Leather is a versatile and attractive material! Imagine running your fingertips over a piece of exceptionally made leather gloves, a purse, a pair of shoes, or any carefully tooled leather piece – the supple and distinct texture evokes a sense of fascination. But while many people often seek trendy leather pieces, only a few can identify the different types of leather.
There are many leather types, including full grain, top grain, bonded, genuine, bicast, Nubuck, metallic leather, and more. These varying kinds of leather have distinctive features that set them apart and play a crucial role in their prices.
You should also know that leather is often categorized based on its grade, finishing, “cut,” and the animals they are sourced from. So, I will reveal intricate details about the various types of leather and their distinctive features that set them apart.
Types of Leather
Leather comes in various types and qualities, and they go through various processing methods. You can use this material to craft varying products depending on the leather quality.
As stated earlier, the types are categorized based on various criteria; the animals they are derived from, hide layers, type of finishes, tanning type, and more. However, everything starts with the rawhide, and learning more about the properties and features of leather hides is essential!
What is Leather Hide?
The raw material used to make leather is known as leather hide; it is the skin or hides of an animal, often taken from cattle, goats, sheep, and other types of animals. The hide is the main component used to make various leather goods, such as purses, shoes, coats, and furniture.
The hide from which leather is made impacts its qualities and features. Here are a few distinctive qualities of real leather hide:
- Thickness and Strength: Depending on the animal species and the particular section of the hide utilized, leather hide shows varied thicknesses and strengths. The thickness of the hide influences its robustness and usefulness for various purposes.
- Grain Patterns: The distinguishing surface roughness of a leather hide is called the grain pattern. There are four types of grain patterns: split, full-grain, corrected-grain, and top-grain – each has a certain visual appeal.
- Natural Imperfections: Natural flaws like scars, scratches, bug bites, and stretch marks can be seen in leather hides. These “character marks,” or flaws, add to the hide’s attractiveness and do not detract from its overall quality.
The hide of animals, alongside their furs/hairs, forms a protective barrier that protects their internal organs that keeps them safe from such elements as sunlight, moisture, and abrasion. Animal hides have various layers, such as:
The Grain Layer:
The grain layer, located below the epidermis, adds to the durability and quality of the leather, is present. It is the part exposed to the elements, and this gives the leather its distinctive texture and affects its longevity since it is made of tightly packed collagen fibers.
Every hide is unique, and the grain layer can display distinctive patterns like natural wrinkles, scars, and even hair follicles.
Grain and Corium Junction:
The layer that connects the grain to the loose fibers of the corium underneath it is known as the Grain and Corium Junction. It symbolizes a region where the two layers converge and interact, creating an intriguing fusion of traits. This intersection frequently displays minor texture and grain pattern differences, adding to the special appeal of leather goods.
The corium is located at the center of a leather hide. The bulk of the hide’s strength, elasticity, and suppleness are attributed to this layer.
Collagen strands are woven together to form the corium, which provides the essential structure while enabling the leather to adjust and mold to its environment. The corium’s thickness and density might fluctuate across various animal skins, affecting the leather’s general properties.
The deepest layer, the Flesh, represents the base of the leather hide. It is made up of muscle fibers, nerves, and fatty tissues. It is important to get rid of the superfluous flesh to prevent decomposition and maintain the leather’s quality throughout the tanning process.
Which Animal Skin is used to make Leather Hide?
Leather crafting is rich and diverse, with various types of leather sourced from different animal hides. And here are some notable types of animal leather.
One of the most popular varieties of leather is cowhide, which comes from cattle. It is recognized for its strength, toughness, and adaptability. Depending on the age and breed of the animal, the texture and thickness of cowhide leather can vary – it also has a particular grain pattern.
This leather is frequently used to create durable items, including upholstery, footwear, belts, and wallets. Kindly note that leather is also sourced from other cattle, as you can find calfskin and even “steer” hide (from adult male cattle).
Due to its softness, suppleness, and opulent feel, sheepskin leather is highly coveted. It comes from sheep and is frequently used to make premium clothing, gloves, and accessories. Sheepskin leather has high insulating qualities, making it perfect for clothing in cold climates.
