In general, leather is sold in three types:
Full-Grain leather or Top-Grain leather refers to the upper section of a hide that contains the epidermis, or skin, layer. It refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed or snuffed (otherwise known as “corrected”) in order to remove imperfections on the surface of the hide. Only the hair has been removed from the skin. The grain remains in its natural state and will have the best fiber strength and greater durability.
- The natural grain also has natural breathability, resulting in greater comfort for clothing.
- The natural Full-Grain surface will wear better than other leather. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a natural “patina” and grow more beautiful over time.
- The finest leather furniture and footwear are made from Full-Grain leather.
For these reasons only the best raw hides are used in order to create Full-Grain or Top-Grain leather. Full grain leathers are usually available in two finish types: aniline and semi-aniline.
Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off and an artificial grain impressed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.
Split leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the raw hide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. In very thick hides, the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bycast leather).
Splits are also used to create suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is “fuzzy” on both sides. Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede from full-grain. A reversed suede is a grained leather that has been designed into the leather article with the grain facing away from the visible surface. It is not considered to be a true form of suede.