Top Grain Leather vs. Full Grain Leather | A Detailed Comparison Guide
Ever heard about the terms “full grain leather” and “top grain leather” and now wondering which one to choose for your next leather bag? These terms not only let you know what layer of the hide you are buying but also tells whether the top layer of leather has been altered or not. This might sound a bit technical right now but by the end of our comparative guide, you will be able to differentiate between the two terms and will also help you make the right choice for your requirement.
What is Full Grain Leather?
Full-grain leather simply means that only the hair is removed from the animal hide and it goes immediately into the tanning process without any further alteration to grain by buffing or sanding. The pattern of grain just below the hair is very tight, and the leather made from here is called "full-grain" leather. Additionally, since the grain is so tight, it resists moisture very well. Full-grain leather contains the entire grain layer due to which rather than wearing out, it develops a natural patina during its useful lifetime, which could be the most desirable characteristic for a leather lover.
Where does Full Grain Leather Come From?
Full-grain leather comes from the layer of animal skin just under the hair. It is the outermost layer of the hide which makes full-grain leather the most durable because the structure of the fibres is very tightly interlinked. Full-grain leather can come from any animal such as goat, cow, buffalo, pigs, crocodile, etc.
What is Top Grain Leather?
To get a more uniform finish and look of leather, the top layers of the hide are buffed and sanded out to get rid of imperfections and blemishes on the hide, such leather is called top grain leather. Top grain leather is imprinted with an imitation grain to give it a more uniform look. By sanding off the natural grain on the top layer of the hide, the strongest fibres in the hide also get removed, and hence it doesn’t remain as durable as full-grain leather. Some people equate top grain with corrected grain leather which is not always correct.
What is the difference between the appearance of full-grain leather and top grain leather?
Full-grain leather shows all its natural markings, veins pattern, and blemishes which adds a distinct character to each hide and makes it unique on its own. On the smooth, unaltered surface, you can even see the pores, fat wrinkles or growth lines, natural variations in the grain texture, shading, and small scars which are all-natural and not artificially imprinted. Full-Grain leather looks more natural and this characteristic makes it worth the extra dollars paid for it.
Top grain leather is buffed and sanded out to get a uniform and smooth appearance for various purposes such as to make leather thin for easy workability, for stamping textures and finishes of alligator, snake, crocodile, etc. on cattle leather hides. This can also be considered “corrected-grain” leather. So top-grain looks more uniform and does not have imperfections and blemishes appearing.
Which is more durable?
Full-grain leather is the highest grade of leather which is extremely durable and strong as the top grain layer is intact and the grains pattern is very tight due to which the full-grain leather goods develop a natural patina with usage instead of wearing out.
Top grain is less durable than full-grain because the top layer of grain which is the strongest is sanded off for a smooth finish. The top grain still remains durable enough for certain purposes.
Quality and Cost
Full-Grain leather is the highest quality leather you can buy. The cost of full grain leather hides is higher, also as the top layer has to be kept intact, manufacturers need to choose the highest quality hides with fewer imperfections. Also, the full-grain hides are difficult to work with which all lead to higher prices for goods made from Full grain leather.
On the other hand, Top-grain leather is the second-highest quality of leather available. It is comparatively less costly, easily available, and easier to work with which leads to lesser cost for the finished goods made from top-grain leather. Top grain leather is still used for many luxury products but its long life and future patina are compromised by shaving off the topmost layer of leather.
The durability and toughness of Full grain leather make it suitable for goods that see heavy and rough use and require long-lasting performance. While full-grain leather is widely used in manufacturing heavy-duty items such as weapon holsters and utility belts, it is also used for a premium range of furniture, dress shoes, work boots, dress belts, handbags, briefcases, duffel bags, wallets, etc. which do not get wear out with use but gets even better with each year passing by.
Top grain leather is not as tough as full-grain leather so it works best in applications where exposure to harsh conditions and rough usage is avoided. Top-grain leather is still appropriate enough to be used for luxury goods. It can be used for making handbags, leather satchels, wallets, purses, etc. along with a wide variety of other products.
How is Full Grain Leather Made?
The making of full grain leather is a lengthy and technical process. As we have already learned the full-grain leather is derived from the topmost layer of animal hide. Let’s look at the process of making full-grain leather in a bit more detail.
The process starts with an animal hide and at the end, we have a strong leather piece ready to be transformed into bags, shoes, or any other leather goods. The process basically includes the following steps-
The preparatory stages are when the hide is prepared for tanning. Preparatory stages include soaking of hides, hair removal, liming, bating, bleaching, and pickling for making it ready for the next step. In the end, a clean white surface should remain. Now, the hide is protected both in storage and transportation before it reaches the tannery.
The tanning process converts the hard inflexible material into flexible form. It converts the protein of the hides into a stable material by preserving the hide and halting decomposition. There are different types of tanning methods and processes used depending upon the end application of the leather.
After the tanning process, crusting is done to thin and lubricate the leather hides. It often includes a colouring operation.
How to Care For Full Grain Leather?
Whichever type of leather you decide to choose, it is important to take care for your leather using a mild leather conditioner or lotion. To clean your leather goods, first use a dry soft cloth to remove the dust on the surface, if further cleaning required you can use a lightly damp cloth in very gentle circular motions to clean any dust or dirt.
Avoid getting your bag wet if possible. If you ever get caught in the rain and your leather piece gets wet, gently blot away any drops of water and stuff the inside of the wet leather bag with newspaper to help it retain its original shape. This also helps in absorbing moisture from the interior. Now, let it dry naturally. Do not place your bag next to a radiator or attempt to dry it with a hairdryer because, like water, excessive heat may damage the leather and might take away its natural moisture and suppleness.
While both the type of leather is high quality and durable as compared to any other types of leather. Usually, many people are not informed about the terms Full-grain leather or Top grain leather and they instead fall for terms such as genuine leather. The genuine leather term does not define anything about the quality of leather; it simply means the product is technically made from leather.
Both full grain and top grain are top quality leather in line and which one is best depends on the final usage of leather. In terms of price, Full-grain leather is more expensive than top grain leather. Full-grain is the highest quality leather that you can buy. Full-grain leather products are functional and beautiful and provide great value for money due to their durability. If you’re looking for a product that will last you a lifetime and look better with each passing year, Full-grain is the type of leather you should select.