Leather Glossary Terms

78 Must-Know Leather Glossary Terms

When I started out in the world of leatherwork, learning all the leather terms and grains used in the trade was a major challenge.


But not anymore.


With practice and consistency, I’ve come to learn a lot about leather. This includes:


  • The tools needed for effective leatherwork 
  • How to use these tools
  • Different leather grains and textures
  • Different leather tanning methods

I’d like to educate you on the most commonly used leather terms and techniques, to help you choose only the highest-quality leather products.


So, scroll to discover 78 different leather terminologies.

A

Altered Leather

Leather with its hide’s original surface removed (normally due to imperfections) and a new grain embossed. Some top-grain leathers have altered grains.

Alum Leather

Leather with its hide’s original surface removed (normally due to imperfections) and a new grain embossed. Some top-grain leathers have altered grains.

Aniline Dye

A colorless, oily dye produced synthetically from coal tar products to add color to leather hides (2).

Aniline Leather

Leather that’s been soaked in organic-based aniline dye until the dye is fully absorbed through the hide. The dye preserves leather’s natural characteristics, letting the original surface characteristics remain visible. 


Since it is dyed and not coated,  the hides absorb the dye with different consistencies, making the color inconsistent throughout, as shown in the image below.

Chromexcel leather that’s dyed using aniline dyes
Holding up a side of English Tan Derby Leather ​​

Learn more about aniline leather here.

Antiqued Leather

Any leather dyed with one color over the other (normally darker over lighter) for a two-toned effect that creates an artificial aged appearance. Also called distressed leather.

B

Back

The main part of a rawhide (3). It's obtained by cutting the hide longitudinally, then trimming off the belly and head to leave behind a shoulder and “bend”.

Base coat

Normally the first finish coat is added to a leather surface.

Bating

The process of treating skins with pancreatic enzymes to make them soft. The enzymes eliminate unwanted skin components, making the final leather soft.

Blue, In The

State of hides tanned once using chromium salts. The salt gives the hides a light blue color before they are dyed.

Blue Split

Hide or skin split into two or more layers during the chrome-tanning process.

Boarding

The process of softening leather.

Boardy Leather

Used to describe stiff, unpliable leather.

Bonded Leather

Leather scraps shredded and glued together with PVC or latex to create flat sheets. It has the smell and appearance of leather. However, it contains as little as 20% of real leather, hence considered the cheapest leather grade.

chair made with bonded leather
Chair made with bonded leather​​

Break

Describes the wrinkling of leather when its grain is folded inwards. A fine break indicates good quality leather, but a coarse break reveals poor quality.

Fine break—an indication of quality leather
Fine break—an indication of quality leather​​

Breathability

A key feature of full-grain leather. Its grain and pore-structure allows it to adjust to temperature and wick away moisture and body heat, making it super comfy to sit on, carry, or wear.

Popov Leather belts made with breathable, full-grain leather
Popov Leather belts made with breathable, full-grain leather​​

Brushed Leather

Leather or grain that’s been gently brushed to create a soft, furry texture when making suede.

Buffed Leather

Leather from which the top surface has been removed using an abrasive or bladed cylinder to smooth out the imperfections.

C

Chromium Salts

Minerals used in the tanning process to make leather pliable and durable.

Chrome Tanned Leather

Leather tanned using chromium salts and/or other tanning agents to make the leather supple, soft, and varied in color.

Corrected Grain Leather

Leather with the top grain or imperfections partially removed to achieve a desired look or functionality. It’s also called top-grain leather and is second in quality to full-grain leather. 


A good example of corrected grain leather is Horween's Chromexcel leather.

Cowhide Leather

Leather tanned from the hides of the bovine species (cattle). 


Below is a cross-section of a cowhide, showing where every leather grade comes from its split.

cowhide’s cross-section showing different leather grades
C​​owhide’s cross-section showing different leather grades

Crust

Leather that’s been tanned and dried but not finished.

Curing

Treating rawhides, usually with salt, to prevent bacterial action or putrefaction.

D

Deerskin

Finished leather but with its grain surface left intact. It’s high-quality, super supple, tough, and water-resistant, often used for clothing and accessories.


NOTE: When the grain surface is removed, it’s called a buckskin.

Degrained Leather

Leather with its grain removed after tanning through sanding, abrasion, or splitting.

Drawn Grain

Describes the shrunken state of leather resulting from poor or inappropriate handling of hides during the tanning process. 

Drum Dyeing

Application of dye to leather through immersing the leather into a tumbled drum. This process allows full penetration of the dye into the fibers.

E

Embossed Leather

Normally corrected grain, in which a pattern is applied to mimic the characteristics of full-grain leather or to resemble another type of leather, such as alligator or lizard.

example of an embossed leather
Full-grain alligator ​​leather

Enhanced Grain

Leather that's lightly buffed to enhance its surface. It's also embossed to add a decorative texture or provoke an attractive pattern.

Exotic Leather

Animals reared for meat and/or dairy consumption make up 99% of the world’s leather source. Leather from any other animal is considered exotic.


See the differences in leather production of each animal species in the following table.

