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How to Make a 3D Cake

Updated on March 15, 2014

You Can Carve a 3D Cake to Decorate!

Do you love cake decorating? Are you tired of spending money buying specialty shaped cake pans? Here's a guide to teach you how to start carving your own 3D cakes for birthdays and other celebrations!

Anyone can carve a 3D cake. This 3D blue dinosaur cake in my article introduction was only my third cake to ever try carving. If I can learn to carve a 3D cake, anyone can do it. I'll show you the process that I used to teach myself how to carve a cake into any shape my kids asked for as their birthday cake.

Get an Idea for Your Cake Design

Chances are, you have an event in mind for your 3D cake. If it's a birthday party or a special event in honor of someone, choose a design that you think that person would really enjoy. Here are some things to keep in mind as you choose a design or animal or theme to create in cake.

  1. Choose something bulky. You'll want your cake to have some cake to it. Motorcycles, baseball bats and other narrow designs are hard to make if you're just starting out and want to copy a design from a photo or toy.
  2. Choose something with simple shapes. As you read through this article you'll understand what I mean by that exactly. You want to be able to visually dissect the design into simple shapes, if you can--you have a design that will be easier to carve.
  3. Choose something with a simple color scheme. I made this mistake once and made a race car cake that needed about 12 different colors and it took me 9 hours to finish. Start with a design with 2 to 4 colors.

My Most Recent 3D Cake: July 2011

My Most Recent 3D Cake: July 2011
My Most Recent 3D Cake: July 2011

Find Your Inspiration

Here are some books that have ideas in them to inspire you. Some other places to look are: Kids toys, cartoons, google image search, and coloring books! Coloring books are great, because the images are already reduced to simple shapes. Preschool ones are the best.

Step Two
Step Two

Step Two

Find an inspiration photo

You can find an inspiration photo by searching images online, photo galleries on cake websites or by looking at pictures or toys at your home. I personally like to find actual cake photos online--usually someone with experience created the cake. This means they've decided how best to format the cake so that it's sturdy and easy to put together.

Our Subject Photo - Choose a subject photo to use while you work

cake photo bee
cake photo bee

For my example in this article, I've chosen to use a graphic of a bumble bee. This is a cute cuddly little bee that would make a really darling cake for someone who loves animals or gardening.

Visually Dissect Your Image

Bee With Markings
Bee With Markings

The next step once you've found your image or a toy or item that you can use to model your cake after, is to visually dissect the image into basic shapes. If doing this in your head is difficult for you (if you're a visual learner), get a pen out and mark the item into shapes. There's really no right or wrong. Sometimes I carve into one large sheet cake, sometimes I carve by using many smaller cakes and putting them together before carving.

Use cake pan shapes as your guide. I know that I own some round pans and a very large rectangle pan. So I try to look for circles and squares in my designs.

Here on our bee shape you'll see that I've dissected him (visually) into two large circles and five smaller circles.

There are two tiny circles for his antennae and one little piece of triangle for his tail and two strings for his antennae to stay on. I usually use fondant on my cakes, so those un-circled shapes I would probably build out of fondant.

Pre-Colored Fondant - A handy tool to save you time!

For smaller details, you may need just a small amount of a color of fondant. For a chicken beak, a dinosaur nose, any small detail on your cake. To save you time mixing a large amount of different colors of fondant, purchase some packages of pre-made fondant in a variety of shades. Great for accents, borders, polka dots.

Vide of a Topsy-Turvy Cake Being Carved - See some basic shapes being created!

This is a great video to watch to see how to use your knives to cut your cake into shapes. There are straight cuts and curved cuts. This video shows you how to make a stacked topsy-turvy cake, which is very popular. You can see someone carving, laying down a crumb coat of frosting and covering a shaped cake with fondant.

3D Cakes: Make or Buy?

Do you think it's better to make your own 3D cake, or to buy one from someone who makes them professionally? Tell us why!

Do you like to make your own 3D cake or buy one from a baker?

Make your own! Fun, less expensive, creative!

Make your own! Fun, less expensive, creative!

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    • Sharon Berry 5 years ago from Michigan

      By all means make your own. Even if it doesn't turn out perfect at least you tried. And, practice makes perfect!

    • krystikercher 5 years ago

      I've made most of my family's cakes for special occasions since my children were small. We've had a zoo, butterfly, Bible, unicorns, a volcano, manger scene, a yule log--oh, a whole long list of cakes! Most of them have been 3D.

    • SayGuddaycom 5 years ago

      Make, definitely!

    • norma-holt 5 years ago

      Yes, love making this kind of art

    • bechand 6 years ago

      I like to make my own :O)

    • avgsuperheroine 6 years ago

      I always make my own, it's tons of fun, and I think even if they're not perfect my kids will remember getting to pick anything they want for their birthday cake and mom will try to make it!

