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Leather Buying Guide - The Different Types of Leather Explained

Leather Buying Guide - The Different Types of Leather Explained

How To Identify Different Types of Leather & Leather Quality

This helpful leather guide aims to assist you in selecting the most suitable type of leather for your project by providing a comprehensive overview of the differences between whole grain, top grain, bonded, and genuine leather. It emphasises the importance of considering project type, durability, aesthetics, and tanning methods. The guide provides insights into leather thickness and offers valuable tips for sourcing high-quality hides and identifying quality leather.

Leather has been used for over 30,000 years, and it is a craft with a long tradition and specific terminology. However, some leather companies misuse these terms. As a consumer, knowing these terms and the different types of leather will help you buy high-quality leather products and ask questions to understand exactly what you are buying.

It is essential to know the type of leather you purchase when buying leather products. This guide will give you the basics of leather and its different types so you can make an informed decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Leather is a versatile material with various types, finishes, and tanning techniques that provide unique characteristics.
  • Genuine leather can be distinguished from imitations by looking for visual cues such as texture, smell and feel.
  • Regular cleaning & maintenance of leather items are essential to ensure their longevity.

Understanding Leather Types

Leather is a malleable material, and the superiority, beauty, and strength of leather items rely primarily on which part of the animal's hide was used and how it is processed. It's akin to putting together a puzzle in that each piece has unique characteristics.

Full-grain leather provides reliable sturdiness, whereas faux hides offer cost-effective versatility. Understanding this array of different types of leather forges a more straightforward shopping process when buying any leather product.

From full-grain and top-grains to splits or bonded materials, everything needs examining carefully so you can confidently make your purchase. From animal hide to beautiful durability, several materials, like split, bonded faux, etc., should be considered when making or buying leather products.

Full Grain Leather

Full-grain leather is considered the highest quality among the different types of faux leather. It is not dyed or buffed to hide any imperfections on the surface. Instead, it celebrates the natural markings present on the animal hide. The full-grain leather manufacturing process involves three steps, consisting of preparation, tanning, and crusting.

This process helps to bring out the inherent quality of this highly durable material. Just like wood that improves with age, full-grain leather also gets better over time while retaining its natural texture.

Top Grain Leather

Full-grain leather is widely considered the highest quality among all types of leather. Its polished variant, top-grain leather, looks similar to full-grain leather. Skilled artisans carefully buff off the top layer of genuine leather to achieve a uniform finish free from insect bites, stretch marks, or any other scars.

This results in a product that is both aesthetically pleasing and durable, making it perfect for creating a wide range of items, such as jackets, handbags, and more, due to its versatile nature.

The processing of top-grain leather involves several stages, including beam-house operations, tanning, dyeing, dressing, and finishing, which transforms it into a solid yet soft material widely used across various industries today.

Split Grain Leather

Split-grain leather is obtained from the lower layers of hide separated from the top or "grain" portion. It can be likened to a multi-layered cake where each layer serves a different purpose. The split leather grain acts as a spongey base that supports other components.

Despite being less expensive than full-grain leather, it is still durable and is commonly used in the production of suede and many other materials derived from hides. Unlike full-grain leather, split leather only develops an attractive patina over time.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is made by taking shredded leather scraps from real hide and bonding them together to create rolls. However, since it contains only 10-17% pure fibres from the original product, many people do not consider it genuine leather compared to its counterparts.

It can be a more affordable alternative for furniture pieces or fashion accessories. But, if not used carefully, it may not last as long as fully authentic materials, lasting only up to three years. Nevertheless, its texture is closely resembling genuine leather, so people prefer bonded leather over other options when making their purchases.

Faux Leather

Faux leather is a synthetic material that imitates the texture and appearance of genuine leather, making it a popular alternative for those who want an animal-friendly option. However, it has a different durability and ageing capability than real leather. Despite this, faux leather is an affordable alternative due to its lower price.

Nevertheless, there are some downsides to it. It is less breathable than genuine leather made from hiding materials and more prone to punctures.

Tanning Techniques: Chrome vs Vegetable Tanning

The process of transforming animal hide into a finished leather product is fascinating. Manufacturers use two main tanning methods to create leather goods: chrome and vegetable.

What is Chrome Tanned Leather

Chrome tanning is one of the most commonly used methods to preserve animal skins and prevent them from rotting. It involves chromium sulphate, which makes the leather soft and durable. The chrome tanning method has numerous benefits, such as low cost, processing speed, and the ability to produce various colours and textures.

