Learn all about the types of zipper and how to measure zippers. When you are learning to sew, sewing many zipper types can be a little daunting, but with my 4 part zipper tutorial series, you will gain confidence and skills in no time. So let’s start with breaking down the different types of zippers including nylon, metal, invisible and more.
Types of Zipper Tutorial
Types of Zipper by Material
Zipper types can be classified by the material the teeth are made from and the type of material in the tape.
Here are 4 main types of zipper you will use for garments, accessories, and sewing homewares:
Here is a table outlining the main similarities and differences in the types of zipper.
|Invisible Zippers||Dresses, skirts, and other garments where a concealed closure is desired.||Teeth are on the backside of the zipper, making it seem 'invisible' when sewn in. The zipper pull is usually thin and small.|
|Nylon (Coil) Zippers||Versatile; used in clothing, bags, tents, and more.||Made of coiled nylon or polyester, often lightweight and flexible. Can be made nearly invisible or more pronounced depending on design.|
|Metal Zippers||Jeans, leather jackets, work boots, luxury bags.||Teeth made of metal (like brass, aluminum, or nickel). They are sturdy and can have a shiny or matte finish. The pull is often more substantial and sometimes decorative.|
|Molded Zippers||Jackets, sportswear, children's wear, some bags.||Teeth are made of molded plastic. These zippers are durable and often appear similar to metal zippers but can come in various colors.|
1. Nylon Coil Zippers
Nylon zippers are flexible and are the most common type of zipper used in clothing, bags, and homewares. They look plastic, and they tend to be monochrome colors with matching tape. The tape is tightly woven, and the heads are usually small.
In sewing patterns, nylon zippers are often referred to as plastic zippers. The stopper at the end of the zipper is usually metal, but the rest looks plastic.
For beginners, these are the easiest zippers to sew as the teeth are small, and there is only a small amount of metal to worry about your needle hitting. Nylon coil zippers are easy to shorten by cutting and sewing across the ends. Here is a tutorial on how to shorten a zipper.
2. Metal Types of Zippers
Metal zippers have metal teeth (Is that a surprise?) These types of zipper have teeth that generally come in different metallic colors such as aluminum, brass, gold, and nickel. I love the look of a brightly colored metal zipper with gold teeth.
They are mainly used in bags and jeans and trendy exposed zips for clothing. The advantage of using metal zippers is that they are long-lasting and are the least likely to split apart.
The larger heads used in metal zippers make them a little harder for beginners to sew as you often have to stop sewing, move the head and then start again.
Metal zippers can also be shortened if necessary but it takes a little more time than nylon zippers and involves using pliers. Here is a tutorial on how to shorten metal zippers.
3. Invisible Zippers
Invisible types of zipper also have nylon coil teeth, but the teeth are at the back of the zip so that when you sew it in your garment, there are no teeth showing on the outside.
If you look at the photo above, you will see that the invisible zipper marked number 3 has a distinctive long-shaped, solid head while the ordinary nylon coil zipper has a rectangular head with a hole in it. While there are small differences between brands, this is fairly typical. Most invisible types of zipper have a mesh style of tape on the sides, making them flatter and less noticeable.
Dresses, skirts, and pants commonly use invisible zips. Invisible zippers can be sewn with specialty sewing machine feet called an invisible zipper feet or with a regular zipper foot.
Further Reading: How to Sew Invisible Zippers
4. Molded Plastic Zippers
Molded zippers are made from plastic and have large interlocking teeth. They are mainly used in jackets backpacks, or bags.
Types of Zipper by Chain Openings
Zippers can be open-ended or closed-ended and cut to size or continuous.
5. Open-Ended Zippers (Separating Zippers)
Open-ended zips are used on jackets and sweatshirts where you need to separate the ends to open your jacket.
6. Closed-Ended Zippers
Closed-ended zippers are used on dresses skirts and cushions where the zipper is sewn into a back or side seam. They have a bottom stop which is generally a metal bar going across the 2 sides of the zipper tape.
7. Continuous Zipper Chain
Closed-ended nylon zippers can also be bought on continuous rolls instead of preset sizes. This is especially useful for large cushions or as an economical alternative for the production sewing of clothing. Fabric stores sell them by the yard or meter and heads or sliders may be included or sold separately.
