Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seed Bead Brand Comparison

Color Blocked Rope Necklace

Since renewing my love for Czech seed beads, I’ve been pondering just what it is that makes Czech and Japanese seed beads different from each other. We know that there are small differences in size and shape, but are those qualities consistent with each brand, and how do they affect beadwork?

I decided it was time to compare some of the major seed bead brands, and track some of the variables that make them preferable to each beader. This would not be a competition - the purpose is not to see which brand is ‘better’, but to see what separates them all from each other. There are many factors that go into choosing the right seed bead, and so long as the quality of glass is good, properties such as price, color, colorfastness, and availability usually win out.

I started by selecting two colors and finishes from each of the brands I use in my designs: Toho, Miyuki, Matsuno, and Preciosa. I did not include Delicas, because although they are technically seed beads, they don’t have the same properties as round seed beads or rocailles. I briefly considered including some Chinese seed beads as well, but I decided it wouldn’t be suitable to include beads of lesser overall quality. (I also didn’t want to waste any thread on them).

Czech Seed Beads Japanese Seed Beads

Preciosa Ornela Czech Seed Beads in Montana Blue and Dark Green AB
Toho Japanese Seed Beads in Transparent Lemon Lime Opaque Pepper Red

Japanese Seed Beads Japanese Seed Beads

Miyuki Round Seed Beads in Transparent Amethyst and Matte Ruby AB
Matsuno Seed Beads in Cactus Green and Robin's Egg Blue

I chose two beads from each brand to get a good comparison, but that is about as scientific as this experiment gets. Without a scale that could accurately measure small quantities, I did my best to measure out roughly the same volume of each bead color. To begin the comparison, I strung the same quantity of each bead and placed them side by side. The differences in shape and size are apparent right away, but the real test would be in the beadwork.

Seed Bead Brand Comparison

Next, I had to decide on a stitch to use them all with. I chose even-count tubular peyote because it would provide long swatches of beadwork to compare, and because the stitch relies on the shape and size of the beads for the best results. Weaves that allow the thread to fill in for inconsistencies - like herringbone or right angle weave - wouldn’t show the key differences quite as well.

I carefully culled beads as I went, removing any that were significantly larger or smaller than the rest of the batch, and those that were visibly misshapen. I tried to use the same criteria and tolerance for each brand and color, to get the most accurate idea of which beads had the most wonky-ness. The quantities of culled beads were much larger than they would be for an ordinary project, since I checked each and every one before stitching. Typically, I’ll quickly eyeball beads or give them the roll test - turning a bead on the needle and feeling for imperfections without really looking.

Here are the results:

Preciosa Czech Seed Bead Ropes Precious Czech Seed Bead Peyote Stitch

The first beads I used were the green Preciosa. After a few inches, a noticeable spiral effect started to take shape. I assumed that it was partly due to overly tight tension on my part - because the indent occurs at the step-up point - but also considered that the wide variety of sizes in Czech seed beads might be involved. Sure enough, when I switched to a new brand, the twist nearly disappeared, although there was a slight curl to most of the ropes throughout the experiment.

Toho Seed Bead Ropes Toho Seed Bead Peyote Stitch

The Toho beads were the least similar within a single brand in terms of shape and size, with the opaques being slightly chunkier than the transparents. And yet, of all the bead pairs, the Tohos provided the most similar lengths of beadwork, and similar amounts of culled beads.

Miyuki Seed Bead Ropes Miyuki Seed Bead Peyote Stitch

The Miyuki seed beads provided the most beadwork with the fewest culled beads, and they are also the most costly of the four. The difference in culled bead quantities may be partly due to the difficulty in spotting misshapen beads in transparent glass. The Miyuki seed beads have the most versatile size overall, with an almost perfect barrel shape.

Matsuno Seed Bead Ropes Matsuno Seed Bead Peyote Stitch

The results of the Matsuno beadwork was the most surprising. Over the years, I have come to expect about the same quality and consistency within a single brand and finish. Both Matsuno colors were plain opaque, and yet the beadwork and culls came out quite different. The Matsuno seed beads are also noticeable larger than the others.

Seed Bead Brand Comparison

For a final test, I created a third rope, beginning with the transparent Miyukis. I wondered if the shape of the beadwork would be affected by having a different base to work from. The Czech seed beads did fare a little better when stitched from an existing rope, but not by much.

Czech Seed Bead Tubular Peyote

In conclusion: I feel the same about each seed bead brand as I did before beginning this experiment. Each has its own unique qualities that lend themselves well to different types of beadwork, and different types of beaders. For now, I’m still relishing the amazing value of Czech seed beads, which are ideal for my favorite techniques like netting and herringbone.

Do you have a favorite seed bead brand? Which qualities make it ideal for you?

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  1. I personally use Matsuno and Miyuki seed beads for my projects.


  2. Beautiful... I thought that bead crochet....

  3. Thank you for taking the time to do this comparison and sharing the results with us. Though I am not a beader, I enjoyed reading the post.

  4. Hi Mortira ,

    The article on seed beads is very informative and helpful . Especially for a newbie like me . I come from India , where obtaining branded seed beads are a rare treat and those sold at local shops are all locally made and even after sorting them ( i use the kitchen sieve to sort them , nearly 70% are unusable. It took me quite a while to understand sizes too !
    Since I have to depend on friends and relatives visiting abroad , to get whatever little beads they can get , your article has helped me to understand the different brands and quality of beads available , It will help me make a better choice when I request for beads.
    Thanks again for sharing this article

  5. This was a really great post and one I'm sure I'll come back to again & again. It's so interesting to see how the different brands do different things. I actually like the spiral effect of those green Preciosas but if that's not the look you want, it's a problem for sure. This is just fascinating. Thank you!

  6. I have never been able to find Czech beads that were uniform enough in size to allow for their being inexpensive. I would much rather buy the Toho or Miyuki and have a better quality bead. Sometimes I can get Matsuno that I like, mostly depends on whom you buy them from. I bought the same brand, size, and color once from two different dealers and there was quite a difference in the quality.

  7. I just want to also chime in and say I found this side-by-side comparison really useful as well. Hardly anyone takes the time to do what you did and then document it.

  8. Absolutely brilliant AND informative post! I've been using Czech beads for a long while now and loved seeing the comparisons between the lot. Beautifully written, too, might I add.

    Happy Beading!

  9. Marvelous experiment and well worth doing. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Have you tried this with Dyna-mites from Fire Mountain Gems?

    1. I've only used Dyna-mites in size 8/o, and I find them to be very similar to Matsuno. The uniformity varies quite a bit, with some colors and finishes being a lot more irregular than others.

    2. Thanks, that's good to know. I'm guessing the more irregularities come with the fancier finishes?

    3. Not necessarily. I've got some AB's that are great, and some plain transparents that are totally wonky. Unfortunately it's hard to tell from pictures online - they all look pretty much the same until you get them home.

    4. Nice article. Well done and thank you for the comparison work you've done.

  11. What goes with Czech treasures size 11/0's that I bought at Hobby Lobby? What do they combine nice with? I need some extra colors, they were so limited. It states that they are rocaille beads. I believe they are round in shape.

    1. Size 11 rocailles (or round/traditional seed beads) go with pretty much anything you like! Your bead choices really depend on the type of project that you want to make and the techniques that you'll be using. Czech seed beads tend to be flatter and have a less uniform shape, so they are great for multistrand projects, freeform techniques, netting, and chains. If you don't mind a more organic look, you can also use them for flat beadwork, bezels, and ropes. Crystals are a popular accent, and they go with anything and everything glass. Happy beading!


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