Types of leather
Updated: Jul 27
Lets start with 'Hide' versus 'Skin' before looking at the types of leather. Sometimes these terms are used synonymously, however there is a difference.
Hides come from large animals such as Bovine, Horse and Buffalo.
Skins come from small animals such as Goat, Rabbit and reptiles.
In this article we are talking about what happens after tanning and whether it's hide or skin, the processes are largely the same.
Leather as manufacturers and tanners will have their own methods and recipes for processing hides, however, leather will be classed in these broad categories.
Types of leather
Top-grain is the outer layer of the hide, known as the grain, which features finer, more densely packed fibres, resulting in strength and durability. Depending on thickness, it may also contain some of the more fibrous under layer, known as the corium. Top Grain leather includes full grain, which is the entire grain layer, without any removal of the surface. Rather than wearing out, it develops a patina during its useful lifetime. It is usually considered the highest quality leather. Furniture and footwear are often made from full-grain leather. Full-grain leather is typically finished with an aniline dye.
This is leather where the surface has been subjected to finishing treatments (embossing) to create a more uniform appearance. This usually involves buffing or sanding away flaws in the grain, then dyeing and embossing the surface. Corrected grain is used a lot in the furniture and fashion industries.
Nubuck is top-grain leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side to give a slight nap of short protein fibres, producing a velvet-like surface. This is typically used in clothing.
This is created from the corium, which is left after the top-grain has been separated from the hide. Also known as the drop split and in thicker hides this can be further split into a middle split and a flesh split. Splits are often used to create suede.
This is split leather with a polyurethane or vinyl layer applied to the surface and then embossed to give it the appearance of a grain. It is slightly stiffer than top-grain leather but has a more consistent texture.
Also called faux leather, composite leather or reconstituted leather. It is a mix of shredded scraps of leather and bonded together with polyurethane or latex onto a fibre mesh. The amount of leather fibres in the mix varies from 10% to 90%, affecting the properties of the product. This is used a lot in modern furniture, vehicle and boat upholstery among many more examples. Unfortunately it does not last as long as natural, full grain leather does. Repairing these articles costs more than buying them brand new!
Used especially in the shoe and fashion industries, this is leather that has been given a high-gloss finish by adding a coating. Inventor Seth Boyden developed the first mass-production process, using a linseed oil-based lacquer in Newark, New Jersey, in 1818. Modern versions usually have a plastic coating, similar to bi-cast leather or a water-based, high gloss acrylic paint.
Hair On Hide
"Hair on" hides or skins that have not had the hair or fur removed. Typically used as rugs or throws.
You may have heard the term "skiver". Skiver is thin split leather from sheep, lamb or goatskin. It is mostly used as a lining for shoes, handbags, wallets and clothing as it comes in many colours and is very soft and thin. It is also used in some cases for inlay on writing bureaus and writing slopes.