how to airbrush a cake without an airbrush

How to Airbrush a Cake Without an Airbrush: 5 Airbrush Alternatives

Airbrushed cakes seem like they’re all the rage these days, but those airbrushing kits can be pretty pricey. 

Perhaps you’ve been looking for a way to make your own airbrush DIY-style, or are simply searching for alternative ways to achieve that signature airbrushed look on your own cakes and frosted treats. 

Regardless, I’ve compiled a list of airbrush substitutes and decorating hacks so you can learn how to airbrush a cake without an airbrush. These few tips will help you craft jaw-dropping cakes for friends and family, no airbrush needed.

How to Make an Airbrush

Maybe you’re not ready to splurge on a full airbrushing kit yet or just want to see what you can do with your own DIY airbrush. 

Wondering how to make an airbrush? It’s possible to make a DIY airbrush substitute using a sterile spray bottle, alcohol, and some gel food coloring. Read on below to discover how.

Spray Bottle

One way to replicate the look of an airbrushed cake is to create a makeshift airbrush using a spray bottle. That’s right! A small, unused spray bottle can create a fine mist similar to an airbrush, creating the same visual effect at a fraction of the cost. 

To do so, you’ll create an edible spray with gel food coloring and alcohol. Why alcohol, you may ask? Alcohol dries faster than water and makes fondant less gummy. Try using edible spirit, vodka, or even vinegar if alcohol isn’t an option – don’t worry, the smell will quickly evaporate and no bitter taste will linger.

Next, mix your gel food coloring with the alcohol or vinegar in a small cup. Try to mix the two completely so there is no paste left. Remove any persistent clumps or particles that have not dissolved before pouring it into your spray bottle –  this way they won’t clog the nozzle.

Test your spray on paper to get a sense for the distance you will want to hold it from your cake. Be sure to cover the area surrounding your cake (these sprays can get messy!) and gently mist the surface.

You can use this technique to create an airbrushed effect on either fondant or buttercream frosting, just be sure to chill your buttercream first

For a more detailed tutorial check out this video:

Try misting sections to add dimension or cover the whole cake. Allow to dry and complete your masterpiece with borders, toppers, and additional cake decorations!

More Cake Airbrushing Alternatives

In addition to using a spray bottle to make a homemade airbrush, you can use a variety of other tools and techniques to create an airbrush effect on cakes with some simple materials.


You can use small food-safe sponges to decorate your cake, achieving a similar airbrushed pattern. This can be done on both buttercream and fondant!

For those of you that prefer a visual demonstration, here’s a video on this technique: 

If using buttercream, be sure to chill your cake for at least an hour in the refrigerator before sponge painting – skipping this step will result in the sponge leaving tiny indentations in the frosting.

Mix your colors with a little alcohol or lemon extract, dip your sponge and softly dab. Once the color becomes faint, reapply food coloring and continue. And remember, dab – do not rub. This technique is great for graduated tones and ombre cakes as the colors can blend right on the surface.

If painting for long periods, you may wish to pause and re-chill your cake for another 20 minutes or so.

For fondant-covered cakes, allow the fondant to harden for a day before decorating for best results.

A watercolor effect can also be achieved on fondant covered cakes by mixing with a higher ratio of alcohol to food gel. For inspiration, try this sunny watercolor cake tutorial: 

Accidentally sponge on too much color? Grab a clean sponge to absorb some of the color and pull it from the surface – dabbing it elsewhere on the cake. Still not working? Dab a clean sponge in your alcohol or lemon extract (without color added) and sponge on to dilute the color on the cake.

Top with flowers and additional decorations to add visual interest and you’re ready to go!

Feeling especially fancy? You can even sponge paint over stencils to achieve an elaborate effect on cakes similar to stencil airbrushing. 

Paint Brush

Another alternate way to create an airbrush effect on a cake without actually using an airbrush is to use a food-safe brush to paint your frosted or fondant-covered creations!

