Cortina's expert sales reps can help you learn what type of leather is best for different upholstery applications.
In the current environment of fast furniture and rapidly changing design trends, understanding the different leather types, and the raw materials used, will help you choose the right leather for each project. All the upholstery leathers Cortina sells are made on quality hides sourced only from responsible tanneries that meet Cortina's strict Environmental Stewardship and Social Responsibility standards. We only source hides from tanneries and areas where we can verify their sources, grades, and sustainability profiles, like the U.S., Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and certain areas of Central and South America. With proper care, all Cortina leather will last longer than any other upholstery textile currently available.
Choosing the best leather for your next project should not only take design aesthetic and budget into account, but also the specific usage, location, planned lifecycle of the furniture, and traffic levels. With 55+ collections, we offer a wide variety of leather designs and price levels—many stocked for quick shipment—and we also specialize in making custom leather. Rely on our team to ensure your selections are fit for purpose. Find your local Cortina leather specialist here: Find a Rep.
Sometimes called “naked aniline”, pure aniline leather is one that has been aniline dyed in the drum with no color (aniline dyes or pigments) added and only minimal other treatments applied in the finishing process. Typically a full-grain, premium-quality (top 3-5%) bull hide is used since this is the most natural looking leather possible. All original surface characteristics of the hide, including color variation, grain variation, and natural markings such as scratches and bug-bites remain visible.
Pure anilines may receive a light, clear treatment to make them water resistant. However, they are the least-protected leather classification and remain susceptible to staining, scratching, color fading, and will patina over time.
True leather lovers consider pure anilines to be the most beautiful of all leathers since they are the most natural. However, due to the premium quality hides needed, pure aniline leathers are amongst the most expensive leathers available. They are most suited for applications free from excessive stains and spills. Pure anilines are best used for design applications where patina, color variation, and natural markings such as scratches and bug bites are desired.
Aniline leathers (sometimes called protected aniline or aniline plus) is similar to pure aniline, except the leather undergoes additional finishing processes where clear treatments such as oils, waxes or protective coats and/or transparent aniline dyes are applied to even the color, protect it from wear and stains, or to create a different effect such as a distress or pull-up. Leathers classified as aniline are not treated with pigments. Aniline leathers can be either full grain or lightly buffed (mezzo fiore), and may include a light embossing for grain consistency, but the natural grain is not covered. Because only aniline dyes are used in the finishing process, aniline leathers will patina over time and are subject to color fading. Natural markings and color variation remain visible, and may even be highlighted by the finishing process.
Performance varies considerably amongst aniline leathers, as this classification includes leather treatments in the finishing process ranging from a minimal application of waxes, oils or aniline dyes to leathers which have a strong protective topcoat applied. Typically, however, abrasion and stain resistance for aniline leathers is greater than pure aniline leathers and less than semi-aniline leathers.
Depending on the wear characteristics, aniline leathers can be recommended for use only in similar situations as pure anilines up to and including high-stain and medium-traffic applications.
Leather which has been aniline dyed in the drum and finished with a process that includes a light surface coating of pigment for enhanced scratch and abrasion resistance as well as color consistency, but not so much as to completely conceal the natural characteristics of the hide. Semi-aniline leathers will exhibit a more consistent color and fewer natural markings than aniline leathers, but will reveal a more natural grain characteristic and more natural markings than pigmented leathers. Semi-aniline leathers include full grain and lightly buffed (mezzo fiore) leathers and the leather may be lightly embossed for grain consistency.
While all semi-aniline leathers are scratch resistant, will not patina and are less subject to color fading, abrasion performance and stain resistance can vary depending on the finishing process and the level of protection added in the top coat. Typically, however, abrasion and stain resistance for semi-aniline leathers is greater than aniline leathers and can in some instances approximate the performance of pigmented leathers.
Depending on the wear characteristics, semi-aniline leathers can be recommended for use in applications ranging from low-traffic to extreme wear and stain environments such as restaurants, office task seating, commercial airlines and automobiles.
A top-grain leather which has been aniline dyed in the drum, and then extensively finished to conceal natural markings and protect the leather form high-traffic usage. Pigmented leathers are buffed to remove natural markings like scratches and bug bites, finished with opaque pigments and protective top-coats, and strongly embossed (sometimes called “corrected grain”) for enhanced durability, stain and fade resistance, and to hide nearly all natural markings and imperfections.
Pigmented leathers typically have the strongest performance characteristics of all leathers, providing resistance to scratching, fading, staining, and abrasion.
Typically pigmented leathers are among the most affordable and are suitable for use in any environment including the most extreme such as office task seating, automobile, commercial aviation, and even marine applications.
