Zippers come in a wide variety of designs and sizes for different uses. The most common types are nylon all-purpose, molded plastic VISLON, metal, invisible, closed-end, open-end, waterproof, reversible, locking, continuous, and 2-way zippers. This guide will help you find the right zip for your next sewing project.
- Different zipper types & their uses
- Zipper sizes
- Different zipper teeth
- Parts of a zipper
- Different sliders & pulls
- Different zipper stops
- Quick Q&A’s
Different types of zippers & their names & uses:
Coil / Nylon / All-Purpose Plastic Zipper
Description: A coil zipper has a lightweight nylon coil that’s sewn onto the zipper tape. It’s a lightweight, flexible option that’s most often found in smaller sizes, but you can also get it in larger teeth width. This material is really easy to cut and sew, so you can easily adjust its length to suit your project’s needs.
- Light to medium weight garments like trousers, skirts, dresses, quarter / half-zips
- Zippered pouches
- Zippered pockets
Molded Plastic / VISLON Zipper
Description: Molded plastic zippers (called VISLON zippers by YKK) have shaped plastic teeth that lock together. They usually come in larger sizes.
- Jackets, coats
Description: Metal zippers have metal teeth that are clamped into the zipper tape. They are a strong and flexible option that works great in projects that require strength. Metal teeth zippers are more difficult to cut to size, so try to get the exact length you need. You also need to be careful not to sew directly over the teeth or you’re guaranteed to break your sewing machine’s needle.
- Jeans and other denim projects like overalls or jumpsuits
- Jackets, vests, and coats
Description: Invisible zippers have zipper teeth at the back of the zipper tape that don’t show on the front side. When sewn correctly, they allow you to completely conceal the zipper on your project. They also feature a softer zipper tape and more elegant zipper pulls.
- Dresses, skirts
- Any project where you don’t want the zipper to show like a hidden zippered pocket
Description: Closed-end zippers have a bottom stop at the bottom of the zipper teeth that keeps the two sides of the zipper from separating. You’ll only be able to open the zipper up to the bottom stop.
- Garments like trousers, skirts, dresses
- Pillow cases
- Zippered pockets
Open-End / Separating Zipper
Description: Separating (or open-end) zippers have a special mechanism at the end of the zipper teeth instead of the bottom stopper that allows you to separate and re-join the two sides of the zipper. They are perfect for garments that need to open all the way up.
- Open front or back tops
Description: Waterproof zippers have extra coverings over the zipper teeth that prevent water from seeping in through the holes.
- Diving suits
- Waterproof shoes
- Bags and luggage
Description: A reversible zipper features either a reversible slider or a double pull. Both of these mechanisms allow you to open and close the zipper from both sides of the zipper.
- Sleeping bags
- Jackets and coats
- Ski suits
Description: Locking zippers have a few different varieties, but they all contain a mechanism that locks the slider into place when it’s not in use. This prevents the zipper from accidentally opening on its own when it’s under strain.
- Jeans, skirts, dresses, trousers
Continuous Zipper / Zipper Chain by the Yard
Description: Continuous zipper (or zipper chain by the yard) is a roll of zipper tape and teeth that you can cut down to size. You’ll need to add top stops, a bottom stop, and a slider to turn into a finished zipper. These are usually available in coil and molded plastic zippers.
- Custom length zippers, especially in extra long lengths
- Furniture / pillow covers
Description: Two-way zippers have two sliders on a single zipper, so you can open them from both ends.
- Ski suits
- Coats, jackets, vests
Zipper teeth sizes:
There are two size indicators you’ll need to watch for when purchasing a zipper. One refers to the width of the zipper teeth, and the other refers to the length.
The number following a hashtag (like a Size #5) refers to the width of the zipper teeth in millimeters. Simply measure between the outer edges of your zipper teeth to figure out its size.
- Size #4-4.5: This is the size you’ll find on most coiled zippers. It’s ideal for use with light to medium-weight fabrics, on projects that don’t require a ton of strength.
- Size #5-7: These medium sizes are often found on molded plastic and metal zippers, and they are great for bags, denim, workwear, jackets, and other projects that require a little extra strength.
