An Introduction to rhinestones

The term ‘rhinestone’ refers to a flat bottomed shiny stone, paired with a backing of mirror foil that helps to reflect light. They are cut to the chosen shape (typically round), with several facets that are angled to enable reflection of the light for added sparkle. Rhinestones, also known as crystals, gems or diamantes, are mainly used in the DIY sector for embellishment, jewellery making, fashion, costume design, nail art, beauty and are prevalent in the creative and performing arts industries. They may be coloured or clear, or it may even have a coating that creates special effects, such as opal, iridescent, metallic, neon, or multi-tone effects.

The history of rhinestones

There are many different manufacturers and brands out there, some more well known than others – we’ve all heard of Swarovski Crystals, but some may not have heard of Crystals by Preciosa or Zodiac Crystals; both leading competitors of the famous Austrian company. Swarovski started the crystal revolution in 1895, and dominated the market for decades, until Preciosa was founded in 1948 and brought with them stiff competition. Although the exact manufacturing process is not known, their rhinestones are made from quartz sand and other natural minerals. Historically the crystals from both manufacturers were made with a certain amount of lead, but they are now both listed as lead-free.

With the two famous manufacturers leading the way in crystal production, other smaller companies have since attempted to replicate the famous rhinestone sparkle, with hundreds of brands coming out of China, India and the USA offering cheaper alternatives. However, unlike Swarovski and Preciosa, who’s rhinestones are highly polished glass, many of these imitation brands use cheaper and lower quality materials such as resin, plastic or acrylic. The term ‘crystal’ should only be used to describe a rhinestone that is made using natural materials such as mined and cut glass, so when you see rhinestones being described as diamantes, gems, or sequins, this usually means they are made using a man-made material.

In recent years, a new brand of crystal called Zodiac was launched by Crystal Parade, which has shown to be one of the best cost-effective alternatives to Swarovski crystals. They are a high quality Swarovski alternative brand made using natural glass and other materials, and offer an almost identical sparkle. The level of sand quartz in Zodiac crystals is not as high as Swarovski, however the presence of the natural material is still prominent and has its values.

Another well-known brand of rhinestone is DMC (Diamond Machine Cut), which offer a good quality shine, and a cut that is similar to Preciosa. Their coating isn’t as flawless as the three top brands Swarovski, Zodiac and Preciosa, and they are slightly more expensive than Zodiac. However they do have a good range of colours and sizes available.

Rhinestone brands


Swarovski is known all over the world as the leading manufacturer of crystals and cut glass, using high tech machinery to produce a myriad of crystal components, ensuring they stand out from other manufacturers. Their range of flatback stones, sew on stones, beads and pearls, which are the more popular components in the DIY sector, are the market leader in terms of quality of cut and brilliance. For example, the 2088 Xirius flatback rhinestone, the latest cut, features 16 facets in star formation, offering an amazing sparkle. The round and flatback pearl range has a smooth and pearlescent exterior and a durable scratch-proof coating making them a popular choice among jewellery designers. The overall standard of Swarovski foil backed crystals and sew on stones is of the highest quality in the industry, with a smooth, flat base and scratch resistant finish.


Preciosa rhinestones are now becoming more well known in the industry as Swarovski’s biggest competitor, offering a similar high quality but more affordable range of flatback crystals, jewellery components, cubic zirconia and crystals for lighting.


Zodiac Crystals launched in 2019 after years spent researching, testing, and quality checking different rhinestone manufacturers, to offer a high quality, more cost-effective brand to the market, as an alternative to more expensive brands like Swarovski. With brilliant sparkle, a durable foil backing and scratch proof coating, Zodiac crystals consistently match other top brands when it comes to quality and durability. They have been applied to many different surfaces without failure to adhere and we can assure customers that they will stand the test of time. The Zodiac brand is now recognized amongst costumiers, fashion designers, nail artists, crafters, blingers and dressmakers across the country as being a high quality and cost effective alternative to Swarovski.

With such fantastic quality alternatives available at a lower cost, designers have started questioning ‘Is it worth investing in Swarovski crystals?’

What are the different types of rhinestone?

