5 Leather Types : Grades, Finishes, and Tanning
Leather types

5 Leather Types : Grades, Finishes, and Tanning

FIVE TYPES OF LEATHER: Grades, Finishes, and Tanning

Leather is a durable, flexible, and long-lasting material, it is created from the animal hide and skin. Leather is widely being used to build clothes, sofas, and other products. Leather has five types and all leather types don’t have the same quality. So, to help you understand and differentiate between these types of leather we have provided an article about it. In this article five types of leather, types of leather because of finishes, how to identify high-quality leather, and tanning techniques are discussed.

Grades of Leather: What Are the Five Types of Leather?

There are different types of leather depending upon its grade, quality, finish, tanning process, and style. So, understanding the type of leather can be tough and confusing for common people. But to make it simple we have provided the types of leather over here. So, that anyone would be able to understand it whether he is an expert or layman. Here we will be discussing the types of leather-based on grade, animal hide, finishes, style, and tanning process. Now, we are going to discuss five major leather types, which are listed from the purest leather to the least pure. These are full-grain leather, top-grain leather, genuine leather, split-grain leather, and bonded leather.

Full-grain Leather

Full-grain leather is the outer layer of the hide, and generally, only hairs are removed from it. As it is an outer layer of the hide so fibers are finer and densely packed which makes it strong, durable, and long-lasting material. Its surface usually has minor imperfections because it hasn’t been sanded or buffed and only removal of hairs is done. Full-grain hides without imperfections are visually appealing and usually have high prices because they are not found commonly. The higher strength of full-grain is due to its densely packed surface fibers, due to which it is good for furniture, footwear, and saddlery. Full-grain leather also develops a patina effect and leather gets better with time. All of these qualities of full grain leather are because the outer layer isn’t removed. The outer layer of the hide also provides resistance against water. So, to summarize full-grain leather has:

  • Highest strength
  • Highest quality
  • Gets better with time
  • Better resistance against water
  • More durable and long-lasting
  • Imperfections are present
  • Crafted from the outer layer of the hide

Top-grain Leather

Top grain leather is the same as full-grain leather however it is properly sanded or buffed to remove the imperfections that were present in the full-grain leather and makes top-grain leather more appealing. The sanding results in giving the leather a dye or proper finish. After giving finish to leather although it becomes more visually appealing but it reduces its strength, water-resistance qualities and leather becomes softer and flexible. Top-grain leather does become softer and flexible but still, it is a high-end leather and can be used in products like wallets, handbags, shoes, wrist-watches, and book casing, etc. So, to summarize top-grain leather is:

  • More visually appealing than full-grain leather
  • Lesser in strength than full-grain
  • Softer and flexible
  • Lesser water-resistance strength
  • Crafted from the outer layer of the hide

Genuine Leather 

Genuine leather is generally made from any layer of the hide and undergoes a sanding and buffing process. For these reasons, it has lesser strength and durability than top-grain and full-grain leather. However better sanding and buffing process give it a better finish and removal of imperfections in the hide. Genuine leather is used to make belts, clothes, footwear, and other fashion accessories. Genuine leather has:

  • More uniform, corrected appearance
  • Lesser strength and durability
  • Crafted from any layer of the hide
  • Lesser strength against water

Split-grain Leather (Suede) 

Split-grain leather is crafted from the lower levels of the hide after splitting it. It’s not as strong and durable as top or full-grain. Split-grain leather is a flexible material and this quality allows it for more coloring which makes it more stylish and visually appealing. Split-grain leather is usually used in making shoes, purses, and sofas. Split-grain leather is also used to create suede which is a widely being used material in shoe manufacturing.

  • Crafted from low levels of the hide
  • More coloring options
  • Less strength and durability

Bonded Leather 

Bonded leather is manufactured from rejected pieces of top, full or genuine leather. These rejected or scrap pieces are 10-90% present in bonded leather and are bonded together with polyurethane (PU) or latex. Bonded leather could be given the appearance of a particular grain or leather style. Bonded leather is usually painted to give it color. As in bonded material, the amount of leather varies quite greatly so there is no guaranteed quality as compared to other grades of leather. Bonded leather is typically used for low-cost couches and other furniture.

  • Manufactured from a scrap of leather and plastic
  • Lesser durability as compared to natural leather
  • Lesser flexibility
  • Lower quality leather

How to Identify High-Quality Leather?

Products made of leather are natural and have an elegant finish. However, many similar synthetic or artificial products are also available in the market sold at cheaper rates so how to identify genuine or any other type of leather. Here we have provided three ways by which you can check what kind of leather is this, but before following the ways make sure to check the specification of a product if it’s not mentioned there you can follow these ways:

Check Flexibility of Leather 

Higher grades of leather are stronger and a little stiffer because they are made from the outer layer of the hide and fibers are densely packed than fake leather. However, full-grain and top-grain leather with time become more flexible, the weight and thickness of leather can also affect the flexibility. So, high-quality leather can be softer or flexible but it will be strongly structured. However, low quality or fake leather has weaker and lose structure.

Check Grain Pattern of Leather 

Full-grain leather is crafted from the hide’s outer layer and is not sanded or buffed so it may have some little imperfections and an inconsistent grain pattern. If you are looking at the whole hide the high-quality leather will also have rough edges. However, lower quality leather will have uniform look and consistent grains because it is manufactured artificially.

