2021 Ultimate Leather Guide for Sofas

You might have heard of terms like "genuine leather", "top grain" and "full grain", which refer to leathers obtained from different parts of cowhide. You might have also heard of the terms "full aniline" and "semi-aniline" which refer to how leather is coloured. A combination of these factors broadly constitutes leather quality. This guide serves to explain what these terms actually mean (no, the average salesman does not know) and better inform your purchase decisions.

leather swatches for sofa


Leather Grain guide

The “grain” of the leather refers to which part of the cowhide the leather is obtained from. Whilst all leather that comes from an animal is technically real leather, different parts of the hide offer vastly different properties, and hence the costs differ greatly.

In general, full grain is considered to be rarer and more expensive, followed by top grain and then genuine leather. However, to fully understand the distinction, we have summarised the information for you to read on below.

Full Grain Leather Sofa

Full grain leather comes from the top layer of the hide and is considered to be of the highest quality. It is durable and aesthetically exquisite from the visible natural grains. The high cost of the leather is also attributable to difficulties in obtaining flawless hide (cows accumulate scars in their lifetimes), as well the difficulty in craftsmanship.

Full grain leather has 3 main attractions. Firstly, it is extremely durable as most of the toughest fibres are in the top layer. Secondly, it retains the natural grains which tell a story in its imperfections and marks. Lastly, when full grain leather ages, it burnishes and beautifies by developing a pleasing patina. Patina are spots of sheen and shine that is a result of the leather absorbing traces of life around it — water, moisture, dirt, sunlight, or even natural body oils. Just like how Grandpa’s old leather briefcase bears the marks of many stories. If you want leather that ages nicely, full grain leather is for you.

Aged full grain leather sofas can develop interesting patina patterns.

Full grain leather is the way to go if you want something that will last and grow in character.

The Portage German full-grain full-aniline leather sofa is the top-of-the-line sofa we carry at Grey and Sanders. Learn more abuot our Portage sofa here!

A premium Italian full-grain leather sofa at an unbeatable price -- Reilly is another hot favourite from Grey and Sanders' exquisite range of leather sofas. Check out our Reilly 3 seater here.

Top Grain Leather Sofa

Top grain leather is widely considered as the second highest grade of leather. The outermost layer of the hide is removed to obtain top grain leather. This is done when the hide has too much imperfections and blemishes (which happens to a huge bulk of raw hide) and cannot be made into full grain leather. Doing so also reduces the toughness of the leather, making it easier to work with. As such, top grain usually has a larger variety of colours and finishes.

Genuine Leather / Split Leather Sofa

Genuine leather, also known as suede, is a lower quality of leather. It is also known as split leather, because it is what is left after the top grain leather is split from the hide. Made from the deeper layers of hide, genuine/split leather is less durable, and has no natural grains. Hence, this grade of leather is normally embossed with artificial grains to create some texture.

Bonded Leather Sofa

An even lower grade of leather is bonded leather, which is made by binding together loose leather fibres, sometimes with synthetic materials as well. This material does not have the natural toughness or texture of leather.


After a cowhide is flayed from the animal, it needs to cleaned, tanned, dyed, then finished. The first two steps stabilises the organic material, and prevents it from decaying. The last two steps bring the leather from a bluish-grey colour, to its final, luxurious look. This section explains come common processes for dyeing and finishing leather, and brings in the terms you may have heard of: "full-aniline" and "semi-aniline".

Full-aniline leather sofa

Full-aniline leather is dyed with aniline dye, which is soluble dye which penetrates the leather. This achieves the desired colour while retaining the natural look of the leather such as visible scars, pores or blemishes. Otherwise, alternative methods of colouring will mostly involve applying a topcoat to the leather which will substantially obscure the grains and diminish the natural look. For this reason, only high quality hide (full grain) with good natural appearance will be made into aniline leather. Consequently, full grain aniline leather is the highest grade of leather money can buy. Our Jethro leather used on our sofa is full grain full-aniline leather.

One can make out the grains and natural folds, characteristic look of a full grain, full aniline leather

Semi-aniline leather

Semi-aniline leather

Semi-aniline leather is produced through a very similar process to full aniline, but has a thin protective top coat added to protect it from wear and staining. Oil and wax can also be applied to achieve certain looks. In terms of practicality, semi-aniline leather usually has better stain and wear resistant properties than full aniline.

For this reason, it is mostly not applied to full grain leather and it restricts the natural aging and development of desirable patina. Often, semi-aniline dying is applied to top grain leather for enhanced looks and stain resistance.



Leather can be dyed and finished through processes that are less labour intensive. An example would be corrected leather, for which a topcoat of pigment is sprayed on the tanned hide, sometimes with additional coatings for protection or effect. As the leather is obscured by the top coatings, lower grades of leather can be used. Corrected leather is durable and consistent looking, and can be supple. However it neither has the natural beauty of aniline leather, nor can it develop a patina over time. It is less costly, since it does not require such high-quality hides.


Did you know? It is common industry practice to use lower quality leather for less important areas of sofas, or compromise finishing on undersides of chairs or tables. But, at Grey and Sanders, we don't.

We upholster our sofas with the same premium materials all-round, but yet absorb as much cost as we can. We also ensure that the underside of our tables and chairs are finished smoothly. Because we think it makes a worthwhile difference -- for we do not always interact with furniture in linear, predictable ways. Sometimes, we run our hands through the underside of furniture, and dangle our legs off the side of the couch absently. We pay attention to often neglected parts of a piece of furniture at Grey and Sanders.

We believe that our discerning customers can tell the difference in look and feel, and will do our best to meet their expectations!

Our Arya, Reilly and Ashton sofas are our entry-level sofas, and come upholstered in Italian full-grain full-aniline ("Jethro"), Italian top-grain semi-aniline ("Natural"), and top-grain corrected leather ("Bovine/Club"). more info about our leather options

Our Langham, Portage, Ashby and Beaumont sofas come upholstered in German full-grain full-aniline ("Verdura"), Italian full-grain full-aniline ("Raw"), top-grain semi-aniline ("Satine"), and correct-grain semi-aniline ("Brainne").more info about our Langham, Portage leather options

Want to know more?

Want to learn more about leather sofas before making your purchase decision? Feel free to Whatsapp/call to us at ‭+65 8371 8864 or visit our studio to meet with us in person at Tan Boon Liat Building, 315 Outram Road, Level 6-02.