Raw Material: Top grain and full grain fully explained
There is a misconception that full grain leather is better than top grain leather. The truth is much more nuanced and sometimes confusing, especially when fit for purpose is considered. Each leather collection is designed with specific characteristics and goals. Finding the best leather for each situation can and should be fun! Cortina's expert sales and customer service teams are here to help: Find a Rep.
Technically, full grain leather is top grain leather, as it is made from the top or outside layer of the hide (suede is made from the bottom or inside layer, the "split," after the hide is split into two layers). Here are general points on how Cortina Leathers classifies the raw materials used to create our finished leathers:
Top Grain (often called corrected grain leather):
- The topmost layers (epidermis) of the hide are buffed or sanded off to remove most or all of the natural markings. Because the markings are removed, the hides can be any grade, one of many contributing factors to the cost variation between leather lines.
- A corrected grain is added back to the hide by embossing with extreme heat. The embossings can be highly natural, making it difficult, even for experts, to know if the leather has been "corrected" once it's on furniture!
- The grain options are nearly endless: light and variable (like Caprone), deep and plump (like Cuyahoga), a decorative pattern (like Traverso), and more.
- After the sanding or buffing, the hide accepts dyes, pigments, and finishes consistently, which is preferred by most large furniture manufacturers. When you buy "genuine leather" furniture with consistent color and grain from big box stores, furniture chains, or large furniture manufacturers, you are most likely buying a medium to lower-grade, corrected, top-grain, semi-aniline or pigmented leather. But, it's still leather! And genuine leather made by expert manufacturers, such as Cortina Leathers, including corrected grain leather, is still the longest-lasting, most durable, and most beautiful and luxurious textile humans have ever produced! (We may have a slight bias on luxury—but not on durability—go ahead and try to name another textile that can last under repeated use for 50+ years, and get more beautiful as it ages!)
- Two main advantages: grain and color consistency across the hide and from hide to hide for higher yields, which is helpful when specifying for a 200-seat luxury event space, or furniture with large panels, like untufted banquettes, deep sofa cushions, or headboards.
- Because top-grain crust starts out like a blank canvas, the finished leather can be designed with a wide range of characteristics, including being made extremely consistent, durable, and cleanable—characteristics designers and buyers often ask us for.
Full Grain (sometimes called uncorrected grain leather):
- Full grain leather is buffed only very slightly to leave the top layers intact, usually with the intent to purposely showcase all the unique and natural markings inherent in leather, like stretch marks, bug bites, scars, brands, and grain variability. Each hide is unique! People who know and love fine leather believe these markings are a significant sign of luxury because they understand that making quality, natural, genuine leather is a highly labor-intensive and technical art form.
- Full grain leather is generally made from the cleanest and highest grade crusts and can be more expensive, but not always! Cortina's Bellina is a stunning heavyweight, full grain, uncorrected, designer leather offered at a very reasonable price.
- Sometimes the surface is buffed slightly more to allow for better adhesion of protective finishes, dyes, and pigments to customize the look, feel, and cleanability, but this process doesn't actively try to remove the natural markings since these are what give the leather character and a touch of added durability.
- Sometimes the leather is embossed with a corrected grain pattern to add texture or increase yield, but the natural markings remain along with the embossed grain. This is where it gets confusing because some people call full-grain leather "uncorrected" grain leather, yet the leather may actually be corrected on some level.
- The cost of upholstering with uncorrected full-grain anilines and pure anilines can be more expensive. Just like patterned fabric, the variable grain, color, and natural markings should be artfully placed on the different elements of the furniture, which takes skill and time, and also can decrease yield. But it certainly doesn't have to be! Here at Cortina, we go ga-ga when we see a chair with beautiful full-grain leather that has huge stretchmarks showcased on the seatback!
- Because full-grain leather keeps more of the outer, tougher fiber intact, it is often considered slightly more durable, although not always—crust thickness, grade, and process contribute too. This durability makes full grain leather desirable in high-traffic spaces in hotels, restaurants, and bars, and it is essential in highly repetitive-usage seating such as office chairs, airplanes, and automobiles. In addition, under the right conditions, high-quality, full grain leather purchased from a responsible upholstery manufacturer such as Cortina Leathers can last for several generations which is a great investment for heirloom furniture meant to be passed down. So don’t be shy! Add full-grain leather to any design to increase the luxe and longevity quotients. Click here to see Cortina's full grain Collina in all her glory.
Shown stacked here is Cortina's Brandenburg, a full grain semi-aniline made on the highest-quality, cleanest German bull hides, offered in over 40 colors, with a consistent grain and color. Click here to explore Brandenburg.
©Cortina Leathers 2023
What is pure aniline leather? What is aniline leather? What is semi-aniline leather? What is pigmented leather? What's the difference between full and top grain leather? What's the difference between top and full grain leather? What is full grain leather?