Leather 101 the Different Types of Leather

An Introduction to the Different Types of Leather

Leather is widely used in the fashion industry and other industries because of its versatility, strength, and durability. It's been used since ancient times to make everything from shoes to clothes to furniture, making it one of the most widely used fabrics in the world.

The categories of leather you choose will determine the texture, appearance, durability, and color stability, which can be very important depending on your use.

In this guide, you'll learn about the different types of leather on the market and how the tanning methods used affect the quality of the leather.

Types of Leather 

Degrained Leather

A degrained leather is one in which the grain has been removed after tanning, either by splitting, abrading, or some other method. While the smooth appearance of this leather makes it appealing, the process weakens the outer surface, making it more susceptible to wear and moisture, making it one of the least durable leathers, 

Nubuck Leather

Buffed nubuck leather is full-grain leather that is soft and velvety due to its buffed surface. It is made using the outer layer of calfskin or cowhide (the top grain), which is tougher and more resilient than the inner layer. The top grain is sanded and buffed on the outside to smooth out visible defects and markings. Short protein fibers are left behind in the sanding process to give the leather a velvety finish.

Although Nubuck feels like suede, it is more durable since it comes from the top grain of the hide. The material has a great look and feel and can be used for many products, including shoes, jackets, wallets, handbags, travel bags, briefcases, furniture, and more.

Split-Grain Leather

The leather industry produces split-grain leather as a by-product. Split-grain leather is produced by removing the durable top outer layer (Top Grain). While it is much more cost-effective, it does not have the same strength as top-grain leather. It rips or tears easily, and the finish peels over time. 

It is not designed for leather furniture but for belts, wallets, and similar items. Nonetheless, leather furniture manufacturers use this less expensive option as a cost-saving measure.

Bonded Leather

Often referred to as reconstituted leather, composition leather, or blended leather, bond leather is made from shredded leather fibers rolled up with glue and embossed with a leather-like texture over a fiber or paper backer.

It's not as durable as other types of leather but can be very cost-effective for short-term items like jackets, handbags, belts, chairs, belt binding, etc. 

It offers an outlet for recycling older, worn leather into newer materials, which can reduce the amount of leather waste that is generated. Plus, smaller pieces and lower grades of shredded leather scraps can be used. 

Synthetic or Faux Leather

Faux leather is a man-made material made from synthetic materials such as plastic and rubber-coated fabric. In recent years, technology has led to tremendous advancements in faux leather composition. It is durable and looks like original leather, but it is cheaper than animal leather.

Dropping a small amount of water on a faux leather product can help distinguish it from a real leather product, as leather absorbs moisture.

Unlike real leather, faux leather doesn't stretch, breathe or wear like real leather. It lasts for four to six years and tends to crack and peel over time.

Faux leather is often found in clothing fabrics, upholstery for furniture, and the interior for watercraft and automobiles.

How Does the Tanning Method Affect Leather?

The process of tanning refers to preserving animal skin, whether it has hair or not, using tannins. These acidic chemical compounds stabilize skin fibers and prevent them from decaying, decomposing, and oxidizing leather.

Once the skins have been tanned, the leather is dyed, ironed, sanded, oiled, etc., depending on the leather's intended purpose. Various variations exist.

Although numerous tanning methods are available, three types of leather are popular in today's market. These include vegetable-tanned, chrome-tanned, and synthetic leather.

Chrome Tanned Leather

Chrome tanning, which was invented in the 19th century, uses chromium sulfate, a heavy metal that is used as a tanning agent. Hides are usually treated by spinning drums containing tanning liquid, where they absorb the liquid. This tanning process typically takes only one day. However, the trade-off is the negative impact this method has on the environment due to the metallic nature of the chromium chemical and acids used in the liquid.

Leather tanned with chrome has many benefits and some drawbacks, mainly due to its environmental impact.

Chrome-tanned leather is suppler, more water-resistant, and more durable than vegetable-tanned leather.

Vegetable Tanned Leather

The ancient method of vegetable tanning involves treating leather hides with oils made from plants, such as bark.

Vegetable tanning is an ancient craft that dates back thousands of years. It is a slower and more costly process; therefore, less than 10% of the world's leather is vegetable-tanned. It takes nearly 70 days to successfully tan a hide using vegetable tanning. This type of leather is known for its gentle, warm, and silky touch, and it has its own unique look and texture, which makes it highly desirable to consumers.

Synthetic Tanned Leather

Synthetic tanning agents (aromatic syntans) are produced industrially. Examples of these include formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, phenols, and acrylates. The synthetic tanning method is not employed as an isolated tanning process but primarily as part of a combination tanning process with either chrome tanning or vegetable tanning.

Fake Leather: How to Spot It

When split or bonded leather is embossed to look like grain leather, there are several ways to spot it. Leather with a monotonous or uniform pattern might be embossed. Furthermore, faux or artificial leather does not have a pull-up effect, which occurs when grain leather is bent or folded. Polyurethane or painted layers are non-porous and do not absorb leather conditioners well.

The term genuine leather is used by so many leather shops in their product descriptions to convey that they do not use faux leather. It is important to note that genuine leather is most frequently used to describe low-quality split leather. Many consumers have made the very easy mistake of assuming that the word "genuine" means the opposite of "fake." It doesn't matter if the product is made from decent leather; people don't feel confident about the term.