The Complete Guide on Identifying Various Types of Leather

So far, we’ve seen and invested in many leather products, ranging from leather handbags to leather furniture sets. Also, many persons are looking forward to creating an awesome piece from leather materials. Thus, it would be crucial to learn more about the various types of leather and their unique properties.

Whether you purchase ready-made leather products or buy the leather material for any application, knowing the leather type would help. Leather comes with varying qualities, as they are derived from different sources. You can get natural leather from different animals’ hides, including Cow, Goat, Sheep, and many others.

The versatility of leather is second to none, and identifying the various types can be quite challenging. However, there are still some peculiar qualities that distinguish the various leather types. Hence, this article would help you identify the different types of leather and find the right one that suits your needs.

Types of Leather

Leather comes in various types and qualities, and they go through a lot of various processing methods. Depending on the leather quality, you can either use it to craft high-performance products or otherwise. The types are categorized based on various criteria, based on the animals they are derived from, hide layers, type of finishes, tanning type, and many more.

However, everything starts with the leather hide, and it would be quite important to learn more about its properties and features. Whether you are a craftsperson or just someone who loves leather items, this guide would do you good.

What is Leather Hide?

The “hide” is the protective cover or the skin of animals, which possesses unique qualities as it keeps the internal organs safe. Real leather comes crafted from the hides (skin) of animals and is among the best materials for crafting various products. Leather hide from animals is often extracted in its natural form before it is treated and refined for use.

There are various layers of the leather hide, as you can find the following layers.

What is Leather Hide?

The Flesh

Although this part of the hide is not quite suitable for end uses in making leather products, it is often split to get the usable material. The flesh layer of the hide consists of fatty tissues and muscles.

The Corium

The corium is found within the hide of the animal, containing mostly collagen fibers. You can find these fibers appearing loosely, unlike those found on the surface of the hide. Within the animal hide, this part is seen as the thickest. You may find the corium present in genuine or top-grain leather goods at the end of the leather splitting process.

The Grain – Corium Junction

This point is where the tight and dense fibers meet with the loosely packed fibers. The tightly packed fibers are a peculiarity of the surface leather hide (the grain), whereas the loosely packed fibers are the corium’s feature. At this point, you find a mixture of both layers.

The Grain

This layer is the outermost part of the leather hide exposed to environmental elements, including sun, air, and moisture. Comprising of dense and tight fibers, this part of the leather is seemingly strong. Once the removal of the hair is complete, you can find this surface very smooth.

They are derived from various animals, and their sizes and shapes vary based on the animal. Unlike various synthetic materials, leather hides from a single source can have various characteristics, with some parts being supple and soft and the other parts being otherwise. There are various sections of leather hide, and they include:

  • The butt
  • The back
  • The shoulder
  • The belly

The Butt

The thickest part of the leather hide is the butt, and this section is also the strongest amongst all others. Thus, the butt part has the best value, constituting up to about 13% of the hide from the entire animal. It is also the toughest part, and it is a relevant section for making durable leather products.

The Back

The back part of the animal provides the leather with good value, with some portions of this leather being soft and others tough. Their texture is dependent on the kind and size of animal and spot of the animal’s back, and it constitutes 30% of the entire leather hide on an animal,

The Shoulder

The shoulder section provides leather hides with soothing properties; they are the softest leather from all parts of the animal. They constitute 32% of the entire leather hide, and they possess an acceptable quality.

The Belly

Leather hides from the belly section are often stretchy, and they are the lowest grade compared to the leather quality from other parts. They make up 25% of the entire leather hide from an animal.

Which Animal Skin is used to make Leather Hide?

Typically, one can get leather from any animal’s skin, as there have been various leather from different animals throughout the world’s history. In recent times, leather is often produced from the hides of animals like cattle, sheep, and goats. But, there are many animals that you can still get leather from and make those awesome leather items.

Some of these animal skins are rare, and they are known as exotic leather hides. These animal skins include Zebra, Seal, Shark, kangaroo, Giraffe, Mules, Crocodile, and Alligator. It is quite beneficial to note that leather derived from larger animals is termed hides, whereas those from smaller animals are termed skins.

Types of Leather from Different Animal Hides

There are types of animal leather, as you can get leather from different animal hides. Some popular animal leather hides include:

Cattle

The hides from various cattle classes are useful in making leather, and about 67% of the yearly leather produced is from cattle. You can get cattle leather from;

  • Cows: cowhides are common leather types available in the market, and they are produced from female cattle with calves. This leather is soft and thick and can suit the crafting of various leather items.

