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Is cookie icing different than frosting?

When it comes to decorating cookies, the terms “icing” and “frosting” are often used interchangeably. However, while similar, icing and frosting are technically different. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between cookie icing and frosting.

What is Cookie Icing?

Cookie icing is a thin, creamy glaze made from confectioners’ sugar and liquid that is used to decorate cookies. It has a smooth, glossy texture and helps cookies retain moisture. The most common types of cookie icing are:

  • Royal icing – Made from confectioners’ sugar and egg whites or meringue powder. Dries hard and is used for decorative piping and flooding.
  • Glaze icing – Made from confectioners’ sugar and milk, juice, or water. Has a softer finish and is used for drizzling and dipping.
  • Cream cheese icing – Made from cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and flavors like vanilla. Has a rich, creamy texture.

Cookie icing is thin, pourable, and can be drizzled or spread in an even layer over cookies. It hardens as it dries to form a smooth, shiny coating.

What is Cookie Frosting?

Cookie frosting has a fluffier, lighter texture than icing. It is made by whipping butter or shortening with confectioners’ sugar, milk or cream, and flavors until light and creamy. Common cookie frosting types include:

  • Buttercream – Made by beating butter and confectioners’ sugar. Used for piping and decorating.
  • Cream cheese frosting – Made with cream cheese, butter, and confectioners’ sugar. Rich and creamy.
  • Whipped cream frosting – Made by whipping heavy cream into soft peaks and folding in confectioners’ sugar. Light and airy.

Unlike thin icing, frosting holds its shape when applied to cookies. It is used to create decorative effects like piped borders, rosettes, and flowers.

Key Differences

While icing and frosting can both be used to decorate cookies, there are some key differences between the two:

Icing Frosting
Thin, smooth texture Fluffy, creamy texture
Pourable consistency Holds its shape
Sets smooth and glossy Often has a matte finish
Used for drizzling, dipping, flooding Used for piping, decorating

While frosting and icing have distinct textures, their uses often overlap. Light, whipped frostings can be used for drizzling and flooding cookies just like icing. Similarly, thick glaze or cream cheese icings can be piped for decoration.

Can You Use Icing Instead of Frosting?

In most cases, icing and frosting can be used interchangeably to decorate cookies. However, the different textures will produce different decorative effects.

Thinner glaze or royal icings are great for:

  • Drizzling – For thin stripes and decorative designs.
  • Dipping – To coat part or all of the cookie.
  • Flooding – For filling in decorative lines and outlines.

While frostings like buttercream and whipped cream are ideal for:

  • Piping – To make decorative borders, writing, and other designs.
  • Spreading – For smoothly covering the surface of the cookie.
  • Creating 3D effects – Frosting holds its shape better than thin icings.

The chart below summarizes the best uses for icing vs. frosting:

Use Icing Frosting
3D Effects

While icing and frosting can often be swapped, for best results choose an icing for drizzling and flooding and a frosting for decorating and piping.

Can You Make Icing Into Frosting?

It is possible to turn icing into frosting by changing up the ingredients and texture:

  • Add more confectioners’ sugar – This will thicken the icing so it can hold a pipe or spread easily.
  • Swap out liquids – Replacing milk or juice with heavy cream or butter will create a richer, fluffier texture.
  • Whip it – Whipping thinned icing with extra confectioners’ sugar can turn it into a fluffy frosting.
  • Add cream cheese or butter – For flavor and a smooth, pipeable frosting texture.

For example, combine whipped cream cheese icing with extra confectioners’ sugar and heavy cream, then whip it to stiff peaks. This makes a fluffy frosting perfect for piping and decorating cookies.

Common Icing vs. Frosting Recipes

To help compare icings and frostings, here are a few common cookie decorating recipes:


Royal Icing

  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tbsp meringue powder
  • 6 tbsp warm water

Vanilla Glaze

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract



  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tbsp milk or cream

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

As you can see, frostings generally contain more butter or cream cheese for a richer flavor and smoother texture ideal for decorating.


Is frosting just a type of icing?

No, frosting and icing are two distinct decorating mediums. While they are similar and can be used to decorate cookies, icings have a thinner, smoother consistency while frostings are fluffier with more body.

Is royal icing a frosting?

Royal icing is considered a type of icing, not a frosting. True frostings like buttercream contain butter or other fats for structure. Royal icing gets its thickness from confectioners’ sugar and egg whites alone.

Can I use canned frosting for cookies?

Yes, canned frostings like vanilla or cream cheese work well for decorating cookies. Canned frosting provides the perfect spreadable, pipeable consistency without having to be whipped up from scratch.

Is powdered sugar icing the same as frosting?

No, powdered sugar icing is a thin glaze made from confectioners’ sugar and liquid. Frosting is fluffier with more body due to added fats like cream cheese or butter. However, powdered sugar glaze can be whipped into a frosting-like texture.


While icing and frosting can both decorate cookies beautifully, they have distinct differences between their ingredients, texture, uses, and decorative effects. Icing is thin and smooth, perfect for drizzling and flooding. Frosting is fluffy and holds its shape, ideal for piping and dimensional decorations. In many cases they can be used interchangeably, but for best results choose an icing or frosting based on the decorating technique needed.