WHAT IS ANILINE LEATHER?
If you read our article about Leather Grades, you’ll know about the different quality grades of leathers. Now, we’ll take a closer look at the best two grades, i.e. full and top grain leather. It is important to know that not every leather grade is the same and that they might be quite different in terms of look, touch, and durability. Generally speaking, there are three grain leather categories: aniline, semi aniline, and pigmented/protected.
This is the most natural type of leather which earned it the names Pure Aniline or Full Aniline. It is dyed with soluble dyes in vats so that the colour goes all the way through the hide giving the leather its lush and rich colour. In order to maintain the natural feel and look of the hide no protective coating or surface pigmentation is applied. Additionally, the leathers maintain their natural markings and texture which contributes to the authenticity of the leather. However, the lack of treatment might render the leathers more susceptible to scratching, staining, or fading and might show some colour variations on the surface of the hide.
Some aniline leathers are sanded of buffed to create an open nap; the result is called Nubuck. These leathers are the softest kind available and have a beautiful, almost velvety, feel. Yet, they are also the most susceptible to fading or staining due to the open nap.
Semi Aniline Leathers
First things first: In this case "semi" is actually a misnomer, as it does not mean partial. A more appropriate name for semi aniline leather would be aniline plus pigment due to the way it is created. The process starts the same way as for aniline leathers. However, whereas the treatment of full aniline stops after the dying, semi aniline leathers are further treated. So, after the leather is aniline dyed, a slight protective coating, which can contain some additional pigmentation, is applied to the top of the hide to guarantee a consistent colour. Due to the pigmented coating some blemishes will be concealed leaving a more uniform surface texture. Additional finishes can then be applied to the leather either by hand or by machine (e.g. antique looks or exotic leather optics). In the end, a clear protective coating is applied to make the leather stain repellent and sun resistant. The sheen of this coating can be adjusted to give a matte or glossy finish.
Just like the other two types above, it is dyed all the way through the hide. However, the surface is then coated with a heavy protective topcoat which includes pigmentation. Any kind of blemishes or imperfections are removed through buffing or sanding and then embossed with an artificial grain. At the expense of a deep rich colour and a luxurious feel, pigmented leathers are treated with spray coating which makes it more durable. Therefore, pigmented leathers are the least natural grain leather but also the most durable.
You need to keep in mind that all three types are very good leathers, as they are grain leathers, as opposed to split leathers. So, it really comes down to personal preference. If you care more about the authenticity and beauty of natural leathers, you should go with full or semi aniline. If your main concerns are durability and costs but you still want high-quality leathers, protected leathers are right for you. The bigger the surface area (bags, sofas etc.) the more important it is to know about grain leathers when trying to pick the right leather for your needs.