Types of Leather
In selecting the best types of leather for any application, or buying ready-made leather products, it is important to understand the various leather types produced today and their processes. This leather terminology and glossary defines in general terms the various types of grains and their process. We encourage customers to ask questions first and become familiar with these terms before making any buying decisions. As most leather product resellers today have never themselves tanned hides, you cannot expect them to know the difference either. Buckskin Leather Company offers only those types we believe in ourselves which are not misleading the customer into believing the look is something it is not. BUYER BEWARE !!! We are available for free advice whether you are buying our product or otherwise.
Full Grain or Top Grain Leather – ( ” the best ” )
This is the upper layer of a hide which is split into layers by a splitting machine to various thicknesses. This outer layer will show natural scars and hair cell patterns if left as uncorrected natural grain. The thickness can vary depending on the gauge set at the time of splitting and the application. Thereafter the hides can be colored & given various protective finishes. Whether produced for Upholstery, Garment, Shoe, or Saddlery, these are the best types of leather as they are the strongest and most durable and valuable layer of hides.
Corrected or Embossed Grain – ( ” 2nd best ” , full grain)
Hides that have an excessive amount of scratches or scars are further processed by “correcting” the natural grain of a Full Grain skin. After splitting to the required thickness, this natural grain is buffed or sanded and replaced with an embossed grain and finish to simulate various hair cell patterns. The resulting effect will look flawless with no natural scars showing, but this is no longer the real or natural grain. The original feel or hand of the natural skin and durability is also reduced with a synthetic grain and finish. Many applications for shoe and handbag leather are embossed with unique exotic prints to simulate the look as well. This process is utilized in many Garments and Upholstery while still represented as “full grain leather” which technically is that layer.
Split Leather – ( “functional and inexpensive leather hides” )
The second layer or lower layer of the skin left after removing the Full Grain layer is the Split Suede and will be suede on both sides. These types of leather also will come in various thicknesses depending on the application. As this is a byproduct of hide tanning it is less costly and therefore utilized in products where Full Grain is not required such as tool pouches, moccasins, suede garments, etc. This layer of the skin can also be further processed by the application of a synthetic finish and hair cell to one side of the suede to create an artificial look of Full Grain leather, known as “finished split” hide. This is used extensively in lower-cost furniture and garments and represented as “Genuine Leather” which technically it still is although it may look like something it is not.
Nubuck Sueded Grain – ( “look but don’t touch – very sensitive leather”)
This Full Grain layer of the skin is given a suede effect by lightly sanding the natural grain to open the hair cell and results in a velvety suede feel. This is also correcting imperfections in the natural grain and although soft to the touch, it is a sensitive effect. Care must be taken against soiling or staining as it is very difficult if not impossible to clean afterward. This effect is utilized in many garments and Upholstery products.
Reconstituted, Bonded or Fibre Leather – ( “Recycled, particleboard” )
Here leather remnants and scraps from garment and shoe factories are ground up and recycled. In these types of leather, the fiber particles are bonded with adhesive into a fabric followed by the application of a synthetic grain, hair-cell pattern, and finish. This material will have a suede back and looks like smooth Full Grain leather, while it is essentially Particleboard leather. As it is comprised of at least 51% leather fiber, it is represented as “Genuine leather” and utilized in many low priced garment and upholstery finished products. BUYER BEWARE – ASK QUESTIONS FIRST!
Some More Information for you.
When the leather is corrected in any way, it is called top grain. Leather with the entire grain intact is called full-grain. Full-grain leather, even though it may have blemishes, is more expensive and more sought-after than top grain leather because of its durability and longevity. Both full grain and top grain leathers are referred to as grain leather.
Among grain leathers, there are three general categories: aniline, semi-aniline, and protected. Analine leathers (like Horween’s Chromexcel) are processed using soluble dyes to maintain their natural markings and texture and do not have a surface pigment or coating. This makes them the most natural-looking leathers, but also more susceptible to scratching, fading, and staining. Semi-aniline leathers (like most bridle leathers) are treated with pigments and thus conceal more blemishes and have a more uniform coating, as well as staying more protected. Protected leathers have a non-leather coating sprayed or attached to the leather as a protectant.
The bottom part of the leather, the part that is split off from the grain at the grain/corium junction, goes by many different names, and it can get really, really confusing. Many people refer to this bottom layer of leather as “genuine leather”, however, the term isn’t used consistently and is also used to mean real leather as opposed to manmade faux leathers. More terms you may see: split leather, corrected leather, embossed leather, coated leather, Suede, Napa leather (again, not a consistently used term), painted leather, and more. For our purposes, we’re going to refer to it as split leather.
Split leather can then be sliced down even thinner and used for other purposes. Often a polymer coating is applied and embossed to mimic a grain leather; however these leathers are not nearly as strong or durable. This is sometimes referred to as a finished split.
Another use for split leather is suede, which has been textured to have a napped finish. Suede is often confused with nubuck, which is a grain leather that is textured to have a similar nap finish. The difference is that nubuck is much stronger and more durable than suede, though suede’s softness and pliability make it useful for certain applications.
Bonded leather is the lowest grade of leather because it is not really leather – just shredded leather scraps and bits reconstituted with a filler and backed with an embossed polyurethane coating. It’s very cheap but falls apart quickly. Bonded leather is found in low-end furniture and accessories and sometimes bookbinding. You may also see this referred to as reconstituted or blended leather.