Leather Basics for your new Leather Furniture

Faux Leather, Bonded Leather, Genuine Leather, Italian Leather? Which is it?

The leather world can be super confusing. We understand. Let us tackle some of those terms in this article and see if we can help explain it.

Let’s start with Genuine Leather. This is the most common type of leather when an item is referred to as leather. In most cases this will be top grain leather (top grain because it is the top and most durable layer of the hide). In most cases the genuine leather is what will be on the parts of the piece where the skin touches. This means that on a sofa, you will have genuine leather on the seat, back and arms where your body will make direct contact.

This is called a Leather/Leather Match sofa. The back and sides will be a bonded leather, leather split or vinyl.

So, what is Leather Match? Leather match is the process that almost all manufactures use, with exception of some higher end lines. (See for example: Moroni Italian Furniture for full leather options). In this process, a genuine leather will be used where you sit and touch and a less expensive product will go on the back and sides that is never touched and in most cases never seen, especially if an item is pushed against a wall. Manufactures do this so that they can keep prices down and put top quality product where it matters. In most cases, you won’t even notice that the back and sides aren’t the same type of leather as the seating surface. So, when a retailer says 100% leather, you will want to make sure that they aren’t just referring to the seating area. It is important to note that if you really want a 100% leather sofa everywhere, you are going to pay for it. This usually doubles the price of the piece of furniture. Leather products from Southern Motion, Lane Furniture, Parker Living, and Franklin Furniture will be made with leather/leather match construction.

What is Faux Leather? Faux leather is usually a polyester or vinyl. This will have no leather content in it at all. This is popular for those that don’t like the hot/cold of leather or want a leather look at a much more affordable price. This is one of our most popular collections that looks like a leather but it is 100% polyester fabric. Broyhill Laramie Sofa

What is Bonded Leather? Bonded leather is a composite of leather and polyurethane. It is a more affordable alternative that offers the look and feel of 100% leather. Some characteristics of bonded leather are a shinier look and less texture to the leather. Bonded leathers are not recommended for humid climates as the top coat of the material can peel over time. In the past few years, many manufactures have stopped making a bonded leather option completely. Bonded leathers are not all made equal and some are much better than others. VIG Furniture still supplies products in the bonded leather.

What is Italian Leather? Italian Leather is a phrase normally used when talking about a more high-end leather. Italian Leather is of a better quality for a couple of reasons. The first being the tanning process. Italian leathers are processed with a higher grade process than any other. The second factor is determined by the origin of the leather. Hides from the southern hemisphere (hotter climate) are much more abundant and tend to show more blemishes and defects and consequently have to be cosmetically altered or repaired. They are less supple and soft. Hides from the northern hemisphere (cooler climate) are less abundant and typically are higher in quality due to the climate in which these animals live. Italian Leather uses hides from the northern hemisphere. Two brands that use Italian hides are Luke Leather and Moroni Furniture.

To help in your understanding of Leather, here are some of the most common questions:

Why is leather hot/cold?

Leather adapts to the temperature of its environment or what is nearest to it. If ambient temperature is 70 degrees, the leather will feel cool or cold to you because normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. If the room is 90 degrees, the leather will feel hot. However, the type of leather will affect the amount of time it takes the leather to adapt to the body temperature. For example, pure aniline dyed leather (see Glossary below) will breathe and assume body temperature rapidly.

Can I have leather furniture if I have kids/pets?

Leather is very durable and lasts 15 to 20 years compared to about five years with fabric. It ages well, and it stretches and retains its shape without sagging. Leather is more resistant to animals than fabric covered furniture, does not absorb animal odors and cannot be penetrated by animal hair, but it can be damaged by the sharp claws or teeth of dogs and cats.

Will leather crack or split?

Direct exposure to sunlight and heat can damage leather by fading and drying it. Fading is commonly seen in semi-aniline and aniline leathers and less common in fully finished leathers that have a protective top coat. Drying of leather from the sun will damage any kind of leather regardless of the finish. The sun’s heat causes the natural oils to evaporate, eventually stiffening and cracking the leather.

Why is one leather grade more expensive than another?

Raw hides come from many different sources all over the world, and climate and other conditions vary greatly in those regions, affecting the hide characteristics and quality and therefore requiring different levels of correction. Other factors such as special surface treatments and the age of the animal also affect the final cost.

