Understanding the different types of Leather used today
We’re going to teach you how to understand different kinds of leather so you can get the most pleasure from your leather products. All too often, fake leather or mostly-fake leather is passed off as genuine. If you’ve ever handled both, you know they are not the same. When you’re done reading this, you’ll know how to tell the difference yourself.
Leather is the tanned skin of any animal, most often cow, goat, or sheep. Cow is by far the most common form of leather. Leather comes in several different grades. The outermost layer, or top grain, is the most desired type of leather. Top-grain leather can be split into different thicknesses for different purposes.
If the original skin is too scarred or marked, the outer layer can be sanded down and then imprinted with a simulated image of top-grain leather. This is called embossed or corrected grain. The leather quality is still good, but it’s not a natural pattern.
Once the top grain leather is removed, there’s almost always inner layers of skin left over. This is split-grain leather. Suede, sometimes used as a book covering for its soft fuzzy feeling, is made from split-grain leather. Split-grain leather is weaker than top-grain leather. It is also more difficult to clean. However, it still makes an adequate covering for books. Top-grain leather can also be scuffed up to look like split-grain leather when thicker pieces are needed.
The thickness of any leather is measured in ounces. Each ounce is equivalent to 0.4 mm of thickness. Most bookbinding projects will use leather no thicker than 6 oz.
There are two products that don’t pass the leather test. The first is synthetic leather, such as the BASICS Notebook we reviewed. This is made from plastic, as usually costs much less. It is pretty easy to detect synthetic leather with a few tests, which we’ll go over in a moment. The second type of leather is made of leather scraps and a binder, much like how particle board is made of wood chips and glue. This type of leather is weak, but if there is at least 51% leather in the final product it can be sold as genuine leather. Avoid this product. It can crack or break easily.
Checking for real leather
There are many ways to check for genuine leather:
Burn it. Fake leather will melt and smell like plastic. Real leather burns clean.
Smell it. Leather has a particular scent, but it’s possible to fake it.
Feel it. Real leather feels warmer to the hand compared to fake leather.
Mark it. Try digging a fingernail into it. Real leather will take the mark, but fake leather will not.
Tanning and allergies
Once you know your leather is real it’s time to check the tanning. There are three forms of tanning you’re likely to encounter. The first, vegetable tanning, uses natural ingredients but is slow. Chemical-tanning is much more common due to its speed. There are two chemical-tanning methods: chromium tanning and aldehyde tanning. Aldehyde-tanned leather was developed as a replacement for chromium, which can often cause contact allergies.
If you are looking at an undyed piece of leather, you can tell the way it was tanned by looking at the edge of the piece.
Vegetable-tanned leather has a tan edge.
Chromium-tanned leather has a grey edge.
Aldehyde-tanned leather is white, often all over.
If the leather has been dyed, you’ll need to take care because the tanning colors won’t be present. If you know you have an allergy to chromium, you’ll need to stick with vegetable tanned leather, such as the NOISE GOODS Leather Journal we reviewed.
Now that you know the basics regarding types of leather, you can say goodbye to imitation products! If you’re concerned about the quality of any leather journal or notebook you’re looking to purchase, ensure you double check with the manufacturer. Feel free to use this article as a helpful resource.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jake & Bella are both young professionals who reside in sunny Queensland, Australia. Jake is an executive within the medical tourism industry and Bella is a young PR & Journalism graduate. Both use journals and notebooks as part of their daily life, whether it's taking notes, creating concepts, planning projects or showing some gratitude. Both have a keen eye for what makes a high quality journal that's a pleasure to own and use. Visit the Our Team page for more info on this bother and sister duo.