different types of leather a buyers guide

Types of Leather: A Complete Guide to Full Grain, Top Grain & Genuine

different types of leather a buyers guide

If you're new to the world of leather, you'd be forgiven for finding all the different types of leather a little confusing.

There are all kinds of nuances you'll want to be aware of before choosing the right leather for you. For instance, did you know that top grain leather isn't usually considered to be the best layer of the hide? And surely genuine leather is one of the best types available right? Well, no actually (be careful of this one!).

Aside from it just being interesting to study different types of leather (at least we think so!), you'll want to read up so you know what you're getting from the leather you're buying. What will the finish be? How will it wear over time? How will it feel? Choosing the right type of leather is one of the most important choices you'll make when looking for a new everyday carry companion.

Generally, there are four basic types of leather and in this guide, we will go through each individually. Read on for our buyer's guide to the different types of leather.

Types of Leather

Full Grain Leather

Full grain leather is the highest quality of leather available. It is the highest grade and regarded as the best out there.

Full grain leather is the very top layer of the hide.

In order for leather to be considered full grain, the grain must be fully intact. No sanding or buffing can be applied, not even to remove natural imperfections.

As full-grain leather is not modified in any way, naturally there will be some imperfections on the hide (just like human skin!) that remain on a leather bag. Whilst this may not be to everyone's taste, this means a full grain leather bag will always be unique and no two are exactly the same. At The Real Leather Company, we like to think this gives each bag a certain character.

As the full thickness of the hide is used in full grain leather, it is notoriously difficult to work with and requires exceptional artisanal skill. Only approximately 1-13% of any cowhide can be used for full grain leather. For these reasons, full grain leather is the most expensive type to work with and buy.

Keeping the full-grain intact does give certain advantages such as best available strength, breathability and durability. Full grain leather does not wear out like other types but develops a natural patina over time. You can generally expect a full grain leather bag to have the best longevity - a bag with this leather will be a real companion for life.

Does this sound like the leather for you? Check out our collection of full grain leather messenger bags.

full grain leather

Top Grain Leather

Top grain leather is considered the second-best quality of leather available. Generally, this will be the type that is used most in high-end leather bags.

If full grain leather is corrected in any way, it then becomes top grain leather. This means that top grain leather can have imperfections removed, and sanding or buffing techniques can be applied. This often means top grain leather bags have a flawless finish.

Although top grain leather bags sometimes lose that uniqueness you get from full grain leather, for many, this is considered a good trade-off to have imperfections removed. As corrections are possible with top grain leather, this type is often thinner, making it easier to work with and generally a little more affordable than full grain.

Finish coats are usually applied to top grain leather bags. Whilst this reduces breathability, can lead to stretching and prevents the formation of a natural patina, this coat will protect the bag from stains or blemishes that would sink right into a full grain leather bag.

Looking for something along these lines? Check out our top grain leather messenger bags.

top grain leather

Genuine Leather

Genuine leather, sometimes called corrected or split leather, is the third grade of leather available.

Genuine leather is made from leather that remains after the top layer is split off for full grain and top grain leathers.

After the tanning process, this leather would not have a natural skin finish and artificial procedures are required to get it looking that way. A combination of artificial grains, spray painting and pattern embossing is usually applied to the surface to make it look more like real natural, top hide leather.

As artificial processes are permitted with genuine leather, imperfections can be removed, and often, genuine leather bags can look very similar to top grain leather bags.

Genuine leather is often extremely tough as it resides under the top layer. This gives extended durability. Note that this type of leather will usually have compromised breathability due to the artificial processes required.

As genuine leather does not require the rarer top hide and can be artificially altered, this type is usually more affordable than either full grain or top grain.

Does this sound good to you? Check out our genuine leather messenger bags.

genuine leather

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather, sometimes referred to as reconstituted or blended leather, is the lowest grade of leather available.

Generally, leftover bits of leather are ground to a pulp then bonded together with chemicals and fillers. Many would not consider this a real leather as so many artificial chemicals, fillers, spray paints and embossing coats are required to get this looking like full grain or top grain leather. Often, at the end of the process, the actual percentage of real leather used in the material can be low.

As very little real leather is often used in this material, bonded leather tends to fall apart very quickly and will not have good longevity. If you are looking for a leather bag that will be a companion for years, we would not usually recommend purchasing a bonded leather bag.

You will find that because bonded leather is made from leftover bits of leather it is generally the cheapest type of leather available.

Which leather is right for me?

Be sure to weigh up the positives and negatives of each type of leather before making a decision on what you're looking for.

Do you want the best of the best longevity and durability and a totally natural skin? Full grain leather will be for you.

Are you looking for a flawless finish to your bag, but still for it to have exceptional durability? Top grain is the way to go.

Wanting something a little more affordable, but still with long last qualities? Look for genuine leather bags.

Now that you know which type of leather you're looking for, perhaps it's time to look more closely at other features of leather bags you might need to consider such as straps, colors and hardware.

Take a look at our ultimate leather messenger bag buying guide for more information on choosing the right bag for you.

Updated 02/16/2022.

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