However, despite its popularity, chrome tanning is often criticized due to its negative impact on the environment. The process produces a significant amount of wastewater, often contaminated with high levels of chromium, a toxic element that can cause serious health issues. The wastewater is also rich in organic matter, which can deplete oxygen levels in water bodies, leading to the death of aquatic life.

The issue of environmental impact is especially significant for small to medium-sized tanneries in developing countries where environmental regulations are often lax or nonexistent. In these regions, the effect of chrome tanning can be the greatest, affecting the environment and the health of workers who must handle the toxic chemicals.

Despite these drawbacks, chrome tanning remains popular due to its efficiency and low cost. However, there is a growing trend towards more sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives, such as vegetable tanning, which uses natural tannins instead of chromium.

What is Vegetable Tanned Leather

Vegetable-tanned leather is a type of leather that many artisans favour due to its unique characteristics. This type of leather is tanned using natural plant-based materials, which gives it a distinct smell and colour. It is also known for its ability to develop a beautiful patina over time and mould to the user's body.

One of the most significant advantages of vegetable-tanned leather is that it is easier to work with than other leather types. It is stiff, making it easier to handle, cut, skive, and stitch. This makes it a popular choice for beginners starting to learn the craft. It is more forgiving with tensioned stitches, which helps beginners practice their stitching technique and correct mistakes quickly without worrying about other variables.

If you plan to stitch using vegetable-tanned leather, it is recommended to use a thickness of 3mm. This thickness is perfect for beginners because it is easier to handle and work with. The leather is also more environmentally friendly than other types of leather, which is another reason why many artisans prefer it.

Overall, vegetable-tanned leather is an excellent choice for high-quality, durable, and easy-to-work-with leather. Its unique characteristics and ability to age beautifully make it popular among craftsmen and artisans.

Popular Leather Finishes

Using leather finishes can result in a product that looks good and lasts longer, preserving the material's beauty and quality. Different leather finishing products, such as Nappa, Aniline, Pigmented, Nubuck and Suede, can change the final surface appearance of hides while still maintaining their originality.

Just as varnish enhances the physical attributes of furniture, these treatments can do the same for leather, protecting it from external damage or wear over time. You can achieve an ultimate finished look with increased durability by using quality materials like the ones mentioned above.

Nappa Leather

Nappa leather is a high-quality leather crafted using finished cow or lamb leather. It is a highly durable and long-lasting material known for its flexibility and softness. The leather gets its name from Napa Valley, a region in California where it was first developed.

Nappa leather is made by using a process called chrome tanning. This involves treating the leather with chromium salts, which help preserve its natural characteristics while also making it more resistant to wear and tear. This tanning also gives the leather a luxurious and soft feel, making it ideal for use in high-end fashion items.

One of the main benefits of Nappa leather is its flexibility. This makes it an excellent material for creating handbags, shoes, wallets, belts, and jackets. The leather is also highly resistant to water and stains, which means it can be used in various environments without losing its quality.

Nappa leather has become increasingly popular among fashion enthusiasts in recent years. It is often used in luxury fashion items and high-end boutiques worldwide.

Aniline Leather

Aniline leather is highly valued for its natural beauty, making it a popular choice for creating luxurious fashion items such as jackets, bags, and shoes. It is made from top-quality hides not treated with pigments or coatings, giving it a distinct velvety texture and a natural, organic appearance.

One of the critical features of aniline leather is that it is dyed using translucent dyes, which allow the natural details and patterns of the leather to be seen clearly. This gives it a unique look that no other type of leather can replicate. However, this type of leather is also prone to staining and fading when exposed to sunlight or other heat sources.

To maintain the exquisite look of aniline leather, it requires regular care and maintenance. This includes cleaning it with a soft, damp cloth and using a leather conditioner to keep it moisturized and supple. It is also essential to avoid exposing it to direct sunlight or heat sources, as this can cause it to fade or discolour.

Despite its delicate nature, aniline leather is highly durable and can last many years if properly cared for. It is a testament to the quality of the leather that it looks even better with age, developing a rich patina that adds to its unique character. Taking care of aniline leather is necessary to preserve and celebrate its qualities, making it a worthwhile investment for anyone who appreciates fine craftsmanship and natural beauty.

Pigmented Leather

Pigmented leather is famous for its durability, quality, and aesthetic appeal. Various types of leather are available in the market, each with unique features and characteristics. One of the most commonly used forms of leather is pigmented leather, which has a layer of pigment applied to its surface.

