Seed Beads 101: A Jewelry-Maker's Guide to Seed Beads

Design Idea B625 Necklace
by Susanne Kathol, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

A Jewelry-Maker's Guide to Seed Beads gives you the valuable knowledge you need to buy the right seed beads and design with confidence. Find information on seed bead sizing, finishes, shapes and more, all in one place, including FREE printable seed bead resources and charts for quick and easy reference and hassle-free product ordering.

What is a seed bead?

A seed bead is a generic term for any small glass bead. Seed beads are usually donut- or cylinder-shaped beads ranging in size from under a millimeter to several millimeters. Seed beads are most commonly used for loom and off-loom bead weaving and simple stringing, such as spacers between other beads in jewelry.

Seed beads are created using a range of glasswork techniques; the two used today are "winding" and "drawing." In the past, hot glass has also been pressed or blown into molds, though the small sizes of seed beads make these techniques more challenging.

A solid iron rod is coated with molten glass (called a "gather"). A second rod is inserted into the gather, then the two are drawn apart, creating a glass rod. After it cools, it is reheated and wrapped around a hot metal wire, creating a ring of glass. Each ring is shaped until smooth and round, for a set of tiny glass "rings" on the same hot wire. When the wire cools, the glass rings are slipped off.

Beads made with winding are rounded--examples include Dyna-mites™, Preciosa and Ming Tree™.

A hollow iron rod is coated with molten glass (called a "gather"). Air is blown inside the gather, and a second rod is inserted into the air bubble, then the two are drawn apart, creating a glass tube. The diameter of the tube is determined by the speed and distance of the rods being drawn apart. After the glass cools, it is cut into sections. Long sections become bugle beads, shorter sections become standard seed beads. Some beads are pressed into hexagonal shapes (for hex-cut or hexagonal bugles), others are pressed into hexagons and then twisted (for twisted bugle beads).

Beads made with drawing are smooth and unrounded--examples include Delica® and bugle beads.

Seed Bead Sizes

Seed beads are classified by a number that relates to their size, such as 6/0, 8/0, 11/0, 12/0, 13/0 and 15/0. The biggest key to understanding seed bead sizing is the concept that the smaller the number, the larger the bead. This means that a 6/0 seed bead is larger in size than a 12/0 seed bead. The 0 used in the measurement is pronounced aught and can be denoted by a slash followed by a zero or a degree mark. For example size 11 can be written 11/0 or 11°, and is referred as "size 11" or "11 aught" seed beads.

This sizing number is historically based on the idea that bead manufacturers would refer to their standard-sized beads in the largest quantities as size 0 or null. Smaller size beads such as 10/0 were therefore beads that were 10 times smaller than the size 0 or null bead.

The size measurement also correlates with the number of beads that will fit into a given inch when the beads are lined up side by side (with the holes parallel to each other). For instance, size 8/0 would equal eight beads to one inch. Keep in mind this is just a general rule of thumb, as there can be variances in this measurement based on the manufacturer, the type of glass used and the bead's finish.

View Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' FREE printable ''Seed Bead Sizes and Hole Sizes'' conversion chart to find the approximate diameter of the different seed bead sizes available. Keep in mind the length of seed beads will vary depending on the shape, brand and due to different manufacturing processes, coatings and finishes. This chart also includes approximate bead hole sizes and recommended wire gauge sizes for jewelry-making projects.

Types and Shapes of Seed Beads

With all the brands, sizes and colors of seed beads on the market today, it's often difficult to know which to choose for your projects. Get to know the many different brands and shapes of seed beads available for any jewelry-making and beading project you can imagine in the illustrated Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' Seed Bead Brands, Shapes and Styles Index, then examine the Seed Bead Spotlights for more detail.

Fire Mountain Gems and Beads offers a robust line of Delica® seed beads from Miyuki, a Japanese manufacturer of seed and cylinder beads recognized worldwide for their standard of high quality. Speaking of high quality, we also carry TOHO BEADS®, a customer-favorite precision-cut Japanese seed bead. We are also a primary distributor of Preciosa traditional Czech glass beads, known for their exceptional color and size consistency. We offer our own brand of Japanese seed beads as well, Dyna-Mites™, by Matsuno® of Japan, available in a wide range of colors. And economical Ming Tree™ seed beads too. View all the seed and bugle bead product offerings organized by brand, style, size and finish, including a convenient shop by Delica bead number reference guide, to find exactly what you're looking for.