Leather made from goats is renowned for its extraordinary resilience and built-in water resistance. It is lighter than cowhide and has a characteristic grain pattern and exquisite texture. Due to its superior abrasion resistance and flexibility, it is a popular option for products that strikes a balance between sturdiness and suppleness.
Pigs produce a leather called pigskin, which is exceptionally strong and resilient. It is prized for its inherent ability to breathe, repel water, and contour the body. Pigskin leather is prominently manufactured in China and is widely used in manufacturing gloves, shoes, and clothing, especially when strong protection and flexibility are needed.
Horse leather is extremely sought-after because of its distinctive qualities. It is still soft and supple yet exceedingly robust and resilient. This Cordovan leather is more breathable and retains moisture longer than other varieties of leather because it is less porous, which makes it perfect for outdoor use. Horse leather is used to make premium saddles, purses, and clothing.
Beyond the often-used types of animal leather, other rare and unique possibilities are available in the industry. Some of the exotic leather types you would find in the leather industry includes:
Crocodile and Alligator Leather
Alligator and crocodile leathers are recognized for their extraordinary beauty and strength and exude a sense of unmatched luxury. These leathers have an alluring charm because of their peculiar scale patterns, which vary based on the species.
They are perfect for making pricey accessories like purses, belts, and shoes because of their strength and unparalleled flexibility. Working with such reptile leathers requires meticulous artistry and is rare, which adds to their uniqueness and high price.
Snake leather offers a unique fusion of class and exoticism – these serpents’ scales have an eye-catching pattern frequently characterized by exquisite natural patterns. Also, snake leather’s flexibility allows designers to create flowing and seamless patterns. Thus, such pieces are among the top exotic shoe leather types, frequently utilized to create clothing and accessories with bold uniqueness.
Ostrich leather, known for its extraordinary suppleness, has a distinctive quill design that gives it depth and mystery. This brid leather is distinguished from other exotic leathers by the unique bumps from the quill follicles, giving it a rich texture. It is widely sought-after for luxury items like wallets, briefcases, and upholstery because of its suppleness and toughness.
Stingray leather has an alluring combination of durability and texture. Its surface is visually appealing due to its pebbled texture and small pearl-like imperfections. Stingray leather is well-liked and comes in handy for producing accessories like wallets, watch bands, and phone covers since it is durable and water-resistant.
Types of Animal Fur Leather
While leather may come from various animals, animal fur leather is fascinating. Based on the desired look and texture, many animal species can be used to produce animal fur leather. The following are a few of the most common kinds of accessible animal fur leather:
The Different Leather Grades and Their Quality
The leather grades represent the method of grading hides and skins according to their caliber, aesthetic appeal, and appropriateness for different uses. These grades are established by considering several elements, including the source animal, the tanning procedure, flaws in the surface, and natural marks.
Both leatherworkers and consumers should know the various leather grades to make educated decisions and guarantee satisfaction with the finished product. So, here are different grades of leather and how to identify these leather types.
Full Grain Leather
Full-grain leather is the highest grade, known for its unmatched quality and unparalleled natural beauty. This grade preserves the complete grain layer with minor surface changes since it hasn’t been buffed or sanded.
Full-grain leather exhibits the authenticity and distinctiveness of the hide thanks to its distinctive flaws, such as wrinkles, scars, and texture differences. It is the most sought-after option among leather enthusiasts thanks to its remarkable strength, breathability, and propensity to acquire a deep patina over time.
Top Grain Leather
Top-grain leather demonstrates how quality and attractiveness may coexist in perfect harmony. While appearing similar to full-grain leather, this grade has its outermost hide layer split during manufacture, eliminating the complete grain and resulting in a uniformly flat surface.
Top-grain leather keeps some durability and breathability despite losing its natural marks. It frequently has unique finishes on top to increase resistance to stains and fading. This grade finds a compromise between cost-effectiveness, robustness, and good looks. And its suppleness makes it useful for making handbags and boots for women and men.
Corrected Grain Leather
Also referred to as genuine or rectified top-grain leather, corrected-grain leather sets off on a transformational path. It starts as a full-grain or top-grain hide but is meticulously buffed or sanded to remove surface flaws. The resultant leather is then given a consistent look by being dyed, embossed with a fake grain pattern, and finished.