Pigmented leather is known for its easy maintenance and durability. The pigment layer applied to the leather provides a consistent appearance and makes it resistant to stains and scratches. This type of leather is often used for furniture, car upholstery, and other applications where durability is a significant concern.

However, excessive pigment can make the leather look like plastic, which is undesirable for some users. Another downside of pigmented leather is that it does not develop a natural patina over time, unlike aniline or semi-aniline leather. Natural patinas are a desirable feature of leather that adds character and uniqueness to the material.

Even though pigmented leather is more long-lasting than untreated leather, it can still develop cracks and start to peel over time. However, due to the treatment it undergoes during production, it maintains its uniform colour well. That said, if you want natural-looking leather with unique characteristics, there may be better choices than pigmented leather.

Nubuck Leather

Nubuck leather is made by sanding or buffing the top layer of cowhide or calfskin, which results in a soft, velvety texture. It is widely used in the fashion industry to create luxurious handbags, shoes, and accessories due to its smooth feel and plush texture, resembling vintage armchairs.

However, it is essential to note that nubuck leather requires proper maintenance to keep its softness and prevent staining. Due to its delicate texture, it is susceptible to water damage and can quickly become stained, making it necessary to avoid any contact with liquids. It should be regularly brushed with a soft-bristled brush to maintain its softness, and any dirt or dust should be removed immediately. A specialised nubuck leather cleaner can also remove any stubborn stains or marks. With proper care, nubuck leather can last long and retain its luxurious feel and appearance.

Suede Leather

Suede is a type of leather produced from the inner part of animal hair or hides. It is known for its soft texture and warm feel, making it a popular choice for clothing, linings, and accessories. The natural nap of suede gives it an excellent drape quality, making it a preferred material for many designers.

However, suede requires special care and attention to maintain quality and longevity. It is easily dirtied and can be stained easily, especially when exposed to moisture or water. It is essential to take extra measures when cleaning and maintaining suede products to keep them looking good for an extended period.

The suede can be cleaned using a soft-bristled brush to remove dust and dirt particles, followed by a suede eraser to remove stains and marks. In case of spills, using a dry cloth to absorb the moisture immediately and then using a suede cleaner to remove the stain is advisable. It is also essential to avoid exposing suede to direct sunlight or heat, as it can damage the material and cause it to fade or crack.

In conclusion, although suede requires extra care and attention, it remains famous for its unique texture and drape qualities. Following proper cleaning and maintenance procedures ensures that your suede products look good for a long time.

Identifying Genuine Leather vs Imitations

When it comes to purchasing leather items, it is essential to be able to differentiate between genuine and fake leather. This ability is like that of a wine connoisseur who can distinguish between high-end and low-cost wines. To determine the authenticity of leather, one must look at several factors, such as texture, smell, and feel.

Authentic leather has a unique scent, which synthetic materials cannot replicate. It is a natural smell often described as earthy, woody, or sweet. On the other hand, fake leather usually has a chemical or plastic-like smell.

Regarding texture, authentic leather tends to have a more irregular surface, with some blemishes and imperfections. The texture is often more natural and not uniform, unlike synthetic materials with a consistent texture. Additionally, genuine leather feels softer and more pliable than fake leather.

One important thing to note is that genuine leather requires significant time and effort to produce. As such, it tends to be more expensive than synthetic materials. However, the durability and longevity of authentic leather products make them a worthwhile investment in the long run.

Types and Cuts of Leather Explained

Leather is the treated and tanned skin of an animal. The entire skin of the animal is called a hide, and skilled leather crafters know the unique qualities and characteristics of each section of the hide and how to use them best in their projects.

The butt, especially towards the rear and near the spine, is the best part of the hide. The fibres are tightly packed together, producing a solid leather with a uniform grain. Next is the shoulder, a softer back section but still of excellent quality and often used for tooling. Finally, the belly is of lower quality with looser fibres due to the skin expanding and contracting during the animal's life, making the leather more stretchy and flexible.

Cowhides tend to be larger, allowing the leather to be sold in individual segments or cuts. However, other animal hides, such as pig, goat, and sheep, are much smaller and are usually only sold as a whole hide.

The Bend

The thickest and firmest part of the hide, with a total thickness of 2-4 ounces thicker than the rest. It is ideal for use where minimum stretch, firmness, and durability are essential. The fibres in this area are thicker and more prone to cracking, so tempering in warm water before bending is recommended.

