Types of Leather

Use this handy glossary to help you identify the types of leathers that best suit your leather needs. 

FULL-GRAIN (versus plated, embossed, buffed or corrected leather)

This is the term for the leather surface without an attempt to hide or conceal the natural markings of the animal which it incurred during its lifetime. Life leaves its traces on cattle in the forms of healed scratches, insect bites, blood veins, growth wrinkles, and variation of grain, all of which constitute the character and charm of “Nature’s Signatures.” Full-grain leather can be either pure aniline or semi-aniline (or aniline-plus). It is sometimes plated to produce a special effect or even to enhance an already natural grain, such as a textured appeal versus a smooth appeal.

PLATED, EMBOSSED, BUFFED or CORRECTED (versus full-grain leather)

When full-grain leather has too many of “Nature’s Signatures,” it is buffed or sanded much in the same manner as wood is sanded. The sanding or correcting process levels the high spots of healed scratches, etc., and removes some of the natural grain.

A grain pattern is then embossed into the surface to replace what was lost in the sanding process.

Plated leather is usually aniline-plus (or semi-aniline). 

TOP-GRAIN (versus split leather)

The thickness of all hides before tanning can vary quite a bit. To obtain a uniform thickness for upholstery, the hides are fed through a splitting machine with the grain side up, yielding a grain portion called “top-grain.” 

The underneath or flesh layer that is cut off is called a “split.” 

SPLIT (versus top-grain leather)

This is the flesh on the top and bottom and possesses no natural grain. 

The tissue structure is not as strong as top-grain and is generally not recommended for the seating area of upholstery, due to this lack of tissue strength.  

FULL or PURE ANILINE (versus semi-aniline or aniline-plus leather)

It is generally accepted that only five percent of the world’s hide supply is of high enough quality for pure aniline upholstery furniture.

Aniline dyeing is the process of soaking the skins in transparent aniline dyes, which color or shade the skins without obscuring the natural markings or grain character of the leather.

The hides are dyed all the way through, with no pigmented topcoat.  

SEMI-ANILINE or ANILINE-PLUS (versus full or pure aniline leather)

These are terms that define a supplemental step beyond aniline dyeing, which adds a top-coating of highly dispersed pigments and dyes to the surface of aniline-dyed hides. 

By dyeing the leather throughout before the final surface coating, a very even coloration can be achieved with only a thin layer of finish and the leather remains softer.