This paper describes a study in which advanced particle-scale characterization was carried out on spherical particles that can be used in experimental tests to validate discrete element method (DEM) simulations. Two types of particle, alkaline and borosilicate glass beads, made from two different materials, were considered. The particle shape, stiffness, contact friction properties and surface roughness were measured. The influences of hardness and roughness on the mechanical response of the particles were carefully considered. Compared to the alkaline beads, the borosilicate beads were more spherical and more uniform in size, and they exhibited mechanical characteristics closer to natural quartz sand. While only two material types were studied, the work has the broader implication as a methodology for selecting particles suitable for use in DEM studies and the key parameters that should be considered in the selection process are highlighted. (C) 2012 Chinese Society of Particuology and Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.