The 6 Most Important Types of Leather

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Leather is made from the skin of animals. That much is probably known to everyone. But do you also know which part of the hide is used for which purpose? The selection of different types of leather is large and sometimes not easy to understand.

With this listing we bring light into the jungle of the many different types of leather.

#1 Split Leather

Split leather is the term used to describe the layers that are created when the leather skin is split. Most often, the cleaned hide (the pelt) is split into two layers. The bottom side is the flesh split. The upper side is the scar split. If the skin is very thick, it may also be split into three layers, resulting in another core split. How thick each layer is cut depends on its further use.

Scar Split

The grain split is more resistant to tearing due to its denser fiber structure and is therefore considered to be of higher quality. However, higher-quality furniture leathers such as nappa leather are made from the grain split. As a rule, the thickness is 0.9 to 1.2 mm.

For thick leather, a particularly strong grain split with a thickness of more than 1.4 mm is used. It has a grainy, valuable look, especially if it comes from buffalo, but it cannot be used for all upholstered furniture. Its limited malleability due to its thickness sets limits to its processing.

Meat Split

After tanning, meat split is known as split leather, split suede or suede. Due to the rough surface on both sides, the collective term suede can also be used. Split leather is often coated, with one side being smoothed. This gives the split leather the appearance of the higher-quality grain split.

With appropriate refinement, split leather is also quite suitable as an inexpensive furniture leather.

#2 Full Grain Leather

The naturally grown surface is not altered or rejuvenated in thickness or substance. Of the many hides that arrive at the tannery, in less than 20% of all hides, due to individual, natural differences, the grain is so beautiful and firm that it requires no processing. Only the very best hides are therefore processed into full-grain leather. With full-grain leather, the grain remains completely intact.

Full-grain leather can also only be made from very good natural hides, but any minor irregularities are evened out by lightly sanding the surface. In essence, however, the naturally grown grain remains intact even with full leather. If more extensive equalization work is carried out on the grain, the leather may not be referred to as full-grain leather or full leather.

Finishing of The Leather Surface

The visible surface of the leather hide is what the leather expert calls the grain. The more perfect the grain is by nature, the higher the quality and more beautiful the leather will be later.

To influence the surface of the leather after tanning, it is dressed. In order to be able to offer the widest possible range of color shades, the leather is dyed. Various techniques are used, which can also change the appearance of the leather and are therefore of interest to the customer.

#3 Smooth Leather

Smooth leather is genuine leather in which the outer side of the leather, the so-called grain side, has been processed. It is either pigmented or muted colored. The surface of smooth leather is therefore quite insensitive.

Typical smooth leathers are described below:

Aniline Leather

Leather that has been dyed through with transparent dyes is called aniline leather. Quite deliberately, this dyeing technique does not cover the visible skin pores and the surface of the leather. Thus, the natural grain pattern and breathability are almost completely preserved.

Aniline leather can be described as the softest and best leather, as its open-pored and high-quality surface has a very natural character.

Aniline leathers are therefore ideal for those who love the natural, pithy character of leather. However, since only naturally very regularly grown, full-grain leathers are suitable for such further processing methods, aniline leather already has its price due to the necessary selection of the starting product. In addition, it makes special demands in terms of care.

Covered Leather

The counterpart to aniline leather is covered leather. Here, a fully opaque layer of strong pigments and surface-sealing materials is sprayed onto the leather surface. These bond firmly to the surface of the hide. This perfectly covers all irregularities of the leather surface and creates a very smooth, evenly colored surface that is also very easy to care for. However, the leather loses its natural appearance and, since the pores have been sealed, it is no longer as breathable. The covered finish is mostly used on split leather or heavily sanded leather.

Semi-Aniline Leather

Semi-aniline leather is a synthesis of aniline leather and covered leather. Thin surface coatings are applied to full-grain or grain-corrected leather, which do not completely cover the natural skin surface, but compensate for irregularities. This allows you to still enjoy some of the natural leather look without having to sacrifice too much in terms of ease of care.