While the term ‘rhinestone’ literally means round stone, people often use it to describe decorative stones in general, no matter what shape it is. However, the round flatback stone is the one most of us think of when we hear ‘rhinestone’ and it remains the most popular choice for most creative genres.

Hotfix vs. Non Hotfix

When it comes to flatback rhinestones, there are two types: Hotfix and Non Hotfix. This refers to the way the rhinestone should be applied to the material, so what is the difference between Hotfix and Non Hotfix? Hotfix rhinestones require heat to melt the glue on the back of the stone and allow it to stick, this can be achieved using a hotfix applicator tool, heat-press or household iron. Non Hotfix rhinestones need to be attached using the correct glue such as E6000+ or Gem Tac. Hotfix rhinestones can be identified by the rough textured, darker foil backing. Whereas non hotfix rhinestones have a smoother, more pale foil backing.

Colours, finishes and sizes

When it comes to choosing the perfect crystal colour for your project, the options are vast. All three top brands Swarovski, Preciosa and Zodiac offer a huge range of crystal colours and effects, with Clear and AB being the two most popular.

  • Clear - This is a colourless, diamond effect stone, with a mirrored foil backing to reflect the light. It is one of our most popular colours as it adds a luxury feel to whatever you’re crystallizing. Because of its colourless nature, clear crystals can be used on almost anything and will work with every other colour.
  • AB - (Aurora Borealis) gets its name from the natural phenomenon that occurs in certain skies at night known as the Northern Lights. It is a coated crystal that has a rainbow effect, much like a soap bubble, or sometimes described as an ‘oil on water’ effect. This is the most popular colour by far, especially in the performing arts world, the stunning AB coated crystal reflects light superbly and looks gorgeous under spotlights. The coating reflects the colours that surround it so use against pale colours for pinks, purples, pale blue and golds to shine through. Or use on a darker background to see greens, yellows and darker shades of blue.

People often ask what is the difference between Clear and AB crystals? While they are similar in some ways, both working well with other colours and both having the most sparkle, there differences are important too. Clear has no colour to it, whereas AB shines all colours of the rainbow – each bringing a very different look. With all of the colour options available, it can be tricky choosing the right colour for your project. Here’s a breakdown of rhinestone colours:

  • Standard Colour - Standard colours make up the majority of the range, these are crystals that are just one colour throughout and have no effect or coating over the top. If you’re looking for a simple block colour in a variety of shades, go for one of these. You can choose between bright bold shades, pastel vintage style shades or neutral tones – they really do spoil us for choice!
  • Coating - Coated crystals, also known as special effects or finishes, are where a thin layer of material has been laid over the top of the crystal, coating it, to create an unusual effect. This could be metallic, shimmer, iridescent or multi-tone.
  • Neon - Neon rhinestones are as bright and bold as the name suggests and some even glow in the dark! Neon crystals are perfect for creating eye catching designs within nail art, Irish dance, costume and jewellery making.

Other colour types include opal finish, AB colour coating, metallic, multi-tone and shimmer.

With 16 different sizes in the Flatback Crystal range, it can be tricky to decide which rhinestone size to use for your project. Here is a handy guide to rhinestone sizes:

SS2 (1.4mm) – SS9 (2.8mm) – These smaller sizes are generally used for nail art, tooth gems, make up, and are often used as gap fillers when embellishing with larger stones.

SS10 (3mm) – SS20 (5mm) - These sizes can be used for lots of different types of craft including nail art, body and face gems, dressmaking, interior décor, shoe embellishment, greetings cards, parchment craft, sewing & textiles and bridal couture.

SS20 (5mm) – SS48 (11mm) - These are the biggest sizes in the flatback rhinestone range and are most commonly used for Irish dance dresses, costume design, interior design and artwork/canvases. As these crystals are very large and have some weight to them, they are less frequently used in craft projects.

Other types of rhinestone

As well as the classic round rhinestone, other types of rhinestone include flatback shapes, glass beads, sew on rhinestones for dancewear, pointy back chatons, fancy stones, pendants, single stone settings and round & flatback pearls.

