Nothing quite adds that pop to a cookie than some airbrushing! At first you’ll go back and forth on if you REALLY need an airbrush system, you’ll walk by the one at your local craft store thinking, “Nope not today, but soon. Soon I’ll do it!”... Then, one day after you’ve scrolled hundreds of airbrushed cookie pictures and watched countless videos, you finally say “SCREW IT, can’t be that hard!”... you go buy it and the box then sits for a few weeks at home, receipt stashed away so your husband doesn’t find it until you finally cave and decide it’s go time. You go open up the box. Look at it for a bit. And put it away for a few more weeks.
No? Just me? Well, regardless of how you decided to take the plunge into the world of airbrushed cookies, I’m here to offer you my first hand tips and advice for making the most out of your airbrushing adventures!
What you'll need:
You’ve bought this fancy airbrush system - so now what? You don’t need much to get started - or so you think until you are 6 months deep and have a binder full of stencils and box stacked with airbrush colours. That’s the slippery slope of any part of cookie decorating though - shall we compare cookie cutter collections anyone??
But really, you will first and foremost need airbrush liquid colours. Please no home concoctions, mmkay?
Second, you may want a stencil (or 10, or 50...) to play around with.
Third, to make life a whole lot easier with stencils, you’ll want a stencil holder to keep it in place over your cookie.
You can buy your airbrush system from multiple places, I started with the ‘Tylina Sweetshop’ brand from Michaels that I purchased with a store coupon. Honestly, it served me well for over 2 years - then it just died one day. But hey, we had some good times and no regrets. The next one I invested in is the Cookie Countess system. There are other popular ones out there that I can’t personally speak to, but have heard great things about (Air Genie, Spectrum Flow, Cake Boss & more). For airbrush colours, I use the Sweetshop brand from Michaels and Americolor. Again, lots of brand options out there and what you use will depend on your preference and what's available to you. I'm not picky.
Now that airbrushing has really taken off in the baking community, there are some really great suppliers that you can purchase your stencils through. I get a lot of mine from West Coast Stencils (maker) & How Sweet is That (supplier) because I’m in Canada. Other great ones are Stencibelle, Cookie Countess, Killer Zebras, Sweet Sugarbelle, Starlight Stencils, Artfully Designed, and so so so many more! If you look up stencil shops on etsy, you'll find more than what you need. Many even make custom stencils upon request - perfect for logo or character work!
When it comes to a stencil holder, there are a few options like the Stencil Genie and the Stencil Snap by Sweet Sugarbelle. If you are looking to invest, I HIGHLY recommend The Sweetest Tiers Stencil holder. You can find it in my online shop and it has been a game changer for me personally!
These first two are really the budget friendly options, and work great for a beginner:
The Stencil Genie (pink) is square - which holds the vast majority of stencils which are also square.
The Stencil Snap (green) adjusts to fit any sized stencil.
Both hold your stencils securely in place over your cookie with magnets. They are made so that one side is thicker than the other so you can flip it to adjust to the width of your cookie.
The Sweet Stencil Holder is really a quality system designed to make stencilling a breeze. I highly recommend it if you do a lot of stencilling. It fits 1/4" cookies perfectly and you can also buy an extender for thicker cookies. Because it fits so well, underspray is very rare and more so depends on your stencil, not the system itself. It also has a flap undeneath that you can trace your cookie on paper, place it under the flap and not have to worry about always lining up your cookie with the stencil when doing repeat stencilling.
Now... when it comes to your iced cookie, you want to ensure the base icing is FLAT and SMOOTH once dry. This is your pallet and any lumps or large bubbles will effect the outcome of your stencilling. Another key factor is that your icing needs to be AT LEAST completely crusted over prior to airbrushing. I recommend waiting at least 2-4 hours depending on how fast your cookies dry. If you are stencilling over your cookie but scraping icing over the stencil, your icing must be FULLY dry to withstand the pressure. This can take between 8-10 hours.
Many are hesitant about leaving cookies to dry for too long, but trust me that 8-10 hours depending on cookie size and amount of icing is a prime amount of time, and much of the bleeding issues with even non stencilled cookies can be avoided by not prematurely covering or packaging your cookies.