Seed Bead Brands, Shapes and Styles Index

So what are seed beads, anyway? They are small glass beads that resemble plant seeds. There are many types available, but the most widely distributed seed beads come from Japan and the Czech Republic. Here's an illustrated index of most of seed bead brands, shapes and styles available on the market today:

Bugle Beads Bugle Beads - long, skinny tubular-shaped beads available in twisted, straight and hex-cut varieties. Great for use in ladder stitch and stringing designs.
Square Seed Beads Cube or square beads - small square beads.
Czech Glass Seed Beads Czech glass seed beads - master glass artisans making beads since the 15th century, including well-known Preciosa Ornela glass seed beads. These beads are not only for modern high-fashion and everyday pieces but also for traditional styles, historical re-creations and restorations. Size and shape may vary slightly and color may vary from dye lot to dye lot. See more details in the Czech seed beads spotlight.
Delica® Seed Beads Delica® - high-quality cylinder-shaped seed beads by Miyuki of Japan, perfect for precision loom and off-loom work. Available in sizes 8/0 and 10/0, and most commonly in 11/0. See more in the Delica seed beads spotlight.
Dyna-Mites™ Seed Beads Dyna-Mites™ - Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' brand of seed beads made by Matsuno® of Japan. Excellent for loom work and available in a wide range of colors. Available in 11/0, 8/0, 6/0 and bugle beads. See more details in the Dyna-Mites seed beads spotlight.
Hex 2-Cut Seed Beads Hex 2-cut Beads or Hexagon Beads - a six-sided bead with regular facets that looks like a hexagon when viewed from the end. Also referred to as "two-cuts."
Matsuno Seed Beads Matsuno - a Japanese bead manufacturer.
Ming Tree™ Seed Beads Ming Tree™ - Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' brand of economical seed beads.
Miyuki Seed Beads Miyuki - a Japanese bead manufacturer of seed and cylinder beads, including but not limited to the Delica brand. Their beads are considered very high quality.
Rocaille Seed Beads Rocaille - a term used for the traditional seed bead shape. These are donut-shaped and slightly oval; the ends are rounded. Available in many sizes and brands and can be used in weaves both on- and off-loom, depending on the uniformity of the specific beads.
Toho Beads® Seed Beads Toho Beads® - precision-quality glass seed beads from Japan loved for use in bead weaving, looming and peyote stitch. Available in 11/0 and bugle beads.
Triangle Seed Beads Triangle seed beads - triangle-shaped beads with triangular-shaped holes ensuring the beads sit correctly in a design.
Seed Bead Partner Beads

While not formally part of the seed bead family, these beads are often used in tandem with seed and bugle beads in bead embroidery and offloom beadweaving creations.

Preciosa Candy Beads Candy™ beads - these tantalizing beads by Preciosa have two holes, a domed top and shallow curvature at the base, making them fun and easy to sew with, make clusters or combine with other Preciosa pressed glass shapes such as Twin™ and Pellet™.
DiamonDuo Beads DiamonDuo - Czech two-hole beads with a classic two-point diamond shape and faceted front.
Fringe Beads Seed Beads Fringe seed beads - also known as "teardrops" or "drop beads." They are available from both Czech and Japanese manufacturers. Popular shapes include Chilli, Talon, Magatama, Petal and Pip beads.
Magatama Seed Beads Magatama - from Miyuki of Japan, the long magatama is an angular drop-like bead used as a fringe bead.
Pip Beads Pip - Czech top-drilled or fringe style flat wide beads ideal for creating flower shapes.
Pony Beads Pony beads - also known as crow beads, are large-sized seed beads often made of acrylic. Multiple manufacturers.
Twin Beads Pressed Twin™ - Czech two-hole beads, size and shape may vary slightly and color may vary from dye lot to dye lot. Also available in Mini Pressed version. Testing for colorfastness is recommended.
Tango Beads Tango - Czech two-hole beads with flat triangular shape.
Preciosa Thorn Beads Thorn™ - fancy-finished pressed glass beads by Preciosa and imported from the Czech Republic. The clear thorn-shaped bead is partially coated with an opaque silver color. The interior side of the silver color is treated with a vitrail effect.
Tila® Beads Tila® Beads - Japanese square flat beads with two holes running in parallel. Also available in Half Tila, a narrow rectangular half-width version of the Tila bead.