While rectified-grain leather may not have the same natural beauty and durability as full or top-grain leather, it offers a more affordable choice. It can be useful for making various goods, including leather bracelets, belts, and similar products.
Further down the hierarchy of leather grades, split leather stands out as a flexible and affordable option. Split leather is obtained from the lowest layers of the hide and is initially taken off from the upper grain. Although it lacks the durability of top and full-grain leather, split leather serves several purposes, including creating upholstery and other useful leather items.
Bonded leather appears at the bottom of the leather grading scale. This reconstituted leather is a less expensive choice with limited endurance and aesthetic appeal. It is made of shredded leather fibers joined together using adhesives and finishes.
The leather mix in this grade varies but is usually between 10%-90% and further influences the outcome of the final products it is used for. It is frequently used to make book covers, furniture, and inexpensive accessories.
Raw Hide Leather Grades
Upon skinning animals for their hides, meatpackers often grade the raw hides to determine their quality before they are sent to tanneries. This grading system often helps determine the sales price of these hides at the tannery and ensures the consistent production of top-quality leather goods.
The grading process often involves thorough inspection for such defects as scars, deep cuts, discolorations, grain inconsistencies, and abrasions. And here’s how the raw leather hides are graded.
Grade Number One
Raw skin leather grade one is the pinnacle of excellence and superiority. Grade One leather is exceptional because it comes from premium sources, such as carefully chosen skins from young, healthy animals. It is widely sought-after for luxury items due to its “almost” flawless surface and constant thickness.
The grain surface is undamaged, exhibiting the animal hide’s authentic texture; holes sited 3-4″ from the hide edges can always be trimmed. Because it is simple to work with, has great dye absorption, and ages well, leather artisans prize Grade One leather. And 80% of the hides shipped to tanneries fall under this category.
Grade Number Two
Grade Two rawhide leather retains an acceptable quality while providing a more affordable price range than Grade One. Its flaws include little scars, scrapes, and grain defects that shouldn’t exceed 1 ft. sq. coverage area.
Holes on such hides should be no more than 5 inches, and they can have about four cuts/holes but should be sited on the hide’s straight line. About 15%-20% of the hides received at tanneries are graded as number two.
Grade Number Three
This grade is distinguished by more obvious natural faults, irregularities, and flaws – they could have a sizable cut or five or more holes straight. Grade Three hides can still be used successfully for various uses despite the somewhat reduced quality, and the cut around would lead to a lesser area of usable leather.
The Untannable skins category of rawhide leather grades challenges even the most experienced leatherworkers. These hides do not meet the quality of the other grades previously discussed and are usually not shipped to tanners.
Leather Cut Types
Understanding the many kinds of leather cuts is essential to producing great leather goods. Kindly note that this “cut” depends on the area on the animal’s skin the hide is derived from, with some cuts easier to work with than others. So, here are the major leather cuts you would find when seeking a hide for your leather project.
Whole Cut Leather
This cut, made from the full surface area of the animal’s skin, highlights the leather’s unique grain patterns and natural beauty. Such hides have varying thickness and stiffness, and stretch characteristics all across since it cover various areas. Whole leather cuts provide artists with more creative flexibility than other cuts since they don’t restrict their designs or creations.
Side Cut Leather
The side leather cut is created by dividing the complete leather cut in half along the spine. It produces two symmetrical pieces, each of which retains the natural properties of the original hide but would have varying thickness and stretch characteristics.
Shoulder Cut Leather
This cut usually comes from the shoulder area of the animal and is characterized as a firm but flexible hide. Thus, you would find shoulder-cut leather very useful for tooling.
Double Shoulder Cut Leather
The double-shoulder cut leather hides are made from the animal’s entire shoulder area, renowned for its density and strength. Double-shoulder cuts are frequently used when making heavy-duty items like saddles, boots, or harnesses that call for durable leather. They are dependable for projects that require great sturdiness due to their dependability and resilience to wear and strain.
Bend Cut Leather
To create a bend leather cut, the hide is cut along the spine towards the middle area of the animal’s belly. Because of their extended shape, bent leather cuts are ideal for producing items like straps, handles, and trims that need long, continuous leather strips.