Nappa Leather

The name Nappa leather stands for a particularly soft leather quality. Originally, the term referred to the leathers from the tanneries in California’s Nappa Valley. Today, the term “nappa” refers to a high-quality leather with certain properties precisely defined by means of a RAL standard (060-A2):

Nappa leathers are particularly soft. This is achieved through particularly elaborate tanning, further processing and finishing. Originally, this softness could only be achieved with the help of chrome tanning. In the meantime, however, this can also be achieved with other synthetic tanning materials, which is why the term “chrome-free nappa leather” is frequently used in recent times.

Nappa leathers are basically full-grain leathers. The grain with the natural pores must be completely preserved and must not have been altered or reduced by sanding or other processes. However, this criterion is not always taken into account to the full extent when the term “nappa leather” is used. Sometimes, therefore, leather is advertised as “nappa leather” which, strictly speaking, is not nappa leather.

Nappa leathers are dyed throughout. They have a uniform color tone throughout their thickness. Exceptions to this are leathers whose color after tanning is within the tone-in-tone range of the desired final color. In this case, through-dyeing would simply be superfluous.

Patent Leather

The grain-free leather has been coated on the surface with a high-gloss film. A mirror-smooth film is also frequently used.

Typical applications of patent leather: shoes, purses

#4 Rough Leather

Rough leather is the umbrella term for all types of leather with a buffed and thus velvety roughened service side.

Along with aniline leather, suede leathers such as nubuck and suede are among the highest-quality and most expensive types of leather. They are characterized by high breathability and a soft feel.

All suede leathers have the characteristic “writing effect” in common: if you wipe over the leather, visible light or dark traces remain, because the fibers of the surface are laid in one direction. It is obvious that not the most beautiful, flawless hides are used for suede. After all, it would make no sense to sand their scars! However, this does not necessarily mean that the hides used for suede are inferior in terms of density and strength to hides that become full leather.

Nubuck leather

Nubuck leather is the name given to buffed suede leather. For this purpose, a grain split is used, which is lightly sanded on the originally smooth upper side. In the process, the grain and the natural pore structure remain intact and visible.

Typical applications of nubuck leather: upholstered furniture, handbags, clothing and shoes.


In common parlance, leather types with a roughened surface are called suede. However, suede is actually the collective term for leather from animals such as deer, antelope, kangaroo, gazelle, elk, reindeer, buffalo and chamois.

For suede is also sanded from the grain side, but the grain is completely removed. Suede is therefore always rough from both sides.

Typical applications of suede: shoes, bags, clothing

#5 Blank Leather

A class of its own is the so-called blank leather, which is traditionally tanned purely vegetable. For this purpose, the entire, unsplit hide is processed in its full natural strength. It is particularly suitable for “self-supporting” processing, especially for covering unupholstered chairs such as cantilever chairs. It is also used to make the highest quality saddlery. Blank leather is usually too inflexible for use as a sofa cover due to its thickness.

Typical applications of blank leather: Chairs, e.g. cantilever chairs

#6 Saffiano Leather

This type of leather is made from goat skins and is very fine in appearance, shiny as well as firm. It was named after the Moroccan city of Safi. During processing, care is taken to leave the grain in the material natural. Often it is also artificially grained. Saffiano leather is often dyed on one side, but in no case varnished. Characteristic of this type of leather is the “crunch”.

Typical applications of saffiano leather: shoes, book covers

Types of Leather For Sofas

Sofa leather comes mainly from cattle. However, it is not the entire hide of a cow that is suitable for quality leather, but specifically the uniformly strong and dense middle section, also called the core. In a normally grown (the expert says “normally posed”) cowhide, the core takes up about 50% of the hide. However, this value varies depending on the breed, age, sex and attitude.

In addition, these factors also influence the structure of the grain (the visible surface of the leather) and the quality of the entire skin. For example, the hide of cattle raised outdoors tends to be better than that of cattle raised indoors.

Similarly, hides from cattle bred for high performance in meat or dairy production are less suitable than those from dual-purpose breeds. In addition, buffalo hides occupy a special place because of their characteristic grain pattern.

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