Leathers are distinguished by tanning and finishing methods.
Vegetable tanned leathers (typically used to make saddles, belts, luggage) are heavy and stiff with a classic tawny color.
Chromium tanned leather (used in upholstery and garments) creates a softer, stretchier hide with a grey color.
Aldehyde or brain tanned leathers are less common, especially in upholstery.
After tanning, most leathers are dyed. This impregnates color into the leather.
Most leathers also receive some finish coating. Learn more about the difference between leather dyes and finishes.
Full grain/top grain leather – original epidermis (skin surface) and grain remain intact; pigmented finish resists liquids and stains but can still discolor or fade over time; leather may be monochromatic (single, solid color), have varied tones, or different base-and-print and colors
Corrected grain leather – epidermis was sanded to correct blemishes; pigmented finish applied; leather may be monochromatic (single, solid color), have varied tones, or different base-and-print and colors
Semi-aniline – full-grain leather with epidermis intact; the dye accentuated natural variations in the fiber; a thin clear finish makes it susceptible to fading, stains and body oil; a fingernail can easily mark the surface
Aniline – full-grain leather with epidermis intact; the dye accentuated natural variations in the fiber; no finish whatsoever; warm, velvety feel but very susceptible to stains and fading
Pull up – full-grain aniline leather with a colored waxed or oiled finish; this finish must be removed prior to any restoration work
Split leather – lower half of the hide (no epidermis) and therefore a weaker leather
Nubuck – full-grain leather that has no finish and has been brushed; warm, velvety feel and susceptible to stains
Suede – raw leather or the backside of a finished leather with a fuzzy texture
Bi-cast – split hide with polyurethane coating
Faux or bonded leather – a synthetic made of ground scrap leather or polyester microfiber (microsuede) with a polyurethane (PU) coating that peels or flakes away; learn more here
Vinyl – a synthetic made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC); the backside is woven mesh