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Types of Leather & How to Choose Yours

Working with leather can be a rewarding experience once you know what you're doing! For the beginner though, it can be overwhelming and confusing.

There are many different types of leather aside from just the kind of animal it's taken from, and each kind is best suited for different purposes. This post will attempt to address the many uses of various forms of leather.

Full-Grain vs. Top-Grain Leather


The Four Mains

Full Grain | Full-Grain leather is considered to be one of the highest quality leathers available. It is an untouched leather hide, so you will observe the natural imperfections in the leather. It is extremely durable and over time reveals a natural patina or coloring.

Top Grain | Top-Grain leather is considered to be the next highest quality leather. The top grain is split from the rest of the hide and the imperfections are sanded away. These pieces are generally thinner and more pliable, but do not boast the natural patina over time that full-grains do.

Corrected Grain | Corrected Grain leather is essentially top grain leather that has been sanded and finished to remove imperfections and then has an artificial leather grain- like surface applied to it, often done with stains or dyes.

Split| Split leather has been separated from the top grain and has an artificial layer applied to the surface, much like corrected grain leather does. Split leather is often used to make bycast leather or suede.

Other Types of Leather

Bycast | Bycast leather is the split leather backing meshed with a polyurethane layer whose front surface has been embossed. By cast leather is sometimes used to make furniture, but lacks the strength, breathability, and durability that natural leather has. It is easier to clean, though!

Suede | Suede is the underside of the skin, usually of sheep, but cattle, goat, and deer is also common. Suede is often used for upholstery, shoes, and bags.

PU or Vinyl | Often referred to as "pleather," polyurethane, vinyl, and PVC "leathers" are considered the animal free versions of leather. This type of leather is essentially made of plastic and other synthetic resins that are created to mimic the look and feel of real leather grain. Although these are considered "vegan" in the sense they don't use animal skin, vinyl chloride, the "VC" part of PVC is considered one of the most toxic compounds and a known human carcinogen. Since these plastics are not natural, they're also not considered biodegradable, which has its own implications!

PU Leather Example


Chrome- Tanned | Chrome tanned leather is a process of coloring leather using soluble chromium sulfate and other chromium salts. Tanned leather accounts for up to 80% of the world's leather supply and is most commonly used for garments, footwear, and upholstery.

Veg-Tanned | Vegetable tanned leather is a leather that has undergone a tanning process that uses materials from plants, including tree barks, fruit, roots, leaves, and tannin, a chemical compound, to produce a natural leather look. Veg-tanned leather often uses full-grain hides, boasts a beautiful patina over time, and is best for belts, straps, and holsters.

Chromexcel (CXL) | Chromexcel is the Horween Tannery's process of tanning leather that includes a whole lot of attention to detail, hot-stuffing, or impregnating with waxes, greases, and oils, and hand-finishing. The result is a beautiful hide with magnificent pull-up.

Horween Chromexcel-Tanned Leather with Pull-Up


Latigo | Aluminum-tanned leather that's soft and supple. It is great for using outdoors since it's mostly water resistant and can be used for tack, straps, and belts.

Bridle | Bridle leather is a veg-tanned leather, oiled to withstand weather and the elements, but also should be flexible, smooth, and comfortable. It is best for making belts, straps, and leashes.

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