Leather is a very versatile material, which can be used for multiple functions. You can use it to make items such as saddles, seats, clothes, bags and shoes among other things. However, before you embark on working with leather, you need to be aware of the various types of leather. It is important for you to know what makes them different and what the pros and cons of using each type are. Only then can you be able to select the right type of leather for any project or purchase that you intend to embark on.
The Leather Grades
The most popular 4 leather grade terms commonly used within the leather industry are as follows:
- Full grain leather
- Top grain leather
- Split grain leather
- Corrected Grain leather
The terms full grain, top grain, split grain and corrected grain are used to describe the leather grades as well as the type of the hide being produced.
Full Grain Leather refers to the topmost layer of leather called the grain.
Top Grain Leather is the junction between the grain and the lower layer called the corium.
Split Grain Leather is made up of just the corium and maybe a little bit of the grain.
Any part of the cowhide that bears a brand is usually turned into Corrected Grain Leather. Any type of leather can become corrected grain leather if it goes through a sanding and staining process.
Each area has a different consistency and is used for different kinds of leather products.
Full Grain vs Top Grain vs Split Grain vs Corrected Grain Leather
Full Grain Leather
High quality and durable, the top layer of the hide is referred to as full grain because it is made entirely out of the part of the hide called the grain. The grain is a layer below an animal’s hair, but is the top part of the leather hide. When full grain leather is manufactured it still shows the animal’s scars and hair cell pattern on the face. Full grain leather isn’t sanded or buffed to remove imperfections on the surface. Instead of wearing out like most other types of leather, full grain leather forms a patina that protects the leather and makes it more aesthetically appealing.
Full grain leather is used to make many sorts of leather products and is the most durable out of all the leather types. Full grain leather is used to make footwear, jackets, and high quality leather furniture. Full grain leather was popularly used to make saddles and saddlebags. The durability of the leather meant that each saddle had a long, useful life. To this day many companies only use full grain leather to make their saddles, but horseback riding as a whole is a different niche market.
Top Grain Leather
Split from the top layer of full grain hide, then sanded and refinished, top grain leather has the properties of full grain leather at a more affordable price. Top grain leather is thinner and more flexible than full grain. After the surface is sanded and a finish coat is applied the surface feel much smoother than full grain, but it sacrifices some breathability. As long as the finish on top grain leather isn’t cracked it is resistant to stains and is very durable.
Top grain leather is often used to manufacture shoes and handbags. The majority of leather shoes on the market today are made from top grain leather. Top grain leather handbags are sometimes embossed with exotic prints and finishes to give them a stylized look.
Split Grain Leather
Split leather is taken from the fibrous bottom part of the rawhide and then developed into suede. Usually, the suede is embossed with a leather grain to strengthen the suede and make it more durable. The strongest suede is made from grain splits or flesh splits that come from the layer right above where the flesh meets the leather. When first produced, split leather is fuzzy on both sides because the grain of the leather faces vertically. After the split leather is made into suede, the material becomes smooth, soft, and very flexible. Different kinds of leather can also be shredded and reformed to make split leather.
Split leather is used in everything from jackets and shoes, to purses and furniture. The majority of leather products are made from split leather. Known for its softness, split leather is often used to line other pieces of clothing and is used as a fabric.
Corrected Grain Leather
If the leather has an artificial grain applied to its surface during production it is known as corrected grain leather. Grain correction is used on leather if it doesn’t meet the standard required to be one of the major types of leather. The imperfections are sanded off and then dye is applied to the leather to give it a natural look and making it corrected grain leather. Corrected grain leather is supple and long lasting as long as the protective finish isn’t worn off.
Corrected grain leather is the most common type of leather found in wallets and small handbags.
Other Terms of Leather Types
1. Aniline Leather
Aniline leather is leather that has been immersed in aniline dye. The dyes are usually organic in nature, which is why they fade naturally over time. Aniline leather tends to be described as mostly unfinished leather, whose beauty has been enhanced using the aniline dye, which is translucent. The leather tends to consist of variations of color because of the way in which the leather absorbs color. It also shows off the natural surface of the leather.