Double Bend Cut Leather
The double-bend leather cut runs from the hide’s spine towards the belly but extends on both sides of the prime sections (the hind area before the butt).
Butt Cut Leather
The thicker area of the hide located close to the animal’s hindquarters is derived from the butt leather cut. The butt cut, renowned for its strength and thickness, provides remarkable longevity and resistance to stretching.
Double Butt Cut Leather
This type of leather is cut from the animal’s back, running from the butt area towards the spine – on both sides. This cut creates strong, resilient leather for applications that need strength, such as saddles, belts, and heavy-duty bags.
Belly Cut Leather
As the name implies, the belly leather is taken from the left or right side of the animal’s belly or abdomen. Compared to other cuts, this is softer and more malleable. Since it tends to be “stretchier,” it is perfect for flexible applications like gloves, wallets, and footwear.
Double Belly Cut Leather
In this instance, the animal’s belly is cut on both the left and right sides, offering a harmonic combination of strength, flexibility, and distinctive patterns. The double belly cut is frequently employed in projects that require a blend of flexibility and durability. Although this area is not termed “prime leather,” it works well for making various leather goods.
Types of Leather Based on Their Finishes
Finished leather shines out as evidence of innovative design and careful craftsmanship. Each variety of finished leather has distinctive qualities that make it appropriate for various uses. So, here are different types of finished leather and their qualities.
Antique Grain Leather
Also referred to as distressed leather, antique grain leather has a lovely, old vibe. Natural flaws and slight color variations are displayed on the leather’s surface, giving it personality and depth.
This kind of leather is frequently treated with oils and waxes to make it suppler and provide resistance to abrasion. Antique grain leather gives off that attractive “aged” appearance without needing you to use the leather for a long period to achieve such a look.
With its unmatched sheen and reflecting qualities, patent leather is regarded as having an undeniable attraction. This particular leather type goes through a special coating procedure that often entails layers of varnish or lacquer. The end effect is an effortlessly attention-grabbing surface that is shiny and smooth.
Aniline leather highlights the hide’s organic grain and texture, letting its true characteristics shine through the thin protective layer.
With little surface processing, this leather retains its supple, opulent feel. Aniline leather is highly sought-after in opulent furniture, pricey purses, and accessories because it keeps its inherent permeability and develops a deep patina over time.
This leather combines the greatest qualities of aniline and pigmented leather, striking a careful balance between greater durability and natural looks. This leather goes through a minimal pigmenting procedure that leaves it smooth and supple while adding a thin protective layer. Even with the covering layer, you can still notice the leather’s original surface.
Nubuck Leather undergoes a unique sanding process to produce a highly brushed surface. It is renowned for its velvety feel and opulent look. The little nap that results from this technique enhances the leather’s suppleness and gives it a distinctive appearance.
Premium shoes, jackets, handbags, and furniture are usually made from nubuck leather, which lends a touch of class to any design.
Like Nubuck, suede leather also goes through a sanding process, but this time, it is made using split-grain leather instead of full-grain leather. This method produces a cozy and fashionable surface, soft and fluffy. You would find shoes and clothing made from suede leather having an attractive, laid-back appearance.
Pigmented leather provides a strong, consistent finish that withstands regular use. This type of leather has been given a protective topcoat and pigment treatment for improved stain resistance, consistent color, and increased durability. It is frequently used in commercial applications, vehicle interiors, and different types of furniture, where durability is crucial.
Degrained or rectified grain leather undergoes a procedure in which the original grain is removed. This produces a homogeneous texture that conceals flaws and faults, but removing the grains may weaken the leather’s outer surface.
When manufacturing a leather product that requires a neat, uniform appearance is needed and degraded leather is frequently used.
This leather undergoes a tanning process, incorporating oils and waxes into the material, giving it a distinctively worn-in or vintage appearance. Pull-up leather can alter color when stretched or tugged, revealing varying tones across the leather surface. It is frequently used to make furniture with an antique feel and bags in a rustic style.
Nappa leather is recognized for its buttery softness, sumptuous texture, and suppleness. It is usually created from sheep or lamb skins, and to preserve its natural smoothness and flexibility, it goes through a thorough, unique tanning procedure.
