The love for leather only deepens with the right knowledge.
Insight on the type of leather you favour will ensure that you find exactly what you’re looking for each time. You may even realise that there are much better varieties of leather with some pretty distinctive characteristics that you were not even aware of...
So, here’s a simplified guide to knowing your leather and ensuring you purchase the right kind, especially if you’re shopping online for leather items.
Types and Grains of Leather
In the world of leather, there are four main varieties classified according to the leather grain.
Leather grain, similar to wood grain, refers to the composition of the leather. Composition affects the way the leather looks and feels. The differing grain types are achieved by sanding, buffing or correcting the surface of the leather.
Interesting fact: The top layer of leather is the strongest. As you go lower, leather loses its density. Sometimes, the lower layers are used to make the softer versions of leather such as suede.
Now, let’s explore the four leather grain varieties:
Full-grain leather is known to be the most flawless variety of leather. It is, therefore, the best quality leather around and the most natural. So much so that, full-grain leather develops its own protective layer, over time, known as the patina, just as natural hide might. It is beautiful, luxurious, and long-lasting.
There is no tampering with the top layer in full-grain. It’s complete with all its natural markings and imperfections. It is also weatherproof and damage-resistant, best suited for footwear, furniture, and brief-cases.
Within the full-grain leather category, there are two sub-categories that define the finish - Aniline & Semi-Aniline. Aniline is treated with soluble dye while the semi-aniline finish is achieved with a thin protective pigmented coat. This coat gives a soft and warm feel.
Top-grain means from the uppermost leather layer but split from the highest level. It is slightly more affordable than the full-grain kind. Top grain is highly durable and can be used to make enhanced or corrected grain products. However, all corrected grain leather is not top-grain leather.
True top-grain leather is ideal for nubuck products such as leather jackets, boots, and luggage. Within the top-grain range, nubuck is a popular choice as its as soft s suede but of more superior quality.
If a product mentions that it’s made of only top-grain leather, with no mention of full grain, it is highly likely that it has been sanded and buffed to remove natural imperfections in the hide. That’s what differentiates it from full-grain leather.
Corrected Grain Leather
Corrected grain leather can be top-grain or from the lower layers. Naturally, top-grain corrected or enhanced leather is preferable for its high quality and durability.
Correction of leather simply means removing the intrinsic qualities of natural hide, also known as scars or imperfections, by sanding or buffing. The sanded layer is then imprinted with an artificial grain layer to appear genuine, in a way, and definitely more uniform. Therefore, any leather that has been modified, fixed, or remodeled in any way is known as corrected grain leather.
Like plain full-grain leather, the corrected grain is also often coated with a semi-aniline finish. The appearance and feel of corrected grain can be very impressive and it’s available in a wide variety of colours and pigments.
You’ll be able to recognise a true, natural grain from a corrected one by lightly scratching the surface. If a mark appears, then you know, it’s not treated!
Then there’s Genuine Leather...
From the sound of it, it would seem like genuine leather is the absolute real thing, right? But there’s a twist!
Though genuine leather is better than fake leather, it’s still not the best you can get. Leather, sold in the market labeled as genuine leather, is actually split leather, taken from varying levels of the hide. It may originate from top-grain, the lower softer sections where suede comes from, or even somewhere in between.
These qualities make genuine leather weaker, more inferior, and not so attractive looking as compared to full-grain leather. If genuine leather is on one end the quality spectrum full-grain is on the other end. While genuine leather is low quality, full grain is the elite, prime variety.
But genuine leather is great for low budget, temporary purchases such as a belt for the season, or a purse for a few occasions. That’s exactly how long genuine leather will last.
This brief guide and tips should help you to spot the right leather for your needs!