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How to Use a Piping Bag

Let’s dive into How to Use a Piping Bag with this step-by-step tutorial! We’re going over everything from filling the piping bag, fitting it with piping tips, working with couplers, and more. You’ll be piping beautiful designs over your favorite cakes and cupcakes soon enough!

I love sharing my baking knowledge with you all. Don’t forget to check out my other helpful tutorials for Homemade Buttercream Frosting and How to Color Buttercream!

Collage images of assembling a piping bag with piping tips, and text overlay

Learn How to Use a Piping Bag (the Right Way!)

Have you ever wished that you could pipe beautiful swirls, rosettes, ruffles, and more over your favorite cakes and cupcakes? Or, maybe you’re looking to fill homemade pastries with pastry cream. It all starts with a piping bag! 

If you’ve ever found yourself lost in a sea of scattered plastic piping bags and tips while trying to follow a recipe, don’t worry. We’re officially taking the mystery out of this handy baking tool. Today, I’m walking you through how to fill and use a piping bag, along with some handy tips and tricks along the way. 

Which Size Piping Bag Do I Need?

First things first, you’ll need to choose a bag. Piping bags come in many different sizes, quantities, and materials ranging from polyester to plastic. Which size and bag you choose depends on what you’re using it for. 

  • The largest-sized piping bag is the 18-inch. This size holds a large amount of frosting, making it perfect for frosting large surface areas on cakes, or a whole batch of cupcakes. I buy Daymark’s 18” disposable piping bags in bulk, since their bags are durable and come in rolls that make them easy to use and store. If you can’t find 18” bags, the 16” piping bags from Wilton also work great when frosting larger areas.
  • Meanwhile, 12-inch piping bags are best for finer details like piping letters onto cakes, decorating cookies with royal icing, and drizzling. I like to buy the 12” piping bags from Daymark (also in bulk), though you can find Wilton’s disposable piping bags in craft stores like Michaels and Joann Fabrics.
Close up of a piping bag filled with purple frosting, fitted with a piping tip and coupler set.

How to Fill a Piping Bag

Before filling your piping bag, remember to fit the bottom/end of the bag with a piping tip or coupler first (see below). If you’re using a new bag, you’ll need to snip about ½-inch off the very tip of the bag before positioning the piping tip (be careful to not snip off too much, otherwise the tip will slide through). Next, follow these steps to fill your piping bag:

  • Fold. Hold the middle of the bag, then fold the top half of the bag down over your hand to make a “cuff”. If you’re uncomfortable working one-handed, you can also place the empty piping bag into a tall glass, and fold the top down around the sides of the glass to open it up.
  • Fill. Use a spatula to scoop and press the filling into the bag. Scrape any excess filling off the spatula using the side of your hand or the edge of the glass. It’s best to only fill your piping bag 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up to avoid overfilling. 
  • Close. Once your bag is full, fold the cuff back up and use your hands or a rolling pin to press the filling down into the bag and remove any air bubbles. Lastly, twist the top of the bag closed or use rubber icing bag ties to seal it shut.

Using a Tip Coupler

A tip coupler consists of two pieces of plastic (similar to a nut and bolt) fitted to the end of the piping bag. One piece is inserted into the opening in the bag, while the other piece, fitted with your piping tip of choice, screws into place from the outside. This allows you to seamlessly change out the piping tips and also helps secure the tip to the bag. Here’s how to use a coupler set:

  1. First, snip off the tip of the piping bag just enough so that the coupler fits through the opening.
  2. Place the larger of the two coupler pieces into the tip of the bag. Next, fit the piping tip overtop of the plastic, and slide the smaller piece over the tip, screwing it into place. Fitting the plastic inside the tip is one way to prevent the bak from exploding.
  3. To change piping tips, simply unscrew the smaller plastic piece, swap out the tips, and screw the part back in place. Voila! A coupler set comes in handy when you’re piping multiple designs with the same filling. 

Using a Piping Bag Without a Coupler

If you’re using a piping bag without a coupler set, no worries! The key thing to remember is to not snip your bag too high. Snip the bag just enough so that the piping tip fits through, but isn’t covering any opening of the tip. If the hole is too large, the frosting might pop out when you give the bag a squeeze.

When it comes to changing tips without a coupler, another option is to use the double bag method. Fill one piping bag with frosting, snip off the end, and drop it into a second empty piping bag fitted with a piping tip. This way, you can simply swap the frosting bag between bags with different tip designs, with no mess involved!

