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There are two types of sugary covering that are used in decorating sugar cookies.
The first is frosting, a buttery creamy substance that glides over the cookie and remains soft. It is generally thick when applied and holds the shape in which it is applied. When applied with piping tools, it can hold a shape like a flower, shell border or other designs.
Icing is a thin liquid substance that when applied to a cookie spreads out across the surface and hardens as it dries. This substance is often used on the top of the cookie as a base and then a frosting or other decorating substance is applied to provide a three dimensional image on each sugar cookie.
Icing is best applied with a decorator's piping kit, as the frosting can run off the sides of the cookie if applied in any other fashion. Icing can be quite difficult to apply for a novice, but once you get the hang of it, the results are beautiful.