- Size #10 and above: These larger sizes are used on heavy-duty projects or for decorative purposes.
The length of a zipper is found by measuring between the top and bottom stops, and not the actual length of the entire tape. So, if your project calls for a 4” (10 cm) zipper, you’ll want the length between the stops to be 4” (10 cm). You can either get a continuous roll of zipper and cut it to the size you need, or you can get the exact length you need as a finished zipper. Keep in mind that zippers come in standardized lengths, so if you need a very specific non-standard length you’ll need to either get a continuous roll and cut it yourself or have it professionally cut to size at the store.
Types of zipper teeth:
There are three main types of zipper teeth:
- Coil zippers feature lightweight nylon coils that are sewn onto the zipper tape. This makes them nice and flexible, and they are easy to sew on a curve. They are usually found on zippers with smaller teeth, and they are perfect for lightweight garments, bags, and other projects. I wouldn’t recommend them for areas that will be under a lot of strain, such as a tight-fitting pair of jeans, as the teeth aren’t as strong as the other alternatives.
- Moulded plastic or VISLON zippers have much bigger teeth that are made out of shaped pieces of plastic that lock together. They are stiffer compared to coil zippers, and more difficult to sew on a curve. They are often used on jackets, coats, kids’ clothing, and bags.
- Metal zippers have metal teeth that are clamped around the zipper tape. They are strong yet flexible, making them perfect for many garments and projects that require strength. It’s more difficult to adjust their length compared to plastic alternatives, so I’d recommend getting the exact length you need. It can also be a little more difficult to move the slider up and down the teeth compared to coil zippers, so they may not be the best alternative for projects where you’ll frequently need to open and close the zipper.
What are the parts of a zipper?
Closed-end zippers are made up of 6 main parts:
- Top stop: The top stop is composed of small plastic or metal parts that are at the very top of the zipper teeth on each side of the zipper. They stop the slider from sliding too far up and becoming detached from the zipper.
- Bottom stop: The bottom stop is usually a small metal bracket that looks like a thick staple. It’s located at the bottom of the zipper teeth, and it helps keep the two sides of the zipper together and stops the slider from sliding too far down. On some plastic zippers, the bottom stop is created by melting the teeth together rather than attaching a separate stopper.
- Teeth / elements: Zipper teeth (also called elements) are the small parts that are on either side of the zipper that engage with each other to open or close the zipper when they pass through the slider. They can be made out of metal or plastic depending on the type of zipper you get.
- Slider: The slider is the moving part that joins the two sides of the zipper together. Its function is to open and close the zipper teeth as it’s pulled up or down.
- Zipper pull: The zipper pull is the part that’s attached to the slider for ease of pulling it up or down.
- Tape: Zipper tape is the fabric tape onto which teeth are mounted. It’s most commonly made out of polyester.
Open-end or separating zippers have 3 additional parts instead of the bottom stop that allow you to fully separate the two sides of the zipper:
- Insert pin: The insert pin is located at the bottom of the teeth, on the side of the zipper that can be taken out of the slider. It helps you guide the teeth back into the slider when you want to close the zipper.
- Box pin: The box pin is located at the bottom of the teeth, on the side of the zipper that cannot be taken out of the slider.
- Retaining box: The retaining box is found at the very bottom of the zipper, on the side without the insert pin. It’s a small box-shaped part that has a hole for the insert pin. It functions as the bottom stop for separating zippers.
Types of zipper sliders & pulls:
- Non-lock slider: Non-lock sliders are the most common sliders you’ll find. They feature no locking mechanism, so the slider can freely move up and down in any position and the zipper teeth can be forced apart by pulling the two sides apart.
- Auto-lock slider: Auto-lock sliders contain a locking mechanism that prevents the zipper from opening unless pressure is being put on the slider. That means the zipper won’t open until you start pulling on the zipper pull to move the slider.
- Pin lock / semi-automatic slider: These sliders are often found on jeans, and the locking mechanism unlocks when the pull is raised to a 90-degree angle from the slider. You won’t be able to pull the slider down and open the zipper if the pull is laying parallel to the zipper.
