Leather Types and Dyeing Information
Leathers are made from the skins of many animals but mainly cattle, goat, sheep and pigskins. Although there is a great variety of leather types, a leather can usually be put into one of three categories :-
Aniline leather is the most natural looking, with natural surface visible, but is less resistant to soiling
Semi-aniline leather is somewhere in-between on both counts, having a light surface coating
Pigmented (protected) leather is the most durable but is less natural in appearance, having a polymer coating. It would be safe to say that an aniline bag whilst lovely to feel would be very difficult to keep clean. Most handbags would be pigmented as it is exposed to the elements like sun, rain, staining etc.
So now you know a bit about the three types of leather, but to find out what makes a leather aniline or pigmented and why some are longer-lasting than others
Aniline leather is the most natural looking leather with the unique surface characteristics of the hide remaining visible. Aniline leather is coloured only with dye and not with a surface coating of polymer and pigment . A light surface coating may be applied to enhance its appearance and offer slight protection against spillages and soiling. Aniline leather
Semi-aniline leather is more durable than aniline whilst still retaining a natural appearance. The increased durability is provided by the application of a light surface coating which contains a small amount of pigment. This ensures consistent colour and imparts some stain resistance.
Pigmented Leather is the most durable and is used in the majority of furniture upholstery and almost all car upholstery. The durability is provided by a polymer surface coating which contains pigments.
The surface coating allows the manufacturer more control over the properties of the leather, e.g. resistance to scuffing or fading.
Full grain pigmented leather The grain surface is left intact before applying the surface coating.
Corrected grain pigmented leather The grain surface is abraded to remove imperfections before the surface coating is applied. A decorative grain pattern is then embossed into the surface.
Finished split leather The middle or lower section of a hide with a polymer coating applied and embossed to mimic a grain leather. Finished splits should only be used in low stress applications because they are weaker than grain leather.
Antique grain (two-tone or rub-off) A special surface effect has been created to mimic the unique 'worn' appearance of traditional leathers. This is achieved by applying a contrasting top-coat which is applied unevenly or partially rubbed off to reveal a paler underlying colour.
(also known as waxy or oily pull-up) A leather with a natural appearance which lightens in colour when stretched during wear to produce a unique worn-in effect with time.
Patent leather is a high-gloss, grain-free leather, which has been gloss-finished on the surface or covered with a glossy, mirror-smooth film often made from PVC. Its generally hard wearing and easy to clean everyday marks away from the surface but its major disadvantage is if ink or colour transfer penetrate the top film like cover it is impossible to get out.
Aniline dyed leather which has been lightly abraded on the grain surface to create a velvety finish or nap. In some cases the grain pattern is still visible. The nap is very fine because of the tight fibre structure in the grain layer.
A split which has been abraded to create a distinctive nap. The nap can vary in appearance but is not as fine as the nap on nubuck because of the looser fibre structure.
Full grain refers to leather which has not been sanded or buffed.
Sanding or buffing removes surface imperfections from the leather, except in the case of nubuck where the buffing is very light.
Embossing is a process that heat presses an artificial grain pattern into the leather. If not sanded or buffed, these leathers are still considered to be full grain. This process is usually applied to pigmented leathers but can also be used on aniline and semi-aniline.
How does it feel for you?
Aside from appearance, how the leather feels and handles is a big clue to its type. Aniline leathers feel like real skin - light and flexible - whilst a heavily pigmented (protected) leather can feel rather like plastic.
Leather upholstery in cars and Handbags is almost exclusively pigmented to protect it from years of heavy use, as are domestic upholstery leathers. One of the current challenges facing the leather industry is to produce lighter, aniline type leathers that have the durability and resistance to soiling that pigmented leathers have.
Check out some of the leather types used by designers on your beloved handbags on the Designer Handbag Information page