If you’ve not worked with pearls before, or you’re only familiar with one type of pearl designed for a specific use, such as round pearls for making necklaces, then you might be wondering what other types of crystal pearls are out there and how they are used. A question we often get asked is ‘what is the difference between round, flatback and half drilled pearls?’ So, we’re here to explain each type of pearl embellishment, including their uses within the creative world, and the differences between them.

An introduction to pearls

Pearls, also known as crystal pearls, pearl effect beads or faux pearls, are a glass bead or embellishment that is smoothed and covered with a thin pearlescent coating to replicate a fresh water pearl. The pearls produced by Swarovski, Preciosa and Zodiac are all imitation pearls, meaning they are a good quality, man-made replica of the real thing.

Pearls come in three main varieties: Round (Full-drilled), Round (Half-drilled) and Flatback (cabochon), and each of these has a different application method, which we will discuss below. There are also different shapes available such as pearshape, button, oval, elliptic, baroque and others but the most commonly used is round.

Round (Full-drilled)

Round pearls are probably what you think of first when you picture a pearl, they are a completely spherical pearlescent bead with a hole through the centre. This classic shape has a timeless appeal, and is the most popular pearl type for jewellery design, fashion and bridal. The ‘full-drilled’ term refers to the hole being drilled all the way through the pearl, as opposed to ‘half-drilled’ which is where the hole stops in the centre. Because the hole runs all the way through the pearl, it can be sewn onto fabrics or threaded onto jewellery wire and elastic to make necklaces and bracelets.

How and where you can use a round full-drilled pearl

  • Jewellery making – As well as threading round pearls to create necklaces and bracelets, you can use them to make brooches and drop earrings too. Round pearls are so versatile in jewellery, you can use them in different ways and with other embellishments to create different styles, from vintage chic to modern and contemporary.
  • Fashion – You often see pearls sewn onto knitwear and crocheted items such as scarves, hats, jumpers or gloves to add a bit of subtle glamour. Or sewn onto the collar of a glitzy gown for extra bling. Strings of pearls are often used as an added embellishment to a garment, usually pinned on in the form of a brooch or attached to a necklace.
  • Bridal – Drilled pearls are hugely popular in the bridal industry, from tiaras and hair pieces, to veil and dress embellishment, pearls make an appearance in most wedding related garments.
  • Embroidery & textiles – Crafters like to embellish their projects with all sorts of decorations such as beads, rhinestones and pearls. Round pearls are often sewn onto lace for a sophisticated and elegant touch, or can be sewn onto cross stitch projects, crochet or knitwear.

Round (Half-drilled)

When we talk about a ‘half-drilled’ pearl, this is referring to the fact that the hole running through the pearl stops at the centre, so it has been drilled only halfway through. This means that the pearl can be set onto a peg or piece of wire from the bottom, where the hole cannot be seen and you get a nice clean, smooth finish. Half-drilled round pearls are most often used in jewellery making, for pearl stud earrings or rings. In appearance they are identical to a full-drilled pearl, however they are missing the hole on the other side. To set a half-drilled pearl onto a wire piece or peg, squeeze a tiny amount of E6000+ glue into the hole if you can, or dab it onto the peg, then push the pearl onto the sticky peg until you reach the centre where the hole ends. The half-drilled hole offers a nice neat finish as it is concealed by the jewellery finding.

How and where you can use a round full-drilled pearl

  • Earring studs – It’s easy to make your own stud earrings using round half-drilled pearls, by using E6000+ glue and the application method discussed above.
  • Rings and necklaces – Using the same method as above, you can use a half-drill pearl to make a delicate centre piece for a ring or even a necklace pendent. You can purchase jewellery findings that have built in pegs to attach the pearls to.

Flatback Pearls

Flatback pearls, sometimes known as cabochon pearls, are more commonly used for dancewear embellishment, bridal couture, nail art, cardmaking and craft. Unlike a round pearl, they have a completely flat bottom, allowing them to be glued or heat fixed onto the surface. The most common type of flatback pearl is non-hotfix, which means it needs to be attached with glue. Hotfix pearls are available in the Zodiac brand and they require an applicator tool or household iron to attach them. Hotfix pearls are popular among bridal designers and costumiers who prefer to use heat than glue or hot melt glue guns.

Looking from above, flatback pearls are similar in appearance to round pearls, they have a smooth, pearlescent shiny coating that is rounded – essentially, they look like a round pearl that’s been cut clean in half. They are popular among crafters, costume designers and nail artists because of their versatility and ease of application, they can be treated in the same way as flatback rhinestones. Simply glue on with Gem Tac glue for craft projects or Crystal Fix for nail art.

How and where you can use a flatback pearl

  • Bridal – Flatback pearls are often added to wedding invitations, wedding cards, table decorations, thank you notes, name settings, seating plan etc to add a touch of class and elegance. Bridal wear designers also like to embellish wedding shoes and veils with flatback pearls, this is something you can do yourself at home too!
  • Cardmaking and scrapbooking – like with wedding stationery, crafters like to incorporate pearls into their papercraft projects. Pearls are not as blingy and sparkly as rhinestones and gems, but they offer a sophisticated and elegant feel so are often used to embellish wedding and anniversary cards, sympathy cards, new baby cards etc.
  • Nail Art – flatback pearls for nail art has become a huge trend in the last few years, with bridal nail art being the most popular use for them. But also to add a classy touch, rather than ‘in your face bling’ you can sometimes get with crystals. Nail art pearls offer a more subtle sparkle, and can enhance a simple nail design.
  • Irish dance dresses – Although crystals and sew on stones for Irish dance are the most popular embellishment for dresses, flatback pearls are starting to become more frequently used. They are available in larger sizes for Irish dance and in dozens of different colours. Combining pearls and rhinestones in matching colours to fit the theme of the dress adds depth and texture to the overall look.
  • Fashion – We’ve all seen crystal covered shoes and handbags, but have you thought about pearl encrusted accessories? Jimmy Choo is famous for covering designer shoes in crystals, and their pearl embellished items are gorgeous too. Perfect for brides.

Key differences

Now we know what each type of pearl is used for, it is important to know the differences between them so you can correctly identify which type of pearl you need for your project.

Round full-drilled

  • Spherical in shape
  • Hole running all the way through the centre
  • Application: Sewn or threaded

Round half-drilled

  • Spherical in shape
  • Hole running halfway through the centre
  • Application: Glued onto jewellery wire or peg


  • Domed top with a flat bottom
  • No hole
  • Application: Glue or heat fixing

As always, we’d love to see any of your own creations using pearls, you can send photos to sales@crystalparade.co.uk for a chance to be featured in a future blog post.

For more helpful tips and project ideas, check out our blog.