Leather 101- Leather Quality

guide to leather

There's nothing in the world like leather. It's been used for thousands of years as a textile to create durable, protective, and fantastic looking goods. It is a time-honored material and turning it into useable objects has been honed into an art that is like none other.

However, if you are anything like us when we started this journey, we had no idea about leather grades, quality, tanning processes, or how to tell a good piece of leather from a cleverly painted piece of scrap hide.

The truth is, not all leather is created equal. When buying a fine leather bag, leather jacket, wallet, iPad Case, or anything else, knowledge is power. Many so-called "leathers" are not what they appear to be. So this series will explore the amazing world of leather so you can avoid getting burned next time you are in the market for some great leather goods.

What is PU Leather?

what is PU Leather?

PU leather is the lowest quality "leather" on the market. We use the term leather loosely here. Modern technology lets you take a single hide and split it into 4 or more layers. These thin worthless layers are then coated with a polyurethane coating to add "body" back into the material. This material comes in all colors of the rainbow since it is almost entirely synthetic.

This laminated leather is used by many manufacturers because it is significantly cheaper. Beware of this material! It will not last much longer than it takes to unwrap the package. It cracks and disintegrates quickly and has none of the warmth of real leather.

What is Bonded Leather?

what is bonded leather

Bonded leather is just as bad as PU leather. It is reconstituted leather, not actual leather hide. You take all the leather scraps, grind them into a pulp, then flatten it out, glue it together with polyurethane coating, and then spray paint it the color you want and emboss a leather texture on top.


Bonded leather is extremely cheap to make, therefore it is a favorite of many cost cutting "big box" brands. It also often has a chemical scent to it that is very unpleasant. Bonded leather is often used on furniture to make it look fancy, but within a few short weeks / months, it starts to crack and fall apart. Beware buying any bonded leather products you want to last.

What Is Genuine Leather?

what is genuine leather

Many times you will see a stamp on a product "Genuine Leather" and get very excited. Genuine leather is, at least, actual leather. However, it is the lowest quality real leather available. When you make high-grade leather, there is a thin layer left over of scrap. You take 3 or 4 of these scrap layers and then bond them together with glue and spray painted to resemble better quality leather.

The bonded layers are then stamped with "Genuine leather" to make you think you are getting something high quality. You are not. While it is more durable than PU and Bonded, it may look nice, but it will not last very long. The thin layers will split and crack with use and probably shouldn't be something you use on a daily basis.

What Is Top Grain Leather?

what is top grain leather

Top grain leather is what many of the mid-range to high-range bags, wallets, and luxury accessories use. This grain is called "Top Grain" because it is split from the top layer of leather and sanding away the imperfections. The leather is then treated and colored and a fake grain is stamped on top of it. It still retains some strength, however since all the fibers and much of the top has been sanded down, it is thinner than full grain leather.

They can stamp any kind of grain you want on this leather, alligator, ostrich, manta ray, even cat. Don't be fooled though, unless it is extremely reputable and expensive, it is probably made from regular old cow hide. Top grain leather is a good leather, it is relatively durable and long lasting, and will serve you well in many instances if you can't find or afford the best quality leather. Speaking of which...

What Is Full Grain Leather?what is full grain leather

This brings us to the highest grade of leather available, full grain leather. Full grain leather uses the entire hide with all the grain. It is used on the highest-end bags and on products that are designed to last decades or more. It retains all of its natural strength and durability because it is minimally processed and minimally split. It is also the most expensive of leathers to use.

Often full grain leather will have marks, brands, and imperfections on it which cannot be used in many places on a bag, so they have to be cut around in order to make a good looking product. This leather is durable, though, it will age with time. It does not wear out like other grades of leather, it wears in.

While it is more expensive to use and work with, it will pay rich dividends to the owners because it will last a very long time, even the rest of your life with proper care.

Pad & Quill Leather

what is full grain leather

All Pad & Quill products are made only from the best quality full grain leathers. Through trial and error, we have found some of the very best leathers in the entire world, produced in one of the very best tanneries on the planet, and crafted with unparalleled quality by generations trained leather artisans who, as far as we are concerned, are the very best people in the world.

This is why we can back our products with 25-year warranties and can take pride in the end result. Check out the leather bags, leather wallets, leather iPad cases, and more from Pad & Quill to explore what true quality looks like!

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