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How to Use a Piping Bag

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In this step-by-step tutorial, you’ll learn how to use a piping bag including how to fill a piping bag, working with or without couplers and helpful tips like how to clean a piping bag. 

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A piping bag fitted with a coupler and filled with purple frosting

My piping bags and tips are among my most valuable kitchen tools. It’s the only way to decorate cupcakes and of course my perfect sugar cookies.

I also use piping bags to fill and frost layer cakes,  decorate cupcakes, for that gorgeous chocolate drizzle and to pipe finer details on cookies and cakes. Piping bags are also great for filling pastries.

When you’re just learning how to decorate cakes or cupcakes, filling the piping bag can be a little bit intimidating. But I am here to share all types of tips and tricks for How to Use A Piping Bag.

I’ve used hundreds and hundreds of piping bags, so I have lot of tips to share with you including my favorite products to use, how to use a coupler and how to clean a reusable bag.

3 piping bags filled with colorful frosting: teal, link and purple

How to fill a piping bag with frosting?

This can be tricky if you just have one hand, but you can do it! There’s two ways to do it. One way is to fold the bag over the top of your hand and the other is to fold the bag over a glass. Folding it over a glass is super helpful if you’re filling it with something  pourable or hot like  warm hot fudge. 

A piping bag fitted over a glass with a spatula pressing down into the glass.

In both methods, there’s a few helpful tips to make it easier on you to fill the piping bag whether it’s frosting or a glaze.

  1. First cut off the very tip (less than ½ and inch) of the bag to create a pocket for the air to escape. That way, when you press the frosting into the bag, there’s a place for the air to escape.
  2. Fold the bag at least halfway down over your hand (or a glass), ensuring the top edge is clear and folded all the way down so you can keep it clean. 
  3. Use the side of your hand or the side of the glass to scrape the frosting off the spatula.A piping bag folded over a hand, while the other hand is using a spatula to fill the bag
  4. Once the frosting is in the piping bag, use your spatula to further press the frosting down into the bag.
  5. Once the bag is halfway filled, pick it up and give it a solid shake to help further settle the frosting in the bag.
  6. Once your piping bag is filled use the side of your hand or a rolling pin to press all the frosting down in the bag. like to use rubber icing bag ties to keep my bags closed.

A box filled with piping tips and couplers

Commonly asked question about how to use a piping bag:

What size do piping bag do I need?

Piping bags come in many different sizes and are sold in qtys of 12, 25, 50 or 100 packs.

The smallest size I recommend using is a 12-inch bag. They work great for getting that nice and fine drizzle of chocolate over cookies or a slice of cake. They’re also great for writing letters on cakes, piping finer details with buttercream and for decorating cookies with royal icing.

You can often find the 12-inch piping bags at craft stores like Michaels or Joann Fabrics. I buy them in rolls of 100, and my preferred brand for this is Daymark. They are very durable and come in rolls, so it’s easy to use and store.

The largest size I use is an 18-inch bag and it’s the most common size I use. They’re great for frosting cupcakes and cakes because they hold a lot of frosting, so you may only need one bag. I hate refilling bags! I also buy the Daymark bags in 100 packs, but you can easily find them in 12-packs. If you can’t find 18-inch bags,  16-inch piping bags will also work.

6 piping bags filled with Ateco jumbo piping tips

 How much do you fill a piping bag?

It’s best to fill 1/2 to 2/3 full depending on what you’re filling it with. Refilling a bag is not as easy the second time around and it can be a little messy. However, if your piping bag is too full, it will make it difficult to use, especially if your frosting is thick.

If you are working with large batches of frosting, I recommend filling two separate piping bags and then using a third bag fitted with the tip in it. Once you get through the first bag, pull it out and drop in the second bag in. 

A big swirl of vanilla frosting piped onto a crumpled piece of brown parchment paper

How to use a piping bag with a coupler:

 A coupler is two pieces of plastic (similar to a nut and bolt) that is used together with a piping bag so you can seamlessly change the piping tips. It also secures the piping tip to the bag. Have you ever had a piping bag explode and shoot off the tip? I have and it’s not fun. 

