Types, Qualities, Grades & Finishes of Leather
Gone are the days when there were only a few types of leather available for fashion purposes. Today, the number of leather types a person can pick from can actually be a bit overwhelming. Once the animal skin is acquired, it then goes through various processes in order to become wearable, long-lasting, and smooth. Without any knowledge about the leather types and its varied qualities, going out in the market to buy it is just like jumping into the pool without learning how to swim. Let’s help you get rid of that confusion regarding leather types, hides, and tanning process so you get the best product as per your requirements.
Types of Real Leather
Out of many types, real leather is the one you should go for when buying a leather jacket or bag. This type can come from large or small animals i.e. cows, sheep, calf, etc, and the texture and overall look of your leather product can vary based on this as well.
Leather that is obtained from a cow is called cowhide. It is considered to be the most durable type of leather and a bit expensive as well. Due to the vast production of cows around the world, cowhide is easily available which makes this type of leather the most popular as compared to others.
Often known as lambskin or goatskin, Sheepskin leather is another popular type of leather. Due to its durability and lightweight, people prefer this for casual use. Women’s leather jackets are mostly crafted with sheepskin leather. Durability, fine grain, and smoothness are the biggest selling points of sheepskin leather.
Full Grain Leather
Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather that you’ll find anywhere in the world. The reason behind so much hype around full-grain leather is that it comes from the top layer of the hide and has all of the natural grain intact. Some clothing brands keep it that way, however, others get rid of the grainy texture through buffing and sanding.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain is the second in the list right after full-grain leather. They are both incredible when it comes to strength, durability, and overall texture. The main difference is that the top grain is separated from the top layer of the blemished hide, then sanded to give a more smooth texture. A huge percentage of leather jackets and bags are made with top-grain leather.
Cowhide or sheepskin is dyed using soluble dyes to meet certain fashion requirements. Dyes keep the grainy surface of the natural leather intact without turning it into a more uniform texture. This type of leather attracts a higher cost because of its highest quality and pricey dyeing process.
Napa is popular for its soft and smooth texture along with diverse usability. Napa leather is used in clothing, furniture, handbags, and shoes. It is acquired from cow, sheep, or lamb and is tanned and dyed using special techniques. The fact that after tanning, it still looks natural is something that makes it special.
This type of leather is obtained from a young cow or a calf. The hair on the calf is removed carefully to get that perfect textured leather and is tanned afterword's. To make it even more charming and durable, the calfskin leather is treated with oils and waxes.
This is the tricky one, people often get confused between real and genuine leather. Although genuine leather is real leather, it also is the lowest in quality. Layers of low-quality real leather are bonded together using modern methods, buffed, and sanded afterward to create a more uniform surface.
Soluble dyes are used for dyeing the leather while making sure that the thin topcoat only covers the surface to protect it from any kind of damage. Pores, scars, and other imperfections on the leather are kept intact. Semi-Aniline leather is soft and has a waxy texture to it. Apart from clothing, this type of leather is commonly used in manufacturing furniture, specially Sofas.
Bovine leather is available in abundance in the market hence is used by most of the premium leather goods manufacturing brands to produce moderate-priced real leather products. Being made out of real leather, bovine leather is durable and if taken good care of, can last a lifetime. An extra protective layer of oil and wax coating makes it water-resistant to a great extent.
Lamb, goat, deer, pig, and calf are the most common animals that are used for suede leather. Each hide turns out a bit different from the other when treated with oils and waxes. The innermost layer of the hide is processed to create durable and rather cheaper material called Suede. However, it has a velvety texture and gets dirty quite easily.
People often get confused between Nubuck and Suede because of their similar texture. However, Nubuck comes from the top grain of the hide hence it’s more resilient and durable. Outer layer top grain leather may have many scars and imperfections which is why it is sanded and buffed to provide a more uniform look. Nubuck is famous for its use in the making of products such as shoes, jackets, wallets, bags, briefcases, and furniture.
One of the most expensive types of leather, kangaroo leather is durable, very popular for its unique texture and feel. Although, kangaroos are a beloved species and many organizations are against their hunting but the demand for their meat and hide is extremely high in some parts of the world. It is also known as K-Leather.
As the name suggests, reptile leather comes from the hide of snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and alligators. It is quite an expensive type of leather and the reason is that the total utilizable leather on their body is very limited as compared to mammals. Reptile leather is less stretchable and is very commonly used in the making of shoes and handbags.
Mainly used in the making of horse saddles, bags, and belts, Yak leather comes from yaks, an Asiatic highland bovine. Most of this type of leather is manufactured in China because of the huge production of Yak in that part of the world. Yak leather is dense as compared to cowhide and due to the extensive grease deposits in the depths of the skin which makes it hard to handle while processing.
Real or fake leather is treated with oils and waxes using a special procedure. This finishing can make the leather surface soft, bubbly, or bumpy depending on the requirement.
Tooling leather is basically the processed leather that goes through a procedure of carving etc in order to have a more stunning and creative look. Generally, it is vegetable tanned leather that makes it softer and much easier to work with. Leather can be glued together in multiple layers in order to have thicker leather depending on the requirement. It is a complex process that requires a high skill set level.