Seed Bead Coatings and Finishes

There are many unique coatings and finishes available in seed beads, producing a multitude of color options for unlimited design potential.

As with any applied coating or finish, there is always the possibility of fading through long exposure to sunlight, or wear through day-to-day use. Learn more about the color and treatment durability of seed beads with Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' printable ''Seed Bead Finishes and Treatment Durability'' chart and ''Delica® Color Durability Chart''.

Seed Beads 101 - A Jewelry-Maker's Guide to Seed Beads

Buying and Measuring Seed Beads

Seed beads are sold either by "hank" or by gram weight, packaged in strands, tubes or bags. Czech seed beads are often sold by the hank, a unit bundle of strands of seed or bugle beads. A typical hank has 12-14 strands of beads ranging from 14-19 inches in length. However, some beads may be sold in hanks with different lengths or number of strands.

Japanese beads are commonly sold by weight, measured in grams. Overall, the number of beads in a hank or tube will vary, depending on the size of the bead, type of glass and finish. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads offers FREE printable seed bead buying guides to help estimate the number of seed beads a particular tube, package or hank will include. View our ''Seed Beads Per Package'' resource for more detailed information.

Seed Bead Spotlights

  • Preciosa Czech Seed Beads - Glass Seed Beads by Preciosa
    Czech seed beads by Preciosa have always been considered the ''gold standard'' of seed beads. Bead making has long been a way of life for the people of the Czech Republic, especially in the Jablonec region. Known in the Middle Ages as Bohemia, this area has been the largest European bead center for hundreds of years, with techniques being handed down the generations.

    • Bead Shape:
      Czech seed beads are a rounded, almost donut-shaped bead, some with square holes, others with round holes, depending on how they are made and whether they have a coloring or metallic lining on the inside of the bead hole.
    • Colors Available:
      Czech seed beads by Preciosa are available in a tantalizing variety of colors and treatments, including some colors that closely mimic the ''old colors'' which are only found in genuine antique beads. The reds are especially rich and lovely due to the pure gold added while the glass is molten. Not only does the gold make the reds and pinks more brilliant, it also stabilizes the color and prevents it from fading. The rainbow colors are subtle yet glowing, and the selection of ''pearl'' shades is impressive.
    • Beading Applications:
      Czech seed beads can be used in any type of beadwork. However, they are most often found in bead embroidery, especially in Native American regalia-making. Because of the round shape, they are also used extensively in jewelry making--they mimic larger beads and add lovely glints of color to necklaces or bracelets when used as spacers.

      Czech seed beads can also be used in loom weaving and in bead weaving, but can cause problems with stitch tension because of their rounded edges. If you wish to use these beads in bead weaving and have not done so before, try a matte-finished bead. Matte-finished beads tend to grip the thread well, making it easier to maintain proper tension.
    • Shop all Preciosa Czech seed beads here
  • Seed Beads 101 - A Jewelry-Maker's Guide to Seed Beads

  • Delica® Seed Beads - Glass Seed Beads by Miyuki Shoji of Japan
    Delica beads have long been the most popular seed beads for bead-weaving because of their precise size, shape and consistent hole size.

    • Bead Shape:
      Delica beads were the first to be manufactured using a special process that creates regular, cylindrical shaped beads--which is very different from the manufacturing process of the traditional ''donut'' or standard seed bead shape.

      Delicas are available in two shapes, round (circular cut which is cylindrical in shape) and hex-cut. Hex-cut beads are machine cut to form a six-sided exterior; the hole remains smooth and round. Each shape is available in what is called size 11/0 which is slightly smaller than an 11/0 Dyna-Mite™ seed bead. They are slightly smaller, between an 11/0 and a 12/0 size. This is the only size seed bead that is called Delica.

      Delica beads come in two shapes
    • Colors Available:
      Delica beads are made in every color of the rainbow and every color in between.

      Delicas have different glass and surface treatments added to enhance colors, causing them, according to type or project, to recede, glow or soften.

