Personally I always use pillars and plates. I use pillars that lock onto the legs of the plate (Coast brand) so there is no need for additional dowels. I am not a professional so I also do not travel w/stacked cakes. I stack on-site. There are a million things to tell you about how I do this and as I begin to describe it I realize I'm writing a novel.
So to keep it simple, for your first time, why not order a Wilton set of plates and pillars that are already designed to go together and follow the directions in the box? This way you can sort of get your feet wet.
Take a look at these:
Best wishes for your success!
Lorraine, the ones that Rima suggested, the bottom two, are ones that I have used before. The clear ones simply push right through the cake and there is no need for dowels. The Roman Column set consists of two plates and flour pillars per tier. Each plate has feet on them that you fit the pillar into and you would need the dowels underneath the bottom plate for the support of the cake, and the upper plate is to set the next cake tier upon. I usually use 8 dowels per tier. I measure how big the plate is and then I place the dowels in a circular pattern about 1/2 inch inside of that circumference so that the cake plate will have a foundation to sit upon. Each tier would be done in the same manner all the way up. Place the cake on the upper part of the plates and then add the dowels right inside of the cake for the next set of plates. Hope this helps. =O)
I have used the crystal pillars a couple of times now, even for a cake where the tiers were tilted on the pillars. In both cases I was very happy with the pillars. I am not a fan of the double plates because they cover the cake, but that is just my opinion. I know people that use them all the time and are happy with them.