When I got started in cake decorating, there were few mediums and tools to work with. Everything was done with buttercream icing in different consistencies to pipe lettering, borders or flowers. Few people decorated cakes and rarely could you find a bakery offering anything remotely artistic. Today, not only has the skill evolved but all the tools used to do it. The television reality shows featuring cake decorating competitions has pushed the hobby/career to the forefront, making a carved cake the in thing to have at a wedding or special event.
The types of tools available now allow you to easily cut or mold decorations that used to take hours to do by hand. The introduction of fondant and gum paste as popular mediums has brought skills used in sculpting clay to the cake decorating arena. While many of these tools make it easy for beginner cake decorators to create professional looking cakes, to some extent they encourage “cookie cutter” cake decorating which is the replacement of artistic talent with tools that do the job for you.
Some mediums can become as creative as you want them to by combining tools and artistic talent. Take for instance edible icing paper. By itself, it’s nothing but a thin sheet of icing than can be cut like paper. But, with some creativity, it can take on a print in edible ink, be applied to different fondant and gum paste decorations, be quilled, punched, etc. to enhance an otherwise simple design. It’s an easy medium for beginners to work with, but the creativity is only limited to the imagination.
Even though icing sheets cannot be molded, there is so much you can do with them. Think of all the crafts that can be done with paper. Almost everything done with paper can be done with icing. The only exception is bending it in half which will cause it to crack. There are different quality levels of icing sheets, the best being premium. They are thicker and more flexible which allows them to bend around the curves of a cake.
The white sheets are typically used for printing. While a regular printer can be used, it's wise to dedicate a printer to edible printing since the toxins in regular printer ink shouldn't come in contact with food products. The printer gets equipped with edible ink cartridges and is then capable of reproducing anything you scan into the printer or print from your desktop. Once printed, you can use the sheets in their current form to cut or apply to the cake as is. If you want to take it to the next level, you can use an electronic cutting machine which can cut out multiples of designs. This is a great way to produce many of the same design to apply all around the cake. It also is an easy way to cut out a birthday message in different fonts.
You can either let the new tools make you lazy or discover creative ways to take them to the next level. I happen to think the latter is much more fun.