    Buy one! They can create anything and it's a lot less work for me!

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      • oddobjective 4 years ago

        It is better to make one but I have no talent and no time.

      • milky-way-35977 5 years ago

        Sometimes buy sometimes make by our self for fun

      • publicdomain lm 5 years ago

        All the birthdays in my house are spring and summer. I'd rather buy a cake than bake one on a stifling August day.

      Adjust Your Shapes and Choose Your Pans

      Bee with Wings Change
      Bee with Wings Change

      You'll see in this photo I've chosen to make the "wings" section of the bee from one circle. After looking at the design, you can see that the wings circle, the body circle and the head circle are all basically the same size. Not exactly, but remember, this is art, and there are no rules. So to start this bee I would choose to make three cakes in 6", 8", or 9" circles (depending on the size of the party) and one other square cake to make the smaller eyes and antennae bobbles out of.

      I usually make extra cake, because cake is awesome. If you make too much, you can always eat it or make cake balls out of it. If you make too little, you'll be sorry you did!

      Basic Pan Shapes for 3D Cakes - Some options for your cake pan library

      One of the best things about learning how to carve 3D cakes is that you don't need to hunt for specialty pans to build your cakes! I have a cake pan library of only 7 pans. A large rectangle, two 8" circles, one 10" circle, two 6" circles, and a sports ball cake pan. I usually use one half of the round sports ball cake pan to create a domed shape for a rounded animal. I can build any number of cakes with just those pans, and use the carving methods to create the shape I want!

      Assemble Your Cakes and Begin to Carve!

      bee wings diagram
      bee wings diagram

      First, bake and cool your cakes. Use a thick pound cake or recipe made for 3d cakes (you'll be glad you did, it should be dense!)

      Freezing the cakes after layering them can make them easier to carve, they'll be sturdier. For this design, I would make all three of the large circles two layers, so that I'd have room to carve them into a rounded dome. I usually use a large cake board to put my cakes on as I build them.

      Put your cakes next to each other and cut out little notches to nest pieces into each other.

      Each time you to to make a cut in your cake, use a small fillet knife and "draw out" a division line. Carving is all about proportions. So in this photo you can see that the wings are divided in three parts, with the center part about twice as big as the side parts.

      If you like the proportions you've drawn, begin using your filet knife to cut away pieces of the cake to match the shapes in the photo. Start small--you can always cut away more cake later! Don't rush it.

      Keep a bowl handy to catch your trimmings.

      Tools for Carving 3D Cakes - Here's what I recommend

      There are really only a few things you need to have to carve your cakes. You'll want one larger cake slicing knife that is long wide and flat. This is for leveling and scraping large surfaces of the cake. You'll also need a flexible boning or filet knife. This is really a tiny knife, but I do almost all my carving with this little tool. You'll also want two sizes of offset spatula for putting on your crumb coat of frosting, applying fillings and stirring icing.

      Video of Cake Carving Large Dog Cake - See a pro in action!

      This is one of the most fascinating cake carving videos I've seen. This is a four minute video of a four-day project of a very advanced dog cake. It's inspiring to see what could be possible, and it's also great to see the carving steps in action.

      My First Carved Cakes

      Click thumbnail to view full-size
      A chicken cake modeled after a really fantastic cake photo found online.  Details are molded fondant.  Made from 8" rounds.Cut and assembled from many different cakes.  Center was rounds, other parts cut from large oblong cake.Ice cream cake carved from two oblongs.  Half covered in fondant, half in buttercream.2D carved cake made from one oblong cake, added buttercream stars for details.All pieces carved from two oblong cakes.  Cars are cake covered in fondant.  Royal icing "fans".Tiered cake with just a carved "island" and a fondant covered cake Spongebob.Two 6" rounds, half of a ball pan stacked to create an eagle (remember eagle cam--my son asked for this for his birthday)
      A chicken cake modeled after a really fantastic cake photo found online.  Details are molded fondant.  Made from 8" rounds.
      A chicken cake modeled after a really fantastic cake photo found online. Details are molded fondant. Made from 8" rounds.
      Cut and assembled from many different cakes.  Center was rounds, other parts cut from large oblong cake.
      Cut and assembled from many different cakes. Center was rounds, other parts cut from large oblong cake.
      Ice cream cake carved from two oblongs.  Half covered in fondant, half in buttercream.
      Ice cream cake carved from two oblongs. Half covered in fondant, half in buttercream.
      2D carved cake made from one oblong cake, added buttercream stars for details.
      2D carved cake made from one oblong cake, added buttercream stars for details.
      All pieces carved from two oblong cakes.  Cars are cake covered in fondant.  Royal icing "fans".
      All pieces carved from two oblong cakes. Cars are cake covered in fondant. Royal icing "fans".
      Tiered cake with just a carved "island" and a fondant covered cake Spongebob.
      Tiered cake with just a carved "island" and a fondant covered cake Spongebob.
      Two 6" rounds, half of a ball pan stacked to create an eagle (remember eagle cam--my son asked for this for his birthday)
      Two 6" rounds, half of a ball pan stacked to create an eagle (remember eagle cam--my son asked for this for his birthday)

      Leave a message about your cake aspirations! - Thanks for visiting!

