Leather: Brief overview of grains, hide, grades, and tanning in leather

What is leather?

Material extracted from animal skin is known as leather. There are genuine and artificial leathers too.

Leather has the durability to withstand the pressure and flexibility to adapt itself to the structure.

Leather is also one of the oldest material known to mankind. Leather gives premium and high-quality look based on the selected hide.

Leather is almost used in all things we come across in our day to day life from clothing, footwear, bags, furniture, automobile seats, book bindings, fashion accessories, etc.

leather industry

How the leather industry is leading compared to others?

The global leather market has gained so much popularity. In 2017 the leather goods market value was $217.49 billion. It is predicted to grow even more in the coming future. It is expected to reach $271.21 billion by 2021.

Handbags are by far the best selling in leather. Shoes stand second in the list. Animals used in this process are sheep, deer, horses, pigs, etc. Other popular animals are ostriches, alligators, snakes. The top among all is cowhide leather. Due to its quantity and quality, it is full-grain leather.

What are the types of leather?

There are many kinds of leather used to manufacture bags. Listed below are some of the types:

  • Full/Top Grain Leather
  • Synthetic leather
  • Lambskin leather
  • Vintage leather
  • Crazy horse leather

Full/Top Grain Leather​

This Leather is top quality leather. It is also known as full grain or top grain. Cows are one of the sources of this Leather. It looks premium and gives a lavish and luxury look to it.

Bags, belts, clothes, etc use Genuine leather.  Most popular and famous brands use cowhide which is Genuine leather. It is a durable material. You can feel the quality when you touch it. We suggest you go for cowhide leather when you purchase a leather item

Synthetic Leather

Synthetic leather is also known as artificial leather, vegan leather, faux leather, and PU leather. It looks and has a leather finish but it is inappropriate. The synthetic leather price is prohibitive.

Synthetic leather is used in clothing, automotive, apparels, and furniture. It has its upgrades and downgrades as an artificial material. Synthetic leather has lots of loopholes.

It is tight and does not let air to enter Which causes sweat and makes to accumulate with passing air. It does not fade like natural leather. It stays original for a pretty long time.

Lambskin Leather

Lambskin leather differs a bit from cowhide leather. It is less durable than cowhide leather. It is much soft and delicate when compared to cowhide leather. You can feel the softness when you touch. It is less expensive compared to cowhide leather.

It is usually used in making seat covers, coats, and gloves. As it is soft compared to cowhide leather. It stretches easily compared to other leathers. The issue with lambskin is frequently using makes it stretch overtime. Lambskin is also used in clothing and apparels.

Vintage Leather

Vintage leather is something which is old and has a unique look to it. It looks new when you buy. Vintage leather are very durable. They are soft and flexible.

Vintage leather has a polished sheen which makes it wrinkled and worn. When it ages it gets the soft look and the vintage feel.

Crazy horse leather

Crazy horse leather is made of full-grain cowhide leather. A special kind of wax is applied to cowhide leather which is buffed and smoothed out. It changes the pattern of the leather. If you were to scratch the leather it will change colour.

Crazy horse leather is durable. It may look worn out when bought, but that is the uniqueness of the crazy horse leather. This leather is resistance to water. It tends to change colour over time. Maintaining is important as leather bags will last a decade.

Different types of Leather Patterns

Understanding the extraction process:

Hide (Extracting a particular portion from the skin) —> Grade (Determines which part of the hide is suitable) —-> Grain (Picking the best layer from the grade)

What is hide in leather?

Hide (Extracting a particular portion from the skin)

Hide in leather is the portion extracted from an animal. The hide varies from animal to animal depending on the surrounding, environment, and climate change.

If the animal is living in cold areas it will have thick fur and the skin is protected well. Whereas in hot areas the animals may have less hair making them vulnerable to the environment. 

Different animals produce different kinds of leather based on the above mentioned factors. Later on, the part of the skin is moved to grade process. 

What are the different types of Grades?

Grade (Determines which part of the hide is suitable)


Grade of the animal skin is divided into 4 parts. It is taken from different parts of the skin.

crafting leather

First Grade – Best quality, top-rated & recommended. It contains only 13% of the hide.


Second Grade – Good quality and contains 30% of the hide.


Third Grade – Fair quality and contains 32% of the hide.


Fourth Grade – Poor quality and contains 25%of the hide.


Source:  octane seating

What are the types of Grain in leather?

These are famous types of leather grains.


  • Full Grain Leather
  • Top Grain Leather 
  • Corrected Grain Leather
  • Split leather
  • Bonded Leather

Full Grain Leather

Full-grain leather is considered as the top quality in leather. Full-grain is the epitome of premium leather. This type of leather is extracted from the topmost layer of the animal skin. 

It is durable, and flexible in its original form. It looks original with its flaws making it best and very difficult to deal with. It develops a patina (Changes occurring in the surface of the skin) and also absorbs oils from the body. 

It does not involve any buffing or sanding. Full-grain leather is polished with a dye called aniline. Full-grain leather is mainly used in furniture, shoes, clothing, etc.