      Enhancements include: transparent, opaque, color- or silver-lined, frosted, pearl finish, silky luster, metallic, gold-lined and even precious metal plated. Delicas also have different finishes added to the top of all of the enhancements mentioned above. The finishes include: matte, a non-reflective finish; iris, resembling colors of oil upon water; aurora borealis, reflections of a transparent rainbow superimposed over the base color; and satin, a soft color etched gently to a matte finish.
    • Beading Applications:
      Delica beads are ideally suited to linked bead-weaving stitches, such as peyote or brick-stitch. They are also excellent for loom weaving, since they stack against one another so well in the weaving process and do not slip.
    • Shop all Delica® seed beads here
  • Dyna-Mites™ Seed Beads - Glass Seed Beads by Matsuno of Japan
    Dyna-Mites seed beads are wonderfully consistent in shape and color as compared to the standard shaped seed beads on the market today.

    • Bead Shape:
      Dyna-Mites seed beads, made in Japan exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, are best described as a cross between the shape of a Delica bead and a regular, donut-shaped (Czech) seed bead.
    • Colors Available:
      Dyna-Mites seed beads come in a wide range of rich colors with beautiful color saturation and clarity. Dyna-Mite™ seed beads are available in many different finishes: ceylon pastels; silver lined; opaque; transparent color; transparent inside color; and transparent inside rainbow colors. Many of the above are also available with a matte finish.
    • Beading Applications:
      Dyna-Mites seed beads are perfect for just about any seed bead application, such as peyote, brick-stitch, loom weaving, netting, right-angle weave and jewelry-making applications (used as spacers).

      Dyna-Mites seed beads are economical and tough--holding up to tight tension in netting, bead weaving and other applications, even to multiple passes of threads through the beads. They are excellent beads and are perfect to stock up on, especially if you are beading on a budget.
    • Shop all Dyna-Mites seed beads here
  • Toho Beads® Seed Beads - Glass beads by Toho Beads® of Japan
    This highly customer-requested brand of seed beads is well-known and loved for consistency in shape and color. Toho Beads began in 1951 and has grown to be a giant of the glass bead-making industry in Japan, largely due to their innovations in manufacturing techniques and dedication to quality.

    • Bead Shape:
      Toho seed beads are mostly available in traditional #11 round. The available stringing hole shapes are round, triangle, square or diamond. These seed beads from Toho were designed to have a slightly larger stringing hole that allows for more passes of your needle and thread. Another advantage of a larger hole is that each bead weighs just slightly less.
    • Colors Available:
      Toho glass beads are consistently colored, ensuring designer-artists have access to the same colors for adding to or re-creating beaded designs. The myriad of colors are available in a range of finishes: opaque, transparent, translucent with galvanized, metallic and other effects to offer a large variety.
    • Beading Applications:
      Due to the level of precision, Toho seed beads are favorites for use in bead weaving, looming, peyote stitch and basic stringing techniques. Toho also makes its own nylon thread to use with their seed beads. One-G™ 100% nylon thread is specially made to be stronger and more shred-resistant than other nylon jewelry-making threads.
    • Shop all Toho Beads seed beads here
  • Ming Tree™ Seed Beads - Glass Seed Beads
    Ming Tree seed beads, exclusive to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, are a great economic value allowing you to design at half the cost of other seed beads.

    • Bead Shape:
      Ming Tree seed beads are mostly sold in packages of ¼ pound, containing approximately 3,000 beads. These round hole beads are available in round and bugle beads.
    • Colors Available:
      The Ming Tree seed bead line includes many different colors and finishes for matching any jewelry project.
    • Beading Applications:
      These glass seed beads are great for fringe on clothing, jewelry and great as spacers.
    • Shop all Ming Tree seed beads here
  • TILA® Seed Beads - Glass Seed Beads by Miyuki
    TILA beads are flat, two-holed glass square beads. Combine TILA beads with other seed beads to create one-of-a-kind designs and patterns. Using a variety of stitching techniques TILA beads can create intricate tile patterns and geometric designs.

    • Bead Shape:
      Miyuki TILA beads are flat square or rectangular tile-shaped 2-hole seed beads that are available in 3 different sizes: TILA (5 x 5 x 1.9mm), Half-TILA (5 x 2.3 x 1.9mm) and Quarter-TILA (5 x 1.2 x 1.9mm) for all your design needs.
    • Colors Available:
      TILA beads by Miyuki are available in a wide range of colors.
    • Beading Applications:
      TILA beads can be used alone or in combination with other seed beads to connect multiple strands in beadweaving.
    • Shop all Miyuki TILA seed beads here

Design Idea FC1M Necklace

Shop ... Additional Resources ...