Choose the best leather type for your project and get answers to your questions like, "What is aniline leather?"

Choosing the best leather type for your project (pure aniline, aniline, semi-aniline, or pigmented) and the ideal raw material (full grain, top grain, or split) 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 and over 700 skus, we offer a wide variety of leather designs and price levels—many stocked for quick shipment. We also specialize in making custom leather: 20% of or sales are for custom requests. Cortina has something for every style and budget. Rely on our team to ensure your selections are fit for purpose. Find your local Cortina leather specialist here: Find a Rep.

In the current environment of rapidly changing design trends and fast furniture, understanding leather will help you choose the right pattern for each project. All the upholstery leathers Cortina finishes and sources are made on quality hides from responsible tanneries that meet Cortina's strict Environmental Stewardship and Social Responsibility standards. We only source raw material 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.

What is pure aniline leather?

Choosing the best leather type for your project. Utah is a pure aniline full grain and heavy weight leather made in Italy on bull hides

Sometimes called “naked” leather because it is the most natural and un-treated leather, pure aniline leather is one that has been dyed with only aniline dyes (no pigments have been added) and only minimal other treatments applied in the finishing process. Typically, full-grain, premium-quality (top 3-5%) bull hides are used. All original surface characteristics of the hide, including color variation, grain variation, and natural markings such as scars and bug-bites remain visible. For leather connoisseurs, pure aniline is the highest quality, most authentic upholstery leather, however, it is not fit-for-purpose in many applications.

Wear Characteristics

Cortina's pure anilines have received a light, clear treatment to make them slightly water resistant. However, they are the least-protected type of leather and remain susceptible to staining, scratching, color fading, and will definitely gain a lovely patina over time, which tells a story about the furniture.


True leather lovers consider pure anilines to be the most beautiful of all leathers since they are the most natural and authentic. However, due to the premium quality crust needed, pure aniline leathers are amongst the most expensive leathers available. They are most suited for applications free from excessive stains and spills and design applications where patina, color variation, and natural markings such as stretch marks, brands, and bug bites are desired and seen as part of the character and history of the piece.

Shown here is Utah, an exceptional quality full-grain pure aniline made in Italy that has a light protective finish.

Now that you know what pure aniline leather is you can find the perfect applications to make your discerning clients happy.

What is aniline leather?

Cortina Leathers' Allora upholstery leather in Phantom Grey is a highly protected aniline leather suitable for high-traffic spaces.

Aniline leathers (sometimes called protected aniline or aniline plus) are 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 different effects such as a distressing or pull-up. Leathers classified as aniline are not treated with pigments. Aniline leathers can be either full or top grain and may include a light embossing for grain consistency. Because only aniline dyes are used in the finishing process, nearly all aniline leathers will patina over time and are subject to color fading. Depending on the raw material used, natural markings and grain variability may be purposely highlighted by the finishing process.

Wear Characteristics

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 treated with a strong protective finish. 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 in similar situations as pure anilines but also in higher-stain and medium-traffic applications. Cortina carries four aniline lines with Crypton protection which are suitable for higher-traffic locations including eating areas: Allora, Café, Como, and Florence.

Shown here is Cortina's Allora, an aniline with a modern smooth finish that is designed for minimal patina, has a unique designer color story, and is well protected by Crypton, suitable for all interiors. 

Now that your know what aniline leather is, specify one to truly elevate the luxury quotient of your next design.

What is semi-aniline leather?

What is semi-aniline leather? learn here. Cortina Leathers Cuyahoga Beach Glass is a semi-aniline made in Ohio USA and protected by Crypton.

Semi-aniline leather has been aniline dyed in the drum and finished with a process that includes a light surface coating of pigments for enhanced scratch and abrasion resistance as well as color consistency, but not so much pigment 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 more natural grain characteristic and more natural markings than pigmented leathers. Semi-aniline leathers are made on full and top grain hides and the leather may be lightly embossed for grain consistency to increase yield.

Wear Characteristics

While all semi-aniline leathers are scratch resistant, they will only patina minimally 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. Please use Cortina's performance code as a guide. 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.

Shown here is Cuyahoga, a top grain semi-aniline made in the U.S. with added Crypton protection and offered at an amazing pricepoint.

Now that you know what semi-aniline leather is, which high-traffic project will you specify it for?

What is pigmented leather?

What is pigmented leather? Learn here. Cortina Caprone leathers in brown, gray, blue, charcoal and black. Choosing the best leather type for your project

Many pigmented leathers are top-grain leathers which have been aniline dyed and then extensively finished to conceal natural markings and protect the leather from high-traffic usage. Pigmented leathers are finished with opaque pigments and protective top coats for color consistency, enhanced durability agains abrasion and scratches, stain and fade resistance, and are embossed with highly natural grain patterns (sometimes called “corrected grain”) to hide most of the natural variation, markings and imperfections. This greatly improves yield.