  • The trick is to cut the bag only enough so that the coupler fit through the opening, but high enough that it doesn’t inter fear with your piping tip.  

The end of piping tip cut off for acouples

  • Drop the larger piece into the piping bag, then fit the piping tip over the top (so that the bag and the coupler are inside the piping tip. This helps secure the piping bag in place.
  • Then take the smaller piece and slide it over the tip, screwing it onto the plastic piece. You can see the bag is secured inside the coupler. 

a photo showing you how to use a coupler

To remove the coupler from your bag when you done, cut the piping bag 1 inch above the top of the coupler and flip it inside out. Also running it under hot water will help to loosen it up.  

How to use a piping bag without a coupler:

For large tips, including a 1M you can use a large coupler, but I find it’s not needed. When I use my large piping tips, they don’t fit on the coupler, so I drop them straight into the piping bag.

A picture showing a piping tip fitted in a piping bag

You will cut off the tip of the bag just high enough so that it does not interfere with the actual piping tip.

If you cut the piping bag too high up, you might find that with the pressure of squeezing the bag, the frosting tip will pop out, so don’t cut it up higher than you need it.

Sometimes if I don’t want to commit using just one piping tip, I use a double bag method. I fill one piping bag with frosting and cut off the end. Then I drop it into another bag that is fitted with a tip. This allows me to use the same color interchangeably. However, you have to cut the inside bag up high enough so it doesn’t hang out of your piping bag. See below? This interior bag is too long, it’s coming out of the tip and that won’t work!

A photo of a piping bag filled with pink frosting and a 1M piping tip

How do you change piping tips?

If you are using a piping bag with a coupler, it’s super easy! Just unscrew the outer plastic piece, pop you tip off, and replace it with a new tip, then screw the top back on. This is the fastest way to do it if you want to use the same color with different tips.   

How do you frost cupcakes with a piping bag?

It can depend on how you’re intending to frosting your cupcake, but generally speaking, you want to hold the bag at a 90 degree angle over top of your cupcake and working from the outside edge in.

Luckily for you, I have a whole tutorial on how to decorate the perfect cupcake.

A large piping bag with Ateco 849 piping tip is piping a big swirl of frosting in a jar

Are piping bags reusable?  How do you clean a piping bag?

If you are using disposable bags filled with frosting, I wouldn’t go to the trouble to clean them out, that is why they’re disposable. Plus they’re greasy from the frosting. Occasionally I will clean them and reuse them, rinse with hot soapy water. Then I flip them inside out and put them in my drying rack to dry completely.

However, the are reusable piping bags, often referred to as featherweight decorating bags or pastry bags which are made from polyester. They can be cleaned with hot soapy water as well. I find it’s helpful to flip it inside out to clean it, and ensure it’s completely dry before restoring.

Pastry bags bags also come in varying sizes. Smaller size are 10-inch, 12-inches and larger sizes 16-inches and 18-inches. They are often sold as singles.

How do you use a Ziploc bag as a piping tip?

If you’re out of piping bags, then you can use a plastic Ziploc bag. However, they are not nearly as strong, and if they are over filled or you squeeze with too much pressure, it’s likely that the piping tip will fall out.

A close up shot of a moist vanilla cupcake with pretty teal sprinkles. There's a piping bag in the background.

Did I miss something? I’d love to hear from you! Leave your questions or comments below.

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If you love no-bake recipes, be sure to check out my cookbook, No-Bake Treats!

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Leave a Comment

8 Responses
  1. Kathleen

    What brand of piping tips would you recommend? I didn’t see that mentioned but may have just missed it. I’m a total novice to piping and am interested in piping danish butter cookies. Thank you!

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Kathleen, I buy mine in bulk from Amazon, the brand is DayMark. However, to start off I would just get Ateco or Wilton bags from your local craft store, there is nothing wrong with those bags at all!

  2. Mary Bannon

    You are so cleaver! I have learned a lot and was always afraid of trying over the years. Now I’m ready . . . will practice with different tips. Thank you and love your blog.

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Place each color in it’s own piping bag, and then use the piping bag to apply the frosting to the sides of the cake, go around one or two times for each color depending on the height of your cake

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