Again, cows bred for milk production (dairy cows) have hides that are thinner and softer. Thus, they are often employed in making different types of leather jackets for women and men, straps, wallets, belts, and upholstery.

  • Heifers: these are female cattle without offsprings, who are yet to produce a calf. Generally, they are useful in the crafting of boots, shoes, and other leather products. You would find this leather pliable and soft and are quite durable.
  • Bulls: the leather hide produced from this male uncastrated cattle is very thick and heavy, as these animals have higher testosterone levels. With their heavy nature, they seem like the best leather for boot soles and heavy belts. Bull leather hides are more available than some leather types.
  • Steers: The leather hide from the male castrated cattle are widely available and are often employed in saddlery and making leather items like shoes, belts, and straps. This leather is quite famous in the fashion market and is mostly sought by many leather users and craftspeople.
  • Calves: These are young cattle (male or female), and leather hides from them are generally supple, thin, and soft. They are commonly employed for fine leather crafts, including smaller accessories like wristbands, handbags, and wallets.

Sheep

Sheepskin leather is famous, being that it is a double-sided leather with a side having wool and the other side a finished. Reports state that 12% of the total yearly leather produced globally is constituted by sheepskin leather.

When used for leather clothing, this leather can remove perspiration due to its natural wool. Thus, it is the ideal leather for making leather boots, moccasins, upholstery, and very durable.

Goat

Goathides produce strong leather that is quite durable and soft. This leather is quite flexible and supple and has a comfortable feel. Thus, they are commonly used in the production of bags, shoes, gloves, and rugs. Goathides make up 11% of the total produced leather from all parts of the world.

Horse

Horse hides are often associated with the famous “cordovan” leather that is quite thick, dense, and smooth. Leather hides from horses are obtained from the butt section and are suitable for making fine leather gloves and shoes.

The premium cordovan items are usually small, as this leather comes in smaller sizes compared to those from cattle hides. This factor due to the small surface area of the horse butt.

Asides from these animals mentioned above, there are some exotic animals that you can get leather from and make your leather products. They are termed “exotic,” as they are rare or less common than the other leather types. Some of these exotic leathers include:

Alligator and Crocodile Leather

Although this leather is less common, many persons are loved and sought; Thus, it is relatively expensive. This leather undergoes various processing that conceals the hide’s tough scales and makes it very smooth.

You can find many of them having a nubuck finishing, and they are often used for the production of bags and briefcases. The breeding farms for these purposes are located in the tropical regions of countries like Australia, South America, and Asia.

Shark

Shark leather hide has a stripped surface and has a great level of resistance to tears. They usually have a thickness that ranges between 1.0 mm to 1.6 mm. This leather undergoes various processing, and it can have a matte or grained finish.

Snake

Skins from pythons and cobras are also used for producing leather, and they are excellent for their attractive decoration. The leather is extremely thin and is used for various accessories and bags. In most cases, they are glued to a supportive piece of leather to provide enough strength for the items.

Hippopotamus

Exotic leathers from Hippopotamus hide are very thick and have great strength, making them suitable for making heavy-duty leather items. The imperfections – scars and bruises on the leather surface are attractive. However, this leather is rare, and you can only find a few of them in shops.

Types of Animal Fur Leather

Many animals with furs on their hides appear quite attractive, used in producing various leather accessories and clothing items. The end product of such hides has a part of the leather looking finished, and the other part bearing the animal’s fur.

Thus, they undergo double-sided leather finishing, and you can find the leather’s hair quite fine. The following animal hides are used in producing fur leather.

  1. Wolf
  2. Beaver
  3. Fox
  4. Rabbit
  5. Coyote
  6. Racoon
  7. Sable
  8. Mink
  9. Seal
  10. Lynx
  11. Opossum
  12. Muskrat
  13. Chinchilla

Leather Grades: The Types and their Qualities

There are various leather grades, as the animal hides undergo various types of splitting and go through various surface treatments. These grades vary according to the different layers of leather. Whether you are purchasing a finished leather hide or getting leather products, proper knowledge of how leather is graded would help.

Knowing the various leather grades can help you ascertain the best leather product with great value worth your money. If you are into fashion, you can comfortably tell which leather grade would be useful before getting started on how to sew leather.

