Leather Types and Terminology

Written by Jamie Melamed   
Friday, 16 September 2011 17:15

In selecting leather for any project or purchasing ready made products, it is very important to understand the various types of leather available on the market and their processes. This guide will attempt to define, in general terms, the many different types of leather and thier process. Consumers are encouraged to ask questions and become familiar with these terms before making an investment in any project. Most leather product resellers don't have a clue about the different types of leathers or their tanning process because they simply do not have the experience. Zelikovitz Leathers has been around since 1890. We know leather!

Full Grain or Top Grain Leather

This is the upper layer of the hide which is split into layers by a splitting machine to various thicknesses. This outer layer will show natural scars and hair cell patterns if left as uncorrected natural grain. The thickness can vary depending on the guage set at the time of splitting and the application. Thereafter the hides can be colored and given various finishes. It can be produced for Upholstery, Garment, Shoe or Saddlery, this is the best, strongest and most durable layer of the hide.

Corrected or Embossed Grain

Full Grain hides that show an excessive amount of scratches or scars are further processed by "correcting" the natural grain. After splitting to the required thickness, this natural grain is buffed or sanded and replaced with an embossed grain and finish to simulate various hair cell patterns. This resulting effect will look flawless with no natural scars showing, but this is no longer the real or natural grain. The original feel or hand of the natural skin and it's durability is reduced with a synthetic grain finish. Many applications for shoe and handbag leather are embossed with unique exotic prints to stimulate the look.

Suede Split

The second layer or lower layer of the skin left after removal of the Full Grain is the Split Suede and will be suede on both sides. This layer will come in various thicknesses depending on the application. as this is a by product of hide tanning it is less costly and utilized in products where Full Grain is not required such as moccasins, suede garments, handbags and tool pouches etc...  This layer of the skin can be further processed by the application of a synthetic finish and hair cell on one side of the suede to create the look of Full Grain leather, known as "Finished Split" hide. This type of leather is used extensively in lower cost furniture and garments and represented as "Genuine Leather".

Nubuck Sueded Grain

This Full Grain layer of the skin is given a suede effect by lightly sanding the natural grain to open the hair cell and results in a velvety suede feel. This is also correcting imperfections in the natural grain and although soft to the touch, it is a sensitive effect. Care must be taken against soiling or staining as it is difficult to clean. This effect is utilized in many garments and upholstery products as well as shoes. Check out our ebay store for a full line of cleaners and protectors for Nubuck.

Bonded Leather

Also known as reconstructed or fibre leather. Remnants from garment and shoe factories are ground into a dust and bonded with an adhesive to form the "Pressed wood or Particle Board of leather". It is comprised of at least 80% leather fibre and is represented as "Genuine Leather". It consists of collagen fibres obtained from macerated hide pieces bonded with latex binders constructed into a fibrous mat to create a look and feel similar or sometimes identical to that of genuine leather but at a fraction of the cost. Applications include low priced garment and upholstery products. We have had much success with this product in the manufacture of low end belts.

Bonded leather industries could be considered as environmentally and ecologically friendly because they use recycled leather scraps. In fact, these scraps are very difficult to eliminate.

Bridle Leather

Bridle Leather is one of the finest leathers and it is known for its beauty, strength and longevity. Bridle leather is very much an artisan product needing expert craftsmanship skills to produce it. Each piece is still hand finished, piece by piece, using the same techniques as it would have been hundreds of years ago. This is one of the key reasons that contributes to its beauty and special qualities.

Due to the amount of hand work that goes into producing each piece, this leather is produced in small amounts for the premium market.

Firm, rich-colored, dyed bridle leather with enough oils to withstand weather. With a rich look and feel, this bridle leather can be oiled for darker hues. Ideal for creating dress belts, gun belts, tack, pet products and personal accessories. Vegetable tanned leather.

Tanning Processes

All leathers, except rawhide, go through one of the following tanning processes.

Chrome Tanned

This process uses soluable chromium salts, primarily chromium sulfate, to tan leather.

Beautiful quality leather is consistant in colour and grade and offers a great yield.

Ideal for: Horse collars, liners, pouches, bags

Vegetable Tanned

Vegetable materials derived primarily from tree bark and various other plants are used during this tanning process. This is the leather we use for carving , tooling and molding.


Vegetable tanned latigo is a firm strap leather with an exceptional degree of strength and durability, which is ideal for straps, bags and any tough outdoor gear. It's also used for horse gear such as reins, stirrups, tie downs and lace. After tanning, sides are drum died then dipped in hot oils and hand rubbed to a beautiful finish. Sides average 22 sq. ft.

Alum Tanned

Colourless aluminum salts are used to tan this leather that is primarily used for lace leather.

Chrome Oil Tanned

This leather is simply chrome tanned ( as described above) and then treated with an oil hat helps to preserve the leather.

Beautiful, durable leather has the right amount of oil for a soft supple feel.

Ideal for: Work chaps, saddle bags and linings.

Veg Chrome Tanned

This leather is vegetable tanned (as described above) and then retanned in chromium salts.

Chrome Veg Retanned

This leather is chrome tanned (as described above) and then vegetable tanned.

Brain Tanned

Usually game leathers like deer, moose and elk are tanned using hand scraping and natural tanning agents, brains and smoke.

The result is a very soft chamois like leather known as buckskin.

Other names are "brain tannned" buckskin, "Indian tanned", "home tanned", "smoke tanned", "deer tanned" and there's probably some more.

Though very soft and comfortable to wear, buckskin is also very tough and durable. This is one of the oldest ways of tanning hides that people have developed. It was used all over the world at one time or another and the First Nations of North America used this method, in different variations, almost exclusively.

I hope you found this guide usefull.... Jamie Melamed