- Key lock slider: A key lock slider has a small keyhole on it, allowing you to lock it using a key.
- Reversible slider: A reversible slider features a rotating rail on which the pull can move. This allows you to access the pull from both sides of the zipper, making the zipper fully reversible. They are often used on sleeping bags and ski suits.
- Double pull: A double pull zipper is similar to the reversible slider, but rather than having a single pull that can move along the rail it features two pulls that are attached to either side of the slider, making the zipper reversible.
Types of zipper stops:
If you purchase a pre-cut, finished zipper, it will come with top and bottom stops already attached. These can be separate parts that are made out of metal or plastic, or made by the melting of existing plastic zipper teeth to create a stopper. However, if you purchase a continuous roll of zipper and you want to cut it to size and turn it into a finished zipper, you’ll need to attach or create your own top and bottom stops. Here are a few alternatives you can choose from:
- Stainless steel top stops: These are small metal brackets that you can clamp to the top teeth to form a top stop.
- Metal or plastic top stops: These are made out of metal or plastic, and you use them by taking out a single teeth from where you want the top stop to go and clamping these into its place.
- Metal bottom stop: This is a small metal part that looks like a thick staple with a wide, flat surface. To use it, you pierce either side of the zipper tape with the sharp legs that are sticking out and press the legs down to fix them into place. Now, the slider won’t be able to move past this point and the two sides of your zipper will remain attached at the bottom.
- Fabric bottom stop: You can form your own bottom stop by folding a small piece of fabric, tape, or ribbon over the end of your zipper, and sewing a line of stitches on your sewing machine to secure it into place. The stitches will stop the slider from moving past them, and the fabric can add a unique touch to your zipper.
How much do zippers cost?
- All-purpose coil zippers: $1-6 / £1-4
- Invisible zippers: $1-2 / £2-3
- Metal jeans zippers: $2-6 / £2-5
- Separating molded plastic zippers: $4-8 / £5-10
Types of zippers for dresses?
If you don’t want your zipper to be seen, choose an invisible zipper. If you want the zipper to be exposed, you can use a coil, molded plastic / VISLON, or metal zipper depending on the look you’re going for.
What kind of zipper is used for jeans?
Metal zippers are the best option for jeans.
Types of zippers used in garments?
You’ll find almost all types of zippers on garments, depending on the style and materials of the garment. Invisible zippers are often found on dresses and skirts, metal zippers on jeans, molded plastic zippers on jackets and coats, coil zippers on trousers, and reversible zippers on ski suits.
Types of zippers for jackets?
You can use a coil zipper on lightweight jackets, but for medium to heavyweight jackets I’d recommend using a molded plastic or metal zipper. They both look better and are most suitable in strength for heavier materials.
Types of zippers for bags?
Depending on the style of the bag, you have a wide variety of zippers you can choose from. You can use a coil zipper for lightweight bags pouches, or a molded plastic or metal option for heavier-weight bags.
What type of zipper is most common for backpacks?
Molded plastic and metal zippers are the most common types you’ll find on backpacks.
What is the strongest type of zipper?
A metal zipper in a larger size will offer you the most strength.
What type of zipper to use for outdoor cushions?
High-quality molded plastic / VISLON zippers are a great option for outdoor cushions (source).
How many types of zippers are there?
It depends on how you’re categorizing them. There are 3 main types of teeth (coil, molded plastic, metal), 6 main types of sliders, and 2 main types of bottom stops (closed-end, separating).
Types of waterproof zippers?
Waterproof zippers come in all the types that are available in regular zippers, like closed-end, separating, coil, molded plastic, metal, and so on.
What to read next:
This article was written by Nisan Aktürk and edited by Sara Maker.
Nisan Aktürk (author)
Nisan started her sewing journey in December 2019 and already has a fully handmade wardrobe. She’s made 50+ trousers, 20+ buttoned shirts, and a wide array of coats, jackets, t-shirts, and jeans. She’s currently studying for her Sociology Master’s degree and is writing a thesis about sewing. So she spends a lot of her time either sewing or thinking/writing about sewing! Read more…