We know that starting your jewellery making journey can be overwhelming which is why, as a part of our how to make jewellery hub we’re giving you some helpful advice, tips, guides and more on a range of jewellery making. Here we’ve broken down some of the popular bead types to help you start to get familiar with some of the most popular bead choices out there
Beads are a small object that is normally decorative and available in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes with a hole in the middle for stringing or threading. They can range from 1mm to over 1cm in diameter, and be in materials like metal, clay, plastic, wood, pearl, glass, stone and more. There is a lot of choice, so it can be difficult to know what to go for. This is where we can help with our guide to beads.
Glass beads make up one of the biggest categories of beads available. They encompass everything from tiny seed beads, measuring just a few millimetres, to hand blown lamp beads, at up to an inch or two. They can be transparent or opaque. Some have decoration inside (e.g. crackle effects or stripes of colour), whereas others have coloured coatings to the exterior, often iridescent, to add shimmer. Glass beads can be both smooth and faceted, also come in a variety of pressed shapes which are made in moulds. Crystal beads are very popular, as they contain extra lead which results in the most amazing sparkle and brilliance. Prices vary enormously and depend on size, quality and method of manufacturer.
Plastic beads are often easy to get hold of and sold in craft stores and supermarkets. They represent one of the most cost-effective options and are often sold in large multi packs of 100 or 500. Plastic beads are light, bright and perfect for children. Made in moulds, plastic beads will often have a visible seam running round the centre and usually have a large central threading hole. Available in transparent and opaque finishes, plastic beads don’t have the shine or sparkle of glass but make an ideal choice for fun, elasticated bracelets worn layered with other materials.
Metal beads are usually hollow and are made from thin metal sheet, stamped into moulds. They are available plain, with a high polish or patterned, often ribbed, fluted or with shaped relief. Enamel beads have a metal core. Materials include base metals, precious metals and plated metals available in a variety of silver, gold and antique finishes. Sizes range from 2mm – 16mm (approx.) and prices depend on material and size.
Stone beads are available as irregular chips, nuggets, faceted rondelles and smooth round beads as well as a whole host of other cut shapes. They are dense and heavy compared to other materials and take on a lovely warmth when worn close to the skin. Threading holes can be extremely small so it’s vital to check this before purchasing if possible. Generally speaking, sizes of standard round and oval shapes tend to stay around 4mm, 5mm, 6mm and 8mm. Real stone beads, particularly semi-precious varieties can command high price tags so this is a factor to consider. More irregular, one off designs, can be very large, sometimes 3cm – 4cm across. You may well have seen larger flowers or butterflies made from Rose Quartz, Clear Quartz or Onyx, usually the more inexpensive stones which are in plentiful supply. Stone beads are normally sold in 16” strands (although this can vary slightly), therefore the smaller the bead, the more you will get. Prices depend on stone type and finish. You should expect to pay more for faceted beads whereas chips and nuggets can be relatively inexpensive.
Wooden beads, like plastic are beautifully light and are generally sold in simple shapes such as round, oval, tubes or rondelles. Wood is either sold in its natural state or dyed into bright colours so very different effects can be created with the same material. Threading holes tend to be on the larger side so they are ideal to use with leather cord and perfect for little hands to play with! Wooden beads are often quite chunky so expect to find larger sizes freely available. Sold either in larger multi packs or 16” strands, wooden beads are rarely expensive. They are a great place to start your beading journey.
Ceramic and Polymer Clay Beads
Ceramic beads come in many different forms and are normally glazed and often painted with detailed designs. (The glaze is vital to protect the delicate surface). Polymer Clay beads are moulded into various shapes and require no paint as the clay is already coloured. Designs can be glazed or unglazed but is not required to protect the surface. Ceramic beads can be very traditional, some originating from China and India whilst Polymer Clay examples are often more novelty themed. Designs can be abstract or figurative so vary enormously. They are normally sold in small multi packs of 5 or 10.
This is a basic run down of some of the bead types that are available. Of course, there are many more specialist designs, variations and niche products out there, but it is these basics that are a good starting point for any beginner. Ready to start delving further into making jewellery from beads? Visit the beading section of our jewellery making hub for all of the essential advice, tips, guides and more.