Acid, salt, chromium sulfate, and other chemicals are used in the dying process of leather to come up with the chrome leather. It is one one of the fasted tanning leather process which is why one of the most popular. Multiple products can be produced in just a matter of days without compromising the quality of the leather.
Epi is a pigmented vegetable-tanned leather that is most commonly used by Louis Vitton. The leather has a pattern texture however, the smoothness of this type of leather is unmatched by any other and the durability is amazing. A high pigment level makes the leather more resilient to water and heat damage.
Most commonly used and manufactured in Southern America, Cabretta leather is made from sheep hair. Cabretta is processed in order to get rid of the sheep hair followed by chrome tanning to create a uniform outlook. East and West African countries have also started producing Cabretta leather as well due to the vast sheep production.
Holes in leather surfaces are what perforation is all about. It could be done for design as well as other creative purposes as the small holes provide ventilation. Perforated leather is commonly used in the making of car interior and furniture. It could be hard to repair any damage on perforated leather as the holes on it may lose their pattern.
Vachetta is the high-quality leather that is vegetable tanned hence extremely durable and has a uniform surface and texture. The leather is kept natural by avoiding any chemical processing hence the durability is guaranteed. Some of the leading fashion brands use this leather to manufacture bags and belts.
The kind of leather that has a pebble-shaped texture on the surface is known to be the pebbled leather. The pebble surface makes the leather more appealing, as well as the overall resilience against any kind of damage, is enhanced. The slightly bumpy texture of this type of leather is quite popular and commonly used by famous brands.
An automobile company back in the late 1990s introduced this term for premium quality leather car seats. It is not actually a name of leather type hence the leather can come from any animal, be real or fake, can be known as corinthian leather. This marketing campaign term later became extremely popular among the leather industry.
In the past, patent leather was made by applying layers of oil on top of natural leather, however, the modern technique involves plastic or resin coating on non-natural leather types. It is not commonly used for clothing purposes due to its less durability and expensive coating process. This fake leather is more vulnerable to irreparable damage.
Crazy Horse Leather
Crazy Horse is a kind of finishing that is extremely popular due to its high quality and beautiful vintage appearance. A thick coating of oils and waxes is applied to the leather surface to create the crazy horse finish. The surface is polished to have a more shiny and glossy finishing effect. This type of leather keeps getting better with age.
Vegetable Tanned Leather
It is yet another tanning process to make the cowhide into real leather that is wearable and durable. All-natural elements are used in the process to avoid any chemicals. Apart from being extremely stunning and durable, vegetable-tanned leather is eco friendly.
Brain Tanned Leather
This leather is dyed in the blood of the animal the hide is obtained from. It is an old technique that dates back to the times when there were no or very limited tanning techniques. New processes were introduced but this particular tanning process is still popular in some parts of America.
Pull Up, Oiled, Greased & Waxed Leather
Paraffin waxes are combined with certain oils and then applied with the roller on the leather surface to create pull up waxed leather. The drying process is a bit risky because a vacuum is used instead of air drying. Depending on the amount and quality of oils and waxes, the leather changes its color a bit when pulled up.
Types of Fake Leather
Faux leather is just another name given to fake or synthetic leather. The most basic difference between real and faux leather is that the real one comes from animal hide however the other is manmade using plastic and polyurethane. Faux leather is often treated and coated with wax and oils to create a smooth leather-like texture.
Also known as pleather, protein leather is artificial leather that usually contains plastic elements that are processed to create leather-like fabric. Some brands that sell fake leather products use synthetic leather that is made with a specific type of resin or eggshell protein. It is not nearly as durable as real leather and is not popular as well.
Bicast leather is hardly ever used for clothing due to its low quality and durability. It is created using split leather and a layer of polyurethane. No doubt, the material is glossy and looks good to the eyes but if you’re looking for something more reliable, bovine leather is not for you. It is usually used for shoemaking and furniture.
The biggest difference between real and synthetic leather lies in durability and how it turns out after some time of use. Synthetic leather, being the fake leather made out of plastic material, doesn’t age well. Real leather is airy and breathable however, synthetic leather is not which makes it more vulnerable to irreparable damage.
A substitute for real leather. There are many ways to make vegan leather i.e. by using pineapple leaves, apple peels, cork, fruit waste, or even recycled plastic. These products are used in such a way using modern techniques that an amateur cant tell the difference between real and vegan leather.
Bonded leather is actually a combination of both real and fake leather. It is created by using the leftover scraps of leather and then mixing them with the bonding material. The final product has a leather-like texture but the durability is not even close to that of real leather. Chemicals like cadmium and lead used in the manufacturing of bonded leather are harmful to health.
This is where the real leather is differentiated from the faux leather. Even after years of wearing, real leather keeps getting better with age. soft sheen and a little change in the tone of the leather is developed after regular wear. Body oils, dust, and sunlight cause this wonderful change in the leather which is known to be the Patina.