Understanding rhinestone quality

Genuine Swarovski, Preciosa and Zodiac crystals will always have their logo on the wholesale packaging, however, to recognize them when they have been removed from their original packaging there are some tips and tricks the expert eye can see:

  • Check the foil backing - Swarovski’s non hotfix backing is completely smooth and has a slight gold tinge to it, whereas Preciosa and other rhinestone brands are more grey/silver in colour.
  • Swarovski and Zodiac have a recognizable star shape cut into the facets of the stone. When you compare a Swarovski 2088 Xirius stone, or a Zodiac stone to a Preciosa for example, you can clearly see the star pattern.
  • Another good tip for spotting Swarovski, Zodiac and Preciosa among the crowd is to check for scratches, chips or any irregularity - they will not have any, unless they have been dropped or extremely roughly handled.

How to apply rhinestones

Being able to successfully apply rhinestones to any surface is a great skill, that can take a long time to perfect. Whether you’re a beginner or expert embellisher, it is always useful to know the basics of how to apply rhinestones. Each type of rhinestone has a different application method, so make sure you know if it’s a hotfix or non hotfix stone. Then depending on the type, you can choose which application tools to use to suit your project. Here are some examples of where rhinestones are used and how to attach them:

  • Irish dance costumes – Every Irish dance dress, waistcoat, tiara or headpiece is usually encrusted with crystals or rhinestones. Decorating an Irish dance costume with flatback rhinestones and sew on stones has been popular for years, and the easiest and quickest way to attach them is by using a hot glue gun or Gem Tac glue. Embellishing your dress with sew on stones to is a great way of getting extra coverage, plus you can sew these on as well as using glue for extra durability.
  • Latin & ballroom dance costumes – For dance dresses, shirts and waistcoats, it is common for both hotfix and non hotfix rhinestones to be used. If the outfit requires a large amount of stones, the costumier will tend to embellish using the hotfix method as it can be quicker and less messy.
  • Theatre, drag & burlesque costumes – Most theatrical and performance costumes are donned with lots of different types of rhinestone, so choosing and applying crystals for costumes can be tricky, it really depends on budget. A lower budget means non hotfix rhinestones are the best choice, and if you want to spread out the sparkle to cover a bigger area and get more for your money, sew on stones are a great way to go.
  • Nail art & beautyChoosing the right crystals for your nail art is simple – stick to the smaller sizes SS3 – SS9 and always use non hotfix rhinestones with Crystal Fix glue. Another great nail art crystal decoration is diamond dust. Applying Swarovski Pixie or Preciosa Faerie to nails is quick and a offers a beautiful sparkle. A trend from the 90’s that’s back with a vengeance is applying tooth gems, Preciosa’s lead free SS3 rhinestones are the perfect choice.
  • Interior design – Using rhinestones within your interior design projects can add a subtle difference, or completely change your surroundings, depending on how you use them. Popular ways to use rhinestones in your home are embellished light switches, crystal button studded sofas, pelmets or headboards, beaded lampshades, crystal chandeliers, decorative embellished mirrors and frames, and ever crystal wallpaper. If you want to go full bling and encrust your walls with rhinestones, self adhesive rhinestone sheets for covering large areas are the quickest and cheapest way to achieve this.
  • Clothing & fashionApplying rhinestones to clothing is a huge trend at the moment, especially with DIY and upcycling become ever more popular. There are many ways to attach rhinestones to fabric, including the basic glue on or heat fixing methods, as well as ironing on a rhinestone transfer, using sew on stones or attaching rivets to the fabric.
  • Craft – For cardmaking, papercraft and scrapbooking applying non hotfix rhinestones with craft glue such as Gem Tac is the best method. If you want to add sparkle to your textile and crochet projects, bicone beads are a really popular choice.
  • Bridal – Heat fixing rhinestones to a bridal gown or veil is a common way to add sparkle to a bridal garment. Or when creating a headpiece, threading round pearls, beads and stones in settings is a great way of bringing a touch of elegance to the piece. Bridal designers don’t tend to work with non hotfix crystals as the glue can be messy and time consuming.

