A Zipper Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Zip Types

We get SO many questions about zips… Separating zips… Close-ended zips… invisible zips… continuous zips… We hear ya! What zip do you need where and what exactly do those numbers mean?! Our zipper guide has everything you need to know about zip types.

Get to know which zip-type is suitable for the projects you wish to sew and find the answers to some of our most asked questions about zippers!

How confident are you sewing zips?

Do you avoid them altogether? You’re not the only one! 

They’re one of the tasks our seam-star community frequently asks for help with.

So fear no more… We’re here to give a helping hand!

Boring Legal Bit: If you follow any tutorial or guidance found in this post, or on this blog, you agree to be bound by our disclaimer which can be viewed here

Most beginners believe sewing them is hard… when in fact it’s a lot simpler once you’ve learnt some basic principles.

There’s a range of zips, with SO many different types out there so we’ve put together this guide to talk you through the different types of zips available and help you sort your concealed from your chunky…

All of these zips are available from our online fabric and haberdashery super store but read on for ALL the zipper low down!

You can watch a video I did talking you through all the different zip types here:

The Anatomy Of A Zip

First, let’s talk about the anatomy of a zip… You might find some of these terms in a tutorial and it’s useful to be aware of the parts, and the functions they serve in your zip

Top Stop: A small bar at the top that stops the slider from coming off of the top of zipper tracks.

Bottom Stop: A small bar at the bottom that stops the slider from coming off of the bottom of the zipper tracks.

Slider Body: The most common part of the zip, it separates and joins the tracks as you slide the pull tab up and down.

Pull Tab: The second part of the slider body, used to pull the zipper up and down.

Zipper Tape: This is the fabric part that gets sewn on to your project. The zipper teeth are attached to the zipper tape

Retainer Box: Secures it together and stops the slider from coming off of the bottom – this only applies to separating zips.

Insertion Pin: Holds the opposite side of the zipper in the retainer box – this only applies to separating zips.

Different Types Of Zips

Now you know your top stop from your slider let’s talk about the two basic zips types: Closed ended zips & open ended zips…

On the left we see a closed-ended zipper – the zip is permanently closed on one end

On the right we see an open-ended or separating zipper. The zip completely separates in two. These zips are often found in jackets, coats and other garments.

(Left: close ended zip – Right: open ended zip)

What is a closed ended zip?

Closed ended zips are a great jumping off point into the world of sewing zips – sewing wise they’re one of the easiest to get the hang of.

It has a bottom stop which is a metal bar that goes across both sides of the bottom of the zipper and holds it together in one piece.

These kinds of zips are really versatile as they come in a wide range of both colours and sizes

They can be used in making pouches, bags, dressmaking, cushions and lots more.

These zips are great for beginners, check out our zip tutorial here

What is a separating or open ended zip?

Does pretty much what it says on the tin, this zipper separates at the bottom – great for fastenings that require opening/closing.

Separating zippers are usually found in jackets and coats.

You can cheat and use these zips in place of a closed ended zip if you like the style… you simply just treat them as you would a closed ended zip and bury the separating end in a seam or cover with a zip tab!

What type of zip do I need?

The 4 most common types are nylon coil zip, plastic moulded zip, metal zip and invisible zip.

What’s a nylon coil zip?

A nylon coil zip is one whose teeth are made from nylon, rather than hard plastic or metal. Made how it’s named, nylon monofilament is coiled and then stitched or woven into the zipper tape.

Nylon teeth zips are great to use as you can usually sew right over the teeth without your needle breaking!

(Nylon coil zip)

Nylon zippers are also really flexible compared to other zip types. They have strong horizontal strength, this is ideal because they’re easily fixed if broken.

These are the zips of choice for luggage and outdoor products due to their strength, you’ll likely find them on suitcases, backpacks, tents or jackets! Thanks to this bad boy you can overpack your suitcase and STILL close it shut without ripping the whole thing apart!

Nylon zippers are also very forgiving if you sew over them – it’s unlikely your needle will break if it’s a size 80 or stronger.

What does an invisible zip look like?

As the name might imply – these are (almost!) invisible! These zips are also known as concealed zips.

Usually with very fine teeth, they’re sewn into the seam in garments to give a clean finish – with only the pull tab showing (if installed correctly!).

Invisible zipper

You ideally need an invisible zipper foot to insert this zip type more easily and accurately.

Where to use a moulded plastic/chunky zip?

These zippers are usually constructed from acetal polymer plastic and have symmetrical teeth that interlock together. They also have more substantial & defined zip teeth than other zips – hence the name chunky! These are most commonly seen on clothes like jackets and also handbags.

