Types of zippers – what you need to know 3

There are many types of zippers on the market. It can be confusing when you try to pick the most appropriate for your sewing project.


If you are interested in clothes and home decor, there are just a few to know. I am using them 99% of the time and I think this is the case for most sewing enthusiasts.

Zippers can be divided into two categories: by the materials used (the parts they consist of) and by the way they function.

Parts of the zipper

A zipper consists of a tape, a slider, a pull, teeth and stoppers. Separating zippers have a retainer box and insertion pin in place of the bottom stopper.

On the image below there are two close-end zippers, one is a nylon zipper and the other is a metal zipper.

A comprehensive guide on the type of zippers, how they function, and what is the best zipperfor your sewing project.

Functionality of the zippers

Based on the way a zipper works, there are close-end (non-separating) zippers, open-end (separating) zippers, zippers by the yard and invisible zippers.

Close-end zippers

Close-end zippers have stoppers on both ends of the teeth. The teeth chain finishes with a stopper that doesn’t allow the teeth to separate at the bottom. Close-end zippers are used on details of the garment that don’t need to be completely separated like the fly on pants and jeans, pockets, dresses, leg openings etc.

There also are two-way close-end zippers. They have two zipper pulls that open and close in opposite directions. They can be head to head or tail to tail. Those are widely used on bags, backpacks, covers and cases.

A comprehensive guide on the type of zippers, how they function, and what is the best zipperfor your sewing project.

Invisible zippers

Invisible zippers are very delicate. They are made so that the teeth are staying on the wrong side of the garment. What you see from the outside is just a bit of the tape and the zipper pull.

Invisible zippers are widely used on skirts, dresses and pants. They are very delicate and break easier than other types of zippers. You might want to consider that when you pick a zipper for your sewing project. If there is a lot of tension/stretching where the zipper is, I sometimes would pick a regular zipper instead of the invisible one.

Separating (open end zippers)

As the name shows, these zippers separate at the bottom by a mechanism that include retainer box, insertion pin, and reinforcement film. The pin gets inserted into the retainer box and the zipper pull closes the teeth. The reinforcement film on the bottom end prevents the tape from breaking.

These zippers are used on jackets, sweatshirts, and anywhere that you might want the details of the garment to separate completely (like on removable hoods on jackets for example).

Separating zippers can be two-way as well, which means that they have two sliders that open the zipper in both directions – from the bottom and from the top.

A comprehensive guide on the type of zippers, how they function, and what is the best zipperfor your sewing project.

Zippers by the yard

Here the zipper tape is sold by the yard. It’s also called zipper on a roll or zipper tape by the yard. It looks like a nylon coil zipper, but doesn’t have stoppers or sliders on it. 

The zipper sliders for it come separately. They are specifically made for this type of zippers.

They don’t lock the same way as other zipper sliders on garments and are easily opened when there is some stretching or preasure.

This makes them not very appropriate for garments.

To use the ziper tape, you need to cut as much as you are going to need, insert the slider and sew.

The nice thing about zipper by the yard is that you can cut it as long as you need it.

We widely use it for casings, bags, upholstery, and pillows of various sizes. It comes very handy on things that are too long or with exact custom measures.

There are a couple of cons as well. The first is that unlike other zippers, there are very little colors available for zippers by the yard.

Also, the lack of stoppers, and the easily moving zipper pull makes them unappropriate for clothing.

Types of zippers by the materials used for the teeth

Metal zippers

Metal zippers have separate metal teeth. They can be separating or non separating. They are usually very durable and you can use them on jeans, jackets, bags, etc. 

In my experience, metal zippers don’t go too well with jersey knit fabrics. They stay too heavy on the fabric and pull and stretch it in unnatural shapes. For 

knit fabrics, I usually prefer coil nailon or molded plastic zippers.

Types of zippers for sewing and which one is the best for your sewing project.

Molded plastic zippers

Molded plastic zippers have individual teeth that are fused to the tape. The teeth look like the ones on metal zippers, except that they are made from plastic. Molded plastic zippers can be close-end and separating as well.

Those zippers are very durable. You can use them on jackets and sweatshirts, pants and skirts, pockets, etc. I prefer them for knit fabric outerwear, because they are almost as durable but lighter than the metal zippers.

Coil nylon zippers

Coil nylon zippers have continuous coil instead of separate teeth. The zipper pull closes both sides of the zipper the same way as if there were individual teeth. Those zippers are a bit more prone to breaking, but they are widely used on garments as well.

 I prefer to put them when there is less stress on the garment, for example on pants and skirts that are not very fit and tight, on active wear and especially on light weight fabrics.

How to measure a zipper 

To get the right size of the zipper, measure from end to end without including the free tape left at the end.

This means from the zipper slider down right to the stopper or the retainer box if it happens to be a separating zipper.

In this example I measure this zipper to be five and a half inches long.

If you measure with open slider, start at the stoppers on the top of the teeth.

How to shorten a zipper

Why and how to shorten different zipppers? 

If I have a coil zipper that is longer than I need, I usually sew right through the coil. If the zipper is too long and I shorten it from the top, I cut straight trough the tape and the coil chain and posibly move the top sliders. 

I haven’t found a way to shotren molded plastic zippers without spoiling the tape, so I try to find the proper size of those. If you have a tip on those, share it in the comments below.

If I am dealing with a metal zipper, I pull some of the teeth out until I reach the length I want.

Here is a video on how I shorten a metal zipper.

How to fix broken a zipper

If the zipper is missing a tooth or if the coil chain is separated from the zipper tape, what I do is replace the whole zipper.

I know that there are sewists who move a tooth from somewhere else to the spot that it’s missing and glue it there. I don’t feel confident that this would provide lasting results, so I prefer to change the whole zipper. Especially on clients’ clothes. 

Another fatal problem is when the zipper tape breaks right to the pin on separating zippers.

In many other cases the problem that need to be fixed is in the slider. This can very often fix the zipper and save you a lot of time and work on replacing the whole one.

 Keep in mind that the slider might not seem to be broken, but if it doesn’t close the teeth chain properly, it probably needs a replacement. You know that this is the case when the slider won’t stay up, or if the teeth separate under the slider on jackets.

How to change the slider on a zipper?

First, check the number on the back of the slider. This number indicates the width of the teeth chain. There are different types of sliders for the different type of chain as well: metal, molded plastic, etc. 

Another thing you must keep in mind is that just like with zippers, there are plastic sliders of low quality as well. You don’t want to replace the slider only to find out that it’s broken again in a week or so.

In all other cases when replacing the zipper slider doesn’t solve the problem, you are going to have to replace the whole zipper. How to change a whole zipper would be the topic of upcoming tutorials.

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More sewing tutorials:

  1. Clothing alterations – sleeves and collar
  2. How to change a turtleneck into a crew neck
  3. Change a turtleneck into a crew neck – another way
  4. How To Take In The Waist Of Jeans For A Better Fit
  5. How to sew an elastic waistband


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