Choosing the Right Rhinestones for Your Project

With so much choice when it comes to rhinestone brands, colours, shapes and sizes, choosing the right rhinestones for your project can be overwhelming. There are a few questions you can ask yourself to help make the right choice:

  • Is it a one off project or will you be doing multiple items? For a one off or small project we would recommend choosing non hotfix crystals and glue. This is a more cost effective method. If you are embellishing in bulk, for example multiple dance costumes, the hotfix method is quicker and less messy.
  • What material are you embellishing? We don’t recommend using hotfix rhinestones on plastic or glass, and certainly not for nail art, beauty or tooth gems.
  • What is your budget? A big budget means you can splash out on luxury like Swarovski or Preciosa, but a tighter budget means you might have to stick with cheaper brands and resin or plastic rhinestones. If it is somewhere in the middle, Zodiac is a great choice – you get more for your money and the quality is up there with the luxury brands.
  • How many rhinestones do you need? Rhinestones can be purchased in large wholesale quantities (hundreds or thousands), as well as smaller retail pack quantities (less than 100). Generally, if you require more than 1000 rhinestones, it is more cost effective to buy in wholesale.

The following articles may help with choosing the right crystals for your project:

Choosing and applying rhinestones for shoes

Choosing and applying rhinestones for costumes

Choosing and applying rhinestones for nail art

Choosing the best sew on rhinestones

If you are struggling to choose between brands, colours and sizes, there are sample charts available or you can order samples of a particular rhinestone to see it in the flesh.

Tips & Techniques for Applying Rhinestones

When applying rhinestones to any surface, it is essential to ensure you have prepared your work area and you’re using the correct tools for the job.

Before you start…

During application…

  • Make sure you are working in natural daylight so you don’t strain your eyes.
  • Have a damp cloth on hand for spillages.
  • Have an idea of your preferred rhinestone application style – it will be obvious if you don’t stick to one pattern/style.

When you have finished…

  • Check for gaps and fill with smaller rhinestones.
  • Make sure all the rhinestones are sitting flush against the surface to prevent any pinging off.
  • Allow to dry fully (24 hours if time allows).
  • Once dry, wipe over the surface of the rhinestones with a damp cloth to clean away any dust or grease.

We have a fantastic catalogue of project ideas and tutorials which are great for showing exactly how to embellish using rhinestones.

How to care for your rhinestones

Once you have embellished with rhinestones, it is important to keep them well maintained to ensure they last as long as possible. Here are a few tips to preserve their beauty:

  • Once applied, and the glue is completely dry, polish the crystals with a slightly damp cloth to remove any grease or glue marks. You will immediately see them light up.
  • Try to avoid contact with anything that might scratch the crystals, or cause them to fall off. If transporting your item anywhere, wrap up carefully in bubble wrap.
  • If you need to wash an item that has crystals on such as clothing, costumes or dancewear, make sure you do it on a cool wash and don’t use fabric conditioner. Even better – hand wash!
  • Try not to keep the item in direct sunlight which may affect the effectiveness of the glue.
  • Avoid contact with chemicals such as perfume and household cleaning products.

Storage Solutions

It’s important to take good care of your crystals, even if you’re not using them. If you have crystals in your craft kit that you’ve not yet used, keep them tightly wrapped in their packaging or in storage pots. This will stop any scratches or chips. Storage pots are also a great way of separating colours, sizes and shapes etc, especially if you work with lots of different crystals like nail artists or crafters. For larger crystals such as fancy stones, buttons or sew on shapes, it is a good idea to keep these separated by keeping them in their original packaging, or wrapping them tightly in tissue paper.

Buying Rhinestones: Tips & Considerations

When purchasing crystals or rhinestones, always spend a little more time to research a reputable brand to ensure you are buying good quality stones. You also need to consider pack quantities – sometimes it is worth spending a bit more money to purchase a wholesale pack, that way you have spares if you need them.

Tips for purchasing good quality rhinestones…

  • Check the rhinestones have the brand logo on the packaging to know they are genuine.
  • Spend a little more money to find a higher quality rhinestone such as Zodiac, Preciosa or Swarovski. The last thing you want is peeling, discolouration or scratched rhinestones.
  • If you are unsure of size/colour, ask for a sample before you buy. This will save a lot of hassle if you realise you have the wrong colour.
  • If you need any help or advice on which crystals to buy, how to apply them or how many you need, always contact the supplier first. Any good rhinestone supplier will have the knowledge and experience to offer the best advice.

If you’d like any more information on the different types of rhinestone on offer, or need help with a project, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re here to help!

Swarovski preciosa & zodiac