Aniline leather does not contain a topcoat, which is why it is prone to staining and fading.
2. Semi-Aniline Leather
Semi-aniline leather is leather, which is partially finished however it’s still considered a form of unfinished leather. With this kind of leather, treatment is given in the way of immersion into aniline dye to enhance the leather’s natural beauty. In addition, the leather is partially treated with a clear coat in order to make it less prone to staining. However, this coat does not compromise the natural look of the leather.
3. Pigmented Leather
Pigmented leather is leather that contains the organic aniline dye as well as pigmented color. The pigmented color is usually a coating made of polymer. However, the color makes the leather have an appearance, which is not very natural. The upside of this leather is the fact that it is less likely to stain and very durable.
The color pigment on leather is usually made to adhere to the material. The material grain can be left alone prior to application of the color or abraded to remove the imperfect areas. Pigmented leather is a type of finished leather.
4. Suede Leather
Suede is leather, whose surface is smooth and velvety with a nap finish. The material is usually from the inner split of leather, which is obtained from splitting leather laterally into an inner and outer part. The inner part is what makes suede.
The leather is then abraded to create suede. Because of the treatment of the material, suede tends to be much softer that ordinary leather. However, it is also less durable. Suede is a form of unfinished leather.
5. Nubuck or Brushed Leather
Nubuck is leather that is similar in some ways to suede. However, Nubuck is created from a full grain, which has not been split. It can also be created from the outside part of the hide, which has been split.
Nubuck leather like suede has a smooth velvety feel and tends to fade and stain easily. However, this particular leather is more durable because it is sanded on the outside part of the hide, which is tougher.
6. Bicast Leather
Bicast leather is leather that is made up of a split leather material which has been tanned as well as has a heavy layer of polyurethane coating. The coating contains the color instead of the leather. The coating may be embossed.
The leather composite is more artificial than natural because of polyurethane coating. Because of this, it is cheaper, easier to maintain and less durable. Bicast leather is usually used to produce furniture. However, furniture made from bicast leather has a short life expectancy.
7. Pull Up Leather
Pull up leather is also known as oil tanned and distressed leather. This leather material is infused with aniline dyes that are impregnated with natural based oils and waxes which causes the dye to not be bound to the leather. Even though pull up leather is slightly finished it is still form of unfinished leather that is prone to staining and fading.
This type of leather is soft and natural to touch and can scratch easily but the scratches are more pronounced therefore can be removed rubbing with your hands.
8. Exotic Leather
Most leather is usually made of cowhides. Exotic leather on the other hand, is made up of the hides of exotic animals. Because the animals are quite rare and expensive, exotic leather also follows suit.
Leathers that can be considered as exotic in nature include those made of ostrich, alligators, crocodiles, buffalo, snakes and even moose among other animals.
Finished vs Unfinished Leather
To put it simply finished leather is leather that has been treated with a coating to prevent wear and tear over time as well as to make it waterproof. On the other hand, unfinished leather may contain different components within it but lacks the top coating to make it waterproof.
Finished and unfinished leather contain other differences that you should be aware of as well. Finished leather is usually dipped in aniline dye, and then coated with pigmented resin before a clear coat is applied. Because of this kind of finishing, leather treated in this manner will contain the color pigment on the leather surface, which will render it lacking in terms of depth. In addition, leather of this nature is usually resistant to fading, stiffer, and harder. It is also colder to touch and resistant to stains.
Unfinished leather, on the other hand, is usually dyed in an aniline dye solution after which no pigmented resin is applied. Because of the incomplete treatment, the leather tends to absorb liquids, which in turn renders invulnerable to stains. In addition, while the color tends to fade when exposed to UV rays, it is usually richer. The lack of top coating of unfinished leather also means that it is warmer to touch, soft and not stiff at all.
There are many kinds of leather currently on the market. There’s a good chance you used something made from leather without realizing it. Whether it’s made from cattle or kangaroo, leather is one of the most important materials ever produced and knowing different kinds of leathers is important as well as how leather is made when making or purchasing any leather good.