This is Part 4 of a five part series on leather. 

When purchasing any leather good, whether it’s as bag, furniture, or the inside of a new car, the quality and durability can change based on several factors that we’ve looked into, like the different parts of the hide (butt, bend, shoulder, and head), or the tanning process in leather making.

In leather making, the third important factor that affects the grade and quality of the end result is the type of leather grain. At a high level, leather grain can be categorized into two main categories of leather — “less imperfections”, and”lots of imperfections.” There are five types of leather in which these imperfections are classified, and we’ll be diving into what differntiates these types of leather.

The Five Grades of Leather

One common misconception with real leather is with what the different grades of quality are. Much of the confusion can come from the way that these leather types are referred to, like how “top grain” leather to the novice outsider might seem like the highest quality of leather when it’s actually only the 2nd best grade of leather behind full grain leather. Whether these misconceptions stem from marketing deceitfulness (best seen in the pharmaceutical industry) or just from a lack of helpful information in the topic, our goal is to make these terms easier to digest and remember.

With real leather, the two main groupings of leather (less imperfection, lots of imperfection), can be further divided into the commonly referred to five grades: full grain leather, top grain leather, corrected grain leather, split leather, and reconstituted leather (also referred to as bonded leather).

Full Grain Leather

Full-Grain leather is the highest quality of grain found in leather, it’s also referred to as top grade leather because of its quality level. It’s a type of leather that has the least number of imperfections since it’s made from animal hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed. In terms of hand feel and use, full-grain leather is an extremely tough leather because it isn’t trimmed or shaved, meaning that it’s a type of leather that is closest to its natural state.

While full grain leather refers to a category of top grade leather that has less imperfections, it can also be further segmented into several finishing options like aniline full grain leather, belting leather, and nappa leather.

Advantages of Full Grain Leather

Full grain leather is commonly referred to as the best kind of real leather one can buy. It’s an incredibly strong type of leather and has patinas that will develop beautifully with age. Because of the level of quality associated with full grain leather, brands, designers, and consumers that are looking for quality like to have this type of leather in their bag or leather goods.

Disadvantages of Full Grain Leather

The disadvantages of using full grain leather include the high cost because of both the material cost and the difficulty in which it is to work with this material in bag making. Because full grain leather is tougher and less supple than other leather types, it makes it hard to use for making several products (unlike vegan leather where thickness can be controlled, or top grain leather. Compared to other types of leather, full grain leather is less stain resistant.

Top Grain Leather

Top Grain is the second highest quality grain of leather after full grain leather. It’s also the most common high-end leather used for bags and other types of leather goods, since full grain leather is harder to work with for both tanneries and bag manufacturers.

Unlike full grain leather that stems from the actual grain of the animal skin, top grain leather is mainly taken from the junction of grain and corium (a layer of animal skin right above the flesh), which also gives its leather hide many imperfections. To combat this, top grain leather has a sanded surface where the leather’s outer layer is sanded to remove imperfections found in the hide.

In terms of top grain leather finishings, the results can be aniline leather, semi-aniline leather, or pigmented leather. Additionally, the types of leather that can also come from top grain leather include nubuck leather, embossed leather, and patent leather.

Advantages of Top Grain Leather

Top grain leather is great for a high quality leather that is durable, quality, and more affordable than its full grain leather counterpart, which makes it popular amongst people that want quality and affordable leather bags. The leather quality is thinner and more consistent in feel and appearance, and it also is more stain resistant than full grain leather. Top grain leather is also used by many high-end designers because top grade leather is easier to fold, cut, and shape into objects like handbags or wallets, since its a more supple leather compared to full grain leather.

Disadvantages of Top Grain Leather

The downside to using top grain leather is that it’s not as breathable as other leather types so its use is limited to certain types of products. It also does not absorb oils and or impurities as well as other types of leather so it lacks the beautiful patina of full grain leather.

Corrected Grain Leather

Corrected Grain is a medium grade leather grain. It is fully sanded down and an artificial grain is added for aesthetics. The finishes can be done in either semi-aniline or pigment and similar to top grain leather, corrected grain leather can be used to make Nubuck Leather, Embossed Leather, or Patent Leather.

Advantages of Corrected Grain Leather

Corrected grain leather is favored because it’s cheap to make and quite durable compared to other types of leather. It can be made in a multitude of colors and continues to have a higher end quality appearance, which is appealing to brands and consumers. In addition, there is less wasted material during the production process which also adds to its lower cost.

Disadvantages of Corrected Grain Leather

Primary disadvantages of corrected grain leather are around its lower quality. The corrected grain is unbreathable and lacks pliability which means that it can crack easier over time. Aesthetically, this type of leather also does not develop a patina over time which can make it unnatural looking.

Split Leather

Split Leather is considered a low grade of leather since it’s actually derived from parts of top grain leather that are split (the fibrous part). This splitting process can be done numerous times (hence its name) depending on thickness and quality level desired.

Meant to look and feel like top grain leather, split leather lacks the natural qualities and durability of top grain leather because it’s only coated and embossed with a grain appearance, but it is much cheaper to make and produce than top grain leather while appearing to have a similar aesthetic. Types of split leather finishings can also include Suede, Bycast Leather, and Coated Split Leather.

Advantages of Split Leather

Split leather is an extremely versatile type of leather and many products can be made with split grain leather like bags, shoes, belts, clothing, furniture, and even car interiors. It’s also a cheaper and more affordable real leather option that still has a look and hand feel to top grain leather, though not as durable in the long term.

Disadvantages of Split Leather

The downside of using split leather in bag making or leather goods is that the quality isn’t as great as full grain or top grain and although it can achieve an aesthetic look similar to top grain, it will wear out much faster from cracks (like corners of a bag), to leather chipping and tearing.

Reconstitued Leather

Reconstituted Leather is the lowest grade of the five types of leather. This type of leather is made from scraps of other types of leather like top grain or corrected grain leather and binding them with latex binders to simulate the appearance of genuine leather. Thought of as the “hot dog” of leather, reconstituted leather is commonly referred to as Bonded Leather.

Advantages of Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is useful for certain types of leather good objects, since it’s much cheaper to make and produce. Finishing and dyes can be added to give it a certain look and aesthetic and because it’s made from leather scraps, it ensures that pieces of leather hide don’t go to waste.

Disadvantages of Bonded Leather

The main disadvantage of using bonded leather is the leather quality, as leather goods made with bonded leather won’t last as long and will start to either chip off or tear entirely with usage.


The five types of leather all serve their purpose and use case. Depending on the type of leather good and the quality level and price range desired, each type can be considered a good option. In the last article in the leather series, we’ll dive in to the ways that one can take care of their leather bag to increase it’s lifespan.

Everything You Need to Know About Leather Series

Part 1: How is Leather Made & What Are Common Leather Types?

Part 2: Vegetable Tanned Leather or Chrome Tanned Leather?

Part 3: The Grades of Leather & What They Mean

Part 4: Why is Full Grain Leather Considered the Best of the Five Types of Leather?

Part 5: How to Care For Your Leather Bag