What You Should Know When Specifying Leather (PDF Brochure)
Here’s what you should know about when specifying leather:
- Raw material (geographic region, selection)
- Tannages (chromium, vege, chrome-free)
- Embossing (texturing)
- Finishing (coloring, tipping, etc.)
You should care about these topics because you want to:
- Choose leather products that are suitable to their application and the client’s expectations
- Know your options when dealing with budgets
- Educate your client
- Raw Material is Key
Care and climate affects the quality of leather hides. Cows raised in cooler climates, that graze on open ranges, and that have good veterinary care, have fewer defects (e.g. scratches, bites). Cows raised in hotter climates or that roam among barb wired fences have more defects.
Additionally, species of cow differ in size and shape. US cows, for example, tend to be smaller than European cows. Many South American cows are Zebus (they have large humps).
Remember that “defect free” doesn’t necessarily mean most desired and appreciated. Natural characteristics are often valued by leather connoisseurs. As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Why Does it Matter How Leather is Tanned?
Until a hide is tanned it’s a rawhide. To create a supple product, leather is either chromium or vegetable tanned. Chromium tannages, introduced in the 19th century are the preferred method for tanning leather. A chrome tannage yields a soft hand. Vegetable tanning is used when firmer leather is required.
Full Grain, Top Grain… Who Cares?
Full grain and top grain leather refers to the overall quality of the leather. Full grain leather tends to be relatively defect free (i.e., doesn’t need correction), and is undisputedly the leather of choice for clients looking for a product that ages beautifully over time.
Top grain leather refers to leather hides that need additional processing (i.e., “buffing”) to reduce or eliminate imperfections. Top grain leathers receive a heavier top coat of pigment to smooth out the finish and to give the leather protection against minor scratches and spills. Top grain leathers are ideally suited for heavily trafficked areas.
Why is Leather Dyed?
Fine upholstery leather should be dyed close to the final finish color. Dying the crust (i.e., tanned hide) to match the finished color helps to mask superficial scratches that can occur during normal wear. Budget leathers may well be produced on mismatched crust colors.
Why Is Leather Embossed?
Most people think embossing is simply for decorative purposes. Plating (embossing with a natural looking grain) is also common. If desired, plating can give a full- or top-grain leather a uniform look, or make a flat looking leather come alive.
The Finishing Process
Finishing (or top coating) is the final step to giving a leather product its unique characteristics. The purpose of finishing is to modify the leather’s color and to provide a protective surface.
Aniline dyed leather refers to a finished product that has been fully colored without the use of pigments.
Aniline dyed leather is a connoisseur’s delight. The natural grain is easy to recognize, and all the hallmarks of the leather are evident (e.g., fat folds, neck wrinkles, even minor scarring). Semi-aniline dyed leather refers to a lightly pigmented protective finish that gives the leather a more uniform appearance, and stain and water resistance.