Though not of the highest quality, Nappa leather is incredibly adaptable and may be found in making various fashion accessories, furniture, and clothing that balance comfort and elegance.
The metallic leather is ideal for anybody looking for a hint of glitz and shimmer. This leather has a metal layer usually added during its finishing process. This distinctive feature gives it a shiny, striking look; thus, it is preferred in interior and fashion design, giving purses, jackets, shoes, and furniture upholstery a lovely touch.
Brush Colored Leather
Also known as hand-painted leather, brush-colored leather is an example of the ingenuity and expertise of leather craftspeople. Each item is delicately hand-painted with a brush, creating one-of-a-kind patterns, hues, and motifs.
Double-sided leather is finished on both sides, giving it greater adaptability and creative potential. It is perfect for uses where both leather sides will be seen, such as reversible belts, purses, and clothing. Double-sided leather frequently has various textures or finishes on each side, providing contrasting visual appeal and tactile sensations.
Embroidered leather combines the everlasting beauty of leather with the timelessness of embroidery. The leather surface is meticulously stitched with intricate patterns and motifs, resulting in a compelling blend of texture and aesthetic intrigue.
Luxury purses, clothing, and other tiny leather products are frequently made with embroidered leather, which adds an amazing touch of creativity and craft.
The surface of embossed leather is imprinted or pressed with a range of designs and textures. This method gives the leather depth and dimension, producing visually appealing results.
Faux leather is a synthetic material with an appearance and texture that mimics real leather. It is constructed from various synthetic materials, including thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), polyurethane, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
While not as durable and stretchable as genuine leather, this polished leather has a lustrous sheen that gives it an attractive appearance.
Types of Tanned Leather
Raw hides are transformed into a soft, durable material for various purposes through leather tanning. With that in mind, the various types of tanned leather are available.
Natural plant extracts from things like leaves, tree bark, and fruits are used in the ancient practice of vegetable tanning, which dates back thousands of years. This method uses a careful technique that allows the leather to absorb the tannins gradually, giving off a rich, warm-toned leather.
Vegetable-tanned leather is prized for its capacity to age gracefully over time and acquire a unique patina with a personality all its own. It appeals to individuals who value skill and tradition by appearing in handcrafted items, premium footwear, and elegant accessories.
Compared to vegetable tanning, this approach dramatically reduces the “tanning time” needed using chromium salts to speed up the tanning process.
This leather’s appeal results from its adaptability and suitability for various uses, as chrome-tanned leather works perfectly for footwear, upholstery, and car interiors.
This leather undergoes a method of tanning that employs juices from animal brains to soften and preserve the hide. Brain-tanned leather is an astonishingly soft and malleable leather prized for its distinctive texture and organic feel.
Synthetic-tanned leather is usually subjected to chemicals rather than natural elements to produce exceptional tanning results. With more control over the tanning procedure, this technique enables leather producers to deliver reliable and consistent outcomes.
Leather synthetically tanned often has better water, abrasion, and stain resistance. It is greatly used in manufacturing fashion accessories and vehicle upholstery.
Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs
Q: What are the five types of leather?
Although you would find various leather types in many fashion stores, there are five major ones. These types are prevalent when considering the original hide layers or volumes that you can notice in the finished leather or leather product. Based on this criterion, you can find leather divided into:
- Bonded leather
- Split-grain leather
- Genuine leather
- Top-grain leather
- Full-grain leather.
These leathers have varying characteristics, influenced by the area of the entire animal hide they come from. Other influencing factors include the animal breed, size, how they were fed, and many more.
Q: What type of leather is best?
There are various types of leather for couches, shoes, bags, clothing, and other leather items. However, the best leather type you can find is full-grain leather, as this leather grade bears the highest quality. Its great strength makes it durable, as it has not been buffed or sanded.
Thus, the kit can withstand tough conditions and can be put to everyday use with rare cases of tears. The full-grain leather also bears all its natural imperfections, which adds to its excellent appearance. With time, you will find this leather-developing patina, which is extremely attractive.
Q: What is the strongest type of leather?
