Styles of Beads Used in Beadwork

Closeup of green seed beads scattered on a wooden surface
Taalulla / Getty Images

When you' are new to bead weaving, it can be easy to find the large volume of bead terminology daunting. Every bead type and shape has its own name and characteristics, and bead manufacturers sometimes supplement or change names to distinguish their lines.

To help you sort things out, I've put together the following list of common bead styles. Some topics provide links to a separate article with more details about that type of beads, such as that beads most common uses and availability of sizes. 

  • 01 of 09

    Seed Beads

    Round seed beads

    Lisa Yang

    Seed bead is one of the most common terms used to describe the tiny glass beads used in beadwork. The name is no doubt attributable to their small size which can resemble roundish plant seeds. 

    Informally, the term seed bead can apply to any small glass bead. This is why you may sometimes see other styles of beads appended with the term seed beads. However, the name seed bead usually applies to small round glass beads. Preciosa, the Czech bead manufacturer, calls these beads rocaille beads.

    If you're unfamiliar with how seed beads are sized, take a moment now to review their sizing terminology.

  • 02 of 09

    Cylinder Beads

    Cylinder beads in size 8, size 10 and size 11

    Lisa Yang

    Cylinder beads are a variety of seed beads that have a uniform shape with straight sides and large holes. Cylinder beads are the best beads to use to achieve smooth, even beadwork in loom weaving, and stitches such as peyote or brick stitch.

    Cylinder beads come in a broad range of colors. The number of colors combined with their precision shape, make them the beads of choice for very detailed, flat designs, including photorealism designs. The best cylinder beads are manufactured in Japan.

  • 03 of 09

    Cut Beads

    Cut Charlotte Beads

    Lisa Yang

    Cut beads are a variation of round seed beads. They are basically round seed beads that each have one or more flat sides or cuts. The cuts on the side of the bead are like facets on a gemstone and have the effect of adding extra sparkle and interesting texture to your beadwork.

    Beads with a single cut are called Charlotte beads and they add a subtle sparkle to beadwork. There are also beads with three cuts, appropriately called 3 cut beads. As you might be able to guess, 3 cut beads add a higher level of sparkle to beadwork.

    Many vintage beaded accessories, such as purses, are adorned with cut beads.

  • 04 of 09

    Hex Beads

    Hex Cut Beads

     Lisa Yang

    Hex beads are a combination of a cylinder bead and a cut bead.  Instead of having the rounded sides of a cylinder bead, the hex cut bead has six even cut sides to reflect the light.  The sides of hex beads are still straight and the holes are large, so they can be used in most of the same ways as cylinder beads. Hex cut beads come in similar sizes with the same diameter as cylinder beads. They are readily available in size 8 and size 11, but they are slightly longer than regular cylinder beads.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Drop Beads

    Drop beads are shaped like a water drop

    Lisa Yang

    Drop bead is the name for a rather large group of beads that are made to look like drops of liquid. Despite the name similarity, drop beads can have considerable differences in size and shape depending on the manufacturer. 

    Miyuki fringe beads, pictured at left, are some of the smallest drop beads and, as their name implies, they make a perfect end to beaded fringe. Some other uses are to add texture to flat or tubular beadwork. Consider using them in your next tubular herringbone or Russian spiral stitch design.

    Magatama beads are similar to drop beads with the hole at the top, but more elongated and cut at a slight angle from front to back.  Magatama beads also work well as fringe end beads, in border trims or to add texture to bead weaving stitches.

  • 06 of 09

    Cube and Triangle Beads

    square and cube beads

    Lisa Yang

    Cube beads, not surprisingly, are shaped like cubes with square sides all around. Not all cube beads are the same.  Various brands and styles differ in the shapes of the beads and sizes of the holes. Some cube beads are more rectangular or they may have more rounded corner.  These differences are largely a result of their method of production.

    Triangle beads are shaped like triangles on the outside.  They are available in similar sizes are other seed beads and can add depth and interest to bead weaving designs.  Similar to cut beads, the flat sides reflect light differently than a round bead in a similar design.

  • 07 of 09

    Bugle Beads

    Bugle beads

    Lisa Yang

    Bugle beads look like tiny tubes of glass. They remind me of cylinder beads that are stretched out to be longer than usual. Bugle beads come in a wide variety of lengths and can add drama and interest to your beadwork designs.

     Bugle beads are most popular for use infringe, but you can also weave them into flat or tubular beadwork. One of the most negative aspects of bugle beads is that the ends are often sharp and can cut beading string when used in woven designs. Make sure the beads are smooth at the hole to avoid problems.

    Bugle beads are made by the same manufacturers as seed and cylinder beads so you can find them in the same colors. Bugle beads may be cylinders or cut on the sides and also come in a twisted variety.

  • 08 of 09

    Two Holed Beads

    Two Hole Beads

    Lisa Yang

    Two-holed beads come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They are characterized by two parallel holes instead of the usual one. 

    Two-holed beads have several advantages. First, two-holed beads provide unique shapes that are not otherwise available. Another advantage is that they can speed up your beadwork because you only have to pick up half as many beads. More and more two holed beads have been introduced in the past few years. 

    Tila square beads were one of the first two holed beads. Their flat shape resembles a tile, but they have a slightly curved top and edge. Tila beads are available in a half tile bead that provides greater versatility in your designs.

    Another style of two holed beads is duo or twin beads. Duos and twin beads are similar in shape and size but made by different manufacturers. Their unique profile allows them to nestle closely around seed beads in a design.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Other Specialty Beads

    O beads
    O beads are one of several new shape beads   © Lisa Yang

    There have been so many new specialty beads introduced recently that it can be hard to keep up. Some are sure to become favorites while others may be destined to a shorter lifespan as suppliers can only carry so much inventory of different shapes and colors.

    Some specialty beads to look for include Farfalle beads and O beads. Farfalle beads look like two-ended drops or cartoon style barbells. They create lots of interesting and creative beadweaving opportunities. O beads are donut shaped with large holes.