Most soapmaking design techniques are combinations of basic techniques, including layering and manipulation of the layers. Once you master controlling your formula rather than letting it control you, you will see a whole world of possibilities with a little bit of patience.
Here are some common techniques with variations you can try and tips for success:
Soap Design Techniques: Layering & Embeds
Using various layers of soap or pieces of soap can add a lot of depth and dimension to otherwise Plain Jane soaps. There are a multitude of options and layers or embeds can be used in conjunction with just about any other soap design techniques.
For instance, a gradient or ombre version of layering uses varying shades or hues to create a pattern of color change throughout a bar of soap. The type of colorants used can also change the effect: by taking advantage of bleeding colorants, the gradient can appear seamless and beautiful.
And layering itself can help sandwich another soap design technique between another, like in the Layered Modified Mantra Rainbow Soap tutorial.
Want to see more layering and embedding in soapmaking tutorials?
Try these out:
- Spring Fling Layered Soap with Embeds Tutorial
- Pastel Four Color Gradient Layers Soap Tutorial
- Exfoliating Natural Ombré Soap Tutorial
- Rainbow Ombré Soap Tutorial with Bramble Berry’s LabColors
- Rainbow Soap Embeds Video/Tutorial
- Rainbow Leopard Spots Soap Tutorial (Layering + Piping!)
- My Favorite Cold Process Soap Design Technique: Gradient Layers
Soap Design Techniques: Column Pour
Build on the Column Pour Soap Design Technique: Funnel, Faux Funnel, Spoon Plop, Spin Swirl
A column pour is a circular pattern to layering, created by pouring the soap over a column down into the mold. A funnel swirl mimics a column pour, but is created by pouring the soap through a funnel suspended over the mold.
A faux funnel swirl skips the funnel, and pours the soap directly into circular layers in the mold. A spoon plop is exactly the same, but using a spoon to plop the soap into the mold.
After pouring the soap, you can then accomplish the spin swirl by spinning the mold in one direction, and halting/jerking the mold in the opposite direction. (A lazy susan is really helpful!)
If you have a thicker trace, the layers in the circular pattern will be thicker, while a thinner trace will create smaller layers. You can modify this design technique further by using a chopstick to drag stars and flowers into the circular pattern, which works fabulous in a slab mold.
Soap Design Techniques: Linear Swirl
Build on the Linear Swirl Soap Design Technique: Impressionist Swirl, Taiwan Swirl, Serpentine Swirl, Peacock Swirl
A linear swirl layers the soap in a linear pattern. In a slab mold, this creates a nice linear pattern on the top of the soap, however, in a loaf mold it becomes small stripes of color on the bar.
Taiwan, serpentine, and peacock swirls are modifications on the linear swirl by using a chopstick to change the direction of the swirls in various patterns.
The size of the linear pattern will depend on the amount of soap you pour for each line, less soap per pour gives thinner lines (more soap = thicker lines).
Want to see more linear swirl soap design techniques in soapmaking tutorials?
Try this out:
Soap Design Techniques: In the Pot Swirl
Build on the In The Pot Swirl Soap Design Technique: Elemental Swirl, Clyde Slide, Flow Swirl, Holly Swirl
ITPS are accomplished by mixing more than one color of soap together in the main soaping pot and pouring into the mold. The amount of soap poured into the various locations in the soap pot, and the direction of pouring will change the pattern accomplished by an ITPS.
The method of combining more than one ITPS and using pencil lines between layers is an elemental swirl.
The other variations of the ITPS that are gaining traction, like the Clyde Slide, depend on placing the colors in the pot in specific places and/or pouring into the mold in a certain direction.
Want to see more in the pot swirl soap design techniques in soapmaking tutorials?
Try these out:
- Rainbow Clyde Slide Soap Tutorial & Video
- Rainbow Elemental Swirl Soap Tutorial
- Luxury Argan & Creamy Avocado Soap Tutorial
- Brilliant Plumeria Soap Tutorial
- Rainbow Elemental Swirl/Double In-The-Pot-Swirl Soap Tutorial
- Cranberry Pomegranate Elemental Swirl Soap Tutorial
Soap Design Techniques: In the Mold Swirl
Build on the In The Mold Swirl Soap Design Technique: Drop Swirl
You can create an ITMS by pouring soap of varying colors directly into the mold. The amount of soap you pour, the height of the pour, and the thickness of trace will all influence the size of the swirl pattern.
