Let's talk about piping tips. While I don't consider myself an expert on using them, there are a few basic things to know when you're getting started. These tips about tips (see what I did there?) should take you a long way in your buttercream journey!
First things first. They are all numbered! No matter the brand, the numbers all mean the same thing. Each number signifies the type and size of the tip opening. You can find the number somewhere on the side of the tip, either printed engraved.
Next, what do each of those types of tip do? Let's take a look at the photo below.
I find that there are 5 main styles of tips that I use most often, and another that's so simple to use I just had to include it too!
Round Tips: These are just what the name tells you. The openings are all round, and the number tells you the size. These numbers range from 0-12 for general piping, and then there are a couple much larger versions for cupcake frosting or pastry piping. Round tips are great for piping scroll designs, writing messages, piping buttercream cookies, borders, polka dots, etc.
Petal or Ruffle Tips: This type of tip usually has some type of tear drop shape to the opening. The most common ones are straight, but I enjoy throwing a curved petal tip in the mix too. The straight petal tips range in numbers from 101-104 for the smaller size, but come in a large size as well, that's tip 125. The most common curved tip is 61. I use all of these for piping a number of flowers, and buttercream ruffles on cakes.
Open Star Tips: These tips look like they have teeth on on them, and result in a textured piped finish. There is also closed star tips, but I've honestly never been a fan. Open Star tips start at 13 and go up to 32, 199, and larger for cupcakes and pastries. You can pipe rosettes, floral bunches, borders, waves, hair, etc. with the open star tip.
Drop Flower Tips: This is the style I considered not including because it has exactly one function: to pipe drop flowers. I ended up adding them because they make quick work of adding fillers to floral designs. All you have to do is squeeze the frosting out, release pressure, and you have a flower!
Leaf Tips: When I'm teaching classes, I always refer to this tip as the bird's beak tip. It has a deep V that should be turned on its side when you're using it, so it looks like a bird's beak. This tip can be used for leaves, petals for various flowers, or even some ruffle styles. My favorite is the 352, but there is a larger size as well.
Grass Tips: This tip is easily identified by all the tiny round openings on the top. It works great for exactly what the name says: grass. It is also good for flower centers and hair. The smaller and most common of the two in the picture is tip 233.
So there you have it, all my most commonly used tips! One last thing though: cleaning! I genuinely detest cleaning piping tips and have been known to put it off as long as possible. However, this is the process I use and it makes it a little easier:
Warm some water in the microwave until it's either boiling, or close to it. Add some dish soap and drop your tips in. (Don't get too crazy with this because it is zero fun to splash boiling water on yourself.) After the water cools, replace it with fresh, hot tap water and soak again. By the time it cools again, most of the buttercream should be dissolved and the tips can be rinsed and set aside to dry.
I posted this picture on my Facebook page awhile back and some of my wonderful followers had more great advice, so I wanted to share it too:
Set your tips on a baking sheet and dry them in a warm oven after washing. (Just don't do this if you have plastic tips.)
If you have a newer dishwasher with a top silverware rack, you can wash the tips in there. I share this with caution, as I know some of my older tips are aluminum and not stainless steel. The dishwasher would cause the aluminum to oxidize. I gave it a shot with plastic couplers and some of my newer stainless steel tips and it worked great!