Guide: Understanding Leather Types



A few years back, a leather sofa was likely to set the buyer back thousands of dollars. Recently, leather sofas are commonly advertised and are often priced at seemingly affordable prices. However the recent drop in cost comes the hidden trade-off: not all leather sofas are created equal. In fact, some are not really leather at all. Cases of unhappy customers emerged, some having bought 'leather' sofa that is revealed to be more plastic than animal, while others have found their furniture peeling and cracking in ways that genuine leather should not. Without any national standard for leather labelling, knowing exactly what you are buying when you see the word 'leather' on a label is an uphill task.

Understanding leather

According to British Standards Institute, leather are defined as: "Hide or skin with its original fibrous structure more or less intact, tanned to be imputrescible. The hair or wool may, or may not, have been removed. Leather is also made from a hide or skin that has been split into layers or segmented either before or after tanning."

The amount of surface coating applied to the leather influences whether or not the item can be described as 'genuine' leather. "If the leather has a surface coating, the mean thickness of this surface layer, however applied, has to be 0.15mm or less."

In a nutshell, there are three basic types of genuine leather:

  1. Full grain: The full hide of the animal has been used with minimal interference. It's the most durable kind of leather but also the rarest and usually the most expensive.

  2. Top grain: Top grain leather is the uppermost layer of the animal hide which has been buffed and polished.

  3. Split: Split leather is taken from the bottom of the hide; it's fairly fragile but it is the cheapest type of leather available.

Corrected-grain is another common description, referring to any of the above leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. Any imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain embossed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes.

Shop with awareness

While the definitions sound straightforward, if you go shopping for a leather sofa, you might see the words 'cow hide leather', 'genuine leather', '100% leather' or made-up names like 'Lucia leather' or even 'bonded leather' instead.

None of these names give any indication of what kind of leather is being used or if indeed it's leather at all. Bonded leather, despite the name, has more in common with synthetics and is technically not considered leather.

Other pieces of 'leather' furniture may have the 'contact areas' (such as the seats, armrests, vertical seat backs and rolls) upholstered in leather,while 'non-contact areas' (such as the outside arms and back) upholstered in a leather-like synthetic material such as vinyl or leather in varyingly quality. These trade off in material quality might result in undesirable peeling or stickiness over time.

Questions to ask before your purchase

Before selecting a leather product, customers are encouraged to ask these questions, so you know exactly what you're getting before you commit to buying a new leather sofa.

  • "What type of leather is this sofa?" Go for full grain or top grain leather, depending on your lifestyle and budget. Be wary of anything else, including split leather, bonded leather, pleather, faux leather, bicast, and synthetic leather.

  • "Is this leather used all over the sofa?" A sofa might have real leather on the seats and the tops of the arm rests, but not on the back or the sides. These will deteriorate faster than the leather parts.


With these helpful insights and tips, go forth fearlessly and select the leather sofa of your dreams!

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Greyhammer Furniture Singapore offers customisable sofas with premium fabric, imported leather with hundreds of color options. Built with a kiln-dried hardwood frame for sturdiness and durability and removable covers, Greyhammer’s leather sofas are made for the everyday living.

To view Greyhammer’s full collection of leather and fabric sofa, head down to their showroom (link) or visit