Frequently Asked Questions

Is full grain leather better than top grain leather?

All Topics  |  Fabric and Leather

I have some incredibly annoying news for you: Almost everyone talks about leather incorrectly. There's so much misinformation out there that, after having talked to dozens of people and read who knows how many articles, I still get confused.

But full grain is a type of top grain.

I know, I know. But I'm serious.

First off, the "top" in top grain does not mean "quality." It simply refers to the top, or outside layer, of the cowhide.

Top grain leather utilizes the outer layer, with some of the thick inner hide being shaved away to make a thinner leather hide that is easier for upholsterers to work with. (The inner hide that is shaved away? That is used to make suede.) Full grain leather still sees some of this shaving happen, but to a lesser extent. This is why full grain leather is often (though not always) thicker than top grain.

So then what's the difference between top and full? Well, full grain typically (though again, and annoyingly, not always) sees less correction done to the outside of the hide.

What does that mean? Cowhides are natural products, and each one will show a variety of unique characteristics and flaws. Think of scars, fat wrinkles, healed bug bits, and so forth. Full grain leather receives no (or, more likely, less) correction to those natural characteristics. If you look closely at full grain leather, you will see these character traits, with the end result being a more, well, natural-looking product.

Products marketed as "top grain" will have undergone a more aggressive corrective process. That means the top surface will have been sanded down to remove imperfections. It may mean that a texture — pebbling or similar — has been embossed into the leather using big weighted rollers.

You'll note that I haven't said that one of these leather types is better than another. Because...well, there are different types of leather for different applications. What I will say is that, because full grain leather typically requires a higher quality hide to begin with, it is often more expensive.

But keep in mind that, with leather, "more expensive" does not mean better, or softer, or prettier, or more durable. It's just more expensive, and its appropriateness for your home or business will depend on your needs as well as the specific leather line you're considering.

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