Know Your Leather

Leather is a fabric that has been used by humans for centuries. Favored not just for its rugged and natural charm, it is also the go-to when tough and robust material is required. You may have noticed that there is a dizzying array of terms and descriptions used to describe various materials and products that all share the same term - leather.

How well do you know leather? Well, whether you think you know a lot about this amazing textile or know next to nothing other than that it’s a great material for furniture, clothing, bags, and other products, you will know a whole lot more by the time you finish reading this guide.

Different Types of Leather

To begin with, let’s address the first question many people have about leather – what are the different types of leather, and what makes them different from one another?

There are five distinct types of leather:

  • Full Grain Leather
  • Top Grain Leather
  • Genuine Leather/Corrected Leather
  • Split Grain Leather
  • Bonded Leather/Reconstituted Leather


Full Grain Leather

Full-grain leather is the cut that is taken from the outermost layer of the animal hide. The “full-grain” part highlights the fact that the material has not been buffed or sanded to improve the way it looks. It is only the cow or animal hair that has been removed from the hide to produce full-grain leather. Thanks to the more densely packed fibers, the surface of this material is incredibly robust and durable. The strength of this type of leather makes it ideal for furniture, footwear, and saddlery.

Top Grain Leather

Although it is similar in a lot of ways to full-grain leather, top grain leather differs in that the top layer of the hide has been buffed or sanded to give it a more uniform finish. The process of buffing or sanding also makes the leather more pliable and softer, and normally it has several finishes and dyes applied to it. As it is more flexible and softer, top grain leather tends to be used in expensive and classy leather goods like shoes, wallets, and handbags.

Genuine Leather/Corrected Leather

Genuine leather, also known as corrected leather, can originate from any layer of the hide and goes through specialist treatment to give the surface a more uniform and smarter appearance. As with other forms of leather, this may involve buffing or sanding, followed by dying and even embossing or stamping. With more work being carried out on the material, it loses a lot of its positive qualities, making corrected leather less suitable for more robust applications, but perfect for belts and other accessories.

Split Grain Leather

This type of leather is a layered cut taken from the lower levels of the hide. A much lower layer of the animal’s hide, it is not nearly as practical or robust as top grain or full-grain leathers. As a result, it is used more often when leather finishes are required that are embossed, dyed, or altered differently.

Bonded Leather/Reconstituted Leather

Also referred to as reconstituted leather, bonded leather could be likened to the scrapple of leather or the leather equivalent to hot dogs. It is basically made from scraps of leather that have been shredded very finely and bonded together with latex or polyurethanes onto a fiber sheet or mesh. There is no telling just how much real leather is in the actual mix, as it can range from 10 to 90 percent. This means that the actual aesthetics, functionality, and strength of the leather and the finished product designed and created, can vary significantly.

How to Differentiate Between Real Leather and Fake Leather

In addition to the different types of leather, there are also plenty of fake leather alternatives. To help you determine whether a product you are looking at and investigating is actually made with real leather or fake leather, we are going to discuss some things to look out for.

Look at the Label

If at all possible, as good a place to start as any is the label. Generally speaking, most manufacturers who have used real leather to make their products will want to make sure everyone knows that fact. However, if you cannot find any label or you find something like “man-made materials”, then the chances are that it is fake.

Give it a Smell

Okay, although this may feel a little uncomfortable, the scent of the material is actually a big giveaway to decide whether it is real or not. Fake and synthetic leather does not have the same smell as real leather. Familiarize yourself with the smell of products that you know for sure are made from real leather, to give you a baseline scent to work from.

Test its Texture

The texture is often another huge giveaway as to whether a product is made from real leather or faux leather. Depending on the type and quality, it may feel smooth or coarse. However, if it feels too smooth or too much like plastic, there is a huge possibility the leather is fake. It’s also worth noting that genuine leather is not as consistent as fake leather in terms of its texture because it’s a natural material and thus more difficult to regulate.

Inspect the Material’s Edges

Another useful authenticity indicator is whether the edges of goods are made with leather. Fake leather tends to have smooth and perfect edges that feel a little too good to be true, whereas real leather has rougher edges.

Examine its Pores

Last, but certainly not least, another way to check whether leather is real, or fake is by examining its pores. As with many of the other indicators, if the pores seem a little too perfect, it’s probably fake. Real leather pores have a less consistent and more abstract pattern because it’s a natural material; whereas manufactured, or fake leather has a more repetitive and deliberately consistent pattern.


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