Cortina makes several custom full-grain pigmented leathers for the automotive and aviation inudstries and for use in high-traffic bar and casino settings where extreme durability and cleanability are essential. Full grain pigmented leather used on airplane seating, the most used and abused seating, lasts four times longer than vinyl.

Wear Characteristics

Pigmented leathers typically have the strongest performance characteristics of all leathers, providing resistance to scratching, fading, staining, and abrasion.


Piigmented leathers are among the most affordable and are suitable for use in any environment. Nearly all mass produced, non-custom furniture sold upholstered with leather that has no color or grain variation has been upholstered with top grain pigmented leather. For extreme traffic and soil-prone seating (cars, airplanes, bars, boats, task chairs, and casinos) where color and grain consistency and durability are essential, full grain pigmented leathers are used for added strength and durability. With proper care these leathers often outlast the foam and frames.

Shown here is Caprone, a soft pigmented leather with good color consistency and a sophisticated, extremely natural looking "caprone" grain.

Now you know what pigmented leather is! Where wil you use it next?

What is the difference between top grain and full grain leather?

Cortina's Brandenburg is a full-grain semi-aniline made on the highest quality German bull hides and offered in over 40 colors. 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? Choosing the best leather type for your project
Beautiful and natural stretch marks are showcased on seating at the Pierre Hotel in NYC. Choosing the best leather type for your project
Cortina Leathers custom Hair on Hide wall in Barrys Downtown Prime restaurant in the Circa, Las Vegas.
Cortina Leathers Chaps collection of genuine suede leathers. Choosing the best leather type for your project
Cortina's Chaps Arctic (98-41) is shown: a deep blue suede sofa with brass ball detailing. Choosing the best leather type for your project
Cortina's Bremen genuine pure aniline nubuck. Choosing the best leather type for your project

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-tor-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.

Both full grain and top grain crust, the raw material used to make finished leather, are made from the top or outside layer of the hide (suede is made from the inside layer, the "split," after the thick hides are split into layers—an early step in the tanning process). The outside or top layer is the most durable due to it's unique and strong fiber character. Even though you'll learn below that top grain leather is sanded or buffed in the tanning process, top grain leather often has more protective finishes built in, one of the reasons why they are eaqually durable.

All four leather types described above (pure aniline, aniline, semi-aniline, and pigmented) can be made on either full grain and top grain crust, and since each leather line is designed with specific purposes, fully understanding the difference between the two will help designers make more informed leather decisions that are fit-for-purpose.

Below are general points on how Cortina Leathers classifies the raw materials we use to create our finished leathers.

Top Grain Leather

(often called corrected grain leather):

  • The topmost layers of the hides are buffed or sanded for several reasons:
    (1) to create a base surface primed for a wider variety of unique leather designs such as waxy distressed, oil pull-ups, exotic embossing, etc.
    (2) to reduce the appearance of natural grains and markings
    (3) to improve finish adhesion
  • A corrected grain is almost always added back to the hide by embossing with extreme heat. Many of the embossing patterns can be highly natural, making it difficult, even for leather experts, to know if the leather has been "corrected" once it is on furniture!
  • There is also a nearly infinite number of natural, exotic, and decorative embossings available to designers: light and variable (like Caprone), deep and plump (like Cuyahoga ), a decorative pattern (like Traverso) to name a few. Click here to view the many animal and decorative patterns available in the Cortina Emboss Program.
  • Top-grain leather is perfect for custom orders. Your fit-for-purpose mission can be achieved: color, sheen, price point, lead time, grain style (natural, exotic, decorative), leather type, performance level, U.S. made, etc.
  • After the sanding or buffing, the hide accepts finishes, dyes, and pigments more consistently, which is preferred by most large furniture manufacturers. When you buy "genuine leather" furniture with consistent color and grain pattern accross entire panels from big box stores, furniture chains, or large furniture manufacturers, you are most likely buying corrected, top-grain, semi-aniline or pigmented leather. If the furniture is inexpensive, the leather was very likely sourced from China, India, Pakistan or other areas not meeting Cortina's strict Environmental Stewardship and Social Responsibility standards, and likely not made on the grade of crust that Cortina uses. Genuine leather made by expert manufacturers such as Cortina Leathers, including our top grain leathers, is still the longest-lasting, most durable, naturally sustainable, most beautiful, and most 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 decades under repeated use, and gets more beautiful as it ages!)
  • Two main advantages: grain and finish 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 most often ask us for.