Are there supposed to be marks and blemishes on the leather?

The marks are your assurance that you have real leather. There are corrected leathers and other finishing processes that will reduce the appearance of some of those natural marks and blemishes, but it is important to know that those are natural characteristics of the raw material, just like the ones on human skin.

Are animals harmed to make leather?

Leather is a by-product of the beef industry, and if not used to make leather products, the hides and skins would be disposed of as waste.

How do I decide between Fabric or Leather?

This could easily be its own blog post but there are a couple of items to consider. First is price. If you are price sensitive, choose fabric or a faux leather. Second would be durability. Leather is more durable and will last longer. Lastly would be feel. If you don’t like the hot/cold or the general feel of leather, fabric is much more constant.

General Glossary of Leather Terms

ALTERED LEATHER – Leather that has had the original surface of the skin or hide removed, (usually due to imperfections in the original grain surface), and a new grain embossed into the leather. This is also called corrected grain. Most top-grain leathers have altered or corrected grain.

ANILINE  – The name given to the particular transparent dye used to color dyed leather.

ANILINE LEATHER – Leather that has been dyed through with aniline dyes. Pure aniline leathers represent approximately 5 percent of all upholstery leathers produced worldwide. Sometimes topped with a protein, resin, or lacquer protective coating; can also be waxed.

BUFFED – Leather which has been abrased or sueded. This can also be referred to as snuffed, nubuck leather, or grain-sueded leather.

Bycast Leather – A bycast leather is a leather produced from a lower leather by melting an adhesive on its surface and then rolling on a coloured polyurethane film. The finish applied to bycast leather will offer a degree of protection. Bycast leather tends to have a more shiny appearance. Due to the thickness of the coating bycast leather may not be quoted as genuine leather nor may the leather mark be used.

CORDOVAN – Leather made from the tight, firm shell portion of horse butts. Cordovan has very fine pores and a characteristic finish, and is very durable.

CORRECTED GRAIN – The outside skin is sanded or abraded to minimize faults. It is then pigmented to cover the sanding and printed with an artificial grain. A spray sealer topcoat is then applied. Corrected grain material is usually called top grain leather.

DEGRAINED LEATHER– Leather from which the grain has been removed after tanning, by splitting, abrading or other process.

DRUM DYING – The application of dye stuffs to leather by the immersion of the leather in a drum that is tumbled. This process allows full dye penetration into the fiber.

EMBOSSED LEATHER-Usually corrected grain, in which a pattern is applied by extreme pressure in a press to give a unique design or imitation of full grain characteristics. Sometimes leathers are embossed to make them appear to be another leather, such as embossing an alligator pattern into cowhide.

EMBOSSED, FANCY -A fancy or geometric pattern is impressed into the leather.

Finishing – Term to collectively describe steps or techniques performed after the dyeing treatment, such as rolling, pigmented spraying, lacquering, antiquing, waxing, buffing, glazing, waterproofing and flame-proofing to provide more abrasion and stain resistance and/or more even coloration.

FULL GRAIN-The term used for the outside original skin or hide which has had the hair removed, but otherwise has not been corrected or altered. Full-grain leather possesses the genuine original grain of the animal.

GLAZED FINISH -Similar to an aniline finish except that the leather surface is polished to a high luster by the action of glass on steel rollers under tremendous pressure.

GRAIN (LEATHER) -The outside of the hide or skin consisting of the pores, wrinkles and other characteristics which constitute the natural texture of the leather.

GRAIN CHARACTER – The natural markings on the surface of the leather.

GRAIN, EMBOSSED -An artificial grain pressed into the surface of top grain leather from which the original grain has been removed.

GRAINED LEATHER -Any leather on which the original natural grain has been changed or altered by any method, process or manipulation; also top grain.

GRAIN SUEDED -A process of sueding the grain side of the skin to achieve a buffed or sueded condition. See “Snuffed”.

HAND -A term used in the leather industry to describe the feel, i.e., softness or fullness of upholstery leather.

Hand-antiqued – Also referred to as “hand-rubbed,” it is the process of rubbing a contrasting color on the leather surface to accentuate natural grain or embossing.

