Differences In Leather Grain
When it comes to differentiating between types of leather, grain is one of the most important factors to consider. Leather is graded according to its grain quality, with full-grain being the highest quality and corrected-grain being the lowest. So, what exactly is grain, and why does it matter?

Grain refers to the pattern of wrinkles that appears on the surface of the leather. The finer the grain, the more consistent and tighter the pattern. Leather with a poor grain has a lot of inconsistencies and is usually less expensive.

Chances are, you see leather every day. Everywhere you look! But what do you know about the types of leather grains? Is top grain leather good for sofas? Is top grain leather good quality? 

There are three leather grain types, full, corrected, and split. Full grain leather is made from the hide's top layer and has the most natural look. Corrected grain leather is buffered and corrected to achieve a more uniform look. Split is the bottom layer left when top grain is separated from the full grain.

What are the differences in leather grain?
There are many different types of leather, but not all of them are created equal. If you want your furniture or accessories to last longer, you need to know the difference between full-grain leather, top-grain leather, and corrected grain leather.

Some highlighted differences that you should know about leather grain types are given as

Full-grain or Top-grain leather:

  • Has a strong leather smell
  • Most natural appearance, and most durable
  • Used for making high-quality products

Corrected grain leather:

  • Usually, a way to reclaim tannery waste product
  • It may not have a strong smell
  • It doesn't have as much natural texture as full grain, or the grain can be simulated by embossing
  • It can look shiny like patent leather
  • It has usually been buffed to remove imperfections

Learn about the differences in leather grain and how to identify each type through their appearance. The differences will let you choose the most suitable leather grain, and you will gradually know how long top-grain lasts. So, let's dig inside the key highlights of the main difference in leather types.

Quality and Cost of Different Leather Types
When purchasing a leather product, it's good to look at the different types of leather grains available because different grains have different qualities and costs. The quality and cost of leather products depend on where the leather is collected from the animal's hide, how it's been tanned/processed, and how much of the hide is intact.

For example, Full Grain Leather is more durable and expensive than Split Leather. You will also find some of the most beautiful leather in Full Grain because this is where you will find all the natural markings which distinguish it from other leathers. Full-grain vegetable-tanned leather is the most expensive due to its tough and more lengthy production methods. 

Corrected Grain is cut from Full Grain Leather, so it is not as strong and often times defects have been removed by sanding for a more uniform appearance to hide imperfections, usually with a pigmented coating, then embossed to create an artificial grain. Corrected grain leather has less strength and durability than either Top or Full Grain Leather and has a lower cost, since the appearance is synthetic there is less waste.

Without the least amount of processing, the full thickness of the hide is full-grain, and the upper part leather is top-grain. 

While splitting the hide into an upper and lower layer, the upper layer is top-grain and maintains a lot of the integrity and strength, as well as the durability and natural appearance of the hide itself. The lower layer is called "split" and can either become corrected grain, or a product like suede.

Full-grain will show all the natural markings and character of the leather; it will have a soft hand with an unfinished surface that shows the natural pore structure of the hide.

Top grain will be less thick, but have a similar look and feel on the top level as it maintains and still includes the highest quality part of the hide.

Corrected grain leather takes a "split" from under the hide's surface, so you are left with fewer if any natural marks. But the uniform texture and looks can cause a loss in strong fibers making it less durable than top or full grain. It is often sanded to remove imperfections and then coated with a finish or embossed with a pattern to give it a uniform look and feel. This can sometimes even be mistaken for faux leather as the surface often looks quite perfect.

An intriguing thing about full leather grain is it transforms and gets better with age. When cared for properly, full-grain vegetable-tanned leather can last over 20 years and may even last a lifetime. It will soften, and depending on light, usage, and moisture conditions will darken and develop its own rich natural color called the "patina" - this is what gives each piece of leather a uniqueness compared to any others.

If leather isn't cared for properly, it can dry out and start to lose some strength, durability, and flexibility. With it being the hide of an animal, it's important to remember that just like skin, the proper amount of moisture and/or conditioning is important to extending the lifespan. Regularly cleaning and conditioning your leather can lead to it lasting a lifetime. There are leather items literally passed down for generations if properly cared for.

Final Thoughts/Cautionary Tale
There are many brands and companies that will take advantage of consumers with some cheap marketing tricks. Simply using the word "leather" often times creates a feeling of value for shoppers. It's important to watch for terms like "bonded leather" or "genuine leather" as these can be bi-products made from leather scraps glued and pressed together, and then embossed with an artificial grain to simulate an actual hide. If quality is what you're searching for, always look for "full grain" or "top grain" leather. Then you know you're getting the absolute best cut of the hide, and most likely to last for years.

Check out our selection of handmade top-grain leather goods here.

January 20, 2023 — Matt Marciante

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