Full Grain Leather

(sometimes incorrectly called uncorrected grain leather):

  • Full grain crust is not buffed or sanded, leaving the top layers intact with the intent to purposely showcase all the unique and natural markings inherent in leather, like variable grain, stretch marks, bug bites, scars, brands, and wrinkles. Each hide truly is unique! People who know and love fine leather believe these markings are a significant sign of authenticity and luxury because they understand the unique qualities of each hide and that making exceptional quality, natural, genuine leather is a highly technical and labor-intensive art form. Designers who specify full grain pure aniline and aniline leathers are turning custom furniture into one-of-kind art pieces!
  • Full grain leather is generally made from higher grade crusts and tends to be more expensive, but not always! Cortina's Bellina is a stunning heavyweight, full grain, semi-aniline leather offered at a very reasonable price and in designer colors.
  • The surface is sometimes buffed very slightly (mezzo fiore— Italian for half flower) 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.
  • Sometimes full grain leather is also lightly embossed to enhance the natural grain pattern for added consistency to increase yield, but all the natural markings remain along with the lightly embossed grain. This is where it gets confusing, because some people call full-grain leather "uncorrected" grain leather, yet the grain may actually be corrected on a small level.
  • The cost of upholstering with uncorrected full-grain anilines and pure anilines can be more expensive. Just like patterned fabric, the variable grain, natural tones, and unique markings should be artfully placed on the different elements of the furniture, which takes skill, thoughfulness, and time, and also can decrease yield, depending on the grade of the crust. Here at Cortina, we love to see a banquette with beautiful full-grain leather with huge stretchmarks showcased on the seatback! Click here to see gorgeous Collina with stretchmarks artfully placed on seating at the Pierre Hotel in NYC (also shown in photo on this page).
  • Because full-grain leather keeps more of the outer, tougher fiber intact, it is often considered more durable, although not always—crust grade, thickness, and finishing process contribute to durability as well. This durability makes full grain leather desirable in high-traffic spaces in hotels, restaurants, and bars. Full grain leather is essential in extreme repetitive-usage seating such as task chairs, casinos, airplanes, and car seats. These seat cushions are often subjected to items in peoples' back pockets which can puncture or tear into seat cushions. Full grain leather is the best textile to defend against tears.
  • Cortina offers full grain pure anilines, anilines, and semi-anilines for hospitality, commercial, workspace, and residential showroom. We also offer custom full-grain, corrected, pigmented leathers for automotive, aviation, and task chair seating—usage that demands the most extreme durability which only genuine leather can offer.
  • Under the right conditions, high-quality, full grain leather purchased from a responsible upholstery manufacturer such as Cortina Leathers is the highest quality available and is ideally suited for high-traffic spaces. It also can last for several generations when specified for residential use, creating heirloom furniture meant to be passed down. So don’t be shy! Add Cortina's full-grain leather to any design to increase the luxury and longevity of your designs. Click here to see Cortina's full grain Collina in all her glory.

Now you understand the difference between full and top grain leather!

Suede Split & Nubuck

They may look similar, but they have distinct characteristics.

Suede is made using the inner layer or “split” of the hide. Hides are quite thick so they are split into two early in the tanning process. The underlayer is then sanded to producing a uniform soft and fuzzy look and feel, without any of the natural markings inherent in the outer layer of the hide.

Cortina's Chaps suede collection is dyed twice for color consistency and vibrancy and the matte, fuzzy finish is perfect for pairing with other leathers or fabrics for dimension and luxury.

Suedes are sold in 20 sq.ft. clean, usable panels.

Suede and nubuck may look similar, but they have distinct characteristics. Nubuck is created by sanding the outermost surface of a full-grain leather of the highest quality, resulting in a luxurious, brushed nap that adds a soft organic look to a space. Nubucks are typically pure anilines treated only with aniline dyes and a water repellent to aid in stain resistance, although sometimes a light wax or oil can be added, as well as a grain texture to create additional variety and interest. All nubucks carry the strength and durability of a full-grain leather, making them more resistance to puncture or tearing than sueds. And all nubucks highlight and celebrate the natural markings inherent in full-grain anilines and are loved by true leather aficionados.

Nubucks are sold in full, irregularly shaped hides averaging 55 sq.ft.

©Cortina Leathers 2024

Can leather be cleaned? Yes! Click to read about care and cleaning of the various types of leather.

Click to see visual representations of various hide sizes.

Click to find your local sales rep to help in choosing the best leather type for your project.

Photos shown in this section:

1. Stacked - Cortina's Brandenburg, a full grain semi-aniline made on the highest-quality, cleanest German bull hides, offered in over 40 colors, and featuring consistent grain and color. Click here to explore Brandenburg.

2. Gorgeous stretchmarks artfully placed on seating at the Pierre Hotel in NYC.

3. Barry's Downtown Prime designed by Punch Architecture with several Cortina leathers.

4. Cortina's vibrant Chaps suede collection

6. Chaps suede in Arctic (98-41) on a custom sofa

7.  Bremen, a gorgeous full grain nubuck, exclusive to Cortina Leathers

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?