Leather Types Demystified

Posted on 8/27/2012

When it comes to leather types, it can be hard to differentiate between the various options and understand the price differences. In this article you will find the most common types of real and faux leathers used in upholstery, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. With this information, you can choose the right leather for you depending on your budget, lifestyle and how you plan to use the furniture.

But let's be clear, in regards to leather, you get what you pay for.

  1. Full Grain: hide that has not being modified to remove imperfections. It provides a very natural look.

    Pros: durability, high breathability, ages nicely (patina), cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter

    Cons: high price, hard to care for, stains easily

  2. Top Grain: second highest quality of leather. It is the uppermost part of the hide, which is sanded and finished. The split layer is removed to make it thinner and more pliable.

    Pros: less expensive than full grain, greater resistance to stains

    Cons: more of a plastic feel, no patina as it ages

  3. Corrected Grain: all the imperfections are removed (usually by sanding) and an artificial grain is applied to its surface.

  4. Split Grain: bottom of the hide. This leather is corrected and embossed with a leather grain.

    Pros: keep costs down, looks like top grain

    Cons: not as durable, best to avoid on furniture

Simulated Leathers

Faux leathers are usually used for two reasons: they have lower costs and can be considered more environmentally-friendly. Distinguishing features are that faux leather is made with lower grade leather (or none at all), and contains some amount of PVC or polyurethane/polyamide microfiber. Nevertheless, out of the two leather types, faux leather is easier to care for.

There are different styles available:

  1. Bicast: sheets of split leather with embossed polyurethane applied to the surface.

    Pros: consistent texture, easier to clean and maintain, nice looking and inexpensive, contains higher amount of actual leather

    Cons: polyurethane coating may crack and split.

  2. Bonded Leather: "reconstituted leather"- often scraps from tanneries are joined together with latex and stamped with a grain-like pattern.

    Pros: great faux alternative, high quality bonded leather may look and smell like genuine leather

    Cons: will not age and gain a "patina" like genuine leather, may crack and split

    Note: bonded leather upholstery is usually vinyl upholstery that contains a small percent of leather fibers. The vinyl is stamped to give a leather-like texture. It is very durable.

  3. Leather Match: not every part of the furniture will be seen or touched. On leather match pieces, leather is reserved for visible areas like the cushion and seat. Vinyl is dyed to match the leather and is used on the sides and back.

  4. Leather look: Made without any actual leather. To achieve the desired aesthetics, polyurethane upholstery is made to look and feel like leather.

As you can see, the primary distinction in leather types is between genuine and faux leather. For more information on genuine leather, check out this article, "The Different Leather Types Explained". Price, durability and appearance are your main options to consider- check out different types of leather furniture to see what would best match your needs.