Types of Leather Finishes – Finished Leathers
When leathers are made, they can be finished in many different ways. These methods yield leathers that can be used for a variety of different purposes. Variations can include texture, flexibility, color, and finish. Let’s explore some of the major types of finished leather.
Aniline leather is a type of leather dyed only with soluble dyes. They allow the natural surface of the leather to show through (blemishes, cuts, etc.). Generally only higher quality leathers are used since they have nice, even surfaces.
It is then finished with a thin protective coating to help prevent fast wear of the leather, or any other staying or discoloration from showing up on the surface.This can be a visually appealing dye approach, since it does allow the original surface of the leather to show through.
Semi Aniline Leather
Semi-aniline leather is a type of leather that is dyed only with soluble dyes. It is similar to aniline leather, though it is only slightly pigmented. Semi-aniline leathers allow the natural surface of the leather to show through (blemishes, cuts, etc.).
It is then finished with a thin protective coating to help prevent fast wear of the leather, or any other staying or discoloration from showing up on the surface.Generally only higher quality leathers are used since they have nice, even surfaces. This can be a visually appealing dye approach, since it does allow the original surface of the leather to show through.
Antique Grain Leather
Antique grain is a type of leather that has been treated with a surface affect to give an aged and worn appearance. It might involve several tones of finish, or a rubbed patten to mimic wear over time. Antique grain leather allows one to utilize an aged look in their finished product, without requiring the leather to be very old or worn out.
Bicast is a type of leather made with a split leather backing and an embossed/impressed layer of polyurethane or vinyl on the top. This gives the appearance of a patterned/shiny leather, without the cost of a true top or full grain leather piece.
Brush Colored Leather
Brush colored leather is a type of leather that has pigment applied via a brush. This creates a unique pattern of color on each piece. The variations might be in gradient, blending, or overall tone. Bruch colored leather is nice for finished pieces that seek a distinct and creative visual appeal.
Degrained leather is a type of leather that has had the grain layer removed. This generally occurs towards the end of the production process. Benefits of degrained leather include a smooth, consistent surface that looks quite nice. However, removing the grain also weakens the outer surface of the layer, making it more susceptible to wear and moisture penetration.
Double Face Leather (Double Sided Leather)
Double face leather, also referred to as double sided leather, is a type of leather that has two uniquely finished sides. Some examples include sheep skins, where one side is finished leather and the other is wool. Another is leather that might have different embossed surfaces, one on each side. It could also relate to color, with each side being a unique color or variation of colors.
Embossed leather is a type of leather created by producing raised patterns on the finished hide. This can be done by stamping, pressing, rolling, moulding, or forming the leather. the embossed elements can be designs, lettering, or any visual enhancement to the leather’s surface.
Embroidered leather is a type of leather that has had embroidery applied to it. Embroidery is the craft of embellishing materials with needle and thread. The pattern of the thread is usually placed in such a way as to result in a decorative pattern or motif that is now part of the embroidered material. this is done mainly for visual or aesthetic reasons.
Faux leather is a type of synthetic leather made generally of polyurethane or vinyl. Faux leather is intended to look like real leather yet cost significantly less. It is used often in the furniture industry and has the benefits of being inexpensive (compared to real leather), durable, and easy to clean.
It does however not reflect real leather qualities such as wearing better over time, having natural stretchability, breathability, and resistance to cuts and other abrasions, and a unique natural look/feel.
Faux leather can be referred to by a number of names, which can include:
- Faux Leather
- PU Leather
- Vinyl Leather
- Vegan Leather
For a detailed look at this type of material, click here for my article about synthetic leather and how it’s made.
Hand Worked Leather
Handworked Leather is a type of leather created by the manual application of leather tools. This can result in leather with tooled, stamped, etched, or embossed surfaces. The results can look quite stunning as the craft of hand working leather is an art in itself.
Interwoven Leather is a type of leather that has been braided together. Often seen in belts, the weave of the leather laces or strips creates a unique looking , textured piece. Weaving leather can be used for straps or belts, as well as small bags and pouches, depending on the skill of the weaver.