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          avgsuperheroine 4 years ago

          @anonymous: Sounds like fun! First, check cakecentral for 3D chocolate cake recipes. They'll have something that's heavy enough to work well. My only suggestion if I'm following your explanation here is that I usually make one 8" or similar extra cake for small things then freehand them. Like the feet for example. If you're pretty confident in your shape building you could just do two 8 or 9" cakes for the head and snout (carved) and use your leftover pieces to build the feet from.

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          I have to make a 3D Razorback Hog for my granddaughters fiancé, I am starting with a 12x18 pan the 2 medium oval cakes, the 2 half footballs called the first and ten pan. one for each side, the sports ball for the head and a loaf pan for the snout and the mini doll pan for the feet 2 for the front and cut them in half for the back. Using fondant to cover and dowel rods to assemble and carving for the proper shape. But this takes 5 different. Any Ideas how to do it better. Of course the groom wants chocolate for his cake and don't have a pound cake that's chocolate. Any Ideas or thoughts on this design

        • Huntsnan profile image

          Huntsnan 5 years ago

          I too love to create unusual. I have made several 3Ds for family and friends - they are so awesome, but DO take a LOT of work. But the oohs and aahs are so worth it!

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          Very nice, my daughters will like it!

        • justDawn1 profile image

          justDawn1 5 years ago

          Very Nice! :)

        • jordanmilesbask profile image

          jordanmilesbask 5 years ago

          lovely cake! great lens!

        • ShariBerry profile image

          Sharon Berry 5 years ago from Michigan

          You make it look and sound so easy. I'll definitely give this a try at our next birthday celebration and with 11 grandchildren I should get lots of practice. Great lens. Thank you.

        • Gypzeerose profile image

          Rose Jones 5 years ago

          This is one of the few lenses that I read every word - clicked on so many videos, and links. found your how to's fascinating, I never knew I was so interested in this! I have had a fantasy for a long time of baking monthly cakes for homeless shelters with my kids - my kids and a lot of kids I know are a little bit indulged so a cake is not a big thing for them - but there are people who do not have the same experience. Maybe you will actually get me going!

          As I was reading this I thought "I bet my first cakes will look like Frankenstein's monster - so I'd better buy some green dye!" Angel blessed - sent onto some folks at stumbleupon. :)

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          3D cake is new to me, but your beautiful present here makes me eager to have a try :) Have wonderful times.. always.. dear lady :D

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          krystikercher 5 years ago

          What a neat lens! It reminded me of fond memories of every 3D or special cake I've made for my kids and my family.

        • SayGuddaycom profile image

          SayGuddaycom 5 years ago

          My mom used to make me cakes like this when I was little and it's one of my fondest memories of her. And I don't even like cake!

        • norma-holt profile image

          norma-holt 5 years ago

          Thanks for all the great tips and tricks. Many will benefit from them. Great lens,

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          celeBritys4africA 5 years ago

          Great idea. I like it.

        • WildFacesGallery profile image

          Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

          These are awesome! You make some really cute cakes. I have not done this sort of thing but occasionally watch shows like Cake Boss and such and am always impressed. Very nicely done. :)

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          Runnn 6 years ago

          I like those cakes. I think kids definitely love it!!

        • bechand profile image

          bechand 6 years ago

          You aught to add the pic of the pregnant belly cakes - they are cool - done with 3 cakes baked in bowls, and covered with fondant - put together looks like 2 boobs and a big belly - but if done right - way nice.

        • Pip Gerard profile image

          Pip Gerard 6 years ago

          I've been so inspired the last few months by all the amazing cake makers on the net that I made a batch of 2 dozen spiderman red cupcakes with chocolate spider heads on top! Realised how much work is involved with cake making that's for sure! But it was enjoyable and now I feel like I could attempt nearly anything (within reason of course). I absolutely loved watching the dog video... so good!! Awesome page... and love your own cakes.. you're very good! :)

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          WeirdStuff 6 years ago

          Excellent tips, I will try some of these!

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          JoshK47 6 years ago

          My grandma used to make neat cakes for me and my siblings' birthdays that were usually quite cool - though nothing quite this extraordinary! Great lens.