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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?

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 profile image
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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.

    • profile image

      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!

    • profile image

      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. :)

    • profile image

      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

    • profile image

      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 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      celeBritys4africA 6 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. :)

    • profile image

      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! :)

    • profile image

      WeirdStuff 6 years ago

      Excellent tips, I will try some of these!

    • profile image

      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.