Types of Leather: What You Need to Know

Leather has been there right from the early days. However, as well know, the leather comes in different types and qualities. Leather is got from the skins of different animals, mainly goat, lambs, sheep, and cows, among others. Types of leather come in different variations ranging from quality to function. Since leather products are very expensive, you need to be sure that you have got your desired quality.

Distinguishing between the various types of leather when buying a product can be tricky.  The type of leather used to make a product depends on its end-use. The qualities are also very different. That is why you will find some leather products costing more than others.  Before you make a buying decision, it is vital to familiarize yourself with the 5 types of leather, their pros, and cons, and also to avoid been conned. This article will offer you free advice on all this.

5 Types of Leather

1.  Full Grain Leather

This is the outermost layer of the hide which is close to the hair. This layer includes all the grain, thus the name full-grain leather. It is the highest quality of leather. Since it has not gone through finishing or splitting, this type of leather has a very natural look. This type of leather is not buffed or sanded and only hair is removed. Products made with full-grain leather are the most expensive among other leather products.

This leather develops a patina as it grows old. This means that it becomes more beautiful, the more you use it. This is a characteristic that makes full-grain leather more popular. The best way to differentiate it from other types of leather is through smell. It has a more natural smell. It will also have minor imperfections since it has not gone through sanding.

Gull grain leather is the strongest and most durable of all leather types. It does not puncture, tear, peel, or crack. The leather has densely packed fibers which make it tight, durable, and resistant to moisture. The natural and unique look of the leather is what makes it attractive. The leather is also able to withstand tough use. It is the only leather which becomes more beautiful with age. Full-grain leather is mainly used to make upholstery for furniture, footwear, and saddlery.

2.  Top Grain Leather

This leather type is very similar to full-grain leather. It is, however, not the top layer but the second layer of the hide. The difference is that this leather type is buffed or sanded to get rid of irregularities and imperfections. Top grain leather is, therefore, more pliable and softer than full-grain leather. Some finishing and dyes are applied to the leather when making products such as different types of leather jackets.

The sanding process makes top grain leather more appealing. After removing the grain, they add an artificial grain in a uniform pattern and finishing coat, making the leather more breathable, durable. It also gives top grain leather a more natural look. However, this process removes some qualities of repelling water and reduces its strength. Top grain leather is flexible and very soft. This quality makes it ideal for making high-end goods such as various types of leather shoes, wallets, and handbags.

On the good side, the leather is soft, flexible, and cheaper and has a uniform appearance. On the downside, it is less durable and deteriorates faster than full-grain leather. It also does not age gracefully after extended usage like full-grain leather. The way to differentiate it from full-grain leather is that its pattern is more uniform and it is also soft to touch.

3.  Corrected/ Genuine Leather

Genuine leather is also called corrected or split leather. This leather has a tough texture since it is located at the bottom end of all the other layers. Corrected leather can be gotten from any kind of hide. The leather is then treated to give a more uniform appearance. The surface imperfections are removed by either baffling or sanding.  After this process, the leather is embossed, stamped, or spray-painted/dyed, giving the ultimate appearance.

Though genuine leather is not top quality, it gives other qualities that people prefer in leather. It has a uniform pattern, softer, more flexible, and cheaper. The final finished leather can be colored differently, or surface changed to make different designs and types of leather shoes, jackets, belts, and handbags, among others.

Most genuine leather products have different layers of low-quality leather put together with glue. These products are then painted to give a uniform appearance. The processing of this leather, however, affects its breathability. It is also more fragile and thinner than top-grain or full-grain leather.

4.   Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is also called reconstituted leather. The leather is made with scraps or leftover hide which are shredded finely and bonded with filler. This leather is then stamped with latex or polyurethane coating on a fiber sheet. This is the cheapest of all the types of animal leather.

The amount of leather used to make bonded leather varies from one manufacturer to the other.  Bonded leather, however, falls apart and wears out faster than other types of leather. It is not as water-resistant as top-grade leathers.

This type of leather is ideal for making low-end furniture, bookbinding, and accessories. It is challenging to know the exact percentage of natural leather in bonded leather unless the producer discloses it. You can be able to distinguish this leather from its texture.

5.  Faux Leather

Faux leather is the same as fake leather. This type of leather is preferred for pricing and ethical issues. It is purely human-made and not from animal leather. Faux leather is made with synthetic materials. The leather is weather resistant and more durable than other types of leather. Since it is made through processing, it can be styled and colored into different designs.

Faux leather is of two types. There is polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). These types of leather are easy to maintain, flexible, and last longer. They are mainly used to make car interiors and different types of leather sofas like those in budget restaurants or hospitals. The leather is however unpleasant and steak when it gets into contact with human skin. It is cheaper than leather but more expensive compared to vinyl.

On the downside, faux leather is not environmentally friendly since it is processed with petrochemicals which are neither biodegradable nor renewable. The leathers can be painted to imitate real leather; thus you need to be cautious when buying. The patterns in faux leather are more uniform, unlike those in animal leather since they are human-made.

Leather Types – Leather 101 with Ralph Ricciardi YouTube

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What Is The Best Type Of Leather?

The best quality of the leather is full-grain leather. It is the most luxurious but the most expensive. This leather type is got from the topmost layer of animal hide. It does not go through any sanding or buffing. It is, therefore natural and develops a beautiful patina as it grows old. You can differentiate it from other types of leather like vegan leather or nubuck leather due to its natural look.

Q. What Is The Most Durable Type Of Leather?

Full-grain leather is the most durable of all other leathers. This is because it has densely packed fibers which make it tight and strong. The leather does not scratch, puncture, tear, peel or crack. It is also moisture resistant. It is recommended for a home with children and pets. Full-grain leather becomes more beautiful as it grows old.

Q. What Type Of Leather Is Most Expensive?

The most expensive leather is full-grain leather. Full-grain leather is got from the first layer of animal hide. It is natural and does not go through any processing. This type of leather is the strongest, most durable, and most expensive among the other leather types. Though it is costly, its beauty cannot be compared with any other type of leather.

Q. What Is 100% Genuine Leather?

100% genuine leather is leather that comes from animal hide. It means that the leather has not been mixed with any synthetic leather. This, however, does not refer to the quality of leather. Some manufacturers tend to mix real leather with fake leather. That is not 100% genuine leather. For a product to be said, it is made with genuine leather that should not be mixed with faux leather.

Q. How Can You Tell The Quality Of Leather?

There are different ways in which you can tell high quality from low-quality leather. You can know real leather from the texture. When you touch real leather, you will feel some tiny imperfections. Leather has pores, and they are not perfectly arranged. Fake leather may have pores but are more uniform since they are human-made.  You can also tell the difference through smell. High-quality leather has a more natural leather smell. Fake leather, on the other hand, has a plastic-like smell since they are made with synthetic materials.

Final Words

With the different types of leather, one should know how to tell the difference. Leather products can serve you for a long, but you need to take good care of them. Animal leather is environmentally friendly since they are by-products of the dairy and meat industries. The type of leather you choose will depend on your requirements as well as your budget.

Full-grain and top-grain are among the best grades of leather, but they are very expensive. Corrected and bonded leathers are cheaper but are low quality. There is a more affordable type of leather called faux leather. It is made of synthetic materials, and it is also cheap. Learn the difference in their textures and smells so that you cannot be confused when buying a leather product.


I am an Architect Engineer by profession with great interest in web and content creation. I have used leather products for a long time, which has increased my enthusiasm, knowledge, and understanding of leather. I am here to shed light on the leather and guide you on choosing the best leather products.

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