Have you ever wondered how cake decorators on YouTube or Instagram get their inspiration? You can find inspiration everywhere: fridge magnets, rugs, packaging, landscapes, children’s books, clothes, party invitations, the weather… In this tutorial I’ll show you 50 ways to find and use inspiration for unique, show stopping cakes! Click on any of the cake photos to see how to make them! If you prefer to watch a video of this tutorial, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Let’s start with inspiration from things you can find in your house:
#1. Fridge magnets
Take a closer look at your fridge magnets for interesting designs or figures or colours.
#2. Wrapping paper
Wrapping paper, gift bags or gift boxes can have beautiful patterns that transfer well onto cakes. Stick with the same colour scheme or you can use the pattern but switch up the colours to give it your own twist. You can transfer a design from any flat surface onto a cake – see my wrapping paper cake tutorial for step by step instructions on how to do it.
#3. Mugs or teacups
These are a great source of inspiration, either the image or the messages written on them, or both!
Don’t overlook ordinary items like knives, forks, spoons, or even chopsticks! These can be useful tools to inspire and create patterns. For more ideas, check out my tutorial on cake decorating with cutlery.
#5. Textured materials
Look out for interesting textures so instead of throwing away bubble wrap, wash and reuse it to create an unusual print on frosting.
#6. Decorative gadgets
For example, the design on this cake was inspired by this novelty bottle opener, in the shape of a golden pineapple!
#7. Pretty packaging
Boxes of chocolates and gifts can have beautiful packaging. Pick out shapes or colours that inspire you for your cake designs.
#8. Flowers or plants
If you have flowers in the house or potted plants, use them as a guide to paint or pipe flowers onto your cake.
#9. Your wardrobe
Don’t forget about clothing when you’re looking for ideas, The image of a cake on this t-shirt sparked the idea of a layered rainbow on both the outside and inside and this cake version of an ugly sweater was inspired by, you guessed it, an ugly sweater!
Consider the date or time of year when you’re decorating your cake:
You can use the time of year to inspire your cake, depicting a season or the weather. This “hello spring” cake with piped buttercream flowers was inspired by the first day of spring and the carved cake came into being in the depths of winter.
Look at a calendar and if there are any holidays coming up you can use that as a theme, even if it’s not a holiday you celebrate: the year of the rat from the Chinese zodiac calendar, Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos, National Donut Day, Hanukah or Christmas.
Get outside and look for inspiration in nature on a walk or hike, like autumn leaves for this cake.
Use photos on social media for inspiration, either you own or on the account of the person you’re making a cake for:
Choose distinctive scenery or a landscape from somewhere they’ve visited.
Re-create a happy memory by decorating a cake to depict an event, such as the Bristol balloon festival.
Cities can be shown off in endless ways on cakes! Using icons like well known buildings, food, or cultural behaviors or traditions, painting them onto the cake with buttercream or gel colours or using cake toppers.
Any experience can create a theme for a cake – my first trip with my husband was to a sloth sanctuary so one of the first birthday cakes I made for him was a life-size sloth!
Need inspiration for the colour scheme of your cake?
#17. Colour palettes
If you’re not sure which colour combinations will work well, get inspired by searching for colour palettes on Pinterest. You don’t have to use every colour (I used three of the five colours in the Cosmic Heartbeat pallete for this cake) but it will give you the confidence that any colours you use within that palette will look nice together. To learn how to colour buttercream, including the drop count for 43 colours as well as how to make, troubleshoot, store, and use buttercream, check out my online course on The Basics Of Buttercream.
If you don’t want to decorate a cake based on a theme or occasion, use the ingredients in the cake or in your house as inspiration:
#18. Ingredients in the cake
The stroopwafels on top of this cake are filled with caramel so I used caramel to decorate the bottom of the cake to match, and the filling between the layers of this cake is edible cookie dough so I’m using cookie dough balls to decorate the top of the cake.
#19. Cupboard contents
Look in your kitchen cupboards for snacks or treats that match the theme of your cake, like colorful lollipops. This purple cake was a Christmas cake and to make it more festive I made white chocolate balls with crushed candy canes inside.
#20. Fridge or freezer contents
Open your fridge or freezer and keep an open mind as you look at whatever’s inside… this ice made a mold for boiled sugar to create a fascinating sugar sculpture!
If you have leftover ingredients from making your cake you can incorporate those into the design too. I had lemon curd leftover from the filling of a cake so I added gel colours to small amounts, put them in ziplock bags and squeezed them all over a cake, smoothing it all with a frosting smoother to create a glossy, colorful watercolour effect!
Think about the reason you’re making a cake and use that to inspire your design:
Create a cake based on the type of activity or social event, like a poker chip cake for poker night, or a flamingo pool float for a pool party.
If you’re making a cake for a party and there’s an invitation you can use elements of that in your cake design, like the stripes on this cake.
#24. Paper plates
Get inspired by paper plates, napkins, balloons, or whatever else is going to be used at a party that matches its theme. Replicate those details on your cake!
If you’re struggling to think of a theme for a cake for someone, here are some ideas to consider.
The birthday boy or girl’s age is a popular theme, especially for milestone birthdays. As a bonus, number cakes are really easy to make! Click here for my tutorial on number cakes.
Pick a favourite TV show or cartoon as the theme, adding the characters or logo to your cake.
Movies provide all kinds of inspiration! Decorate your cake with iconic items like the round glasses, golden snitch, wand, and colours of Gryffindor on this Harry Potter cake, or create one of the characters.
Choose a scene from the movie like this dinosaur eye poking out of the bushes for a Jurassic Park themed cake, or incorporate elements of the DVD cover. If the movie hasn’t come out yet you can get inspiration from the trailer or the movie poster.
