What is a seed bead?
Sometimes referred to as a “rocaille” (French for tiny pebble) a seed bead is any small glass bead. They are sized according to an obsolete “aught” scale and written as 110 or 11/0. Originally, 11/0 indicated that there were approximately 11 beads in one inch. In this system, the higher the number, the smaller the bead.
Seed beads manufactured today range in size from 15/0 (smallest) to 6/0 (largest), although the term “seed bead” is commonly used to include larger round beads and various shapes such as cylinders, cubes and triangles. Seed beads are used in bead stringing, bead weaving, bead embroidery and much more.
Note: the sizing scales used for Czech seed beads are not equivalent to the Japanese scale.
Take a look at our Types & Finishes Guide if you need help clarifying color and finish choices.
Our Tips for Successful Seed Beading can help you get started working with seed beads.
Varieties of Seed Beads
The seed beads that are available today are manufactured in the Czech Republic by Preciosa Ornela and in Japan by 3 major companies: Miyuki, Toho and Matsuno.
Japanese Seed Beads
Japanese seed beads are popular because of their consistent quality and uniform shape. Japanese seed beads have larger holes than Czech seed beads of a comparable size. We stock primarily Miyuki seed beads.
Cylinder shaped beads called Delicas are the highest quality seed beads in production today. They are made using state of the art machinery to give totally consistent shape and size. They have oversized holes, thin walls and are light weight, giving a beautifully uniform finish to bead weaving and bead embroidery designs. Because of their lightness you also get more beads to the gram, but their overall perfection means they are priced higher than comparably sized beads.
Czech Seed Beads
Czech seed beads are preferred for some off-loom techniques because of their rounder shape. They typically are strung on hanks, making them easier to thread onto a needle. A “hank” is a bundle of seed bead or bugle strands, usually 12-20 inches in length. We carry a limited selection of Czech seed beads on hanks but can also place special orders.
Types & Finishes of Seed Beads
With such a dazzling array of colors and finishes available, sometimes it’s hard to know exactly which beads you need. The charts below give you the information about some of the most common varieties of glass and finishes found in seed beads
Types of Seed Beads
|Transparent||TR||Transparent beads are made of clear or colored glass that transmits light|
|Opaque||OP||Opaque beads are made of colored glass that does not transmit light|
|Color-lined||CL||Color-lined beads are made of colored or clear transparent glass and have an opaque colored lining on the inside of the bead|
|Metal-lined||ML||Metal-lined beads are clear or colored transparent glass with a core of real metal or metallic-colored paint. The metallic lining gives these beads great sparkle. Some have a square hole, which increases the sparkle.|
|Metallic||Met||Metallic beads have a metal-like surface coating that is either a baked-on paint or an electroplated finish. Many are stable, but some wear off over time. To test for performance, soak them in bleach or acetone. To prolong the life of the finish, spray the beads with an acrylic fixative such as Krylon.|
Standard Seed Bead Finishes
|AB||Refers to an iridescent finish that resembles an oil slick. An AB finish may sometimes be called iris, rainbow, or aurora borealis.|
|Luster||Refers to a transparent glaze that lends extra sparkle|
|Matte||Refers to an etched surface that results in a velvety, frosted appearance|
|Matte AB||Refers to a matte finish with an AB coating. The result is a soft, variegated look.|
|Semi-matte||Refers to a slightly etched surface that produces a silky finish|
Special Seed Bead Finishes
|Galvanized||Galvanized beads are coated with an unstable zinc-based finish. This coating, which may be shiny or matte, may rub off affecting the color and durability of your work. You can spray galvanized beads with Krylon or another acrylic fixative to prolong their life, or choose the Duracoat galvanized beads available at Let’s Bead!|
|Metal-plated||Metal-plated beads are plated with a thin coating of metal such as high-karat gold, sterling silver, copper, titanium, palladium or nickel. This is a permanent finish, though the metal layer may wear off over time.|
|Pearl||Pearl finish beads have a lustrous, pearly finish on an opaque bead.|
|Ceylon||Ceylon finish beads have a lustrous, pearly finish on a semi-transparent bead.|
|Opal||Opal beads have a milky, semi-translucent finish.|
|Satin||Satin finish beads have a striated appearance.|
|Gold luster||Gold luster beads have a luster finish with glowing gold highlights|
|Painted/dyed||Painted or dyed beads have an impermanent color coating, which can fade with exposure to sunlight and may rub off when handled. Many bright purples, pinks, and fuchsias are painted or dyed.|
|Duracoat||Non-tarnish, non-fade galvanized seed beads|
Tips for Successful Seed-Beading
Selecting the Right Seed Beads
Be sure to select all the same type of seed beads for your project, whether they are Czech or Japanese. Mixing different types of seed beads can cause unintentional bumps or lumps in your beadwork. Be sure to use the type of beads recommended by the project author to avoid unnecessary headaches!
Supplies for Seed Beading
Have all your beads and seed bead supplies available before you begin work on a project, and make sure you have everything you need before you start. No one likes to get near the end of a project and discover you don’t have enough beads to finish that last half inch, and like yarn, glass beads can vary in color from one batch to the next. This is a normal variation occurring with mixing glass when seed beads are produced. Select a work area where you can spread out and have good lighting. Here are a few additional tips and bead supplies for success:
- Use a bead mat to prevent your beads from rolling all over your work surface (and onto the floor!)
- Make sure you have plenty of thread – if you run out and have to use another color, your beadwork could look completely different depending on your color choices. Again, dye lots can vary.
- Have extra needles in different sizes on hand in case of breakage
- Purchase a pair of small, very sharp scissors to trim thread close to your beadwork
- Use a task lamp, preferably with magnification