excerpt from the June 2010 Margie’s Muse column

Seed beads are chameleons. They change their color—sometimes dramatically. When strung as a hank, seed beads will enchant you, casting a spell that sounds like “Buy me. You can’t live without my color.” Then when you stitch or string it alongside ten other colors (you couldn’t live without) they darken or lighten, disappear or pop out jarringly.

Glass beads are the grandest of visual tricksters. The smaller the bead, the trickier the tricks. Color changes radically based on the light source, surrounding beads, thread, background, bead finish, and other factors.

For example: did you know that when you look at the surface of a silver-lined bead you see about 50% reflected light and 50% reflected color? If it’s a green silver-lined bead, you are not seeing all green… you are actually seeing much of the light source illuminating the bead.

A bead’s color is altered by its surface finish. Depending on the bead’s finish, the same hue of green can appear hard and rough or soft and smooth, iridescent as cellophane or solid as velvet.


Admittedly, our pre-mixed medium of beads limits our color selection. However, surface finishes give us a creative playground unavailable in other mixable mediums such as paint. Red paint is altered only by another color or substance (oil, glaze, varnish). In contrast, red in the form of beads comes in a matte finish, semi-matte, opaque, transparent, iris, pearlescent, or some combination of the above.

Understanding a beads’ reflectivity as well as color provides a more comprehensive approach to designing with beads.

Start by thinking in terms of reflectivity first, color second when you are choosing colors. When you look at a particular bead, how much light are you seeing? How much actual color are you receiving?

…To read entire article with many more photos & a downloadable PDF, go to Margie’s Muse


I offer a one-day class exploring the issues presented by bead finishes. I also offer an on-line class at CraftEdu titled “Seed Bead Finishes and Their Interaction with Color.” At the end of this hour long class you will:

  • know the major categories of seed bead finishes and you’ll understand how each interacts with light and reflects color
  • be able to make confident choices to create the effects you want in your beaded jewelry and art
  • be able to enjoy the thrill of working with seed beads creatively, artistically, and expressively.
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