Metallic Leather is a type of leather that has had a metal layer of material added to it during the finishing process. This layer creates a metallic, shiny, reflective look to the finished leather. It provides a finishing option that is most often used in clothing, accessories, and handbags.
Napa is type of leather this is more a general marketing term for a soft, smooth, full grain leather. Some napa comes from genuine leather and isn’t the highest of quality; the term itself isn’t a clear identifier of quality or material. Moreso, it can be used to connote a smooth, soft leather. The history and more details on nubck are available in my Napa leather article here.
Nubuck is a type of leather that is a top-grain leather that has has the surface sanded in such a way as to leave the surface with a slight nap of short protein fibers. This produces a soft, velvet-like surface that is pleasing to touch, and also has a unique visual appearance. Nubuck leather is often used in jackets, gloves, and accessories. More details are available in my nubuck-specific article here.
Oil Leather (Pull-Up Leather, Waxy Leather, Waxed Leather)
Oil Leather, also known as pull-up leather, waxy leather, and waxed leather, is a type of leather that has a larger volume than average amount of oils and waxes in the surface finish. When the leather pieces are flexed and moved, the surface catches the light in different ways, do to the reflections on the oils and waxes. This provides for a varied look across surface tones, which could be quite visually appealing.
Patent leather is a type of leather that has a high-gloss finish applied via a coating, generally linseed oil. It was developed in 1818 (by inventor Seth Boyden in Newark, New Jersey). Patent leather finishing is often very noticeable with a highly-reflective finish. More modern patent leather replaces the linseed oil finish with a plastic coating finish. Click here for my detailed article on patent leather.
Pearlized Leather is a type of leather that has had a liquid layer of color added to the surface during finishing. It provides for a soft, subtle shine and reflection to the leather. While not as reflective as metallic leather, pearlized leather is a subtler implementation of the same concept. It is popularly used on clothing, accessories, and handbags.
Pigmented leather is a type of leather that is finished with a top coat of pigment (or paint). That pigment helps both provide an even surface on the leather, and also a protective coating. Pigmented leather is often coated with a clear protective sealer, to help protect the pigment layer.
Printed Leather is a type of leather that has has the surface texture printer, to stamped into it. This creates various leather surface types that might serve both functional and aesthetic purposed. Functional purposes might include helping make the leather surface more scratch and abrasion resistant. Aesthetic purposes might include making it look uniformly pebbled or nubbed. The textures of printed leathers can feel preferable as well. Saffiano leather is an example of a printed leather. For a deeper look into pebbled leather, click here to check out my article with more details.
Quilon is a tyle of leather produced by the Doc Martens footwear comapny. It is a unique style of smooth leather that is finished with a “haircell” pattern; a fine, textured print that gives the surface a stylish look. Quilon leather was developed in 2007, based on the now-vintage Doc Marten leather from the 1970s. For a detailed look, click here for my article about quilon leather.
Stretch Leather is a type of leather that is usually a composite leather made to be able to stretch when used. It can use a processed leather surface mixed with a synthetic under layer that allows the material to stretch yet still retain a uniform look with most of the usual performance qualities. Stretch leathers are often used in clothing and leather goods that will be worn and flex with human movement.
Suede is a type of leather made using a similar approach as Nubuck, where the surface is sanded in such a way as to leave the surface with a slight nap of short protein fibers. Though, instead of being made from full grain leather, suede is made from split grain leather. Here is my article that dives deeply into suede.
Washable Leather is a type of leather that is better suited to cleaning. While leather should not be roughly cleaned often (and likely shouldn’t if well-cared for), special leather washing methods are available. For items that have an expected use requiring frequent cleaning, such as some clothes, a washable leather can be used to help ensure the items last longer and stay in great shape.
There are so many types of leather available, suitable for a range of needs. If you’re curious what thicknesses of leather would work well for your next project, click here to read my guide on leather weights. Depending on the type of project you’re working on, or preference for leather qualities, you’ll likely find a great leather that will help make some incredible leather goods. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a leatherworker, click here for my article on the leatherworker career path.