Leather 101- Leather Grading & The Different Qualities Of Leather
Leather is a cherished material, renown for its flexibile and durable nature. However, there are different grades of leather that dictate the look, feel, and the lifetime of each unique piece. The industry has different techniques for each grade. We'll break down the four different grades of leather, from the best grade of leather to the worst.
Full-Grain Leather - The Best
Full-grain leather is the pinnacle of what leather can be. It's sturdy enough to give structure yet, is luxuriously soft to the touch. It hasn't been manipulated by humans sanding it down, so it incorporates the life of the animal, but rarely has significant flaws. Because it is preserved and intact, the leather fibers themselves are durable.
Also, there are fewer water molecules within the leather, and the grain lasts an incredibly long time. Full-grain leather won't wear out the way other, lesser, leathers can. Instead of wearing out, it'll wear in and gain a rich patina, which is a thin surface layer on the leather that gives life and character to each leather piece. In the leather world, we take pride in the life of our items. The more time it's been around, the richer the patina, the more valuable and loved it is.
Full-grain leather is exactly what we use here at Pad & Quill. It is the only type of leather that we are happy to place our ampersand logo on. We take pride in our work, we don't settle for "good enough" leather, nor do we cut corners. We get the best leather, pair it with the best artisans and designs to create a unique piece of functional art. All the love and time that goes into full-grain leather does make it more expensive than the other grades, but each piece is an investment in the future. When crafting our leather bags and wallets, we want to create something you can pass down to later generations.
Top-Grain Leather - The Good
Beneath full-grain, top-grain is the next highest leather quality. It's a bit more flexible right out of the gate as it has been sanded and given a finish coat. This coating can make the leather itself feel a bit more plasticky and less breathable. However, this semi-aniline layer makes it a little more stain and water resistant as compared to full-grain.
Also, top-grain is pretty ubiquitous. Because it has been sanded down and buffed out, top-grain leather can incorporate the lesser portions of the hide with more flaws. It's quite a bit thinner due to this sanding process, but it can develop a slight patina over time.
Within in this grade, you may run across something called "corrected-grain" leather. The grain of the leather contains "corrected" imperfections that arise in lower quality hides. This type of leather is sanded, then stamped with an artificial grain embossment to give it the look of leather, when really, it is from a much lower section of the dermis. Corrected-grain products do not take well to mineral aniline and vegetable dyes. This type of leather is rather common, cheaper to produce, and easily found in stores. Using blemished hides does raise the profit margin quite a bit, but we choose not to use it. We value quality over profit.
Genuine Leather- The Okay
It's important to note, genuine leather is not a guarantee of quality. In fact, products made with genuine leather is the lowest quality leather available. While leather of almost any type will be more durable than cloth, it's important to note that genuine-leather products are made from the leftovers. After leatherworkers have taken the full and top-grain for high-end products, genuine leather is used to make significantly cheaper goods. Among all the grains, it is the least breathable and is a bit harsh on the senses. Some genuine leather goods are treated with such harsh chemicals, that they can reek. They will also wear out much faster, and not gain a rich patina. Business Insider did a lovely, in-depth write up contrasting genuine leather versus the other grades of leather.
Bonded Leather- The Worst
What is unable to be used to make genuine leather, like scrap pieces, or strips with severe blemishes, are then used to make bonded leather. The small pieces of leftover leather are then shredded, into tanbark sized pieces. Then, they are blended and glued together with polyurethane adhesive. Left to dry in sheets, it can be harder to tell between true leather and bonded. Further muddying the waters, bonded leather can be legally labeled as "genuine leather" or "real leather" as it does contain leather particulates. You can usually spot bonded leather by its signature "background color".
In the image above, you can spot the brown leather and black adhesive agent. Just look for flecks of a shiny material that doesn't quite match the leather it's been paired with. Because the fibers are spread out and have been mulched, the integrity of anything made of bonded leather is compromised from day one and it'll wear out the fastest of the grains of leather.
The Pad & Quill Promise
You don't have to be a total leather fan to be a part of our Pad & Quill family. Just know that, when you see our logo, it's something we're proud of. We've taken old-world techniques and paired them with modern design to craft functional, stylish items that will tell your story for years. That logo also indicates our amazing warranty. Should anything happen in the next quarter century, due to a manufacturing fault, we'll back it up and get your leather goods replaced or repaired.
What about you? Which grade of leather do you prefer? Where do you think leather is headed to next? Let us know in the comments!