Whether its shoes, jackets, luggage bags or upholstery – leather is one of the most versatile materials on the planet. But with so many different types, do you know your full grain from your PU? Or your bi-cast from your nubuck? In the spirt of Veganuary, we’re breaking down the of different types of leather - and outlining why you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss faux leather either.

Faux Leather Vs. Real Leather

Let’s start by simply outlining the 2 key types of leather: real and faux.

Real Leather

Real leather is made from the skin of animals such as cows and goats. This natural material is popular for its durability, creating beautiful long-lasting products. When used in upholstery, it instils sofas, chairs and furniture with a classic look that only gets better with age. Real leathers include full grain and top grain.

Faux Leather

Faux leather is a man-made material that mimics the look and feel of real leather. No animal products are used to make 100% faux leather, so it's completely vegan. It is often embossed with irregular lines, markings or shagreen textures to replicate the character of real leather. Also referred to as artificial, synthetic, fake or imitation, faux leathers include PU leather and PVC leather.

So, Which is Best?

When it comes to furniture, choosing between faux and real leather is a question of preference. Ultimately, it boils down to the look and feel you like, what the furniture is being used for, how much you want to spend and whether you want a furniture piece that is made using animal products.

Leather vs Faux Leather

At A Glance: Leather Vs. Faux Leather

Real Leather

  • Breathable, Natural Material
  • Strong, Durable
  • Long-Lasting
  • Drys Out Over Time
  • Absorbs Water & Stains Easily
  • Requires Regular Care
  • Expensive

Faux Leather

  • Smoother, Versatile Finish
  • Man-made Material That Doesn't Decompose
  • Not as Durable or Long-Lasting
  • 100% Faux is Vegan
  • Easy to Clean
  • Often Wipeable
  • Affordable

Types of Leather

Thanks to modern technology, there are a variety of real and faux leather options to choose from depending on your requirements, preferences and budget. Whether its a full grain leather armchair, a PU leather bar stool or a bonded leather bench - take a look at our break down of 7 core types of leather below to get a gist of what you're getting when you buy.

Full Grain Leather

100% Real Leather

Natural, Unique Markings

Strong & Long-lasting

Gets More Beautiful with Age

Expensive

Stains Easily

Requires Lots of Care

When it comes to leather, nothing tops full grain. 100% leather, full grain leather is considered the highest quality grade for its unmatched texture and natural imperfections. This tough, thick leather is made by simply removing the hair from the hide and tanning it, as opposed to splitting the hide. This makes it difficult to work with, hence demanding a higher price tag. Expect to spend time taking care of your full grain leather to keep it looking its best. However, it is worth it for this material’s strong and durable nature that only softens with age. Just ask a full grain leather furniture owner.


Top Grain Leather

100% Real Leather

Consistent Texture

Durable & Long-lasting

Patina Doesn't Change Over Time

Expensive

Requires Ongoing Care

Scratches Easily

Top grain leather is considered the second highest grade of real leather. It is made from 100% animal hide, however unlike full grain, top grain leather sees the outermost layer of hide removed and buffed, removing the natural markings and imperfections. This gives a more consistent and uniform look while retaining the leather’s strength and durability. Expect to still pay a premium for top grain leather furniture but get a reliable texture that won’t change in patina like full grain over time.



Nubuck Leather

100% Real Leather

Velvet-like Finish

Durable

Scratches & Stains Easily

Nubuck leather shares similarities with suede but is much more durable. Suede is made by splitting the leather to its thinnest, innermost layer and turning this upside down so that the soft, fuzzy side that we all recognise as suede is side is face up. Whereas nubuck leather is made from the thicker top grain of the hide. It is then buffed to give it a soft, velvet-like finish. For this reason, you will commonly pay more for nubuck than suede, but both are generally less expensive than full and top grain leathers.



Bi-Cast Leather

Part Real Leather, Part Faux

Authentic Leather Look

Wipeable & Easy to Clean

Affordable

Not as Long-lasting

Once the top layers of the animal hide have been removed, the innermost layer of animal hide is used to make bi-cast leather. This is applied with a PU (polyurethane) coating to give it a sleek leather look that is, unlike real leather, water-resistant and easy to clean. It often provides a more authentic appearance than other faux leathers but doesn’t quite match the unique quality of real leather.

Bonded Leather



Bonded Leather

Made Partly from Real Leather Offcuts

Smooth Finish

Affordable

Not as Durable or Long-lasting

To make bonded leather, by-product offcuts of animal hide are combined with fibres and PU (polyurethane) and attached to a backing. This creates a smooth finish that is less expensive than real leathers like full and top grain. Bonded leather may not be a 100% artificial leather, but it is estimated that only 10–20% of the material is real leather. Despite this, bonded leather isn’t as durable or long-lasting and may begin to peel over time.


Regenerated Leather

Made Partly from Leather Offcuts

Smooth Texture

Affordable

Water-resistant & easy to clean

Not as Durable or Long-lasting

Similar to bonded leather, regenerated leather is made by compressing natural leather offcuts and artificial fibres to create a smooth, hard-wearing finish. It is often water resistant and easy to clean, making it ideal for dining and office chairs. Although not as durable, regenerated leather is less expensive than real leathers like top and full grain and gives a sleek, unblemished look that may suit more contemporary styles of home.

PU Leather

Faux Leather Using No Animal Products

Sleek & Tactile Leather Look

Wipeable & Easy to Clean

Affordable

Not as Long-lasting

Can Look Synthetic

PU leather is a faux leather made from polyurethane (PU). It is a popular choice for furniture such as dining chairs, bar stools and dining benches as, unlike real leather, it is easy to clean and very low maintenance. 100% PU leather is a great vegan alternative to real leather as it isn’t made using any animal products but still gives a supple leather look. The best bit? PU leather furniture is affordable. Though it’s unlikely to last as long as your real leather furniture, it’s a fuss-free, low-cost alternative.

Faux Leather Vs. Real Leather: Summary

There is plenty to consider when buying leather furniture for your home. Real leathers like full grain are high in quality and can last for a lifetime, becoming treasured family heirlooms to pass down the generations. However, be prepared to pay a premium for it. Despite this, faux alternatives ensure that leather furniture isn’t limited by price. Faux and mixed faux-real alternatives offer leather solutions at more affordable price points. They may not last as long as genuine leather but they can give the tactile look of leather at a fraction of the cost. Take time to consider what you want from your leather furniture, thinking about quality, appearance and price.

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