Different Grades of Leather Explained

Leather is the most sought-after material that makes you splurge frantically on its merchandise. But before making any investment, you should know about different grades of leather to dodge the fancy deals.

Leather is graded according to its splitting and layering. These grades are based on the different variations in the overall quality of the piece.

Meatpackers evaluate the different variations of leather when they sell the hides to tanneries. Each grade represents unique attributes that can contribute to the quality, durability, wear-resistance, and feel of leather next to your skin.

When you buy any leather bag, wallet, backpack or jacket, you will see a tag inside the skin that categorizes the hide as genuine, full-grain, bonded, split, or top-grain.

To ensure the leather product you are buying will live up to your expectations and give you the best value for money, you have to be armed with as much knowledge about the specific quality as possible.

Here, I am going to share some general information about different types of leather grades. Keep reading!

Full-Grain Leather

The outer layout of the hide that has not been buffed or sanded to remove imperfection is called the Full-grain leather. In this cut of leather, only the hair is removed from the hide. The grain has densely packed fibers that make the surface firm, durable, and withstand rough use.

You will see minor imperfections on the surface like the animal might have received a small cut or rubbed up against a fence. Full-grain leather hides with fewer blemishes are the least common, visually appealing, and the most prized.


  • Full-grain leather has a dramatic pull-up and soft waxy feel.
  • It is tumbled to produce rich textures within the grain.
  • Products made from this grade absorbs everything from its environment and often turns dark brown after a short period, thus ages wonderfully.


  • Full-grain leather is perfect for making footwear, saddlery, and furniture.

Top-Grain Leather

This top cut of the hide is buffed, pigmented, and sanded to deliver an even and uniform look to the finished product. Top grain leather is called the second-highest quality of leather that is thinner and pliable as its layer is removed. It has a finished coat at the surface to give it somewhat a plastic feel and make it less breathable.


  • Top grain leather does not absorb water and oils as the leather's natural pores have been sealed amid the coloring process.
  • It has a strong patina that protects the surface against any damage and corrosion, making it durable.
  • No variations in color; a glass-like appearance.
  • Less expensive than full-grain leather.
  • Doesn't have scars and imperfections.
  • Sometimes it is embossed with grains, pebble, hair cell, or human-made.
  • Less prone to cracking when exposed to surroundings


  • Top grain leathers are famous for their usage in shoes, boots, purses, briefcases, satchels, keychains, wallets, and handbags.

Split-grain Leather

This grade of leather is also called leather leftovers. It does not contain any grain or natural markings of the hide. Its most common type is suede leather, famous for its iconic textured feel and slumbered look. Split-grain leather is made from deer, lamb, goat, or calfskins.


  • Less durable and has zero breathability.
  • It has a thin surface that absorbs liquid and stains quickly.
  • Split-grain does not have fat wrinkles, scars, and other imperfections.
  • Dyes and pigments are often in a uniform color.
  • A plastic feel like top grain leather.


  • Split-grain leather is used to manufacture belts, jackets, handbags, wallets, purses, and soft linings. Sometimes it is also used in boots.

Genuine Leather

Genuine leather ranks at the bottom of the barrel of leather grades. But it's superior to bonded leather.

Marketers use the term Genuine Leather to sell their products that are made from the lowest quality of leather because people usually take the term 'genuine' as valuable and of high quality.

Technically, it is less durable and low-quality leather made from the very bottom cut of the hide.

Genuine leather is heavily processed, and it does not contain the natural grain of the original hide.


  • Genuine leather is less durable and doesn't look as lovely as high-quality leather.
  • If you are buying something cheap for less time than genuine leather, it can be a good option.


  • You will usually find genuine leather in lower-priced shoes, belts, and bags.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is a near-synthetic leather or sometimes called the reconstituted leather. It is technically an amalgam of leather scraps, leather dust, vinyl, plastic, and glue. All these things are bonded together using polyurethane or latex on top of a fiber sheet. Furthermore, manufacturers spray-paint it to give a look and feel like a top or full-grain leather. You can't figure out the composition of original leather used in bonded leather unless the manufacturer tells you.


  • Bonded leather is the lowest grade of leather that doesn't survive the test of time.
  • An array of vivid colors is applied to its surface to give the product versatility in color options.
  • You will find the products made with bonded leather in many styles, textures, and colors.


  • It is commonly used in making furniture, bookbinding, low-quality handbags, inexpensive leather goods, cheap upholstery items, clothing, and fashion accessories.