping out of a pond. My sister I’d make an english double decker bus (if she still likes England). My mom is a tough one though… It’s people like her who are the ones that are hard to think of an idea for. She doesn’t really have a favorite anything. She likes crafts and cooking but she does every kind of craft/cooking.

Stumped on an interest? Think of a memory
She used to make us awesome halloween costumes when we were little so I’d probably make her a cake of a sewing machine and a dress that she’s made for me on it. Maybe they just like beautiful things, or a certain type of music, cars… Get creative!

Tip #3  –  You don’t need fancy pans!

Save yourself $100s or more simply by carving shapes your self. The average pan costs $10-$25. I promise you, you don’t need a pan shaped like the thing you want to make in order to make it! Take this cupcake cake for example. My mom owns this pan, so don’t feel bad if you already own a lot of pans! This cake pan costs $17. Yet, It could easily be made by stacking circular cakes and carving them to the desired shape. Just like you see on Challenge on the food network. Just remember to do a little at a time if you’re not confident yet.

To Fondant or not to Fondant?

Many people do not like the taste of fondant. It’s this bland sweet taste like nothing you know how to describe. One time a friend tried to describe its taste as similar to licking a stamp. There are fondants that are made to taste better. However, fondant is fondant. It’s for the looks. Yet, you can always put frosting underneath the fondant which is not necessary, but nice for the flavor. Fondant will not ruin the taste of the cake and it falls off of a slice just as easily as taking off excess icing to your preference.

I also like fondant for it’s ability to mimic characteristics of different materials. You can easily press fondant against a tablecloth to get the texture of fabric and then lay it on top of a towel with some saran wrap to get the folds like drapes. You can also dust it to make it look metallic, or sculpt it.

Tip #4  –  Frosting/Icing Only

You can do a lot of cool cake decorating simply with your use of frosting. If you don’t want to do a crazy shape or sculpting, you can pretty much paint with frosting just like you would regular paints. Red, yellow and blue food coloring can be mixed to get the other colors you want, but start with small amounts of food coloring at first, or else you will not like what you see.

Tip #5  –  Zip Lock Bag (yes I said it!)

If you aren’t a pro who decorates cakes often, there is no need to spend money on cake decorating tips and bags. I know this is an old trick and many people think it’s being super cheap since you can get disposable bags for $4.00. When you rarely find yourself decorating cakes, I think it is just fine to simply use a good Ol’ zip lock bag. It works as the tip and the bag all in one. Cut the tiniest part of the corner off. Really, TINY… it’s very easy to cut off more than you think. This will be good for drawing lines and dots.

Food Coloring

Use of food coloring is very common. However, it is also very common to take the jar of coloring and totally saturate the life out of your fondant or icing. Food coloring is so potent. A toothpick tip into the jar and a few marks will get you a good pastel version of the color. Usually in food coloring I find that you can get pleasant pastels very easily, and very unnatural colors. I think theres almost a set color key of colors you automatically get with food coloring. You have to do a little extra work to get the RIGHT color. However, using the right color will make your cake look a million times better.


Totally optional, but gumpaste is what is used often for flowers. It is basically a moldable version of fondant.

Tip #6  –  Skip the flower making accessories

To make flowers all you have to do is roll out a thin piece of gumpaste and cut to the shape of the petal. Petals should be thin enough that if you want you can improvise a petal cutter out of regular printer paper. Another thing you might want is something to get a template to use for things like leaf textures so that you dont have to do it by hand. You can make one yourself out of extra pieces of fondant. You can even get a real leaf and press it into the fondant, front and back. Let the fondant harden and once it is hard enough that  you won’t be able to press through the thickness of it, you put the rolled out gumpaste inbetween and press to get the texture into the gumpaste.

Here are some of the cakes I’ve made. I don’t have great pictures because I never thought I would share them with people.