When buying a leather product, confusion can easily arise: numerous terms and numerous types of leather make it difficult to keep an overview. To help you find your way in the leather jungle, we present the most common types of leather and their differences in the leather glossary.
The description of leather is made according to various characteristics. The different types of leather can be differentiated according to the animal, the finish, the type of colour or the intended use. A leather product is most often categorized according to the species and the dressing.
Leather is mainly obtained from animals that are bred for meat production. That is why cowhide, lamb leather and pigskin are the most common types of leather, especially in Europe and North America. But the skins of horses, deer and exotic animals such as ostrich, kangaroos and even fish can also be processed into leather.
Leather glossary: the most important terms
The term is generally understood to mean animal skin that is preserved by tanning.
Tanning of leather
Tanning is the preservation of the skin with the help of tannins. Chemical processes during tanning make the leather durable. A distinction is made between chrome tanning, vegetable tanning and synthetic tanning.
Full leather is referred to the name for non-split leather.
Split leather is leather whose surface has been split into several layers by splitting. Splitting is often done on thick skins with a thickness of 5 to 10mm.
After splitting, a distinction is made between the tear-resistant and valuable grain split (outside) and the cheaper meat split (inside). The meat crack is often called split leather, split velour or suede.
Grain side leather
The term refers to the surface of the skin facing the hair side. The scar pattern and the visible pore density vary from animal to animal.
Meat side leather
The term refers to the surface of the skin facing the meat. In the case of suede, the meat side is processed on the outside.
Cowhide is primarily characterized by its stability. Therefore, it is processed in numerous ways. High-quality handbags are also often made of cowhide and are therefore very robust.
Pigskin is mainly used for clothing, but also occasionally as handbag lining. The holes in the bristles, which are closely spaced in groups of three, are striking.
Calfskin has a firm and even structure. Just like cowhide, calf leather is used for making bags, but the grain is finer.
Lamb leather is soft and supple and is therefore often used for clothing. Handbags made of lamb leather are rather unusual.
Ostrich leather is very soft and has a typical nub structure. Cowhide is often embossed with the characteristic structure to create an ostrich leather look.
Nappa leather is the generic term for leather processed on the hair or grain side. Nappa leather is also understood to mean particularly soft and supple leather products, although the term is not protected.
In contrast to Nappa leather is the suede, in which the meat side is processed on the outside.
Suede is the generic term for leather with a velour-like, velvety surface. The surface is sanded to create structure and grip. The best-known suede are nubuck leather and suede.
With nubuck leather, the smooth grain side is roughened and sanded to achieve a fine, velvety surface. This makes the leather easy to grip and soft, and also highly breathable. The cut makes the leather sensitive to stains and UV light. Therefore, a special nubuck leather care is recommended to guarantee a long-lasting suppleness and colour intensity of the leather.
Suede leather denotes the processed back, ie. Meat side, a dermis. The velour-like surface of a split leather skin is also called suede. Suede leather is characterized by a rough and open-pored structure and is therefore very breathable. In contrast to suede, there is the Nappa leather, in which the hair side is processed on the outside.
Suede is the hides of animals that are not among the usual domesticated animal species. Reindeer, kangaroo, elk, buffalo and other exotic animal hides are known as suede. The term is often used as a synonym for suede.
Patent leather is characterized by its very shiny and grain-free surface. To create the characteristic reflective surface, it is painted or covered with a glossy film.
When embossed, the scar of the skin is artificially changed by pressing or rolling. Whether pattern, exotic leather look or company logo: there are (almost) no limits to the embossing and many brands use it to give the end product a very individual touch.
Small scars are often corrected with an embossing, giving the leather a uniform appearance.
Check our article about the history of handbags from the 1900s and learn more!
Written by Elena Taylor