Top Grain Leather

Top grain is considered as the second-best quality in leather. It covers the topmost part of the hide. The difference between top grain and full grain is that the top grain leather is made to look perfect. Whereas full-grain leather looks imperfect and pure. 

Top grain leather is buffed or sanded to remove impurities. This makes the leather weak. Compared full-grain the quality is not up to the mark. It will stretch over time. Top grain is not that durable compared to full grain.

Top grain leather is mostly used in wallets, purse, handbags, jackets, etc.

Corrected Grain Leather

Corrected grain is considered as the mid rage quality. The leather is doesn’t stand come close to full grain and top grain leather in comparison. Corrected grain goes through varies process to make it look perfect like buffing, sanding, dyeing and embossing.

This changes will make the leather appear quality and nice. This leather is not durable and sturdy. Corrected grain leather is mostly used in places where the leather quality is not seen or regarded. It is covered with a clean layer of coating and it is not smooth to touch.

Corrected grain leather is used in accessories, footwear, purses, wallets or watch straps, handbags, messenger bags, and furniture.

Split leather

Split leather is extracted from the split part of top-grain leather. It is also known as a drop split. The leather may be thick. Depending on the thickness the leather can be further split into two. Middle split or flesh split. 

The leather quality is not as best as top grain leather. The thing you will find interesting is that the split leather can be buffed or tanned to make it look better as top grain leather and you won’t be able to identify it.

Bonded Grain leather

Bonded Grain leather is the cheapest of all leather grains. It is reconstructed from the leftover parts of hides. The process to create bonded leather requires dust and scraps of the hide to be placed on fibre canvas. Later polyurethane or latex is added to bonded all things together.

Bonded leather requires spray paint to look like full-grain leather, but the quality will be nowhere close top grain leather or split leather in comparison. The ratio of the leather mixed will be 10:90 if measured. It is affordable and cheap.

What is Genuine Leather? The reality of Genuine Leather

leather hide

Many people think that genuine leather is the best leather in the market. For most of the part, they don’t even know what is hide, grain or grade in leather. That fools them to buy 

So let’s make it clear. Genuine leather is one of the lowest quality of leather. To put it briefly it has some materials of leather other than that it is nowhere close to top-grain or full-grain leather.

Genuine leather is not sturdy durable. Due to some alteration, the base quality becomes weak. Don’t fall for the trap if someone sells a leather product in the name of “Genuine Leather” for a high price. 

Mostly it is used in Handbags, purses, wallets, briefcases, shoes, etc.

What is tanning?

Tanning is a process where the rawhide of the animal is made into leather through some chemicals. This method makes the hide durable and strong.

It is also changes the basic structure of the hide. It reduces the decomposition process. Colour can also be changed in the tanning process.

tanning in leather

Tanning process in Leather and their method

  • Vegetable-tanning
  • Chrome-tanning
  • Aldehyde-tanning
  • Oil-tanning


Vegetable tanning is considered as one of the best and oldest methods in the tanning process. The tanning materials used in vegetable tanning are natural and eco-friendly.

Tree, wood, bark, branches, leaves are some of the items used in vegetable tanning. All these vegetable extracts make the leather naturally durable and rigid in quality.

The normal required vegetable tanning process period takes up to 7-60 Days. In terms of quality vegetable tanning is best, but it has its drawback. It is expensive and requires a lot of effort and patience.

It also has many advantages of vegetable tanning is that it can be recycled as it is eco-friendly. The material will look fresh and radiant for a very long time. Quality of the leather will stand out compared to other tanning process.


Chrome tanning is considered as an alternative to vegetable tanning because of its less expense and fast tanning process. It was first invented in Germany in 1858, but it was an American chemist who first licensed it.

Chrome tanning mostly uses chromium sulfate and other chemical salts related to chromium. It is also called as “wet blue” due to its bluish colour. The usual process time of chrome tanning is 1 day for a thick hide.

It is best for large scale industries to speed up the production and lower the expense to create an alternative which is close to vegetable-tanned leather. Due to all the chemical mixing, the leather will be less affected by water.

Chrome tanning leather is mostly used in shoes, gloves, jackets, seat covers, furniture etc, where it requires a smooth material. You have to know that it is not biodegradable which makes it not eco-friendly.


Aldehyde tanning is also known as Chrome Free tanning. The main compounds used in aldehyde tanning is glutaraldehyde which is a colourless, oily liquid with pungent odour or oxazolidine.

It is also referred to as “wet white” due to its cream colour. It is mostly used in shoes of infants and automobiles. Aldehyde contains a chemical known as formaldehyde which is toxic to human and animals. 

It is of limited use and if more is used then it can become harmful. It also can cancer. Chamois tanning is also another tanning which produces the aldehydes to produce leather.


Oil tanning is a method where oil is impregnated into aldehydes to produce soft and pliable leather. Most common oils used in this process are fish oil and cod oil.

One of the best quality of the oil tanning is the resisting. They are well structured in producing water-resistant leather. The process of producing and maintenance is not expensive compared to vegetable tanning. 

The oil on the leather will make it look more glossy and provide a premium feel to the product. It is best suited for shoes. They provide flexibility to take shapes and mould accordingly.