It’s amazing how many different types of seed beads there are. Different sizes, shapes, colors and finishes - it can get be rather confusing. Yet, it’s important for a beader to understand the differences between the many types of seed beads so that they can carefully select the perfect bead for their project. I decided to sit down and write a quick-reference article for anyone else out there who has felt overwhelmed by the complexity of these tiny little beads.
Let’s talk about finishes first. This refers to the appearance of the seed bead in general or often the coating placed on top of the glass. There are several different types of finishes and many seed beads have more than one kind. Sometimes the differences between them can be quite subtle. Some of the more common types of finishes include:
Transparent, meaning the glass is clear or see-through. For example, Miyuki Seed Beads, Transparent Ruby, 11/0 has a transparent finish.
Matte, meaning the bead does not shine but rather has a soft finish. For example, Miyuki 6-402f, Matte White has a matte finish.
Opaque, the opposite of transparent, means the glass can not be seen through but rather has a solid color. For example, Miyuki 8-412, Opaque Turquoise Green has an opaque finish.
Lined, meaning the bead is made of clear glass and features multiple colors inside of it, often with a silver lining through the center of the bead if specified as “silver lined.” For example, Miyuki 6-3205, Magic Emerald Marine Lined Crystal has a lined finish.
Metallic, meaning the glass has the appearance of metal, such as copper, gold, silver or bronze. For example, Miyuki 6-457, Met Dk Bronze, 6/0 has a metallic finish.
Luster, meaning the bead has a very shiny, almost silvery appearance over the bright base color. For example, Miyuki 8-366, Shell Pink Luster has a luster finish.
Pearl, meaning the bead appears to be “pearlized,” or covered with a coating which allows it to shine similarly to a genuine pearl. For example, Miyuki 8-528, White Pearl Ceylon has a pearl finish. Fun Fact - “Ceylon” is the name of an island located south-east of India.
Aurora Borealis (AB) or Iris, meaning the bead has a sort of “rainbow” effect. A variegated coating of all the colors of the rainbow is placed over the base colored glass. For example, Miyuki 8-462, Metallic Gold Iris has an iris finish.
Dark (DK) or Light (Lt), refers to how saturated the color is. Dark hues will appear more saturated while light hues will appear less saturated. For example, Miyuki 6-155, Tr Lt Tea Rose, 6/0 has a light finish while Miyuki 8-134f, Matte Tr Dk Topaz, 8/0 has a dark finish.
Seed beads also come in several different shapes. Choosing the right one can sometimes be tricky, but hopefully the guide below will help you chose just the right seed bead shape for the unique piece you are creating.
Hex Cut, meaning that, while the bead still has a circular hole through the center, the outside is cut in the shape of a hexagon (6 sides). For example, Miyuki Seed Beads, Black, 8/0 Hex Cut are Hex Cut. Many people use Hex Cut seed beads to add dimension to their pieces.
Cube, meaning the bead still has a circular hole through the center but the outside is cut in the shape of a cube (4 sides). For example, Miyuki Cube Beads, Transparent Dark Topaz, 3 x 3 mm are cube shaped. Cube shaped seed beads are perfect for when a designer desires a more structured look to their piece.
There are also several different sizes of seed beads out there. Different shapes of seed beads are generally sized differently, so it’s important to be familiar with all the different methods of measurement.
There are many factors which may influence a designer’s choice of bugle bead length. One major factor is flexibility. A piece of wire strung with number 5 bugle beads will be significantly less able to bend and twist than a piece of wire strung with number 1, 2 or 3 seed beads, for example. It is important to remember that, for this reason, pieces made with longer length bugle beads will be more fragile than pieces made with shorter length seed beads. Still, for pieces which require a more smooth look, rather than a more choppy or divided appearance, a longer length seed bead is the right choice.
Seed Beads in general, typically including Hex Cut seed beads, are sized somewhat counter-intuitively. They are numbered from 7 through 20, with 7 signifying the largest seed bead available and 20 signifying the very smallest. If you see the term "aught" or "aught-size", this is what is being referenced.
One easy way to remember that a smaller number equals a larger size in the seed bead world, is to think of it like you think of wire gauges. When working with wire, a smaller gauge signifies that your wire will have more thickness and a larger gauge signifies that your wire will have less thickness. This is similar to seed beads in that smaller numbers equal larger size.
The size of seed bead that is appropriate for your project depends on many factors and it takes time andexperience to figure out which size of bead is appropriate for which piece. Each and every beader will develop their own preferences regarding seed bead size as they develop more and more experience with seed beads. In general, smaller sized seed beads are more appropriate for projects which include stitching. Also, when creating a multi-strand bracelet or necklace, it is important to consider how close to one another each strand will lay. If the strands will be very close together, there may not be space to accommodate the larger seed bead sizes.
Different patterns and instructions for putting together different seed bead projects such as Peyote Tube Bead Bracelet, Blue Blossoms Necklace or Precious Pearl Bracelet will generally include a recommended seed bead size. Practicing with such patterns is a great way to become familiar with seed beads and allows you to begin developing a feel for which size and shape of seed beads will work best for the piece you envision.
The Sky is the Limit
As you become more familiar with seed bead sizes, finishes and shapes don’t be afraid to step out of your beading-box. Seed beads can be used for a multitude of different projects outside of jewelry making.
For instance, seed beads can be sewn into cloth. My grandmother-in-law created a beautiful gift for my mother-in-law a few Christmases ago by accenting a painted apron with sewn-on seed beads. You can also make pillows, hats, bags, even clothing look special by sewing on some sparkling seed beads.
Seed beads strung on wire are extremely versatile. Smaller gauges of wire, such as 18 gauge, which hold their shape well, can be wrapped around pottery, candle holders, baskets, lamp shades, vases.. you name it! This is a fantastic way to make your home, or gifts for others, more special and unique.
Seed beads can also be used many different ways with several types of adhesives and glazes. You can fill a small indented surface on anything you want to decorate (a pendant, carved wood or tile, between the weaves of a basket, etc.) with a small amount of Judi Kins DG3 Art Gel and pour in small sizes (size 11 and smaller work best) of your desired color of seed beads. Check out the project, In My Bead Room Necklace for a cool example of a pendant made in this way.
We hope this article has helped you feel more familiar with seed beads and their basic characteristics and uses. Don’t be afraid to try new things with your seed beads. Remember that every time you make a piece of jewelry or complete another craft, you are creating art. Be proud of your work and remember not to limit your imagination!
Continue shopping for seed beads.