The five major leather grades include:

Full-grain Leather

This leather grade happens to be the best quality of leather that you can find, as it is durable and possesses a lustrous feature and a smooth surface. It contains the hide’s outer layer (grain), and it shows some imperfections because it hasn’t been buffed or sanded. These marks do not cause any unattractive appearances on the finished leather and add to its great appearance.

It is a common practice that only the hair of the hide is removed for the full-grain leather. Full-grain leather is quite suitable for making many types of furniture and footwear, and other leather products. After a while, you would notice this leather developing patina, and this improves its appearance.

The full-grain leather has two possible leather finished products; semi-aniline and aniline leather. These two finished products of full-grain leather are among the most desired in the fashion market. This finishing ensures the protection of the leather and prevents it from wearing out.

Top-grain Leather

The top-grain leather is seen as the second most quality leather that you can find in stores. It is thinner and more pliable as the layers are separated. This leather is very similar to full-grain leather, but it has the top layer buffed and sanded. Thus, it appears quite smoother than the full-grain leather, as all its imperfections are removed through this process.

After the leather finishing, this leather gets a plastic feel and becomes less breathable. It gets more stain-resisting abilities and is a cheaper option compared to full-grain leather. However, top-grain leather is not as strong as full-grain leather, as it does not hold the same strength since it goes through sanding.

It comes with excellent flexibility, and it is quite soft. If you search for a suitable leather hide for sewing wallets, handbags, and shoes, top-grain leather would be an excellent choice.

Split-grain Leather

The split-grain leather is derived from the layer cut around the top-grain lower levels, the lower layer of the hides atop the flesh. In essence, you can find the split-grain leather in between the full-grain leather and the best parts of the top-grain cuts. It is quite useful, as it offers a suitable leather material.

Although the natural surface is not similar to the top-grain and full-grain leather, it appears great with leather finishes. It is due to the less dense fibers that are present in the leather’s natural surface. Thus, it is colored, embossed, and can undergo many types of leather stitches to provide excellent leathercraft.

Genuine Leather

Genuine leather is often referred to as corrected leather after undergoing a series of processing. You can find it from any layer of the animal’s hide, and it is usually buffed and sanded to conceal all its imperfections. Thus, the leather strength reduces, and some of its natural properties get altered.

You can find it usable among products with excellent aesthetics like genuine leather belts and other related leather crafts. This type of leather is often employed in making pigmented leather. Please note that the hide for making the corrected leather is usually below the standard of those subjected to aniline dyes.

Bonded Leather

Generally, the bonded leather does not fall under the category of real leather, as it is formed from the dust and scraps of leather, along with vinyl, plastic, and a suitable glue for leather. The complex process involved in this leather formation bods these elements together to provide this leather piece. You can find the total amount of leather ranging between 10% – 90% in this grade of leather at the end of the process.

It is usually colored using different types of leather tanning to give it an attractive appearance. This leather is a cheap option that you can find in various stores. It is commonly employed in making cheap leather items, which are of low quality, including many types of leather sofas. You can also find shoes, bags, and leather clothing made from this cheap leather.

Types of Leather Finishes – Finished Leathers

After deriving leather in its purest form, it is subjected to various refining processes before getting those finished leather materials. There are various types of leather finishes, and as such, you can find different types of finished leather in the fashion market.

Choosing a suitable leather material for your craft or picking a leather product would help if you know about their finishes. This knowledge would help you pick leather that suits your style and activities. Here is some common finished leather that you can find and their properties.

Suede Leather

There are various types of leather for jackets, but suede is among the common options. Ever wondered why this is so? Well, suede leather is often derived from the animal’s shoulder section, and they are very soft. They are scraped from the animal’s skin’s underside, which says more about its flexible nature.

The newly extracted leather usually has low-quality and open pores that quickly absorb water. The suede leather finishes the material with some excellent sprays and treatments that you can find in various stores. Thus, suede finished leather has water-resisting properties that make them suitable for such applications.

Nubuck Leather

One durable finished leather is nubuck leather, and they often undergo heavy coloring or dyeing to conceal their marks. The processing of this leather involves sanding and buffing the outer layer of top grain leather. Thus, the outcome, a lustrous, velvety, and slight nap surface, is the nubuck leather.

Sometimes, this type of finished leather can have some grease, wax, and oils applied on the surface, and you can find such in stores termed as oil nubuck leather. They are relatively resistant to wear and tear and have some extra thickness, unlike suede. This finished leather is quite expensive, as you can find suede relatively cheaper.

