When you are visiting tanneries or leather suppliers it is nice to know the basics about the product. Leather is a very complicated material to make and requires so many steps. We have started to list some basic information about leather and finishing.

The word skin is more commonly referred to smaller animals like sheep and goat leathers.

The word hide is more commonly referred to cow or buffalo leathers.

Aniline dyes. It refers to dyes that are soluble chemicals that keep the grain in tact.

Full aniline
This means the leather is dyed through and through. When you cut a piece of the leather you cannot see the original tanning color (usually blueish).

Semi aniline
This means the leather is dyed shorter and you can recognise this when you cut a piece of the leather; you will still see the original tanning colour. Usually a surface colour coat is applied on semi aniline leather.

The grain is the original leather structure, the pores of the original animal and the imperfections (defects) like scars.

This is full aniline coloured leather with a thin transparent finish. Casein can be used for this, as it will protect the leather but it keeps the grain visible.

Corrected grain
The leather is finely sanded (buffed) and an opaque paint is sprayed on top. Because of this opaque finish the original grain of the animal is not visible anymore that’s why you can’t call this full-grain anymore. The grain is printed by emboss in the animals grain. The look and feel of the leather will be less natural because of the fairly heavy coating.

Fantasy grain/fancy emboss
It’s very similar to corrected grain only the print used is not from the same animal as the original skin/hide. For example cow leather with a crocodile or snake print or completely fantasy; like a striped emboss.

Split leather, pigmented finish
Split leather is covered with one heavy or more than one layer of paint coating. The grain is printed by emboss. The look and feel of the leather is similar as corrected grain but the material probably feels colder because of the thicker layer of paint and the leather is also less strong as it is made on split.

Split leather
Split and split leather is leather that is separated (splitting) in two or three parts. The top part (with grain) is still called leather. The bottom part(s) are called split or split leather.

Suede/Split suede
Suede is the flesh side of leather. The flesh side is buffed (lightly sanded) to get the even velvety look. The more compact the flesh side, the better the velvet look. Calf suede is very, dense thus beautiful but also very expensive.

Split suede is when the flesh side is separated from the grain. Split suede is used a lot because of price point. If it is a thick split suede it can be printed beautifully. However, it depends how the supplier is printing it as not all prints stay visible after using it in the process of making footwear (for example after lasting or heating the print can be completely gone) this all depends on how deep the emboss is made. Pig suede is another version of suede that we see more and more of based of price sensitivity.

Full grain leather that is buffed (lightly sanded) is called nubuck. The buffing gives the velvet look. The denser and finer the leather, the better the look. The leather needs to be aniline full grain of top-grade (no defects) to get the best nubuck. This makes nubuck vastly more expensive compared to other leathers. The leather needs to be treated carefully as it is very ‘naked’. It’s easily stained and can be prone to fading.

Originally this is referred to supple goat leather, but nowadays it’s referred to supple leather of more types of animals (sheep, goat, cow).

Oiled leathers
The leather (full grain) has a matt look and oily feel. This is done in the drum with hot air or applied as a finish with spray or by hand (or both). So instead of a finish used on full grain or corrected grain a type of greasy material is used.
It is more challenging to make oily leathers in bright colours as the grease will naturally make the colour darker.

Waxed/Pull up leathers
The leather (full grain) has a waxy feel and when it’s pulled the leather becomes lighter (pull up). A good pull up goes back to how it looked before it’s pulled. The wax is applied by hand to the surface. There are many different types of pull-ups, it all depends on the base of the leather, how it’s tanned, how the wax is applied and what type of wax is used.

This is very shiny/glossy leather. A thick layer of lacquer is applied to get this look. It can be applied on many types of leathers and it can be a transparent or coloured finish. It is specialised job that not every tannery can do.

Unique leathers/Fancy leathers/Fancy finishes
Metallic: A metallic finish can be given to any type of leather.
Transfer foils/papers: A transfer paper can be applied in a certain pattern (for example flowers, stars. There are so many different foils available in the market the options are endless, transparent, colourful, metallic, thick or thin. Foils usually come in high, minimum order quantities and not every tannery has the machinery to apply them.
Embossing, Perforations and Laser: As mentioned earlier in this article many different prints can be applied by embossing with a hot metal pate. Leathers can be lasered or perforated in many different patterns. Perforations made by huge plates that can perforate the whole skin at once. These plates are expensive as you can imagine, as they are going to have to be quite large to cover the leather.

Fur is leather with the hair/wool still intact. It is used for the warmth but also for fashionable reasons. Fur is expensive and sometimes frowned upon. It all depends on how it is obtained and its supply chain manufacturing processes.

TIP: Test your leather.
Especially when you‘re developing something new and you like the result, make a test so you see what happens with it when it becomes a shoe. Simply make an article, for example an ankle boot that doesn’t have many parts to stitch, and let it go through the complete shoe making process. This is an easy way to tackle possible problems at a development stage.

Leather is a beautiful material and there is so much to write about. We hope you have enjoyed reading this article and maybe learned a thing or two. Leave your comments below, we’d love to hear from you.

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