Guide to the Different Types of Leather

Leatherworking has been around for a long time – as long as man has been eating meat. It’s an old craft that can make a variety of products, from shoes to garments, upholstery, saddlery, and of course, handbags. Buying leather is an investment that will last for years to come, but you want to make sure that you know what you’re paying for. This means familiarizing yourself with the common terms used when describing different types of leather.

Benefits of Leather Bags

Before we dive into the different types of leather, know that there are several benefits to investing in leather bags and other leather products.

  • Genuine leather offers unmatched levels of durability and style.
  • The natural materials make it a higher-quality product than most bags made of fabric.
  • Leather is fire-resistant, and modern leather versions do not crack or peel.
  • Leather ages well and can be easily maintained.
  • It doesn’t tear along the seam lines or get ripped like other fabrics.
  • Leather has unique individual characteristics, so there are no two genuine leather bags that are exactly alike.
  • If it has markings or grain variations, the leather only adds character and individuality to your handbag.

About Cowhide

Leather cowhide pattern

Leather usually comes from cattle, which is a big animal, and it has very thick skin. A whole cowhide is too thick to be useful for everyday products, so it is usually cut down to be thinner. Cowhide is made of two layers: the corium and the grain. The collagen fibers in the corium are thinner and more flexible. It also becomes thicker and tighter as they move up the grain. The top part of the grain faces outward towards the hair, which can contain the cow’s blemishes like insect bites, scars, stretch marks, and more. This top part is often buffed off to make the leather look smoother and more uniform.

Types of Leather

Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather has the entire grain intact. It’s made of the upper layer of a hide that is split into layers by a splitting machine. The thickness can vary depending on the gauge set during splitting and application. This hide can be colored and given different protective finishes, but it isn’t sanded, buffed, or sniffed to remove any natural marks. Though it may have blemishes, it is more expensive and sought-after than top-grain leather due to its durability. This type of leather has less moisture and doesn’t wear out easily – instead, it develops a patina, giving a leather a unique, aesthetic look. It’s the best quality leather, but it’s limited in availability.

Full-grain leather has two finished product types: aniline and semi-aniline. Aniline is exclusively dyed leather with the most desirable finish. The soluble dyes used doesn’t cover the top with pigment or topcoat paint. Meanwhile, semi-aniline has a thin coat that protects the leather from staining and wearing out.

Top grain leather

The second-highest quality leather is top-grain leather. It’s thinner and more pliable, as the layer is separated away. The surface is corrected by sanding, and it comes with a finish coat to make it less breathable. It also develops pinna that protects the material from damage and corrosion, ensuring its longevity. It is less expensive and has better stain resistance than full-grain leather. More people prefer buying this type of leather since it’s durable and readily affordable.

Split leather

The bottom part of the leather, the part that’s split off from the grain at the corium and grain junction, is called differently, so it can get confusing. It’s sometimes called split leather, embossed leather, coated leather, Napa leather, suede, painted leather, and more. But to avoid confusion, let’s call it split leather.

This type of leather comes in various thickness and can be sliced down even thinner for different purposes. Usually, a polymer coating is applied and embossed to imitate grain leather, but these leather types are not as strong or durable. The finished product is called finished split hide. Split leather can also be used as suede, which is textured to have a napped finish.

Corrected grain leather

Hides that have an excessive amount of scars and scratches are processed by correcting the natural grain. Corrected grain leather is buffed or sanded after splitting to the required thickness, and then, it is replaced with an embossed artificial grain and finishes to imitate hair cell patterns. The resulting material looks flawless with not natural scars visible, but it’s no longer natural grain. The original feel of the leather is reduced with a synthetic grain and finish. Most applications for shoe and handbag leather are embossed with exotic prints to imitate a real leather look.

Corrected-grain leather is typically used to make pigmented leather or the colored leathers you usually find in handbags. This type of leather is more affordable and readily available.

Bonded leather

Also known as blended or reconstituted leather, bonded leather is made from combined pulp out of shredded authentic leather and bonding materials. It’s the recycled form of leather made from scraps, making it an environmentally-friendly leather option. The fiber particles are bonded with adhesive into the fabric, followed by applying synthetic grain hair cell pattern and finish to give it a realistic look. The fillers used are backed with an embossed polyurethane coating. Bonded leather is cheap, but it doesn’t hold up as well as full-grain leather. It’s usually found in low-end furniture, low-end handbags, and sometimes in bookbinding.

Faux leather

Faux, imitation, and artificial leathers are made of chemically-treated fabric. The fabric used is covered in dye or wax for color and texture to make it look similar to real leather. Faux leather is non-porous and usually waterproof, making it a great material for handbags. However, it doesn’t make for comfortable or breathable clothing. Since it’s not made of real cowhide, faux leather is much less expensive. While some faux leather versions can look less expensive, there are a lot of options in the market that look and feel more realistic.