Leather Types and Finishes

All leather comes from the hides of animals, the most common being Cow Hide. Different animals skins are used for a variety of purposes. Leathers are processed in similar manners to achieve the look and feel for a particular purpose. Once the leather is tanned and processed, certain sections are selected for use for particular application. It then goes through another series of processing and splitting depending on its intended applications. This process determines the type of leather that will be made available to you.

In almost all situations, similar tanning and dyeing chemicals and processes are used. The leather quality is determined by the actual processes and chemicals used in its production rather than by brand identification. Reputable manufacturers use high-quality leather for production purposes, however, there are increasingly greater numbers of lower quality leathers being used in today’s market. ie Bicast leather.
Leather is a natural product. That means no two pieces are exactly alike. Only a small percentage of hides have few marks and are in good enough condition to be left untouched for use in leather furniture. So full grain leather, in short supply, is therefore more expensive. The majority of hides available for tanning need to be ‘corrected’ before they are suitable or visually acceptable for upholstery. As these are in greater supply, the price will be somewhat lower. The majority of leather used for upholstery in your home, your car or your boat is pigmented leather.
Leather comes from the hide of the animal split into layers. The top or outside layer is the top grain. The other layers of the split leather are nowhere near as durable and are not generally used for hard wearing areas such as furniture seats and arms. Protected or coated top grained leather is the most common and is used in almost all applications including automotive and furniture upholstery. Protected leather is the easiest to take care of and to maintain and will appear to have a distinct ‘finished’ look and feel heavier than unprotected or unfinished leather. Once heavily embossed or dyed, a piece or pieces of leather will be more likely to be consistent, but scars and bites on the animal from which the hide is obtained, and even dye lots will affect the look from piece to piece. The furniture on a showroom floor may be a little different to the one delivered to you.

Leather coloured with analine dyes to produce a transparent finish so that the grain pattern of the leather may be seen. Comprises about 5% of the market
The most natural type of leather, it is very soft and delicate to the touch and bares all of the natures own markings on the hide. Very absorbent water drops will darken the colour and then dry back to natural colour. It stays warm in the winter and cool and ventilated in the summer. Retains the natural look of the leather hide. Without a protective coating it is very absorbent and so is prone to staining and fading. These leathers are the most expensive. Without a protective coating it is very absorbent and so is prone to staining and fading. These leathers are the most expensive.
Leather coloured with analine dyes, but has a thin protective coating applied. These make up 15% of the market.
Retains some of the natural markings and grain of the leather. Will absorb liquids and oils but far more slowly than pure analine. Easier to clean and maintain. It has a nice soft feel and still has some natural markings visible, often with a two tone appearance. There isnt much room for complaint with semi-annaline leather except that it is slightly less natural than annaline leather.
Finished or Pigmented:
This leather is fully treated with surface protection. this leather is the most commonly used on lounge furniture.
Uniform colours and grain patterns. The natural grain of the leather is hidden or may have even been over-printed. Will not scratch easily. The process by which the leather is made makes it very durable and hard wearing and resists scratches and stains. It has high resistance to light and is very easy to clean and maintain. Reduced breath-ability and the grain pattern is disguised making this type of leather less natural. It is not as comfortable and does not have the natural temperature characteristics of Annaline leather.
Leather with a polyurethane film bonded to the surface.
The surface has a painted feel and can even feel a bit like vinyl. Very hard wearing and easy to clean and maintain and has uniform colour and good light fastness. It has no natural grain surface and so is not very natural.
Antique Finish:
Pigmented leather with an additional top coat of a darker colour sprayed on top.
It is designed to give an antiqued look and is very common with chesterfield style sofas. Unique antique style differs from sofa to sofa as the leather is enhanced through use. Protective coating helps resist stains The top coat of colour may wear off after continued use causing the leather to look distressed.
Annaline leather which has had the top grain buffed or brushed to create a velvety surface.
Feels very soft and has no protective coating. Extremely absorbent. Nubuck is very natural with a lovely soft and delicate feel. The brushing makes the leather even more absorbent than annaline, hence it is prone to staining and is difficult to clean and maintain. Light fastness is also poor.
A form of Annaline leather. Suede is sometimes used in furniture, but is not common.
The finish is brushed and will change colours when the surface is gently wiped with an object. Like, Nubuck, Suede is very natural with a lovely soft and delicate feel. The leather is extremely prone to staining and is very difficult to clean and maintain. Light fastness is also poor.
Pull Up:
A very natural type of leather that is designed to distress as it ages because the colour lightens when stretched or scratched.
Pull-up leather is heavily treated with oil or wax which separates when the leather is stretched in usage. This produces a lighter colour and distressed look from day-to-day use. Has a very natural and lived in look. All natural markings are visible and it has a soft and delicate touch. It can be very difficult to clean and it stains quite easily.