A modification of this is a drop swirl, and it can be further modified by hanger swirling, combining soap types (MP and CP), or pouring in various parts of the mold in varying amounts.
Want to see more in the mold swirl soap design techniques in soapmaking tutorials?
Try these out:
- Neem Soap Tutorial with Rosehip & Evening Primrose
- Rosewater Soap Tutorial with Rosehip & Jojoba Oils
- Snow Soap Tutorial with Indigo & Cambrian Blue Clay
- Rainbow Drop Swirl Soap Tutorial/Video
- Lemongrass & Coconut Milk Soap Tutorial
- Spicy Lime Soap Tutorial with French Green Clay, Nettle Leaf, & Comfrey Leaf
Soap Design Techniques: Hanger Swirl
Build on the Hanger Swirl Soap Design Technique: Mantra Swirl, Butterfly Swirl, Spiral Swirl
A hanger swirl is any swirl by which you use a wire (hanger, silicone gear tire, etc.) to insert into the mold after pouring multiple colors of soap. The thickness of the wire will dictate how much soap is moved using a hanger swirl, and the design can be modified by the direction of movement of the hanger itself.
A mantra swirl uses vertical layers to create solid color blocks, that are then swirled in patterns with a hanger, dowel, or gear tie. The butterfly swirl and spiral swirl both modify the swirl pattern by changing how the hanger, dowel, gear tie, etc., are moved throughout the soap.
Want to see more hanger swirl soap design techniques in soapmaking tutorials?
Try these out:
- Three Color Modified Mantra Swirl Soap Tutorial
- Lemon Zest + Blueberry Yogurt Soap Tutorial
- Layered Modified Mantra Rainbow Soap Tutorial
- Modified Hanger Swirl Rainbow Soap Tutorial
Soap Design Techniques: Zebra/Tiger Stripe
Build on the Tiger Stripe Soap Design Technique: Teardrop/Dewdrop, Sectioned Tiger Stripe, Split Tiger Stripe, Modified Tiger Stripe, Dandelion Swirl
A tiger stripe is essentially a faux funnel and a linear swirl combined. The layers are poured directly on top of one another, in a linear pattern down the length of the mold. The thickness of the layers will depend on the thickness of trace and the amount of soap poured in the mold.
This can be modified with a hanger to create a hanger swirl, by pouring the stripes into the mold on a piece of cardboard so that the stripe slide into the mold, by pouring the stripes down the mold walls, or in the center to create sections of striping in a full loaf of soap.
Want to see more hanger swirl soap design techniques in soapmaking tutorials? Try these out:
- Rainbow Tiger Stripe Soap Tutorial
- Lavender & Cedar Split Tiger Stripe Soap Tutorial
- Modified Tiger Stripe/Dandelion Soap Tutorial/Video (On YouTube)
Soap Design Techniques: Top Decorations
Different Types of Top Decorations: Petals, Oil & Glycerin Swirls, Mica Sprinkles, Dusting, Hearts, Flowers, Texturing, Piping, etc.
A variety of top decorations can add more pizazz to soap. Petal toppings are creating by laying down dollops of soap, and using the back of a spoon to create divots into the soap.
Oil and glycerin swirls are created by mixing a colorant into an oil or glycerin, and swirled into the top of the soap (the soap sucks up the oil or glycerin, leaving behind traces of the colorant.) It’s also possible to place droplets of the mixture or pull off a Jackson-Pollock inspired design.
Cosmetic grade mica pigments can be dusted, sprinkled, or painted on the top of a loaf of soap to create a shimmery decoration.
Hearts and flowers are created by dragging a chopstick through dots of soap on the very top layer, while various texturing techniques use different tools to manipulate the soap with peaks and valleys.
Extra soap can be piped onto the top of the finished loaf of soap to create high whippy peaks, beautiful designs, and more.
Want to see more variations on the top designs in soapmaking tutorials?
Try these out:
- Oil Mica Swirl Soap Tops Tutorial
- French Pink Clay & Silk Soap Tutorial (with Hearts on Top)
- Rainbow Soap Tutorial with Petal Technique Top
Even with all of the cold process soap design techniques listed above, there are tons more out there that are mashups of basic foundation techniques and interesting (and innovating!) ideas from soapmakers all over the world.
Do you have a favorite soap design technique? Wish there was one Modern Soapmaking had a tutorial on? Shout it out in the comments!