There are many different types of leather, and customers often have trouble keeping them straight. Two of the most common — and most confusing — are top-grain and full-grain leather.
Top-grain vs. full-grain
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Both top-grain and full-grain leather are genuine leather, which means they’re high-quality, made from an animal hide and can be treated with a deep conditioning leather conditioner like Leather Honey Leather Conditioner. The terms top-grain and full-grain are not used to describe faux leather.
Beyond that, these types of leather almost define themselves: Top-grain leather is made by sanding or buffing the top, outermost layer of the leather, which removes blemishes and creates a smooth, even finish. This also makes top-grain leather slightly thinner, which is easier for manufacturers to work with, and can make it easier to create a variety of products from the leather. On the other hand, it does make top-grain leather slightly less durable.
Full-grain leather is widely considered the highest-quality leather. It does not have that top layer removed, and in fact, full-grain leather is not split or sanded at all, which means it maintains all of the natural inconsistencies of the animal hide. It’s also thick and durable, and and is often among the most expensive leather available. On the other hand, it can be hard for manufacturers to work with thick full-grain leather, which means it may not be used at all for some items (or if it is, it may be significantly more expensive).
Differences between top-grain and full-grain leather
As noted above, full-grain leather does not have the natural blemishes and inconsistencies on the top layer of the leather removed, which means pores, scars and other marks may still be visible. That makes the leather appear natural and beautifully varied, but it isn’t the look everyone wants. On the other hand, top-grain leather is sanded and treated to remove that top layer, leaving a layer behind that is typically even and unblemished. In some cases, manufacturers actually treat top-grain leather to create some faux inconsistencies that mirror the look of full-grain leather.
Full-grain leather is thicker and more durable than top-grain leather, though it can stain more easily and show stains more visibly, because often top-grain leather is treated to protect against stains. But both types of leather are high-quality, genuine leather. If treated well, both top-grain and full-grain leather can last lifetimes and become family heirlooms.
Because full-grain leather is higher quality and thicker than top-grain leather — and because it’s generally considered more difficult to work with — it is nearly always going to be more expensive than top grain leather.
Both top-grain and full-grain leather should be cleaned and conditioned regularly, which can prevent dirt and stains from building up and keep the leather hydrated. We generally recommend cleaning the leather as needed and conditioning every six months, allowing the leather to dry completely at both stages. Be sure to store your leather in a dry area, away from sunlight or drying elements like heat.
The bottom line
Whether top-grain or full-grain leather is right for you depends on a few factors — namely, your budget and the look you hope to achieve with the leather. If you’d prefer a thinner, more flexible leather that is free from the natural variations from the animal hide, you may prefer top-grain leather. If you want the highest-quality leather that looks like leather — which means it has natural blemishes and inconsistencies — you may opt to go with full-grain leather.
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