The 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.

At Grey and Sanders, our leather sofa comes with 3 options:

1. Top Grain (Semi-Aniline)

2. Italian Top Grain (Semi-Aniline Top)

3. Italian Full Grain “Jethro” (Full-Aniline)

You are about to find out what all these mean and which best suits your need and budget.

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See the Reilly Sofa in amazing brown Italian “Jethro”.

Our Italian Jethro leather is a full-aniline, full grain leather — the highest grade by designation. If you love the natural look of leather and how it ages and gain patina (natural blobs of shine and sheen) over time, this is for you.

Our Ashton Sofa exudes confidence in upholstered black Italian Top Grain leather.

The Italian Top Grain is a good alternative if you are constrained by the swatch selection available for the Jethro. Or if you have kids and desire a more stain resistant, cleaning friendly leather sofa. In terms of quality and durability, this high quality top grain is almost comparable to the Jethro, and is exquisitely processed to look as natural as possible. The Italian Top Grain is also known to develop some patina over time as if it is a full grain. Great for families!

If you are on a conscientious budget, our premium leather has the best value and money. You still get a semi-aniline top grain leather, which is the most common grade of leather sofas carried by many luxurious brands — because it is truly good enough (and the rest of the exorbitant price is to pay for their marketing).

We don’t carry “genuine” or “faux” leather because it is generally low grade and not durable enough for sofas. Our sofas are also fully upholstered with real leather, as opposed to the industry cost-saving practice to upholster less critical areas such as backing or sides with identical-looking faux leather.

Genuine vs Top Grain vs Full Grain

These terms categorise leather into different grades. Whilst all 3 grades of leather are real leather, that's where the similarity ends. They essentially refer to different parts of the hide (raw skin), which are vastly different in properties and cost.

Full Grain Leather Sofa

Full grain leather comes from the top layer of the hide and is considered to be of the highest quality and aesthetically exquisite due to the natural grains. Besides being highly sought after, the cost of the leather is also mainly attributed to the constraints in obtaining flawless hide and 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 its natural grains which is unique and tells 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.

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.

Top Grain Leather Sofa

Top grain leather is widely considered as the second highest grade of leather. Unlike full grain, 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.

With the outer layer of natural grains removed, top grain needs to be imprinted with imitation grains which gives its characteristic uniformed look. When done properly, top grain can also have great aesthetic appeal while retaining substantial quality and durability.

Top grain leather is often finished with protective coatings that reduces permeability of the leather to resist staining and ease cleaning efforts. However, this reduces the natural aging process and development of patina which you get with the full grain leather. Nonetheless, top grain is often a good balance between aesthetics and practicality, especially for families with kids.

With careful and considerate use, top grain leather will last and can develop character.

Genuine leather sofa

Genuine leather is the lowest quality of leather. It is usually made by bonding several layers of leftover leather (after either extracting full grain or top grain leather) and processed to improve quality and looks. The vast majority of sofas are made with this leather, and sometimes passed off as luxurious grades.

Full-aniline VS Semi-aniline

Full aniline or semi-aniline refers to the dyeing process to colour the leather.

Full-aniline leather

Our Jethro leather used on our sofa is full grain full-aniline leather. It is dyed exclusively with soluble dyes which penetrates the leather. This achieves the desired colour while retaining the natural look of the leather such as visible scars, pores or blemishes.

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

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.

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.

Semi-aniline application allows a more creative set of colours while retaining substantial benefits and looks of the leather.

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.

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.