You just cut the length you need and then sew across the bottom to stop it from splitting. Don't use your good scissors to cut through the tape as they will go blunt very quickly. Heads are manually put on which I find a bit fiddly to do but my mother is great at it. There is a definite knack for putting on the heads.
Purchasing the heads separately for continuous zippers is a definite advantage as there are a lot of fancy zipper heads that you can use instead of the boring rectangle ones.
Types of Zipper by Coil Sizes
Zips come with different-sized teeth called coils. The zipper coil width is measured across the actual teeth and not the fabric tape. Larger numbers mean larger teeth!
YKK zips which is one of the better-known zipper brands, have numerous types of zipper with coil sizes from 2 to 10.
If you are sewing clothing or handbags, you will usually use a size 3. Handbags and clutches use a size 3 or 5. The larger the coil size, the wider the fabric tape on either side of the teeth and the larger the head.
|Coil Size (in millimeters)||Recommended Use|
|2.0 mm||Lightweight garments, skirts, dresses|
|3.0 mm||Lightweight jackets, bags, purses|
|4.0 mm||Medium weight jackets, backpacks, cushions|
|5.0 mm||Heavy jackets, luggage, outdoor gear|
|6.0 mm||Tents, heavy-duty luggage, industrial uses|
|8.0 mm||Extra heavy-duty applications, marine uses|
|10.0 mm||Specialty applications, large tents, structures|
Here is a coil size 3 compared to a size 5. Notice the difference in the teeth size, tape width, and head size.
Types of Zippers by Length
How to Measure Zippers
The length of a zipper is measured from the bottom metal stopper to the top stoppers. In other words, you measure the length of a zipper along the teeth and NOT the fabric tape.
Most sewing patterns don’t specify the width of the zipper tape needed but you will notice that the larger the teeth the wider the zipper tape.
Types of Zipper Lengths
The length of a zipper plays a part not just in the ease of use of clothing or other item but also in its design. For example, full-length zippers on jackets offer a complete opening, while shorter zippers might provide a half or quarter-opening, altering the garment's style and wearability.
In fashion design, the choice of zipper length can transform a piece from casual to formal or vice versa.
In bags or purses, the length of the zipper can affect the security and capacity of the storage. Longer zippers might offer easier access but could potentially compromise the item's shape or structure. In contrast, shorter zippers can provide a snug closure.
Selecting the right zipper length is vital for achieving the desired functionality and look of an item.
Here is a table with some common zipper lengths and some items they suit.
|Zipper Length||Common Uses|
|4-5 inches||Used for pockets and small pouches|
|6-8 inches||Suitable for internal compartments in bags|
|7-9 inches||Commonly used for jeans and trousers|
|20-24 inches||Ideal for everyday jackets and hoodies|
|18-24 inches||Perfect for main compartments in larger bags|
|30-36 inches||Used for longer outerwear like winter coats|
Parts of a Zipper
Here are the different parts of a zipper:
- Tape: This is the fabric on both sides of the zipper chain. When the zipper is sewn into a garment or a bag, the tape is what gets stitched to the item.
- Slider: This is the moving part that travels up and down the zipper to open or close it. It joins or separates the teeth.
- Teeth: These are the interlocking pieces that run along both sides of the zipper tape. When you "zip" a zipper, you are interlocking these teeth. They can be made of metal, plastic, or other materials.
- Pull Tab: This is the part of the zipper that you hold to move the slider up or down.
- Stop: These are devices used to stop the slider from traveling further than intended. There are typically two types: Top Stop: This prevents the slider from coming off the top end of the zipper. Bottom Stop: This stops the slider from coming off the bottom of the zipper. For separating zippers (like on a jacket), the bottom stop is often a larger mechanism that includes a box and pin system.
- Box and Pin (for separating zippers): On jackets and other items where the zipper completely separates into two pieces, there's a box on one end and a pin on the other. The pin inserts into the box to start zipping the zipper together.
- Retainer Box: Found in separating zippers, it holds the slider when the zipper is fully unzipped.
- Insertion Pin: On a separating zipper, this pin is inserted into the slider to start zipping.