Sadly, if one of the teeth breaks over time it’s very difficult to fix.

However the shape of the teeth makes them slightly stiffer/stronger than nylon coil ones – it’s a balance!

Plastic moulded or chunky zip

What are metal teeth zips?

Probably the most sturdy and durable of the bunch, they have teeth made out of metal that are clamped onto the zipper tape, however they can be relatively heavy and are a lot more difficult to shorten.

Often seen on denim jeans due to their resistance to withstand multiple washes, and due to the rough nature of how people wear/treat their jeans. This style is also used for heavy-duty items such as duffle bags, leather products and suitcases. 

There is a huge trend towards adding metal teeth zippers to pouches – they add a feeling of luxury.

(Metal teeth zip)

What are continuous zips?

These zips don’t have a beginning or end, you can cut them to the length you need as there’s no pull tab or bottom stop and you can purchase the zipper tape by the metre.

Zip pulls are purchased and added separately giving you more control over the look and design of your project.

These are great if you need a very long zip. Perfect to reduce waste and for those niche projects, you can also customise it to your needs and add zip pulls to either side!

(Continuous zips)

Check out our other post which gives you a tutorial on how to add the zipper pulls to the zipper tape on a continuous zips

What does a #3 or #5 Zip look like?

Ever wondered what a size 5 zip actually is?! For the uninitiated, it might seem confusing but the reality is it’s very simple…

Zip sizes are expressed in numbers (#) and the width of the zip teeth is measured in millimeters. The most common are size #3 and size #5. 

In most cases the overall size is an approximation of the zipper teeth width in millimeters when the zip is closed.

Right: 5mm – Left: 3mm

When sewing your makes, if your project doesn’t include a recommendation for the size of the zipper, you can use the table below:

Zipper Size Chart

Zipper No.SizeBest Suited For
1 – 4 SmallSkirts, trousers, cushions, clutch bags, dresses

5 – 7

Jackets, tents, sleeping bags, boots, golf bags, purses

8 – 10

Wetsuits, upholstery, heavy-duty clothing, boat covers 

Don’t forget when it comes to measuring the length of your zip, you should start measuring from the top stop and finish measuring when you reach bottom stop, this will give you the most accurate measurement of your zip.

How heavy are zips?

Weight is an important factor to consider as you want to match a suitable weight to the project you’re working on. 

Usually metal zippers will weigh a lot more than moulded plastic ones.

So for example if you’re sewing some children’s clothes with a zip on the front, metal may not be suitable as it would be too heavy and weigh the whole garment down.

Zipper Tools

Grab the tools below to help you with your zip sewing!

What does a zipper foot look like?

A recommended prerequisite before you start sewing zips is getting yourself a zipper foot. Although some seam-stars agree it’s not a necessity – it does make life a lot easier and you are more likely to get a nice finish.

You can get 2 different zipper foots, an invisible zipper foot and a regular zipper foot. 

The difference between both is self-explanatory, the invisible zipper foot is to be used when sewing invisible zips, and the regular zipper foot is to be used with all other types.

(Two different types of regular feet)

(Invisible zipper foot)


Some zippers such as nylon coil and chunky zips can be cut with scissors to shorten, however metal ones need a little more work to shorten & pliers are the perfect tool for this. 

All you need to do is snip & pull off some of the metal teeth with pliers.

Clear Tape

An easy tool most of us have in our homes, the same sellotape we use with wrapping paper! We like Scotch Magic Tape as it doesn’t leave a residue on your project.

Use this to stick down the zip whilst sewing for ease to keep it from slipping.

Check out steps 10-11 in our piped cushion tutorial for an example on how to tape your zipper down whilst sewing.

Wonder Tape

Ideal for holding together seams, zips or hems when stitching knit fabric, it’ll also keep the fabric from stretching as you sew.

Even better… this tape disappears after the first wash!

Did you find this Zip guide helpful? Let us know in the comments.

We’ve got more zip insertion guides and tutorials planned this year so subscribe to our newsletter below so you can get a notification when we have a new blog post live!

If you prefer watching rather than reading, check out our video version of this guide over on our Youtube!

12 thoughts on “A Zipper Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Zip Types”

  1. Wow! Thanks for all this detailed explanation. I’ll be saving this for future reference.

  2. I accidentally bought a closed zip (dual colour chunky) when I need an open zip. Is there a way to convert those?

    1. Oops! Not that I know of… thinking about the anatomy of the bottom stop of an open ended zip I’m not sure it’s possible Jane – these parts are moulded on at manufacture

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