The leather produced from Buffalo’s hides is often considered the strongest, as it has excellent abrasion-resisting properties. Buffalo leather can be subjected to rugged applications, with rarely reported cases of tears occurring from this type of leather. Although extremely strong, this leather type is also soft and supple.
Based on the grade of leather, however, full-grain leather is the strongest. The full-grain leather comes packed with dense fibers and does not undergo any processing that may cause it to lose its natural properties. Thus, it is durable and showcases its attractive marks on crafted leather items.
Q: What kind of leather is soft?
The different leather types come with different qualities and textures, as you can find some tough and others are quite soft. When picking leather with soothing properties, nubuck leather is one of the top options. Nubuck leather comes with its surfaced buffed and sanded, giving off a velvety texture after the whole process.
Nubuck is loveable, and you can use it in crafting many leather items, including wallets and bags. This leather type is very soft and is a more durable option when compared to suede. However, nubuck leather would require proper maintenance to ensure it lasts long.
Q: What leather is termed smooth?
Smooth leather is among the commonest leather types often used to craft high-quality leather shoes. This leather is produced from the animal hide’s grain part, as the smooth part is collected. Smooth leather is easily distinguishable with the easy-to-recognize pores on the leather hide.
It passes through the coating, as it is done evenly on the surface of this leather type. Although this leather comes dyed, it still needs to be thoroughly finished, and you can find two basic types of smooth leather. These types are the most sought aniline leather and the surface-dyed type.
Q: What is the most expensive type of leather?
You can find a lot of leather at a fair price and others at quite high prices across fashion stores. However, leather produced from Alligator and Crocodile hides are among the most expensive that you would find.
Not only are these leathers the most sought, but they also come with excellent finishes that offers an attractive appearance. You can find them soft despite the tough and large scales of the animal – the thickness of this leather is always within 0.8 mm to 1.3mm.
Q: What is shiny leather called?
Shiny leather is often called patent leather, and it comes processed and coated with a high-gloss leather finish. The tanned leather is coated with an acrylic or polyurethane solution three consecutive times and then dried.
The drying effect seals the coating, making it stay on the leather, and its shiny appearance stems from adding dye to the leather’s middle coat. Patent leather is not breathable and lacks imperfections or surface markings. Thus, its smooth and glossy surface distinguishes it from other leather types.
Q: How can I tell which leather is of great quality?
Look at the leather and look out for those with high grades; full-grain or top-grain leather would be suitable, as they come with excellent quality.
You can also inquire from the leather seller about its origin, as some locations are known for producing quality leather. Smelling and feeling the leather or leather item would also help, as you can find fake leather smelling like plastic. Finally, check out their stitches for leather products, as hand-made leather is far more durable.
Q: Which type of leather is best for shoes?
Cow leather hide is suitable for making leather shoes and is one of the top options for designing shoes in the fashion world. Not only is cow leather durable, but it also provides enough comfort that takes care of the feet. They are also excellent for boots and office footwear.
However, other options, such as crocodile and ostrich leather, create great designs. Suede suits people who love soft footwear, and Nubuck leather is soft and durable.
Q: What leather type is best for bags?
Amongst types of leather for bags, full-grain leather appears to be the best option for making bags. There are other available leather options for making bags, including Nubuck, corrected, and top-grain leather. But, it would be best if your leather bag has excellent strength for carrying your stuff and can last long to serve its purpose.
Full-grain leather can provide you with such desired results. It has excellent characteristics and forms attractive patinas over time. Most leather bags in stores come designed with full-grain leather derived from cowhides.
Q: What are the disadvantages of leather?
Leather is excellent, with various attractive features and many great leather products. However, leather materials have some limitations, even with their durability. Regarding leather products, there are limited color options, unlike other materials. This can be quite troubling for most people who love a colorful appearance.
Also, there are constant wear and tear cases with leather, much more as the material ages. Being sensitive to weather fluctuations, you can find your leather jacket and other leather products getting cold in winter and warm during summer.
Because of its distinctive qualities and adaptability, leather is one of the most desired materials in the world. From full grain and top grain leather to bonded leather, each type of leather has distinct qualities and advantages.
Regardless of its kind, leather is a stylish, classic, and durable answer to a wide range of applications. So, which type of leather is best? You can learn about the most preferred leather type for your next project through the details in this guide.