How Is Leather Graded?

The term "leather" is broad and used to describe many different types of leather, some of which aren’t genuine leather at all.

Generally speaking, leather is divided into five different grades: Top-grain leather, full-grain leather, split-grain leather, genuine leather and bonded leather. Here's what you should know about the types/grades of leather.

Types of leather

The grades of leather are used to describe not just the quality of the leather, but how the leather is treated. When caring for your leather, it's important to know what types it is so you can make sure it lasts as long as possible.

Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather is considered the highest quality, and is left in the most natural state: It is not split at all, and consists of the entire top layer of the leather. It is durable, and maintains many of the natural characteristics and inconsistencies of the leather.

Top-grain leather

Top-grain leather is also the top layer of the leather, but it has been sanded or otherwise treated to create a smooth, nearly perfect finish and texture. Because of that, it is slightly less durable than full-grain leather, and also less expensive. Many leather items are made out of full-grain leather because it is thinner than top-grain leather. That means top-grain leather easier to work with.

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Split-grain leather

Split-grain leather is the bottom layer of the leather, and is often suede. It has the top layer of the leather removed, and is generally thin and flexible. It should be treated carefully, as suede can be damaged if exposed to moisture and often cannot be treated with traditional leather care products like Leather Honey.

Genuine leather

Genuine leather is a catch-all phrase to refer to all types of real leather, but it is also used to refer to the bottom layer of leather that is processed to be thin and smooth. Top-grain, full-grain and split-grain leather are higher quality than genuine leather. 

Bonded leather

Bonded leather is a man-made material that is a mix of genuine leather scraps and faux leather like polyurethane. It is often called "faux leather" and contains very little real leather, which means it cannot absorb a leather conditioner. Bonded leather is known to break, crack and peel over time, and it not high-quality or long-lasting. It is a very inexpensive form of leather, however, and is often used to make affordable furniture. 

bonded leather sofa

What is the difference in the leather grades?

The major differences in the leather grades come down to how they are treated from the animal hide, price, quality and longevity. Full-grain leather is going to cost the most but will last the longest;items made with full-grain leather can often be passed down from generation to generation. Following that, top-grain is the highest quality.

leather care kit

More to Know About Types of Leather

Some common questions people have about the types and grades of leather.

What are the four basic types of leather?

The four basic types of leather are full-grain, top-grain, genuine and bonded leather.

What is the highest quality leather?

The highest quality leather is full grain leather. It is durable and looks great.

What is the best leather material?

The best leather material depends on your needs. However, generally speaking, full-grain leather is the best type of leather.


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