If you’ve ever been impressed at how a baker or cake decorator managed to get a smooth blend of colors on a cake, the answer is likely an airbrush. If baking is one of your hobbies, an airbrush is a surefire way to spice up your routine—they’re affordable, easy to use, and can produce some amazing results in the right hands.
Airbrush for Cake Decorating — Overview
In short, an airbrush gun is used to decorate a cake with edible coloring. It’s shaped like a small gun, connected to a source of coloring via a reservoir bottle attached to the gun itself. The button allows you to control the pressure of the nozzle output (proportional to the force exerted). It is probably the fastest way to decorate baked goods but admittedly takes some practice to master. You can think of it as an alternative to piping bags—they have similar key concepts like getting the angle and pressure right.
Just like a piping bag, though, it takes a lot of practice—even the best airbrush. Luckily, practicing with an airbrush is a much simpler ordeal than alternative methods. A good way to get the techniques down is to just grab a sheet of paper and get a feel for the necessary force and distance. With your airbrush machine, you can decorate just about any kind of cake, but it works best for fondant cakes. Buttercream and chocolate cakes also make decent surfaces for airbrush kits.
Who Should Have an Airbrush Kit for Cake Decorating?
Airbrush kits are great for bakers and cake decorators that want to take their cakes to the next level. In particular, if you have started working with fondant or chocolate decorations, an airbrush kit will allow you to bring a plethora of vibrant color options to your cakes and add detail that is difficult to achieve without premade fondant and decorations. They’re also one of the only ways to achieve specific color combinations with precision, so if you have already mastered the art of basic cake decorations, learning how to use an airbrush kit might be the best next step in developing your cake design skills. Though normally utilized by professional cake decorators, semi-professional home bakers or those who have found a passion for cake making and decorating will definitely enjoy the benefits an airbrush has to offer them. They are also especially useful for people seeking to make more colorful designs and details from scratch versus store-bought colored decorations.
Things You Can Decorate With an Airbrush Machine
As the title might suggest, an airbrush gun is typically used to decorate cakes, but you could theoretically use it for any number of baked goods. Of course, it works best for fondant-covered cakes, but the sky’s the limit if you know how to airbrush. As long as the surface you’re coloring is solid enough to withstand the pressure of the airbrush gun, you can experiment with anything.
If you need to color code slices of cake, pie, or even pastries, an airbrush is a pretty easy way to do it. You can even personalize different items by drawing something different on each of them—this is a great way to add some color to a party. Alternatively, you could use an airbrush gun to color, let’s say, the edges of a pie crust—you don’t even need to know how to airbrush like a pro for a project like this.
Primarily, though, airbrush kits are designed for cake decoration. Like a piping bag, you could get creative in using your airbrush; the results might not be as desired for alternative uses, however.
How to Airbrush a Cake — Different Techniques
Different techniques result in different results when it comes to using an airbrush gun—the angle, pressure, and speed directly impact the type of color you get. Whether you want a nice gradient or a solid color, it’s important to first familiarize yourself with your airbrush machine.
Let’s begin with the angle. Holding your nozzle facing directly towards your surface—that is to say, at a 90-degree angle—will yield a more defined color, seeing as the sprayed liquid occupies less surface area with this method. Alternatively, changing the angle between the airbrush and cake—to a 45-degree angle, for example—will give you a mellower gradient. The closer your airbrush nozzle is to be parallel with your cake, the softer the resulting lines will be.
Controlling the pressure of your airbrush is crucial for optimal usage as well. Much like with the angle, increasing the pressure of your nozzle will result in a richer and darker color, and can fill up empty space fairly quickly. At the same time, working with a lower pressure gives you more time to carefully design your end result without worrying about overdoing it. It might sound complicated at first, but it’s fairly easy to get the hang of using different pressure levels when learning how to airbrush.
To get creative with different shapes, drawing them on the cake yourself (especially as a beginner) is a mistake waiting to happen. Instead, look into buying stencils with various shapes on them; there are a wide variety of choices on the market. Alternatively, you can cut out different shapes yourself on a sheet of thin, sturdy material. It might take a bit of practice to get this technique down, as you need to be careful with the angle of both your nozzle and your stencil.
Preparing Your Airbrush Gun for Cake Decorating
Perhaps the most complex task you’ll come across when learning how to airbrush is preparing the colors in the first place. While not overly complicated, it’s probably the first question you’ll find yourself asking before even perusing through airbrush kits. Let’s take a look at what you need to prepare your colors.
If your cake decorating airbrush kit came with a set of edible coloring already, then it’s probably simpler starting out. You will probably encounter one of two feed systems on your airbrush: a top-down system (gravity feed) or a detachable bottle (siphon feed). This will dictate where to put your edible dye once you’ve set up the rest of the kit; leave the color for last.
Similarly, if your kit came with an air compressor as well, then you’re pretty much all set. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy one on your own—just make sure to get one that is compatible with your airbrush hose. Your first step should be connecting the airbrush, hose, and air compressor. Once you’ve screwed on the two ends of the tube, make sure there’s no air leaking from either side by listening closely.
If you’re in the clear, give your nozzle a test drive—the harder you hold down the trigger, the more intense the air output should be. If everything seems in order, add your dye whichever way your airbrush allows and give your paint a test drive as well. Make sure to do so with enough paper, newspapers, etc. around, so as not to stain any important surfaces. If your dye comes out seamlessly and consistently, then you’re ready to take on cake decorating.
General Tips and Things to Remember
There are several must-knows when learning how to airbrush your decorative cakes—even if you’re using the best airbrush on the market. Every airbrush, while easy enough to use, needs to be handled with care when it comes to both food safety and mess prevention.
Here are some things to remember when using airbrush kits.
- Use only food-safe colors; this might be very obvious, but it’s essential to make sure you’re only using airbrush colors for cake decorating. It takes very little time to check that and prevents any potential food-related hazards.
- Use your cake decorating airbrush machine exclusively for cakes. If you try using your airbrush for both crafts and baking, you run the risk of cross-contamination no matter how thoroughly you clean it.
- Outline your designs before you fill them in—as, with any artwork, you should make sure the basics of your decorations are sketched before moving on to the more advanced parts. This ensures your designs come out with as little mistakes as possible.
- Hold your airbrush 6-8 inches away from the surface you’re decorating. Any closer and you run the risk of damaging the surface of your cake, and if your nozzle is too far away you may accidentally spray the surrounding area.
- Follow your airbrush manual when it comes to cleaning and using the device. The best airbrush for cake decorating will likely come with everything you need to know about maintenance.
- If you’re using multiple colors, clean out any residue of the previous color (unless you want to blend several colors for a gradient effect) with some hot water. In general, clean out your airbrush pipes immediately after each use to prevent deterioration over time.
Airbrush for Cake Decorating — Conclusion
Using an airbrush is possibly the fastest and most beginner-friendly to make your cakes (or any other desserts if you’re feeling creative) look a bit fancier. They are quite intuitive, won’t break the bank, and are quite fun to use as well. For anyone looking to take the next step in baking, an airbrush machine is almost a must.
While it does have a bit of a learning curve, using an airbrush is much more fulfilling and budget-friendly than buying decorations on their own. There are some important things you need to remember, and making sure to maintain your airbrush kit properly is a must. Despite all that, getting an airbrush for cake decoration—whether you’re a professional or have a passion for home baking—is a rewarding way to make your creations come to life.