Tie Dye Is the Most Impressive (yet Easy) Way to Decorate Sugar Cookies—Here's How to Do It

This icing trick looks fancy, but without the fuss. What could be better?

When it comes to baking, we usually focus our efforts on making sure the desserts taste delicious over making them look immaculate. While presentation definitely matters, we'd still choose a cake with a "rustic-looking" layer of homemade buttercream over one with super-smooth, flavorless fondant any day.

This philosophy applies to sugar cookies, too. Why spend hours piping out the most painstakingly perfect snow-dusted pine tree if it isn't even edible? Enter tie dye icing. Enjoy decorated cookies that look more high-maintenance than they are.

Bonus: They are nearly impossible to screw up. Here's how to execute the cutest tie dye sugar cookies.

Tie dye sugar cookies displayed on a serving platter.
Betty Gold
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Mix and Shape Dough

Sugar cookies are the ideal balance of sweet, buttery, and tender-crisp, and they hold their shape when they bake, which makes them the perfect palette for icing decorations.

After you've mixed the dough and rolled it out, choose any style of cookie cutter you like and cut into shapes. Use traditional holiday shapes or go with a star, square, or even a retro T-shirt shape. Simple circles are a great option for amateurs—not only are they easy to ice, but the tie-dye effect really pops on a round shape.

No cookie cutters? Simply use the rim of a drinking glass to stamp out perfect circles of dough before baking—or make your own cookie cutters from scratch.

Alternatively, you can mix the dough and store it in the fridge for up to four days, or freeze it for up to three months.

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Cool Cookies to Room Temperature

Once your cookies have baked, transfer them to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Feel free to bake your cookies up to three days in advance—just store them in an airtight container at room temperature until you're ready to ice them.

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Assemble the Icing

When you're ready to decorate, you'll need several colors of icing on hand. Royal icing works best for this decorating style—it should be thick but malleable; ever-so-slightly denser than flood consistency.

Purchase pre-made icing in various colors or make it yourself. If you choose to DIY a basic royal icing, scoop it into separate bowls, one for each color you'd like to use, and stir food dye into each one. For an all-natural dye option, add 1 tablespoon of beet juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, or a teaspoon of turmeric for every 1/2 cup of icing. Feel free to leave one icing white, too—it adds brightness and contrast to the colorful cookies.

Next, transfer each color of icing to its own piping bag and add a small-sized round tip to the corner, or scoop it into empty microwave-safe squeeze bottles. Do a quick piping test on a cutting board or paper towel—if your icing feels excessively firm or thick, you can heat the filled bottles in the microwave in five-second increments until it's easier to work with.

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Outline Cookies with Icing and Repeat Inwards, Alternating Colors

Carefully pipe a line of icing around the outer edge of your cookie. It doesn't have to be perfectly straight, just make sure not to hug the edge too closely or your icing could run off (and dribble down) the sides of the cookie.

Grab your next color, and pipe around the inside of the circle you just drew. Continue drawing these circles, alternating icing colors, until you reach the center of your cookie—it should look like a colorful target. Variation in color and texture will add to the final tie-dye effect. Just make sure to complete each circle around the cookie.

Remember: These lines don't need to be perfect.

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Fill in Any Blank Spots

Using a scribe tool, toothpick, or skewer, very carefully draw icing into any blank spots you may see between your lines to fill in the white space. At this point, you can also clean up your outer edges if need be.

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Drag Icing out From the Center, then Reverse

Station your dragging tool in the center of the innermost color of icing. Gently draw it out from the inside towards the outside edge of your cookie, just above the outermost icing line. When you reach the icing rim, pull the tool away. Repeat this in an even pattern all the way around your cookie.

Repeat this dragging method around the cookie, this time starting on the edge of the cookie and tracing towards the center. Wipe off the tip as needed.

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Get Creative

At this point, consider yourself finished. Transfer your cookies to a drying rack and let them sit for 45 minutes to an hour until dry—the icing will harden to form a perfectly glossy candy-like layer.

If you want to keep going, go right ahead. Continue dragging in and out to enhance the tie dye effect, draw a swirl in the center, or add sprinkles on top of the cookie.

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