For a more subtle movie theme, incorporate an element, for example this cake had a Frozen theme and the frosting was supposed to represent ice and snow, before fault line cakes became a huge trend!
Continuing with the birthday boy or girl’s favourite things as inspiration, decorate a cake with their favourite food: cookies like Oreos can be crushed and mixed into the frosting and also used as decorations to place on the top of a cake, candy can be melted to flavour frosting and even make a candy drip, or instead of flavoring your cake with their favourite food you can decorate the cake to look like it!
A favourite book works well as a theme for cakes for children, like this Hungry Caterpillar cake for a first birthday.
Computer or video games are great themes for teenagers, like Fornite with this Loot Llama cake. Don’t forget about traditional board games!
If the birthday boy or girl is passionate about their job or career, that can make an interesting theme. The flames on this cake were thematic for a firefighter.
Hobbies are a good source of inspiration for any age: ballet, karate, singing, swimming, travelling, birdwatching… You can combine multiple hobbies for a single person or for a joint celebration, like surfing and skiing on this half and half cake.
Favourite sports teams can be incorporated into cakes with elaborate mascots and uniforms or more simply by using the colours of that team.
If you know their favourite flower you can pipe or paint those onto a cake, like these bright frangipanis.
A beloved pet or a favourite animal always make for adorable cakes – llamas, dogs, and owls are popular choices. Learn how to decorate this llama cake as part of my FREE online course on 10 Frosting Techniques!
Once you’ve chosen a theme, seek inspiration for precise graphics:
Google Images is an excellent resource. You can search for photos of something you haven’t personally seen, like the Disney castle at night, and then convert the photo into your own style of design for your cake.
If you want to trace, pipe, or transfer an image onto a cake, try searching for colouring pages to bring up simple line drawings.
For images to paint onto a cake with buttercream or food colours you can search for sketches, which are easier to replicate than photos because they’re already simplified.
Pottery, canvases, sketches, sculptures… any form of artwork can inspire your cake design. These metal animal sculptures I saw on Etsy gave me the idea to carve animals into the frosting on this cake.
If you’re looking for inspiration for a geometric pattern, a rug or carpet or even a doormat can look stunning when recreated on a cake.
#39. Picture frames
Wander through a gallery, cafe with artwork on the walls, or even you own home to seek inspiration in paintings, pictures, and wall-hangings, which can be the starting point of the decoration on a cake.
Notebooks often have decorative covers which can translate well into a cake design. Pick out an element you like or use the whole image,
The tiny details in henna are fascinating and while they may be too small to recreate entirely, simplified versions of henna designs can be piped or painted onto a cake to create intricate details.
Go through your cake decorating supplies and let them inspire you:
The pattern on a stencil can be the starting point of the whole cake, like this one which started with a simple stencil that reminded me of madras gras and inspired the bold colours of the cake and the whimsical placement of the stencil design.
#43. Piping tips
Piping tips, both traditional and Russian tips (also called flower nozzles) can be used in endless ways and experimenting with those can inspire unique designs. If you’re desperate to use your Russian tips but need help with getting the right consistency of frosting and incorporating several colours into each flower you might find my tutorial on 5 Tricks For Russian Tips useful.
#44. Repurposed tools
Try repurposing cake decorating tools you already have. By this I mean finding another use for them. First of all, you’ll get more use out of your tools by doing this but also, by finding another use for them you’ll try out a different technique to create new effects. A striped cake comb can be used to create vertical stripes as well as horizontal stripes, and to imprint grooves where you can them add other decorations like piped details or sprinkles, and you can also pull the striped cake comb in different directions to create zig zags instead of stripes!
#45. Cake decorating materials
Cake decorating materials can be the source of your inspiration, like colorful icing sheets or sugar sheets, or sprinkle mixes with colours or shapes that choose the theme of your cake for you!
#46. Cake trends
If you’re aware of current cake trends or even outdated trends, put a spin on them to create your own unique design, like using the style of the popular unicorn cakes to make an Easter bunny cake, or instead of a pretty fault line cake make a creepy Halloween cake using a fault line to create a gap between eroding bricks, or instead of hot chocolate bombs make spherical chocolate cake toppers.
#47. Your mistakes!
Find creative ways to cover up any imperfection in your cakes. I love how the pearl sprinkles look on this cake and I only thought to add them because there were dents and smudges in the stripes in this first attempt at vertical stripes, so I added the sprinkles as a distraction from the imperfections and I think the added texture detail looks lovely!
#48. Other cake decorators
Let others inspire you, scrolling through their photos on Instagram or Facebook or their videos on YouTube. You don’t have to copy their entire design, just pick out elements you love like borders or sprinkle placement or textures and use those to create your own design. Remember to tag them when you share photos, to give them credit and so that they can see your creations, and know they’ve inspired you! This striped cake with a sprinkle drip and buttercream border was inspired by @brittanymaycakes and the pointillist cake (where the pattern is made up of thousands of tiny dots of frosting) was inspired by @thepetitepudding.
Finally, really remarkable techniques and extraordinary designs are inspired by just being practical:
#49. Saving time
Come up with a way of doing something to save you time or effort, like putting all of your colours into the same piping bag instead of individual bags to save time cleaning up.
Think about how you can achieve an effect you like by using different materials, like creating shapes out of buttercream instead of fondant.
As we’ve seen, cakes can be inspired by literally anything! Objects, times of year, ingredients, events, hobbies, occasions, artwork, cake decorating tools and materials, and other cake designs! Tell me in the comments what quirky things have been your cake inspiration and which cake decorators have inspired you!
For more inspiration check out my online cake school and join my Club to get access to ALL of my online classes for monthly ideas, techniques, and designs to inspire you!