Selecting the Right Zipper

Zippers are everywhere. They make their way into boat covers, patio enclosures, cushions, recreational gear, and apparel. With so many variants, it can be difficult to decipher which type is the best choice for a specific job.

To shed some light on this, we’ve broken down and explained some of the most common zipper components and types below.


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Standard Zipper Parts

diagram of zipper parts

  • The elements (or “zipper chain”) refer to the teeth or coil that interlock with each other and run along the middle of the zipper.
  • The slider is the pulling mechanism that opens and closes the interlocking elements (more on slider parts below).
zipper slider
zipper part
  • The zipper tape is the fabric attached to either side of the elements.
  • Top and bottom stops refer to the small pieces of metal or plastic placed at either end of the zipper to stop the slider from falling off the zipper chain.
  • Top and bottom extensions refer to the pieces of fabric at either end of the zipper unit.
  • The insertion pin is the small, straight piece of metal or plastic where the slider is led into the chain, while the retainer box is the square-shaped piece that stops the slider at the end of the chain and holds it in place.

Types of Zippers

  • VISLON® zippers have a closure structure resembling “teeth.” They’re made of plastic teeth injected onto the tape. Stiffer than coil zippers (see below), they typically work better for straight applications.

  • ZIPLON® zippers are often referred to as “coil” zippers because they have a closing structure where the teeth resemble “coiled” plastic. This coiling structure allows the zipper to bend well around curves. This makes them great for “smile” curtains, boat covers, cushions, or U-shaped openings in boat enclosures.

  • Metal zippers are commonly used in applications that don’t require weather capability.
  • Concealed zippers, also called “invisible zippers,” are designed so that the elements are hidden under the tape.

Zipper Sliders

Slider Parts

  • Crown (top)
  • Puller or pull-tab
  • Body (part that engages with zipper elements)
  • Throats
zipper slider structure
  • These come in a single slider (one per zipper unit) or double slider (two per zipper unit) option.
single zipper slider
double zipper slider
  • An auto-lock (or AutoLok) slider stays in place where you put it. It will not open the zipper chain unless you pull the slider. A non-locking slider has no locking mechanism to keep it from sliding.
  • Sliders come with round or square pull tabs.
rounded zipper slider
squared slider
  • When shopping for sliders, note that there are ZIPLON-compatible sliders and VISLON-compatible sliders.

Zipper Chains

  • A continuous zipper, or plain zipper chain, has no finished end, which makes it the most modifiable. It’s great for bags, pillows, tents, and custom projects.

continuous zipper

  • A finished, closed, or separating zipper is finished at either end to stop the slider. The two ends separate at the end, making them ready-made for jackets and enclosures.

closed zipper

  • Either side of the zipper end comes in closed or open varieties.

closed and open zipper types

Tips of the Trade

  • Plastic zippers cannot be repaired if a tooth breaks off while metal ones can. However, plastic zippers typically last longer and are more resistant to dirt, corrosion, and UV rays.
  • For sticky zippers, try applying a zipper cleaner and lubricant.
  • Before sewing on the zipper, apply seam tape to the fabric to hold in place.
  • The larger the radius of the zipper tape, the less chance there is of puckering.

Sizes and Styles: How to Read YKK Product Numbers

YKK is the world’s largest supplier of quality zippers as well as other fastening products. Because their products are so ubiquitous, it’s useful to know how to read their product names.

YKK zippers and sliders are named based on a certain set of criteria. Item #280085, for example, is listed under YKK® VISLON® #8 Separating Zipper Automatic Lock Short Single Pull Metal Slider #VFUVOL-86 DA E 5/8” 60" Black. Here’s what that means:

  • #8 = chain size (8mm chain width)
  • Separating = zipper has finished ends
  • Automatic Lock = slider locks in place (also called AutoLok)
  • Short Single Pull Metal = all descriptors for the type of slider
  • U = reversible automatic lock
  • V = black nickel
  • OL = open-end left insert
  • 86 = zipper gauge
  • D = die-cast zinc
  • A = another reference to automatic lock
  • E = enamel
  • 5/8” = width of tape on either side of the chain
  • 60” = total roll length
  • Black = color
zipper tape width
zipper nomenclature
types of sliders

Applications Based On Zippers

The zippers and parts outlined above can all be used in custom projects or for zipper replacements and repair.

For industrial purposes, plastic zipper chains and sliders with polyester tape are generally the most stable. Plastic is lightweight, corrosion resistant, and weather stable while polyester offers high strength and low stretch. However, choosing the right zipper will depend on your specific application.

The following is a basic guide and is not intended to be a comprehensive list:


  • ZIPLON (coil) = curved applications (marine enclosure panels, “smile” curtains, tents)
  • VISLON (teeth) = straight applications (biminis, enclosures, apparel, cushions)
  • Plastic = marine, saltwater, outdoor settings (awnings, boat covers)
  • AQUAGUARD® = water repellent for heavy-duty marine settings, sporting and recreational gear, backpacks (pairs well with YKK buckles)
  • Metal = applications that don’t encounter extended exposure to the outdoors (apparel and fashion, bags)
  • Concealed zippers = uses where aesthetic is important (apparel and fashion, bags, decorative pillows and cushions)

Curious for more? Check out some of the free materials and industry insight available in our Resource Center.