Seed beads offer endless options for making jewelry, apparel and home accessories, but they can be complicated. We’ve posted some projects that make use of seed beads and have received a lot of questions about sizing, finishes, shapes, and styles. This should help answer a lot of those questions.
Left: Opaque Glass Bead
Right: Matte Opaque Glass Bead
Matte Transparent Glass Beads
Glass beads come in a huge variety of finishes, and bead makers are always trying to invent more. Here’s an overview.
Standard: If your beads don’t specify a finish, it’s usually safe to assume they’re made of ordinary shiny glass.
Matte/Frost: Beads with this finish don’t reflect light – they look like they’ve been etched or sand blasted.
Transparent: Light passes through the glass.
Opaque: Light does not pass through the glass.
Milky: In between transparent and opaque, some light passes through.
AB/Aurora Borealis/Iridescent/Rainbow: A finish that reflects light in a variety of colors.
Iris: Similar to AB, but tends to be bluer or more metallic.
Matte AB/Rainbow/Iris or Ghost: A bead with a combination of matte and iridescent finish. This usually looks like matte beads that are in a slight variety of shades (for example, all of the beads are red, but some are a little more pink and some are a little more purple.)
Gold, Silver or Copper Lined: Usually a transparent bead (sometimes clear, sometimes a color) with a hole that has been lined in reflective metal. Typically very sparkly and reflective.
Matte Gold, Silver or Copper Lined: Like the other version, but usually more subdued because the matte finish softens the reflectivity.
Color Lined: The hole of the bead has been painted with another color. The bead itself may be clear or a transparent color.
Galvanized or Metallic: A finish that looks like metal. This may be a typical metal color (silver, gold, etc.) or another color that looks like metal.
Ceylon/Pearl/Luster: Variations on a finish meant to look like a pearl (the kind from the ocean.) Most often in pastel shades.
Silky/Satin: A finish that looks like it’s made of strands of silk – reflects a lot of light.
Left: Size 8/0
Center: Size 11/0
Right: Size 15/0
Bead sizing is kind of weird thing. It’s based on imperial measurements, and the beads are measured on their side, rather than strung. This is called aught/ought sizing, but I’ve never heard anyone say “eight-ought beads.”
If you lay beads on their side and about 8 fit in 1 inch you have 8/0 beads. If 11 fit, you have 11/0 beads. As you’ve worked out already, 15 beads are 15/0 beads.
Of course, these are tiny objects made of glass. It’s pretty rare that you’ll find 8/0 beads that exactly fit 8 to an inch. I view the sizing as a way to know what beads will work together. If consistent sizing is super important to what you’re working on it’s a good idea to try to buy all of your beads from one manufacturer – my Toho 11/0 beads are extremely consistent amongst themselves, but they don’t necessarily match up perfectly with Czech seed beads.
I’ve seen beads in sizes from 6/0 to 23/0. I’ve heard 30/0 exist, but I’ve never actually seen any for sale. Anything larger than 6/0 is usually referenced as a round bead with a millimeter size description (4mm round bead, for example.) 11/0 is definitely the most common size, and a great starting place. I choose to work with 15/0 a lot. Using smaller beads increases the “resolution” on a project, in the same way you can change the resolution on a computer monitor. If you want to get into working with beads in the 22/0 range you’ll need to become a serious collector. Most of what you’ll find at that size is antique, I’m not sure anyone is making them that small these days.
8/0 Seed Beads
11/0 Seed Beads
Left: Cylinder/Delica Type
Right: Round/Rocaille Type
Center: #2/6mm Bugle Beads
Right: 9mm Bugles
The most common seed bead shape is the round/rocaille type. It’s the oldest type, and it results in a softer, more organic finish. Cylinder/Delica style beads are more recently popular- they’re like tiny bits of tubing create a more geometric, tiled looking finish.
Bugle beads are longer, cylinder shaped beads. Sizing on these is all over the place without much consistency. Overall, most bugles are about size 11/0, and although you can find length indicators like #2 or #4, most sellers will give you a mm length in the description, and that’s the best number to use when planning projects. You can find bugle beads that are round, square, twisted, silver or gold lined, etc. They’re generally in a more limited color/finish range than seed beads, but there are still a lot to choose from. If you’re ordering beads that will be shipped to you it’s a good idea to order a bit more than you need, the shipping can be rough on long tubes of glass.
Seed beads also come in other shapes like teadrops (handy for the ends of fringe), cubes, triangles, 2-hole beads, etc. These can be a lot of fun to mix into other projects.