HEAVY LEATHER -A somewhat indefinite term, generally understood to include vegetable-tanned sole, belting, strap and mechanical leathers made from unsplit cattlehides.

IMITATION -A variety of materials which have been made to resemble genuine leather. The great bulk of these are rubber or plastic-coated fabrics. It is unlawful to use terms connoting leather to describe imitations.

LEATHER -An animal skin which has been preserved and dressed for use.

LEATHERETTE -A manufactured product which imitates leather.


Liming – The process of chemically removing hair from the raw hide.

NAKED LEATHER -A leather with no surface, impregnated treatment of finish other than dye matter which might mask or alter the natural state of the leather.

NATURAL GRAIN -A leather which retains the full original grain.

NUBUCK -A brushed, grain-sueded leather.

OIL TANNED -Leather tanned with certain fish oils. Produces a very soft, pliable leather such as chamois.

PATENT LEATHER – Leather with a glossy impermeable finish produced by successive coats of drying oils, varnish, or synthetic resins.

Patina – A luster that develops over time and with use on pure anilines and nubucks.

PERFORATED-In leather, the process of die cutting small holes to form a pattern. The holes can vary in size, density and pattern.

PIGMENTED -A process of coloring and coating in the leather surface with colored pigments dispersed in film-forming chemicals called binders which can be tailor-made to produce surfaces that are highly resistant to wear, fading, etc. Leather that has been sprayed with a pigmented, opaque finish. This is usually done to cover imperfections in leather

Pull-up – Full grain aniline leather that gets its color from dyes and when the leather is pulled the waxes and oils in it cause the color to dissipate and become lighter in the areas pulled tight.

ROUND HAND-A full-handed leather, usually slightly swelled as with vegetable tanning.

SADDLE LEATHER-Vegetable-tanned cattlehide leather for harnesses and saddles, usually of a natural tan shade and rather flexible.

Sauvage – A two-tone effect that adds depth and character to the leather.

Semi-aniline – Leather that has been aniline dyed and then slightly pigmented for color consistency and resistance to liquids.

SHOULDER LEATHER-The thickest part of the hide from the shoulder area of the cow.

Skins – The raw material, referring to the skin from smaller animals such as goats, pigs, sheep or calves.

SKIVE-To shave, slice or divide, to peel into a thin layer.

SNUFFED-The grain surface is abraded with brushes, emery wheel or sandpaper. Leather is snuffed for the purpose of removing defective grain, or for sueding the surface of the leather.

SPLIT LEATHER (SPLIT)-Skin sliced in layers to give uniform thickness to the piece (grainside). Split leather (inside) is trimmed and finished as suede. Cheap leathers are sometimes pigmented splits with embossed imitation grain.

SUEDE -Leathers that are finished by buffing the flesh side (opposite the grain side) to produce a nap. Term refers to the napping process, and is unrelated to the type of skin used. See “Split Leather”.

SUEDING-The process of raising fibers on the grain side of a hide or skin to give a velvet nap effect. This is generally called “nubuck” or “grain suede.”

Tanning – The process of converting raw hides/skins into leather through the use of chemicals.

Top coat – A synthetic polyurethane resin (gloss or matte) that is applied as a transparent protective coating to make leather more resistant.

TOP GRAIN-The term intended to define genuine grain leather, as opposed to split leather which has been pigmented and embossed with a new grain. In reality, top-grain leather usually has had the original grain removed and an imitation grain embossed into the surface.

TRIM -The removal of parts of a skin or hide not suitable for making leather, such as portions on the outer edges.

UNFINISHED LEATHER -Normally defines aniline-dyed, naked leathers with no additional application intended to finish, color or treat in a way that would alter the natural characteristics of the leather.

UPHOLSTERY LEATHER -A general term for leather processed for use in furniture, automobiles, and airplanes.

VAT DYEING-An older method of dyeing leather sometimes confused with drum dyeing.

VEGETABLE TANNING -The conversion of rawhide into leather with a greater body and firmness than the more general method of chromium tanning.

Waxy hand – Describes leather that has a waxy feel and look to it.

WEIGHT -The weight of leather is measured in ounces per square foot.

Yield – Refers to the amount of usable area after all waste have been discarded.

(Thanks to Erin Berg at Furniture today with much of this information: http://www.furnituretoday.com/article/540880-guide-buying-leather-furniture)

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