Learn the Cylinder Bead Numbering System

Jul 23, 2008

If you’re a cylinder bead fanatic, you probably know about the elaborate numbering system used to identify each bead. Or maybe you don’t? If the latter is the case, read on to find out about this cylinder bead Dewey Decimal System of sorts. Tucking this minutia in your noggin will give your bead shopping savvy a boost.

The cylinder beads available in the United States are primarily from two Japanese companies—Miyuki and Toho. Both companies make fabulous beads in a staggering array of colors and styles. One handy thing for beaders is that each company tags their beads with a product code: The first letters identify which type of bead it is; the set of numbers that follow indicate which color it is. So, for instance, a “DB 723” is a size 11° (DB) shiny red (723) cylinder bead.

The good thing about knowing the numbering system is that if you’re dying to buy that same type of bead you used four years ago in a bracelet you gave away to Aunt Mabel, you don’t have to search hard to find it—you can often just order it by the number. (A couple words of warning: Like fuzzy stuff (yarn), though, beads have dye lots. So don’t be surprised if the color in that new tube of Aunt Mabel beads varies slightly from your last one. Also, the names of beads vary greatly between American distributors—these English versions aren’t standardized.)

You can search the sample cards for cylinder beads and other seed beads on each of these company’s websites. When you’re looking at the sample cards, don’t bother trying to make sense of the order—they are numbered a bit willy-nilly. But once you find the color you’re looking for, you can head to your local bead shop and request it by number! Aren’t YOU just the sassy smart bead buyer now? 

Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!

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Jsmaz wrote
on Jul 23, 2008 8:39 AM

Thanks Jean!  I knew basically how the Delica numbers worked but that chart is mighty handy since I can't always remember them off the top of my head.  

JanetS@70 wrote
on Jul 23, 2008 9:57 AM

Excellent article, Jean.  Learning every day about beads.


BeadPassions wrote
on Jul 23, 2008 2:43 PM

Hi Jean,

Great info about delicas!  Do you know where I can go to get a complete list of available delicas and tohos?

Thanks much.  Loved meeting you at Bead Bash in Tahoe all those years ago.


on Jul 23, 2008 7:13 PM


Both Miyuki and Toho Co. Ltd. have very extensive websites that display each and every one of their bead types and colors. If you're interested in purchasing sample cards, these companies may be able to help you find retailers in your area you can order some from (these big companies only sell wholesale to huge importers).


on Jul 23, 2008 7:55 PM


Several years ago I purchased quite a few "Antique" beads.  Is there some place that I can find a chart that translates the Antique Color Numbers into the Delica Color Numbers?

CindyC@53 wrote
on Jul 23, 2008 9:50 PM

Thanks so much Jean.  Great info as always.   I have a wonderful bracelet book that gave the beads they used with this code but neglected to put the code anywhere in the book so I was left guessing.  I've saved and printed a copy of the jpg and put it in that book as a reference.


SusanC@71 wrote
on Jul 24, 2008 7:49 PM

Great info.  Are the color numbers universal as well?  I have a pattern that gives the number for a color, but they're not matching-up.  I'd appreciate any help you could give me.  Thanks!