Once you have your cookie and supplies ready, it’s finally time to have some fun - or a heart attack. Depends on how you are looking at it! Breath, you're about to open a door to a whole lot of cookie decorating awesomeness...
-First up, buy some shares in paper towel and ensure you have it under your cookie so you don’t get excess spray all over your work space.
-Place your holder with the stencil in it over top of your cookie. You want the stencil to lie nice and snug over the cookie. Look for any areas that may pop up a bit and have a scribe or something of the sort on hand that you can use to hold it down when airbrushing in that area.
-Pour your liquid colour into the airbrush 'well'. You don’t need to know the exact amount, any excess you can pour right back into the bottle after. Do not fill to the rim, 1/4 to 1/2 is good so it doesn’t accidentally splash out when being used at a tilt.
-Turn your airbrush system on. Most have 3 pressure settings; high / medium / low. It is very rare that you will ever need to use anything but low.
-Once set to low, hold your gun over the cookie, pointing as vertically down as you can without pouring the colour out of the well. You never want to airbrush at too much of a horizontal angle, as you will end up spraying under your stencil and have a blurred image. Pull your lever back just a bit to apply the colour - again very rare you will ever need to pull it all the way back.
-Lightly spray and follow the natural design of the stencil. Never stop and spray one spot for too long or it will pool and run under the stencil. Start light and build up by going back after your first run over the area. Do not, I repeat DO NOT go trigger happy. Slow and steady!
-Once complete, turn your system off and place your gun securely upright in a holder or propped against something so that you don't spill the remaining colour.
-To remove the stencil from the cookie, pull the holder upright and away, never to the side so you don’t smear the image.
-Allow your finished airbrushed image to dry, usually half and hour is perfect.
At this point you are either completely in love with airbrushing, or you are questioning why on earth you ever thought it’s something you should try. Like all aspects of cookie decorating, it takes PRACTISE. I definitely don’t recommend airbrushing your first time on an actual order or any cookie that will be seen by the general public. You need to play around and get the feel for it!
Also, not all cookies need the stencils. Sometimes you may just want to add dimension or a little extra pizazz to your cookies. It’s honestly amazing the difference just a little airbrushing can do to take your cookies to the next level! Remember, a little goes a long way and you want to always start light and build up to your desired look.
SUPER AWESOME TIP - once you are ready to package, brush a very light layer of cornstarch over the airbrushed area to avoid smudging once packaged. It is very common for airbrush colour to become “sweaty” once packaged and the cornstarch will absorb that with no effect to the cookie!
If you are have multiple colours you are stenciling, you need to rinse your gun in between. If you are done airbrushing, you need to rinse your gun. Bottom line, YOU NEED TO RINSE YOUR GUN.
If you have left over colour in the well, you can just pour it right back into the bottle. Next you need to run water through your gun to clear out all remaining colour. You can do so right under your faucet, or have a spray bottle or cup of water and a bowl to do it in at your work space (away from your cookies). Turn your airbrush on and run the water through the well spraying just as you would with colour. Keep going, spraying onto a paper towel until there is no tint of colour coming through. Dry the exterior of your gun with paper towel as well, especially if moving on to another colour so that no droplets make it onto your cookie. If you fail to rinse thoroughly, the left over colour will mix with your new one and not be the colour you want for airbrushing. Also any amount of colour left will dry and cause build up in your gun, resulting in future malfunctions. Occasionally, it’s good to disassemble and soak your gun parts in a bowl of water with some special airbrush cleaner. It’s amazing how colour can get into the smallest places and cause problems.
For the stencil and holder, all they need is a good rinse and you can air dry them!
As you use your airbrush more, you are bound to run into problems where its important to educate yourself on how to correct them. Because issues never arise at a convenient time and love taking you off guard when you are in the final hour of an order you delayed till the last minute... just me again? Hmm...
Common issues are clogging (colour build up), your airbrush shooting out colour when running and the lever not being engaged (the needle has slipped out a bit), and having little or no pressure coming out of your gun (front nozzle is loose). Most airbrush makers have troubleshooting info available on their websites. My personal go to is The Cookie Countess website & Instagram page, she is a pro and has all the info you need on cleaning and troubleshooting!
And that's it!
It may all sound intimidating now, but I assure you it is nothing you can't handle! Its an investment I am so happy I made and highly recommend for upping your cookie game! Best of luck!