The feeling of real, good quality leather under your fingertips is one of the great luxuries most people can afford these days. That is because real quality leather can be used for a variety of different purposes, whether it is on leather sofas, handbags, wallets, boots, or a whole host of other fine leather goods.
However, there is a lot of pressure these days on manufacturers to pump out mass-produced goods as cheaply as possible, which causes a decay in the quality of the products, and that is especially true when leather is concerned. In fact, even terms like ‘genuine leather’ are not to be trusted, since genuine leather is among the lowest grades of leather!
With that in mind, it is important that the buyer is aware of the quality of the leather goods they are spending their money on, which means that a savvy consumer needs to know the various types of leather. In this piece, we will be taking a look at two of the highest quality grades of leather – top grain leather and full grain leather. Though the two may sound similar, they are very different products, as we will see.
Top Grain Leather
In order to understand what top grain leather is, we need to understand the basics of leather production in general first. Leather is produced from hide, which is the raw, unprocessed precursor to leather. This is split into at least three different layers, which decrease in quality.
Top grain leather, as the name may suggest, is made from the top layer of the hide, which is also the best quality of all the layers. It is processed in order to remove any scars, scrapes, or even branding marks off the surface of the leather, and it is then tanned to the desired color.
However, during the process of buffing out the imperfections on the raw hide, the signature leather pattern is also scrubbed off. That has led some leather manufacturers, depending on the quality of the end product desired, to stamp a typical leather pattern onto the surface of the top grain leather, in order to make up for what the sanding took away. The less treatment is required to make it look good in the end, the higher quality leather it is.
Here you can see the differences between top grain leather and bonded grain, just in case you are interested.
Full Grain Leather
Full grain leather is the highest quality grade for leather. It is made from the same topmost layer of the hide as top grain leather, but with an important difference, which makes this type of leather stand out as the highest quality leather available.
Namely, whereas top grain leather has to be processed, which includes preparation, sanding the imperfections, and so on, full grain leather doesn’t have to go through many of these steps. As we have mentioned previously, top grain leather has scars and other imperfections on the surface, which need to be sanded off in order to give it a nice look.
However, this also gets rid of the rich leather pattern on the surface, which reduces the quality of the final product. With full grain leather however, there are few to no imperfections to start with, since better hides are used as a starting point. That means that there is very little need to sand and otherwise process the hide, which results in a piece of leather with the signature pattern intact.
That also means that there is no need to stamp an artificial leather pattern onto the surface, and that is the primary difference between top grain leather and full grain leather.
How to tell the difference?
There are good reasons for buying either kind of leather products, as they both have their advantages and disadvantages. However, if you have set your mind on buying a leather product from a particular type of leather, you may want a reliable way to tell them apart.
Simply put, full grain leather is more durable in the long run, since it forms a patina over its surface, which allows it to heal itself in a way, so that many scratches can be buffed off. Top grain leather may look better than full grain leather on the day you buy it, but they age differently, since top grain leather is resistant to water, and full grain leather absorbs it.
If you want to tell the difference, make a light scratch on the surface of the leather, and then try to buff it out. If it buffs out nicely, it’s probably full grain. The price difference is also a good indicator, since full grain will always be more expensive.
So there you have, the difference between top grain and full grain leather. Actually you got more than one! Thus next time you are in the mood to shop for leather bags, you will be more educated. It will ensure you don’t waste money on a worse one out of the two.