Smell The Leather

High-quality leather has a natural smell, however, low-quality leather or fake leather has smelled like chemicals and plastic.

Types of Leather Finishes

When leathers are crafted, they are some finishes depending upon their usage. As a result, they yield different types of leathers that can be used for different purposes. The different types of leather are due to variations in texture, flexibility, color, and finish. Some of the major types of leather depending upon their finish are given here.

Aniline Leather

Aniline leather is only dyed with soluble dyes. Usually, high-quality leathers are given this dye because they have an even and nice natural surface of the leather to show through. After giving the finish of the dye, it is provided with a thin protective coating to prevent discoloration, wear, and stains from leather.

Semi-Aniline Leather

Semi-aniline leather is dyed with soluble dyes and slightly pigmented. Semi-aniline allows the natural surface of the leather to show through. After that, it is provided with a thin protective coating to prevent discoloration, wear, and stains from leather.

Faux Leather

Faux leather is also known as polyurethane leather (PU leather), and vegan leather. It is made of polyurethane or vinyl. Faux leather looks like real leather and has a lesser cost than real leather but is not much durable and long-lasting as compared to real leather.

Bicast Leather

Bicast leather has a split leather backing and polyurethane (PU) or vinyl on the top. This bi-cast leather has a patterned or shiny look like a top or full leather grain.

Antique Grain Leather

Antique grain is given tones of finish to leather to make it appear old without being old. It might involve a rubbed pattern or tones of finish to eliminate wear over time.

Brush Colored Leather

Brush-colored leather is pigmented by a brush. By this, it gets a distinct unique pattern and creative visual appealing. To make it more appealing variations in gradient, blending, or the overall tone might be given.

Degrained Leather

Degrained leather is a removed grain leather type. Because of removed grains, it has a smooth, and consistent look. But removing the grains also weakens the leather make it more susceptible to wear and moisture penetration.

Double Face Leather or Double-Sided Leather

Double face leather has two different finished sides. On one side there might be finished leather and on the other side, there might be wool. Or each side has a different embossed surface or color.

Embossed Leather

Embossed leather is created by raised patterns on the finished hide. These patterns can be designs, lettering, or anything else that enhances its visual appealing.

Embroidered Leather

Embroidered leather has embroidery applied to it. It is applied to increase the visual appealing of leather can be done by embellishing materials with needles and thread.

Hand Worked Leather

Hand-worked leather is an art itself and has quite a unique and stunning look. It is manually created from leather tools.

Nappa (Napa)

Napa leather is a term used for full-grain leather and genuine leather which are soft, and smooth just for marketing purposes. It is usually not the highest quality of leather.

Interwoven Leather

Interwoven Leather has been braided together. Interwoven leather can be used for straps, belts, small bags, and pouches.

Metallic Leather

Metallic Leather has a layer of metal added to it during the finishing process. This is done to create a metallic, and shiny look. It is used in clothing and accessories.

Nubuck Leather

Nubuck leather is top-grain leather that is sanded or buffed to give a napped finish. It is visually appealing and has a soft, velvet-like surface. Nubuck leather is used to make jackets and gloves.

Pearlized Leather

Pearlized leather has a liquid layer of color on it which is added during the finishing process. It provides softness, and shine to the leather. It is used on clothing, handbags, and accessories.

Oil Leather or Waxed Leather

Oil leather has a larger volume of oils and waxes in the surface finish. It is visually appealing because when light acts on it, oils and waxes reflect it in different ways which give leather different looks and make it appealing. It is also known as pull-up leather, waxy leather, and waxed leather.

Patent Leather

Patent leather has a high-gloss finish which is applied by coating. Generally, linseed oil is used for coating but in modern days plastic coating finish is also being used. It is a highly reflective finish.

Pigmented Leather

Pigmented leather has a top coat of pigment finish. Pigment protective coating and makes the surface even. Usually, it is coated with a protective sealer.

Printed Leather

Printed Leather is generally stamped with a design or texture. This gives it a unique and uniform look other than that it makes the surface more resistant against scratches and abrasion.

Washable Leather

Washable leather is better suited to cleaning as some products require frequent cleaning so the item to be durable and long-lasting washable leather can be helpful.

Stretch Leather

Stretch Leather is a composite leather made of the synthetic layer which allows it to be stretched when used by still keeping the uniform look. Stretch leather is used in clothing and goods that need to be flexed.

Suede Leather

Suede leather is similar to Nubuck leather, where the surface is sanded or buffed napped fibers. However, in suede leather split-grain leather is used instead of full-grain leather.

Quilon Leather

Quilon leather has a finish of hair cell pattern which is a fine-textured print to give stylish look to the leather.

Tanning Techniques – Leather Types

Tanning is removing water molecules from leather in order to restore moisture and flexibility in it. Leather craftsmen might use mineral tanning or vegetable tanning in order to dry the leather.

Mineral Tanning (Chrome Tanning) 

Mineral tanning is the quickest and most efficient method for tanning leather. This process takes only one day to complete the tanning process. Mineral tanning benefit is leather retains its color throughout its lifespan.

Vegetable Tanning 

Vegetable tanning is a natural process and can take 30-60 days. Vegetable tanning uses natural tannins of oak, chestnut, or mimosa trees. Vegetable-tanned leather is usually more expensive because of the longer tanning period however this leather is highly durable and aesthetically pleasing.


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