Simply mix gel food coloring with a few drops of vodka (or lemon extract). If decorating buttercream, be sure your cake has adequately chilled. 

Always use a fresh, sterile brush  – never use the same tools for culinary applications that have been used for crafting ones.

Use a large brush for base colors and smaller brushes for more detail. To create a tie dye effect, try painting in a spiral pattern from the center out. Allow each coat or color to dry before beginning the next.

When painting a cake with a brush, you can paint the entire cake or apply to specific areas to create a cascading effect, topping the color with candies or piped decorations.

Luster Dust

You can also use edible gold dust or luster dust to create gorgeous, shimmery cakes that look airbrushed but aren’t. Luster dust can be applied dry for small sections or mixed with alcohol for a deeper shade.

To paint large sections or an entire cake, mix dust with vodka (or lemon extract) to create a consistency like liquid metal and apply with a soft food brush – using a coarse brush can leave streaks on your cake.

This technique will work on both fondant and buttercream cakes. A tutorial is available here:

For buttercream, be sure your cake is chilled, popping in the freezer for an hour or two. You want a very firm surface to paint for this technique. Rotate your cake on a cake turntable for ease and try to paint in one direction to achieve the smoothest result. 

If your buttercream moves while brushing, it isn’t hard enough. Be sure to rechill in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes before continuing.

Paint just the sides, the top, or the whole cake – use your creative instincts and explore the artistic possibilities!

Edible Spray

Another option when you don’t have an airbrush is to make use of edible sprays, which often come in aerosol cans or pump-spray color mists.

For a successful airbrush effect, it is best to start with frosting or fondant in a similar shade to which you’ll be spraying. For example, be sure to use black or blue fondant for a galaxy cake – this way you won’t have to apply the color as thickly to achieve the desired effect.

The distance you want to spray can vary based on which product you use, so be sure to test the spray on paper first. You’ll want to spray at a distance somewhere between 12 to 6 inches from your cake, being sure surfaces beneath and around the cake are also covered.

These cans and sprays are doubly handy as no mixing of colors or alcohol is required. Just buy your desired shade and spray. Be sure to allow the spray to dry before applying a second coat or any additional colors. 

Edible sprays are sold in several colors from metallic to pastel shades. Love dazzle and shine? Glitter sprays are another option for adding sparkly pizazz and can be used on everything from cupcakes to cake pops.

Other Alternatives

how to make an airbrush

You can also create a similar airbrush effect by blending frosting. Try swirling several different colors to create a decadent galaxy cake that requires no airbrushing. 

Simply mix frostings in different shades, placing large spoonfuls of each color in an empty cake pan. Once the entire pan is coated with different colors, swirl the colors ever so slightly, turn your cake upside down and place it top facing down in the pan. Turn 360 degrees. 

Place a plate atop your cake and flip to remove from the pan. Sprinkle dust or dab on stars to complete.

Another option is to apply swaths of frosting to your cake and blend together with a cake scraper or similar cake decorating tool. Lastly, add luster dust specks to create a moonbeam effect on this spacey cake.

Airbrush Substitutes for Cupcakes and More

These techniques can be used on both cakes and cupcakes alike, as well as other iced and frosted delights! You can spray, paint or sponge-dab your coloring atop cake pops, dessert cups and even cookies.

Looking to decorate multiple cupcakes at once? 

You’ll find the easiest way to do this will be to make use of a spray bottle or edible spray, placing the cupcakes close but not touching, on a covered surface. Now simply spray away, faux-airbrushing those cupcakes in concentrated batches!


No airbrush? No problem! There are a handful of techniques you can use to achieve an airbrush effect without actually owning one. Make use of gel food coloring with a few drops of alcohol and a clean spray bottle to achieve a misty, painted effect for a DIY airbrush.

Sponge or brush on food gel coloring mixed with alcohol to achieve ombre and blended effects.

Ready for a true show stopper? Apply luster dust with a brush for a metallic masterpiece or purchase an edible spray for a quick, no-mix airbrush effect available at a moment’s notice.

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