One of the most difficult things about leather grading in terms of letter or number systems is that there is no industry standard. In other words, grade-six leather might be drastically different in price and value between two different manufacturers. In-house grading systems are only convenient if you’re comparing furniture manufactured by the same company.
One standard way of comparing leather is by looking at characteristics. This type of leather grading isn’t a number or letter system, but manufacturers will use terms to tell you about leather’s color treatment, texture and durability. The most important characteristics are aniline, pigment, grain and correction.
Aniline, semi-aniline and pigmented:
Leather can be classified as aniline, semi-aniline, or pigmented. Aniline leather has not been treated with color in any way. It is least resistant to stains, as well as the most expensive, but has a completely natural look and feel. Semi-aniline leather has been dyed or stained, but in a translucent way so that some of the natural characteristics still shine through. Pigmented leather has an opaque coating of color, which is often stamped with a leather-like texture. It is the most durable and least expensive, making it a great furniture option for active families.
Top-grain versus split:
The layer also typically characterizes leather used for furniture where it is found on the hide. Top-grain leather comes from the very outside of an animal. This type of leather is inherently more durable, since an animal’s skin is its strongest at the surface. Split leather is found below the top layer. It is less durable and has fewer natural markings, but is also less expensive.
Leather can also be classified as corrected-grain, which means it was sanded or buffed. The terms full-grain and top-grain are sometimes used interchangeably, but this isn’t necessarily accurate. Full-grain leather is a type of top-grain leather that hasn’t been corrected. This is the most expensive and highest quality leather available, as it is most durable and natural. If top-grain leather is corrected on one side, velvety leather called nubuck is created. Split leather, on the other hand, can be corrected to create suede. Both top-grain leather and split leather can also be corrected slightly to create a smoother surface.
Many furniture companies fail to tell consumers their bonded leather sofas actually contain very small amounts of real leather, as the percentage of actual animal hide can differ depending on the retailer or manufacturer. Bonded leather or reconstituted leather is not really true leather but a man-made material; it's "composed of 90% to 100% leather fibres. Jennifer Convertibles should be made to use the words 'faux leather' for all furniture made with bonded leather so that the consumer is fully aware that what they are getting is not a true leather,”
Top grain leather:
Real leather is a natural product — it’s warm and durable.
Leather will always bear the marks of its natural origin, and these qualities can show as scratches, growth marks, areas of differing fibre density, and hair pore structure. These characteristics in no way detract from the wearing qualities of the leather. Many retailers classify leather by grades. This can cause some confusion with customers who are encouraged to think that the more expensive, or higher-grade leathers are of a better quality. This is not necessarily the case.
How is upholstery leather made?
A cattle hide arrives at the tannery having been salted to preserve it. Then, it is soaked in chemicals, which dissolve the hair follicles and cause it to swell to approximately 8mm in thickness. It’s then split through its thickness, and the upper layer with the hardwearing grain surface is separated off to be used for upholstery leather. The hide then undergoes a tanning process utilizing chromium-based chemicals. This technique is now the modern preferred method, replacing the traditional vegetable tanning process, which uses plant extracts and urine.
Once tanned and dried, size and degree of scarring and blemish grade the hide. The ‘cleaner’ or less-scarred hides tend to be used for full-grain leathers, while hides with a degree of scarring are lightly buffed on their top surface and used to create corrected grains.
Pigmented leather is the most durable type and is used in the majority of furniture upholstery. The durability is provided by a polymer surface coating, which contains pigments. With modern technology, the coating can be finished to be embossed, printed, or plain. The surface coating allows a greater resistance to soiling, scuffing, and fading.
Aniline leather is the most natural-looking leather, with the unique surface characteristics of the animal hide remaining visible. Aniline leather is colored only with dye, and not with any surface coating of polymer and pigment. A light non-pigment surface coating may be applied to enhance its appearance and offer some protection against spillages and soiling.
A degree of natural marks and shade variation should be expected: while this type of leather can be susceptible to the effects of sunlight and it also absorbs liquids more easily. Aniline leather requires special maintenance to keep it in top condition.
Semi-aniline leather is more durable than aniline while retaining a natural appearance. The increased durability is provided by the application of a light surface coating, which contains a small amount of pigment. This ensures a more consistent colour and imparts an extra degree of protection.
Are leather sofas durable?
Yes, real leather sofas are some of the most durable around, and with the right care and treatment, they can last for a lifetime. Leather has an inherent water resistance, making it much easier to clean than fabric if you accidentally spill something. They also don’t accumulate much dust, so you won’t have to go to the effort of hovering or dusting them as much as you would with other types of sofa upholstery.
Leather really comes into its own in its resistance against wear and tear. It is a naturally tough material that will hold up well to everyday use, but what’s more, any scuffs that it does pick up will add character.
The word grain is taken to mean the upper layer of the leather, though it is also used to describe the design of fine embossed lines, which cover the surface of most finished leathers.
This is leather where the topmost layer has been left untouched. In retaining its natural smooth surface, any natural scars or blemishes will remain as evidence of the hide’s origin.
Corrected grain leather:
This is leather where the topmost surface has received a very fine buffing to reduce the appearance of any raised scars. It’s quite common for such a leather to then receive a fine embossed effect after finishing, which will help further mask the appearance of any scars. Aniline leathers tend to use full-grain hides while pigmented leathers tend to use corrected grains. Semi anilines can use either.
After a hide is chemically treated, it is then put through a splitting machine, which slices it through its thickness. The topmost section, which contains the hardwearing outer skin or grain, is then used to make upholstery leather.
The under section or ‘split’ has no hardwearing grain surface and has the appearance of having suede on both sides. This is used to make suede items.
By: Richard McLeod