Types of beads • Different beads types • What are beads | beadsdirect.co.uk

Types of beads

Before we get into in and focus all our attention on beads types, let's think for a minute or two what are actually beads?

What are beads?

You probably wondered many times, what are beads? Beads are usually small, beautiful pieces shaped in various ways.
In some ancient cultures, even thousands of years ago, beads have been threaded on strings, also other types of threads to become jewellery pieces. Beads have different sizes. From very, very tiny ones, as small as few millimetres. Up all the way to big, chunky ones, sometimes exciding few or even more than 10 centimetres.

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Types of beads - different categories

Beads types can be described and named from different angles. They could be categorised based on such criteria:

  • material
  • shape
  • production process
  • origin
  • surface pattern
  • fashion trends

This article tries to mix different categories up to conclude the most commonly used types of beads used in the process of jewellery making and beadwork in general.

Types of beads - by material

Gemstone beads (semi-precious beads)

Gemstone beads, also called semi-precious beads can include natural gemstone, enhanced gemstone or manmade reconstructed materials. Available in various shapes and sizes.

Most common being the round shape with size 4mm, 6mm, 8mm, 10mm and 12mm.

There are different shapes to choose from including just mentioned smooth round, chips and nuggets of semi-precious stones (e.g. amethyst, jade, agate) that are irregular in shape. 

See all semi-precious gemstone beads here >>

Natural pearls and shells

Natural pearls can be saltwater or freshwater cultured pearls which are made into beads. Natural pearls are usually pink, peach or mauve in colour, whilst white pearls are usually an off white or creamy colour. Glass pearls are also available which imitate the appearance of pearls whilst maintaining consistency in size, colour, shape and finish.

See all pearl beads here >>

See all Swarovski pearl beads here >>

Glass beads

First glass beads came to existence 3500 years ago in Egipt. At that time it was possible to make clear and colourful but not transparent glass beads. Nowadays a variety of glass beads is much greater. Most popular being seed bead from Japan (companies like TOHO or Miyuki), lampwork beads from Italy (Venice and Murano islands), crystal-like beads from Swarovski, glass pearl (imitation of natural pearls) from China.

Wooden beads

Wooden beads In the modern production of beads, wooden ones are pretty common. There are a few types of wood being used for wood beads production purposes

  • Greywood
  • Jackfruit (Asia) 
  • Oak (Europe)
  • Rosewood (Philippines)
  • Patikan (Philippines)
  • Bayong (Philippines)
  • Palmwood

Crystal Beads (Swarovski)

Crystals are crystal beads made out of leaded glass and have a high shine. They are usually faceted for additional shine. The most commonly known crystals are Swarovski Elements but there are Czech crystals too which are of good quality at a cheaper price. Often used for wedding dresses and tiaras, crystal beads are most commonly used for special pieces of jewellery. Clear crystals are often known as rhinestones and can be purchased in a setting (chatons).

See all Swarovski crystals here >>

Bugle Beads

Bugle beads are tubular in shape and are cut to various lengths. The bugle beads are part of the seed bead group as they are available in very small sizes and are really useful for creating delicate seed bead jewellery. There are plenty of bugle beads available in different colours, finishes and twists. They are sized in length by using the numbers 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 3 and 5 with 0.5 being the shortest. The diameter of a size 2 and 3 is equivalent to a size 11 seed beads.

See all bugle beads here >>

Chatons & Rivoli

Chatons are crystal beads that are faceted, with a pointed back and foiling to reflect their sparkle.

Rivoli crystals are circular and feature smooth facets that come to a point in the middle, on the front and back of the crystal. They do not have a threading hole so are primarily used to glue into a setting or base, or they are bezelled using seed beads. 

See all chaton and rivoli crystals here >>

Delica Beads (Miyuki)

Delicas are small, perfectly cylindrical modern Japanese glass beads with thin walls and large holes. They are manufactured by Miyuki. They come in 2 sizes; a size 11 and a size 8 (often known as a double delica). Delicas are the best choice for bead weaving (on or off loom) and beadwork patterns such as peyote, brick stitch and square stitch as they lie beautifully flat.

See all Miyuki Delica beads here >>

Faceted Beads

These are beads that are cut to produce multiple flat faces that create a sparkling effect. Faceted beads are often made of glass, such as fire polished beads, bicones and rondelles.

See all faceted glass beads here >>


Flatbacks are crystals set on one flat side so they can be glued on. You can also obtain iron-on flatbacks for garments, also known as hotfix.

See all non-hotfix flatbacks here >>

See all hotfix flatbacks here >>


These beads are more compressed than a round bead so are great as spacers. They come in all finishes and sizes. We even sell a rondelle set with crystals.

See all glass rondelle beads here >>

Seed Beads

These beads are very short pieces of chopped glass cane that are heated until they form smooth shapes, usually round (rocailles, see above). The most commonly available are Chinese, Czech or Japanese. Japanese are top quality and very consistent, Czech middle quality and Chinese are cheap irregular beads. Also in the seed bead family are Delica beads, square beads, triangle beads, bugle beads and hex beads.

See all types of seed beads here >>

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Rocaille/ Round Beads

Rocailles are round seed beads. They are commonly sold in size 15 (smallest) to size 3 (largest). These are often used for stitched beadwork but they also make great spacer beads to use in stringing projects. Toho and Miyuki manufacture the best quality rocailles which are very consistent in quality, size, shape and colour.

See all round seed beads here >>

Shamballa Style Beads

These beads have a clay base with many Czech crystals set closely together over the surface to create a really sparkly, eye-catching bead. These beads are commonly used to create shamballa style bracelets using the macrame technique of square knotting between each bead.

See all Shamballa style beads here >>

Other Bead Types

Hex-Cut Beads are Japanese glass beads cut from a six –sided cane. They come in sizes 8, 11 and 12.

Lampworked beads are handmade one at a time by melting slender glass rods with a flame torch. The hot glass is carefully wrapped around a coated wire, which, when removed, forms the hole of the bead. These beads can be made with many different colours and layers of glass and may be highly decorated.

Shell beads are small discs or short tubes cut from natural shell material. 

Charlottes are Czech seed beads with one or two small flat facets ground onto their surfaces.

Cloisonné beads are made of enamel fired on a background, usually metal, to produce a mosaic or stained-glass effect. These beads are highly decorative and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Crow beads are large beads shaped like seed beads. Sometimes mistakenly called pony beads, they are commonly made of glass, plastic or wood and are larger than pony beads.

Liquid beads (silver/ gold) are very fine tubes of silver they look “liquid” when strung. Available in lengths similar to bugle beads; great for covering stranded wires.

Pony beads are shaped like seed beads but are larger and most commonly made of wood or plastic, but can be made of glass. Pressed glass beads are formed into special shapes made by passing thick molten rods of glass by hand through an automatic pressing machine.

Three-cuts are Czech beads with irregular facets all over their surface.

Want to learn more about beads? Take a look at our Bead Finishes information page >>