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June 05, 2023

Types of Seed Beads Used in Jewelry Making

Picture of a variety of types of seed beads
Different types of seed beads including cylinder and round seed beads.

Getting Started with Seed Beads

Getting started making jewelry with seed beads seems like it should be easy.  You've got one or more types of seed beads, a beading needle and beading thread, possibly something you'd like to add some decoration to with bead embroidery or some findings to make jewelry. You may already have a project in mind, so what else do you need to know?

Honestly, getting started making bead jewelry is that easy - and can be very enjoyable, but once you get started you'll find that the little differences in the shape and size of your seed beads can make a huge difference in your finished project. To have more control over your finished beadwork, you'll want to know more about the types of beads, the sizes they are available in, and what beading stitches they are best suited for. 

This article will describe common types of seed beads, how to identify what types of beads you have or should buy, how to find the best beads for your project or how to find suitable projects for the beads you already own.

Classifying Seed Beads by Shape

One of the first important way to identify seed beads is by their shape. There are two distinct shapes of seed beads - ones shaped like cylinders and ones that are round.  Note that there are lots of other shapes of seed beads - like triangles, cubes, and bugle beads - but those are easily identifiable and specifically called out in patterns.

Cylinder beads in a variety of sizes and colors
Cylinder beads in a variety of sizes and colors.

Cylinder seed beads have straight sides and large holes. They are typically very uniform in size and shape. Because of their larger holes, they are well suited to bead stitches that require multiple passes of the thread through the bead. Their uniform size and distinct squared off edges make them work well when you would like the beads to sit tightly together to form a continuous strand of beads, a woven fabric of beads or stack on top of each other. Some bead weaving stitches that work well with cylinder beads are stringing, peyote stitch, brick stitch, and loom weaving.

Peyote stitch rings made with Miyuki Delica cylinder beads.
Peyote stitch rings made with Miyuki Delica cylinder beads.

The 2-drop peyote beaded rings above are a good example of how cylinder beads snug up to each other to form a dense fabric of beads.

Cylinder beads do not lend themselves to applications where beads need to snug together around curves or move fluidly. Bead embroidery around round or oval cabochons with cylinder beads will leave gaps that do not occur with round beads. Similarly, they may have sharp angles or cuts when used in fringe compared to round beads.

picture of round seed beads
A variety of round Miyuki seed beads.

Round seed beads are also called rocailles. They can be shaped like donuts, kind of flat and squat with rounded sides (Czech beads) or taller with round sides (Japanese beads). Round beads usually have smaller holes than cylinder beads and therefore can't have the thread pass through them as many times as a cylinder bead can. 

Bead embroidered medallion made with Czech round seed beads
Bead embroidered medallion made with Czech round seed beads

Round beads can be used with any bead stitch, but give a more organic, earthy feel in stitches like peyote or brick when compared with a similar project done with cylinder beads. Round seed beads work especially well in bead embroidery or bezels where their rounded shape helps them form a fluid curve. They also look great in daisy chains and circular peyote.

Bead loom bracelets with Czech round beads (top) and Miyuki delica cylinder beads (bottom)
Bead loom bracelets with Czech round beads (top) and Miyuki delica cylinder beads (bottom)

Round beads look very different when used in the same project with the same bead stitches than cylinder beads do. The loom bracelets above, are the same pattern made on the same loom using size 11 seed beads. The top bracelet uses Czech round seed beads and the bottom is Miyuki delicas. Even if I had used similar colors, the delica bracelet is still more refined and consistent. The bracelet made with Czech beads has more surface texture and a more organic feel. Read on for more information about the differences in beads based on where they are made.

Two tubular herringbone bracelets using cylinder beads and round beads
Two tubular herringbone bracelets using cylinder beads and round beads

One more example of the impact of bead choices on the bead stitch - this time with tubular herringbone stitch. Both of these bracelets came out beautiful, but the top one made with Delica cylinder beads is more angular and sharp than the Czech round beads in the bottom sample.

Classifying Seed Beads by Country of Origin

 It may seem odd, but seed beads are often distinguishable by the country where they were made. Most contemporary seed beads are made in the Czech Republic, Japan, China or India. Consequently, they may be referred to as Czech seed beads or Japanese seed beads. Seed beads from China and India are generally the less expensive beads sold in large packages at mass retailers or craft stores. When a designer uses them (which is rare), they may reference them as craft beads or some other generic term.  Similarly, when a design calls for Japanese seed beads or Czech seed beads, they do so because some characteristic of those types of beads is desirable in the design.

Japanese Seed Beads

 Japanese seed beads are very high quality beads. They are known for being uniform in size, shape and color. They are available in a wide variety of colors and finishes. They are primarily manufactured by one of three large companies: Matsuno, Miyuki or Toho and may be specified by those names - or by the bead brand name such as Miyuki Delica, Toho Treasure or Toho Aiko beads.

multiple tubes of Miyuki Delica beads
Multiple tubes of Miyuki Delica beads exemplifying their wide array of color and finish choices.

Japanese seed beads come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they are most well known for the cylinder bead. Japanese cylinder beads are uniquely suited to loom work or off loom beading techniques where a consistent size and shape is desirable. As stated earlier, cylinder beads have large holes compared to other beads the same size and can support many thread passes. They come in a wide array of colors and bead finishes.

The process to create Japanese seed beads results in a more precise, better quality bead which makes them more expensive than other seed beads. The best place to find the wide variety of sizes and colors of Japanese seed beads is at local bead store or online bead retailer. 

Czech Seed Beads

The largest Czech seed bead manufacturer is Preciosa Ornela (formerly named Jablonex).

Hanks of Czech seed beads in a variety of colors
Hanks of Czech seed beads in a variety of wonderful colors.

As easy as it can be to identify Japanese seed beads by their uniformity and shape, it can be difficult to precisely identify Czech seed beads from the Chinese and Indian seed beads. Czech beads are typically round, donut shaped beads that are sold by the hank. They are not as consistently shaped as Japanese seed beads and have smaller holes, but they come in a wide variety of colors. Seed beads represent only a fraction of the beads known as Czech beads and they are more widely known for their pressed glass shapes and designs.

Huichol style flower seed bead earrings
Huichol style flower seed bead earrings

Czech seed beads are not as well suited to loom work or precision stitching where strict uniformity is desirable. They look great in a variety of off-loom stitches where slight differences in shape add to the depth and characteristics of the finished piece - such as beaded ropes or the Huichol beaded flower earrings pictured above. They also work well in bead embroidery, since the slight size variations can be helpful when you need to fill gaps, but you also may need to cull them to use ones that are uniform in size and shape.

Seed Beads of Other Origins

 This is a general grouping of seed beads that you might consider bargain beads. They are sold in the largest package sizes for the least amount of money and may be available in large retailers or non-bead or craft specialty stores. These type of seed beads are useful, but you will need to use caution. The bead shapes and hole sizes are more inconsistent and variable and the color finish may not be permanent.

Assortment of seed beads and jewelry making supplies
Assortment of seed beads and jewelry making supplies

Less expensive beads may be surface dyed rather than use colored glass, although some Japanese and Czech seed beads are also surface dyed. They are usually labelled as such or indicated on the description though. The finish or color may rub off over time - sometimes rather quickly. Bargain seed beads are good practice beads if you are learning a new stitch or using them as spacers between other beads. It's just good to realize the limitations of the supplies you are using before you start a project.

Did you find this article helpful? Is there other information that you would like to know about seed beads. Please let me know in the comments.

Here are some other articles you may find helpful for getting started with beading:

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