The Neck

This area is good quality but may have more blemishes than the bend. The neck area may have more barbed wire scratches and natural fat wrinkles. Tanners try to smooth out the wrinkles, but they may still be visible depending on the animal's age. It has as much tensile strength as the bend, sometimes even more.

The Back

This area has excellent quality and is the best buy for products that require length and durability with the least waste, such as reins, stirrup leathers, leashes, etc. It includes the areas of the neck.

The Belly

The fibres in this area are softer and looser than in other parts of the hide. It is often considered the "waste" section of the hide, but it can be beneficial for various purposes. When sewn to the back of a bend, neck, or middle, it provides comfort and has all the strength of the piece it is sewn to.

Leather Grades and Quality Factors


When purchasing leather products, it is crucial to understand the different grades of leather. These grades are determined based on several factors, including the treatment of the animal hide, price, longevity, and cosmetic appearance. The tanning process also plays a significant role in the thickness of the hides and the level of craftsmanship involved in creating the final product.

The leather grading system is similar to the grading system used in schools, where the quality of the leather is assessed based on a range of criteria. These criteria are designed to ensure that the buyer is getting the best possible value for their money while ensuring that the quality of the product is not compromised.

When purchasing leather goods, it is advisable to refer to a comprehensive leather buying guide that provides detailed insights into the different types of leather and how they compare in terms of quality and price. This guide should include information on the different kinds of animal hides used to make leather, such as cowhide, sheepskin, and goatskin, as well as the tanning process used to create the final product.

Overall, understanding the different grades of leather and their characteristics is essential when buying leather products, as it ensures that you get the best possible value for your money and the highest quality product potential.

Practical Applications for Various Leather Types

Leather is a versatile and durable material used for centuries to create a wide range of products, from clothing and accessories to furniture and upholstery. It is a natural material that comes in various grades and types, each with unique characteristics and attributes.

Full-grain leather is the highest quality and most durable type, featuring the entire thickness of the animal hide with its natural grain intact. This type of leather is ideal for high-end furnishings, such as sofas and chairs, as it is strong and retains its shape well over time.

Top-grain leather is another popular choice that is slightly thinner than full-grain leather and features a sanded surface to remove imperfections. It is often used to manufacture high-end leather goods like belts, shoes, and handbags.

Genuine leather is a lower-grade option made from the lower layers of animal hide. It is still of good quality and is commonly used in producing wallets, jackets, and other leather accessories.

Bonded leather is a more cost-effective alternative to genuine leather, made from leather scraps related to polyurethane or latex backing. It is commonly used to manufacture coats, jackets, and other clothing items.

Choosing the correct type of leather is essential to ensure that your product meets your needs and lasts for years to come. By understanding the qualities of each type of leather and what it is best suited for, you can make an informed decision and select the perfect leather for your project.

Leather Care Tips

Proper care and maintenance are crucial to keeping your leather items in good condition, just like a classic car. It's essential to clean and dust them regularly to preserve their lifespan and appearance. However, avoiding using harsh chemicals or exposing them to direct sunlight is crucial, as these can damage the leather's texture and colour.

Leather goods can get stained over time, but you don't have to worry. There are various techniques to remove stains from them. For instance, you can create a paste using cream of tartar and lemon juice to eliminate grease spots on top layers of corrected leather. Additionally, cornstarch or talcum powder can also come in handy in removing stubborn stains.

With the proper care and attention given to leather products over time, their character will only improve, enhancing their beauty over the years. Leather items have unique qualities that make them last a lifetime, and with proper maintenance and cleaning, they can last an eternity!


When buying leather products, it's essential to understand the various grades, styles and finishes available to ensure you get the best value for your money. Quality leather improves with time, developing a more decadent beauty as it ages, much like fine wine. Whether you're looking for small items like clothing and handbags or larger furniture pieces, knowing what to look for in terms of quality will help you get the best products.

Please look at our extensive range of leather hides in various colours and styles. Whether you're starting a craft project or need large quantities of whole hides, we've got you covered. You can conveniently purchase our high-quality leathers and hides online and deliver them to your doorstep anywhere in the world without delay.

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If you have any questions regarding the various types and grades of leather used for your leather projects, please do not hesitate to contact us. We aim to provide you with a clear understanding of each leather type and assist you in selecting the most suitable one for your bag to enhance its aesthetics and ensure its durability.

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