- Chain: This refers to the zipper teeth when they are fully engaged or meshed together.
- Tape Ends: These are the portions of the zipper tape that extend beyond the teeth or chain, typically at the bottom end of the zipper.
Different types of zippers, such as coil zippers or invisible zippers, might have some variations in these components, but the ones listed above are commonly found in most standard zippers.
How to Sew a Zipper
How you sew a zipper depends largely on the types of zipper you are using. Nylon coil or plastic zippers are the easiest to sew.
Parts 1-3 of my Zipper Series
- How to Sew a Zipper (Best tutorial for sewing nylon zippers and an easy method for beginners)
- How to Sew an Exposed Zipper (Tutorial for sewing metal zippers on the outside of clothing)
- Sewing an Invisible Zipper
Extra Zipper Tips
Here are ten tips to help you sew zippers more effectively:
- Choose the Right Zipper: Ensure the zipper type (e.g., invisible, coil, metal) and length are appropriate for your project. It's better to use a slightly longer zipper than needed, as you can always trim it.
- Prepare the Fabric: Interface the fabric where the zipper will be installed to prevent stretching and provide stability.
- Pre-shrink Zippers: If the zipper isn't labeled as pre-shrunk, it's a good idea to gently hand-wash and dry it before sewing to prevent any unwanted changes in length after the garment is washed.
- Temporary Stitching: Before sewing the zipper, baste the fabric seam closed where the zipper will be installed. This provides a smoother surface for application.
- Use the Right Foot: Use a zipper foot or an invisible zipper foot (for invisible zippers) on your sewing machine. This allows you to stitch close to the zipper teeth without interference.
- Start at the Top: Begin sewing from the top of the zipper, moving downwards. For lapped zippers, start on the loose side first.
- Go Slow: Be careful when sewing your zip that you don’t sew over any of the metal stopper pieces. These are bound to break a needle.
- Pressing: Take care when pressing a garment with a zip. Use a pressing cloth on top of it to protect the teeth.
- Fixing Zippers: If your zip gets stuck, try rubbing the teeth with a graphite pencil. Read more about how to fix zippers.
- Test Before Finalizing: Before sewing the garment closed and making final touches, ensure that the zipper zips up smoothly without catching any fabric.
Remember, practice makes perfect. Sewing a zipper is a skill that improves with repetition, so don't be discouraged by initial challenges. Soon, you'll be installing zippers with confidence!
Do I Need a Zipper Foot?
Regardless of the types of zipper you are sewing, you will need a zipper foot. These specialty feet come with most machines and allow you to sew to one side of the foot rather than in the center like the all-purpose foot.
Sewing with the needle to one side of the foot means you can get closer to the edge of the zipper teeth resulting in a flatter and more attractive fastening. Read more about the zipper foot.
Types of Zipper FAQs
What Are the Types of Zipper?
The 4 main types of zipper are plastic (also called coil or nylon), metal, invisible, and molded.
What is the Most Common Type of Zipper
By a long way, the most common type of zipper is the coil style. These are lightweight zippers made from polyester or nylon and are used in clothing production, particularly dresses, pants and skirts.
What is the Strongest Type of Zipper?
The strongest zippers are those with metal teeth. They may have teeth made from nickel or brass. Molded zippers are also made strong and have the advantage of not corroding over time. If you are looking for a strong zipper, you should also consider the size of the teeth. Larger teeth are stronger and will last longer.
What Does #3 Zipper Mean?
#3 refers to the size of the zipper teeth. They are the most common zipper size and are used in dresses, skirts, and pants. The teeth of these zippers are 3mm wide (⅛") and commonly, the zipper tape is 1 inch across.
Other Useful Zipper Tutorials
I hope you enjoyed this article on the types of zipper. Here are some more tutorials you might be interested in.
- How to Shorten a Zipper
- How to Shorten a Metal Zipper
- Zipper Pouch Tutorial (This tutorial will show you how to sew a zipper in a small lined pouch. )
- How to Cover Zipper Ends (This technique is used for sewing bags and clutches)
- How to Sew a Zipper Pocket (This will show you how to insert an inside zipper pocket into any bag or purse)
- Zippered Cushion Covers (How to make a cushion cover with a zipper on the side)