Antique Grain

This finished leather provides a vintage look on various leather products, commonly known as the rub-off or two-tone leather. The antique grain leather is very special for its surface, and it undergoes an application of a great topcoat. The finishing involves the even application of the coat, which then reveals a pale color beneath.

During the leather processing, there may be embossed creases or hollows before placing the two contrasting coats. This activity would ensure the darker coat (the first) sink into the depression. Although having an aged look, this leather is classy, and lovers of patinas on leather do not have to wait for a long while to get this look on their leather products.

Waxy Leather

The waxy leather or pull-up leather is processed with extra oil, with a wax spray coating for its finishing. This finished leather has a smooth and dark look and has great water-resisting capabilities. Beneath the finishing is a sanded surface, with the marks covered at the end of the day.

It is of great quality, but this waxy leather lacks a protective coating, and as such, can face some color changes with time. When scratched or stretched, the leather produces a lighter color, and rubbing the leather surface with a damp cloth can easily remove some color from the leather.

It has a soft texture and is durable, and quite useful for making different types of leather shoes and bag making. However, you can find a lot of leather furniture with this pull-up leather. You can also find some of this type of finished leather retaining its grain structure; thus, having a coarse appearance. As they age, they show off an excellent patina that is quite loveable.

Finished Split Leather

Since it is found in the lower or middle area of the leather hide, the finished split leather comes sprayed with a polymer-based substance. This finishing gives this piece a more natural piece, and you can find a lot of them embossed. However, you can find this leather material appearing weak, unlike grain leather.

Thus, it is usually useful for applications that require low or minimal stress. Interestingly, it shares great similarities with pigmented leather (corrected grain) and full-grain leather. However, you can find some distinguishing features by looking at the cut edge. The torn edge of the finished split leather has the fibers loosely packed. In contrast, the top grain leather has closely packed fibers close to the grain surface.

Pigmented Leather

The pigmented leather finish is usually heavier masking on the material, which relatively conceals marks better. Thus, the pigmented leather has all pores and natural color differences hidden after its processing. It is among the leather finishes with great quality that makes it suitable for many people.

This leather has some stiffness level, and its surface is quite thick that can withstand rugged uses. It is excellent for crafting products that are suitable for everyday use, as they can withstand tears. Whatever repairs or color restoration that needs to be done on this leather material are relatively easy; thus, you can comfortably work on it. Please, note that products made from pigmented leather require little but proper maintenance.

Semi-Aniline Leather

This leather comes with a thin protective layer, leaving its grain exposed. However, the leather is less likely to bear many blemishes after its finishing. There are various properties of this leather, and one is that it can maintain its natural features. For leather users who love patinas, this leather may likely not be patina, but it still appears great.

The semi-aniline leather is quite soft and has excellent strength for holding stuff nicely. It is of high quality and suitable for crafting products that require frequent usage. Thus, this leather type is employed in making leather furniture sets and handbags. With its excellent durability, this leather material can withstand sunlight and water, and it also has some level of stain resistance.

Aniline Leather

This leather comes with the highest quality of full-grain leather, as it receives the aniline finish. This finishing subjects the leather to aniline leather dyes with water-soluble pigments, which creates quite an effective staining. The breathable feature of this leather and its ability to adjust to body temperature is intriguing.

Aniline finishing is only done on high-quality leather hides; thus, aniline leather is the most sought fashion market. Cleaning and managing this leather is easy, as you can make use of a suitable leather cleaner. It is commonly used for making many types of leather jackets, wallets, bags, and a variety of leather products.

Note: You can also find other forms of finished leather such as de-grained leather, brush-colored leather, embossed leather, faux leather, embroidered leather, Napa leather, Patent leather, and Metallic leather.

Leather Tanning: Types of Tanned Leather

Tanning of leather involves altering the animal hide’s protein structure, and this process ensures the durability of the leather hide. The tanning process is usually after the hide is de-haired, and all form of grease is removed. Then, the hide is further subjected to salting and water soaking for 6 – 48 hours.

There are many types of tanned leather that you can find, as you can pass the leather hide through varying tanned processes. These tanned Leather include:

Vegetable Tanned Leather

This form of leather tanning involves the use of vegetable extracts and other plant extracts. Vegetable tanning makes the hide flexible and soft, but you can find this type of tanned leather without moisture resistance. It is of high quality and quite durable, but it is relatively expensive.

