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How to Tell If a Leather Product Is High Quality

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Leather is known for its durability, versatility, and amazing potential aesthetic value. However, not all leather products are created equally. Some leather products are much better than others, offering greater overall quality, more longevity, and an even better appearance.

But how can the average person tell if a leather product is high quality?


Leather is graded, based on the type of material being used and how it’s processed. Generally, this list is organized from the best grades (at the top) to the worst grades (at the bottom).

  •       Top-grain. Top-grain leather is a type of leather that includes the outer layer of the hide. This type of leather has fine, very densely packed fibers that give the material much more strength and durability. Especially thick examples of this leather may also include some corium, which is an even more fibrous lower level of the hide.
  •       Full-grain. Full-grain leather is a subtype of top-grain. This contains the entire grain layer, with no efforts made to remove any portion of the surface. Lower grades of leather may wear out over time, but this type of leather develops a patina instead.
  •       Corrected grain. Corrected grain leather is another subtype of top-grain. The surface is at least slightly finished, usually in an effort to create a more uniform appearance. Specific flaws in the green are sanded and buffed away.
  •       Nubuck. This slightly lower-grade version of top-grain leather has been sanded or buffed even further, creating a surface that’s smooth enough to feel like velvet.
  •       Split-grain. Split-grain leather is made from corium after the top-grain layer has been removed from the hide. Bicast leather, patent leather, and suede are all examples of split leather.
  •       Bonded leather. Bonded leather, which is sometimes referred to as reconstituted leather, is an assemblage of pieces of leather that have been shredded and bonded together using a fiber mesh or polyurethane.
  •       Genuine. Sometimes, you’ll see leather referred to as genuine leather. However, this is not an official grade. Instead, this term usually refers to a type of split leather that has been heavily processed, hypothetically making it the worst “grade” of all. Keep in mind that the term “genuine leather” is used differently in different jurisdictions.


Even within a grade tier, leather can vary based on its origin. U.S. steerhide leather is considered the best in the world, though there are some worthy contenders that rival it in terms of quality. Leather that comes from the United States tends to be highly reliable, so it’s a safe bet to stick with if you’re unsure about the origin of another leather.


Leatherworking is a skill that takes many years, and sometimes decades to fully develop. The quality of a leather product depends heavily on the skill, knowledge, experience, and commitment of its crafter. Ideally, you’ll procure your leather products from people who genuinely know their craft. Look for people who have a strong reputation in this field. 


In Japanese aesthetics, the concept of wabi-sabi proclaims that beauty lies in imperfections. In the world of leather, this applies as well. As you’ve seen with our exploration of different leather grades, imperfections can actually be a good sign; lower graded, more processed leathers are ones that have been modified, processed, buffed, sanded, and reformed to have a more consistent, uniform appearance. If the leather looks somewhat inconsistent, and it comes with some small flaws, take it as a good sign that this leather is strong and durable.

Color and Appearance

Similarly, you can look at the color and appearance of leather. Natural and inconsistent are always better than unnatural and consistent. While there’s nothing wrong with coloring leather for a different appearance, this is a process that can compromise the leather quality.


If you’ve ever been around real leather, you know it has a signature smell. It’s quite powerful and unmistakable. If the leather product you’re examining doesn’t have this smell, it’s a sign that the leather has been combined with other materials or that it’s been heavily processed. While not a total red flag, it is something to keep in mind.


Though we don’t recommend that you apply flames to any leather product, there is a little test that can tell you whether the product you’re examining is made of “real” leather. If you apply a small amount of heat, via flame, to a real leather product, it will curl and warp slightly, then return to its normal shape when the heat is withdrawn. Fake leather will often warp, but it will never return to its original shape.

Finding the best leather products isn’t always easy. But now that you know more about how leather products are made and how leather itself is graded, you’re in a much better position to find what you need.

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