Whether you’re buying ready-made products or planning to make your own, understanding the differences between various types of leather will help you pick the right one.
Leather gives you a special distinction, whether it’s used in a jacket or a chair. This article will talk about the different types of leather and the best application for each one.
What You Need to Understand About Leather
There are different types of terms that set various types of leather apart.
This is animal skin that has been treated for human use after being separated from the animal. The shoulder part is the softest, the belly is usually flexible with different thicknesses, and the butt is the thickest part of the hide.
Since the hide is a natural substance, its qualities will differ based on the animal it comes from and how it’s treated.
This is the top part of the leather after it’s been split. It’s made of tight fibers and is usually quite durable once the hair is removed.
This comes from the lower layers of the hide.
These terms set the different types and grades of leather apart, affecting the final quality and how the leather can be used for various applications. Leather can be divided based on the animal used to make the leather, the part of the hide used, the manufacturing process, and how the leather is cut.
Where Does Leather Come From?
It’s quite common to differentiate types of leather according to where they come from. Most leather comes from cows, but other animals are also used. Lambs, goats, sheep, deer, horses, pigs, and reptiles like alligators and snakes are also used for their skin.
When the skin is taken from a mature cow, it’s called cowhide. Calfskin is also quite popular and is taken from young cattle.
Cowhide is one of the most popular types of leather that can be used for various purposes. It’s flexible and can be printed to give the look of any type of leather.
Calfskin is more expensive and is usually used to make high-end fashion products and accessories like shoes, handbags, wallets, and belts. It’s also easier to sew than cowhide.
Deerskin is quite expensive because it’s durable, stretchy, and lightweight. It’s used in coats and luxury handbags.
Sheep and Lambs
The skin taken from sheep and lambs is lightweight and supple. It’s usually used to make gloves and other tight-fitting garments and accessories.
The quality of elk leather is quite close to deer leather. The damage patterns on the skin show its authenticity. It’s used to make trousers, jackets, and all types of leather wear.
The leather coming from buffalos looks similar to cowhide, but it’s more durable. It’s used for weight-bearing objects like bags because it’s stronger than other types of leather.
Goat leather is more affordable than other types of leather. It’s usually used to make gloves and other leather accessories. It’s also used to make rugs.
Because it softens over time, it’s widely used to make shoes as it guarantees more comfort. It’s extremely flexible and can be dyed in multiple colors.
Leather from alligators, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes is widely used to make expensive shoes, wallets, handbags, and other types of leather accessories. These leather types are usually more expensive than the ones coming from mammals and are stiffer.
Reptile leather is less prone to wear and tear and is highly resistant to water. However, it requires high maintenance, as using a leather conditioner is essential to keep the leather in top condition and prevent the tiles or patterns on the leather from cracking.
Types of Leather
Leather grades refer to the quality and how the leather is processed for various purposes.
1. Full-Grain Leather
Full-grain leather retains the pattern of the original animal hide after removing the hair or fur. It doesn’t get polished and is the most durable type of leather.
This leather is expensive because it retains the original texture and imperfections present on the hide. The imperfections like insect bites and rubbing against sharp objects show that this is actually real leather. Unlike other types of leather, this one gets better with time as it absorbs oils that keep it in a well-conditioned state.
Full-grain leather is tough and durable, so it can be used in elegant furniture pieces, shoes, handbags, and fashion accessories. It’s also more breathable than other types of synthetic or processed leather. However, it’s more challenging to work with and not resistant to stains.
2. Top-Grain Leather
This is the second-highest grade of leather, after the full-grain leather, and looks very much like it, but it’s easier to work with. The top layer of top-grain leather is buffed and sanded to eliminate some of the imperfections.
Top-grain leather is quite durable, but it doesn’t age as well as full-grain leather. The leather is softer and more flexible, and in most cases, colors and varnishes will be applied to change its look.
Sanding or buffing removes the imperfections to give top-grain leather a supple look, but it also affects durability and makes it prone to wear and tear. It’s one of the most widely used types of leather and can be used in shoes and handbags.
3. Genuine Leather
Genuine leather comes from any part of the hide and goes through several treatments to correct its look. It can be sanded, embossed, or painted.
This leather type is the third-highest grade of leather and is made of the remaining parts after splitting the top layer for full-grain and top-grain leather. It’s quite easy to maintain and can last for a few years.
Genuine leather is probably the most versatile type of leather because it can be used for heavy-duty items like utility belts and fashion accessories like belts, wallets, shoes, and handbags.
4. Bonded Leather
This leather is made of shredded leather fibers and scraps, so it’s quite affordable. These materials are then bonded using a bonding material and forced onto a fiber or backing cloth and left to dry.
Decreasing the level of moisture makes bonded leather more durable, so it can be used for various applications. Bonded leather is usually used to make shoes, furniture, and belts. It’s also used in bookbinding and textile lining.
Compared to full-grain leather, bonded leather is less durable and has a shorter lifespan. It can be hard to clean, and over time, it will release some of the chemicals that were used in the bonding process.
5. Bicast Leather
Bicast leather has a consistent texture and is embossed to give the look of the more luxurious top-grain leather. Bicast leather is made of the lower layers of a hide left after top grain leather is separated, so it’s less durable and thinner.
This lower layer is then covered by a polyurethane layer, which adds durability. It was mainly used in shoes but is currently used in furniture, belts, and handbags.
This type of leather has a strong chemical smell, and the grain looks too uniform, unlike full-grain leather. It’s easy to clean and represents an affordable alternative to those who want the look of leather without the price.
Suede is made of the animal skin’s underside, so it’s softer and less durable than full-grain leather. It can be made of any type of animal hide, but it’s usually made of lamb, calf, deer, or pig hide. The type of animal has an effect on how thin or durable the suede will be.
Suede is elegant, so it’s widely used in shoes, handbags, jackets, and fashionable leather accessories. It’s less expensive than full-grain leather, but suede is difficult to clean.
Semi-aniline leather goes through minor processing to make it more durable. The top protective coat protects it from staining and scratching, making it more suitable for various applications.
This type of leather is soft but has a waxy feel to it. It shows some natural markings, but they’re not as obvious as those seen on full-grain leather. It’s also more durable.
Semi-aniline leather is used for women’s handbags, jackets, and furniture because of its elegant look and durability. However, the added coating makes the leather less breathable. It doesn’t age the same way full-grain leather does.
8. Faux Leather
This is not natural leather, and it’s man-made from plastic and rubber-coated fabric. It’s one of the cheapest types of leather, but also the most durable one. Different grades of faux or synthetic leather can be used for furniture or clothing apparel.
You can differentiate between real and faux leather using water. Real leather absorbs water, so you can add a drop of water to leather and see what happens. If it puddles up and stays on top, then this is faux or synthetic leather.
Faux leather is quite popular because it doesn’t require animals to make and is easy to clean. It’s also UV-resistant and doesn’t crack like real leather. However, it’s not as breathable as full-grain leather.
There’s a wide range of types of leather available for every need and application. Depending on what you’re planning to do, you can choose the most appropriate kind and quality. Although full-grain leather is the best real leather, other lower grade, and more affordable options can also be used for multiple purposes.