Brain Tanned Leather

The tanning process for this leather involves the use of dead animal extracts. This tanned leather is very supple, soft, and washable.

Chrome Tanned Leather

This type of leather is subjected to leather tanning chemicals that reveal an attractive appearance. Chrome tanned leather is among the best option for covering your car seats and couches at home.

Synthetic Tanned Leather

The synthetic tanned leather is subjected to a tanning process that employs the use of aromatic polymers.

FAQs

Q: What are the 5 types of leather?

Although we can find various leather types in many fashion stores, there are five major leather types. 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, and full-grain leather. These leathers have varying characteristics, which is majorly 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. It has a great deal of strength, making it very durable as it has not been buffed or sanded.

Thus, the kit can withstand tough conditions and can be put to everyday usage with rare cases of tears. The full-grain leather also bears all its natural imperfections, which adds to its excellent appearance. With time, you would find this leather developing patina, which is extremely attractive.

Q: What is the strongest type of leather?

Leather produced from a goat’s hides is often considered the strongest, as it bears excellent abrasion-resisting properties. Goatskin leather also has great tensile strength, and there are rarely reported cases of tears occurring from this type of leather. Despite this leather type being quite thin, this tough nature persists.

Based on the grade of leather, however, the full-grain leather is the strongest. The full-grain leather comes packed with dense fibers and does not undergo any processing that makes it lose its natural properties. Thus, it is durable and showcases its attractive marks on the various 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 quite soft. When it comes to picking a leather with soothing properties, nubuck leather is one of the top options. Nubuck leather comes with its surfaced buffed and sanded and gives off a velvet 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 seems like a more durable option when compared to suede. However, nubuck leather would require proper maintenance to ensure that it lasts long.

Q: What leather is termed smooth?

Smooth leather is among the commonest types of leather that are 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 is not 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?

This question is mostly asked by many leather lovers and users. You can find a lot of leather at a fair price, and others with prices that are quite high in the fashion store. However, leather produced from Alligator and Crocodile hides is the most expensive that you would find.

Not only are these leathers the most sought, but they also come with excellent finishes that showcase an attractive appearance. You can find them appearing 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 referred to as patent leather, and this leather comes processed and coated with a high-gloss leather finish. Tanned leather is coated with an acrylic or polyurethane solution three consecutive times, after which it is dried.

The drying effect seals the coating, making it stay on the leather, and its shiny appearance stems from the addition of dye to the leather’s middle coat. It is quite beneficial to note that the patent leather is not breathable and lacks imperfections or surface markings. Thus, you can see its visible smooth, and glossy surface distinguishing it from other leather types.

Q: How can I tell which leather is of great quality?

How to tell good quality leather can be relatively easy, much more if you know the leather types available in the market. Take a good 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 leathers smelling like plastic. For leather products, check out their stitches, 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 it 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 leather and ostrich leather, create a great overall design. A suede is suitable for persons 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 seems 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. Its excellent natural characteristics cannot be overlooked, as patinas’ formation is quite attractive after a while. Most bags available in stores comes designed from full-grain leather derived from cowhides.

Q: What are the disadvantages of leather?

Leather is excellent, as it comes with various attractive features, and there are many great leather products. However, leather materials have some limitations, even with their durability. When it comes to leather products, there are limited color options, unlike other materials. For most persons who would love a colorful appearance, this can be quite troubling.

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.

Conclusion

Identifying and distinguishing the various types of leather can be quite challenging, as some persons have very little knowledge about them. There are many leather types available in stores, and if you can identify them, you may not be able to get the right one for your craft. Many persons often search the internet for the types of leathers with pictures, and they may not get beneficial results.

Thus, we’ve provided you with this guide that teaches you the various leather types available and how you can identify them. Are you searching for the best grade of leather and how they are processed? You can check out our guide and choose the best leather to help you choose the right leather products.

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Evina Naomi

Ewofere, Evina Naomi is a biotechnologist and passionate content writer. As a great lover of leather and various leather crafts, she broadly addresses leather-related issues. She is a writer of many excellent articles on leather. With great knowledge and enthusiasm, readers can access researched pieces on various leather types and the best techniques that work on them. Naomi is here to lead you through the journey of choosing excellent leather products and ensure you handle them rightly. So you can embark on your leather sewing and crafting journey with her and have an incredible experience.

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