Close up of a piping tip fitted into a piping bag without a coupler.

Choosing the Right Piping Tip

Piping tips for piping bags come in tons of shapes and sizes, for varying uses. The small piping tip you use to add a border to your Christmas cookies is different from the star-shaped tip used to pipe cute roses onto your Easter cupcakes. I get into the details of choosing the best piping tips in my tutorial on How to Decorate with Piping Tips, but here are some basics:

  • When it comes to detailed decorating, small piping tips are the way to go. You’ll find metal and plastic tips that come in plain (round), petal, leaf, and star shapes that can be used to pipe everything from frosting lines to whipped cream ruffles onto cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and other goodies. You can also use smaller piping tips to fill delicate desserts, like eclairs, with pastry cream and other fillings. 
  • Large piping tips are preferred for frosting layer cakes and cupcakes, and also for filling pastries and tarts. A plain round tip and a star tip are perfect to start when it comes to frosting and filling most desserts. 

More Tips for Success

You’ll be a piping bag pro in no time! Once you get the hang of filling and using your piping bags, the possibilities are endless. Here are some bonus tips:

    • Don’t squeeze too hard. Applying too much pressure when piping out your frosting can cause the tip to pop out. Work slowly and remember, patience is key!

    • When working with large batches of frosting, I recommend using the double bag method mentioned above. This way, you can fill two separate bags with frosting, and use a third empty bag fitted with the piping tip. Refilling the piping bag can be messy. Once you get through the first bag, pull it out and replace it with the second bag.

    • Use a Ziploc bag as a piping bag. Substitute a plastic Ziploc bag in a pinch. Simply snip off the corner of the bag, fit it with a plastic tip, and fill it as usual. Keep in mind that Ziploc bags aren’t made for this purpose, however, if you over-fill the bag or squeeze too hard, the piping tip is more likely to fall out

A large piping bag with an Ateco 849 piping tip piping a big swirl of frosting into a jar.

When to Use a Piping Bag

So, your piping bag is filled and ready, now what? Below are some easy dessert ideas that you can dress up with piped frosting.

Frosting Cakes and Cupcakes

You can use a piping bag with a large tip to frost the whole cake or cupcake, or you can use a smaller tip to add finer details. For assembling cakes, I use piping bags to fill and frost the cakes from the crumb coat to the final decoration. Here’s a tutorial for how I prepare my layer cakes.

When it comes to decorating, I have a tutorial dedicated to How to Decorate Cupcakes that offers tons of tips and tricks. Looking for a perfect cake recipe to give it a go? Try my easy Moist Vanilla Cake! Or, hone those piping skills with my Buttercream Flower Cake tutorial. It’s also handy if you’re adding a topping to pies.

Filling Pastries

Use your piping bag to neatly fill homemade pastries like eclairs and cream puffs. This can be done by slicing a pastry in half, piping the filling, and then replacing the top. Alternatively, you can use a piping bag and tip to “inject” filling into a hole on the bottom or side of the pastry. Work carefully with pastries and do your best to not overfill them!

Decorating Cookies

A piping bag makes decorating cookies a breeze! I love the precision that comes from piping designs onto cookies, whether I’m piping Sugar Cookie Icing onto Christmas cookies or buttercream onto Frosted Sugar Cookies

Three piping bags filled with pink, teal, and purple buttercream frosting stacked on a countertop next to piping tips.

How to Clean a Piping Bag

So, are piping bags reusable? Yes and no. If you’re using bags that are labeled as disposable, you don’t necessarily need to clean them. Meanwhile, reusable piping bags, also called featherweight or pastry bags, are made from polyester and can be cleaned.

To clean and reuse your piping bags, turn them inside out and rinse them thoroughly in hot, soapy water. Leave the clean bags to dry completely before you store them away again.

Try These Easy Frosting Recipes

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16 thoughts on “How to Use a Piping Bag”

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      I fold the bag over a cup, fill it with chocolate and then twist the bag closed, snip the end and then use it to drizzle. I don’t actually tie them but I do sometimes use bag ties which are little silicone rubber bands.

  1. I need to practice. My piping bags always ‘leak’. I even bought a metal ‘professional’ cookie and piping apparatus. Epic fail! Maybe you could do a video tutorial for folks like me that are visual learners? Thank you! Love your work!💞

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Maggie, I think trying to cut off LESS of the bag, so it overlaps the coupler or tip will help prevent leaking. I followed up with you via email to send the link for the video (which is also added into this post!)

  2. 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!

  3. 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