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Leather types

Leathers are made from the skins of many animals but mainly cattle, goat, sheep and pigskins. Although there is a great variety of leather types, a leather can usually be put into one of three categories :-

The type you choose depends on the appearance you want, the product and the usage which the product receives :-

Aniline leather is the most natural looking, with natural surface visible, but is less resistant to soiling

Semi-aniline leather is somewhere in-between on both counts, having a light surface coating

Pigmented (protected) leather is the most durable but is less natural in appearance, having a polymer coating

...so if you're buying a leather suite and you've got a young family, an aniline suite probably isn't for you! If you look closely at the tag label on the leather item you're looking at, it should say what type of leather it is - otherwise ask the salesperson!

So now you know a bit about the three types of leather, but to find out what makes a leather aniline or pigmented and why some are longer-lasting than others, visit more to it than you thought.

More than meets the eye...

Here you should be able to find out the more technical aspects of the main types of leather...you can even go to our how to tell section, where you are shown how to identify different leathers...

Aniline leather is the most natural looking leather with the unique surface characteristics of the hide remaining visible. Aniline leather is coloured only with dye and not with a surface coating of polymer and pigment . A light surface coating may be applied to enhance its appearance and offer slight protection against spillages and soiling. Aniline leather

Semi-aniline leather is more durable than aniline whilst still retaining a natural appearance. The increased durability is provided by the application of a light surface coating which contains a small amount of pigment. This ensures consistent colour and imparts some stain resistance.

Pigmented Leather is the most durable and is used in the majority of furniture upholstery and almost all car upholstery. The durability is provided by a polymer surface coating which contains pigments.

The surface coating allows the manufacturer more control over the properties of the leather, e.g. resistance to scuffing or fading.

The thickness of the surface coating can vary but if the mean thickness is more than 0.15mm then the product can't be sold as leather in the United Kingdom due to consumer protection legislation.

Full grain pigmented leather The grain surface is left intact before applying the surface coating.

Corrected grain pigmented leather The grain surface is abraded to remove imperfections before the surface coating is applied. A decorative grain pattern is then embossed into the surface.


(Indistinguishable from full grain pigmented leather to the naked eye)

Finished split leather The middle or lower section of a hide with a polymer coating applied and embossed to mimic a grain leather. Finished splits should only be used in low stress applications because they are weaker than grain leather.


(Indistinguishable from full grain pigmented leather to the naked eye)

Antique grain (two-tone or rub-off) A special surface effect has been created to mimic the unique 'worn' appearance of traditional leathers. This is achieved by applying a contrasting top-coat which is applied unevenly or partially rubbed off to reveal a paler underlying colour.

Pull-up leather

(also known as waxy or oily pull-up) A leather with a natural appearance which lightens in colour when stretched during wear to produce a unique worn-in effect with time.

Nubuck

Aniline dyed leather which has been lightly abraded on the grain surface to create a velvety finish or nap. In some cases the grain pattern is still visible. The nap is very fine because of the tight fibre structure in the grain layer.

Suede

A split which has been abraded to create a distinctive nap. The nap can vary in appearance but is not as fine as the nap on nubuck because of the looser fibre structure.

Terms

Full grain refers to leather which has not been sanded or buffed.

Sanding or buffing removes surface imperfections from the leather, except in the case of nubuck where the buffing is very light.

Embossing is a process that heat presses an artificial grain pattern into the leather. If not sanded or buffed, these leathers are still considered to be full grain. This process is usually applied to pigmented leathers but can also be used on aniline and semi-aniline.

See the glossary for more terms.

HOW TO TELL

When it comes to identifying the type of leather you cannot beat proper training and experience, but with care and patience anyone can do it!

How does it feel for you?

Aside from appearance, how the leather feels and handles is a big clue to its type. Aniline leathers feel like real skin - light and flexible - whilst a heavily pigmented (protected) leather can feel rather like plastic.

Leather upholstery in cars is almost exclusively pigmented to protect it from years of heavy use, as are domestic upholstery leathers. One of the current challenges facing the leather industry is to produce lighter, aniline type leathers that have the durability and resistance to soiling that pigmented leathers have.

Aniline Leather

Notice how the creases are very distinct because they have not been filled out by a surface coating. The grain pattern depends on the species (sheep in this case) and which part of the animal it came from.

Semi-aniline

leather Ignore the slightly different grain pattern (this is a different breed of sheep) but notice that the creases are less distinct because they've been partially filled by the surface coating, as if the surface had been covered with a thin coat of paint.

Pigmented leather

Notice how the creases of the grain pattern have been filled out as if the surface had been given a few coats of paint. In this case the grain pattern you see was embossed onto the finished leather. You couldn't tell if this was full grain or corrected grain without examining it under a microscope. Although this sample has a matt finish pigmented leathers can also be shiny.

Finished split

You need to find a cut or torn edge to distinguish a finished split from full grain or corrected grain pigmented leather. In a grain leather (top) the fibres are much more tightly packed near the grain surface, while in a finished split (middle) the fibres are equally loosely packed all the way to the pigment coating.

The lack of a grain layer is also apparent if a finished split is torn.

We all fall for the sales talk at some time - some of us have even given the sales talk - and it's not nice. When you buy a leather item you expect quality, durability...and expect it to be leather too!

See the What is Leather page to find out all about the legal and British standards definitions of leather. As you will see, things are not always what they seem...



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