Species Approx. Percentage Leather Production
Calves, Cows, Zebus, Water Buffaloes 67%
Sheep 13%
Goats 12%
Pigs 7%
Exotics (Crocodile, snake, ostrich, turtle skin, chicken legs, cow belly/stomach, fish leather) Less than 1%

Image source: Leather Dictionary

F

unique marks or wrinkles form

Fat Wrinkles

Unique marks or wrinkles that form in the grain because of fat deposits in the animal’s skin. They are one of the key indicators of real leather since they aren’t visible in faux or imitation leather.

fat wrinkles on a Popov Leather mouse pad
Popov Leather mouse pad natural​​

Finish

Application administered to leather after it’s tanned for various reasons such as:


  • Improving its color 

  • Masking its natural features

  • Hiding its imperfections

  • Making it more stain-resistant

Finishes include buffing, rolling, waxing, tipping, embossing, waterproofing, flameproofing, glazing, and pigmented spraying.

Popov Leather belt with a glossy finish
Popov Leather belt with a glossy finish​​

Full Grain

The outermost layer of skin or hide which has not been altered or corrected in any way, but only had its hair removed. It possesses the original grain of the animal, giving the leather its distinct style and appearance. 


It’s also the most valued and highest-quality leather available.

 full-grain leather—the highest quality leather
The highest  full-grain ​​quality leather

Full Hand

Leather that’s full-bodied and robust, like some combination of tanned leathers.

G

Glazed Finish

Glossy, smooth finish that’s done by polishing leather with glass or steel rollers under high pressure.

Grain (Character)

Natural markings on a leather surface.

Grain (Leather)

Outer part of the skin or hide with wrinkles, pores, marks, and other characteristics that make up the leather's natural texture.

leather grains visible on the paintbrush roll
L​​eather grains visible on the paintbrush roll

Grain Split

The outer layer of hide or skin that’s split into two or more layers.

Grained Leather

Any type of leather with the natural grain changed by any method, manipulation, or process.

H

Hair-on Hides

Leather that’s tanned without removing hair on its skin or hide.

Hand

Also referred to as leather temper. It’s a term used to describe the texture or feel of leather, such as softness or pliability. Every hand matters, depending on the product you’re making.


For instance:


  • Firm leather is ideal for solid products like belts.
  • Medium leather is excellent for bags.
  • Soft leather is great for straps.
Popov Leather camera strap made with soft leather
Camera strap made with soft high-quality​​ leather

Hand Rubbing

Blending of colors to create a tone-on-tone effect. It’s done to add character and depth to the leather.

Hide

  1. The skin of mature or fully grown animals such as cattle, horses, and elephants.
  2. Leather made from the skin of these animals that has not been split.
  3. Leather from the grain split of their hides.

NOTE: Pelts (skin with its fur or wool) from smaller animals like sheep and goats are called skins.

I

Imitation Leather

A false copy of real leather. It’s made to look or feel like genuine leather, but it isn't. Instead, it’s made with materials such as rubber and rubber compositions, coated fabrics, and plastic.


Also known as a leatherette, synthetic, vegan, faux, or fake leather.

L

Laminated Leather

Leather with an added surface layer of polyurethane foil or other materials. This is done for various reasons:


  • To give the product a look and feel of real leather
  • To make the product waterproof
  • To increase the product’s durability, making it last longer

Leather

The general term for a skin or hide of an animal with its fiber structures intact. It's treated to keep it flexible and rot-resistant.

roll of Horween natural Chromexcel leather
A roll of Horween Natural Chromexcel Leather​​
Did you know? During the 17th century, leather was used as a stylish wallpaper in Italian homes, especially in Florence and Venice. Having your walls covered in leather was considered so fashionable.

Leather Weight

Refers to how thick a piece of leather is. It’s measured in ounces (oz.)—one ounce is equal to 0.4 mm or 1/64 inches of thickness.


The table below shows the different leather weights in ounces, inches, and millimeters for a better comparison.

Ounce Inches Millimeters
1 1/64 0.4
3 3/64 1.2
5 5/64 2.0
7 7/64 2.8
10 5/32 4.0
15 15/64 6.0
measuring leather thickness
Measuring the thickness of English Tan Horween Leather​​

Liming

A part of the tanning process where unwanted hairs are removed from rawhides by soaking them in strong alkaline solutions.

M

Matte Finish

A smooth, dull, or flat finish added to chrome-tanned leather products such as shoes and handbags.

Milling

The process that makes hides supple.

N

Naked Leather

Dyed leather with no topical application that can change or mask its natural state.

Natural Grain

Leather that's retained its original grain.

Popov Leather’s natural leather toiletry bag
Leather toiletry bag natural​​

Nubuck

Leather slightly brushed or buffed to produce a soft, fuzzy texture. It’s made from top-grain leather, where fibers are closer together and stronger. This makes it durable and high-quality.

P

Patent Leather

In the initial stages, patent leather is processed just like other high-quality leathers. It’s only at its final stage that it’s coated with oils, synthetic resins, or a glossy varnish to give it its characteristic lustrous, mirror-like surface.

patina hallmark of real leather

Patina

A beautiful luster or sheen that develops gradually on the surface of leather. It is a hallmark of real leather and is loved because it adds character and beauty to any leather product. 


All Popov Leather products are made with full-grain leather, which develops a rich patina over time, making them a top favorite to many leather enthusiasts.

"Very happy with this wallet...Has a thick leather with a rich patina that looks more and more beautiful every day…"

Erick, Norway ★★★★★ Verified Reviewer

Join our Patina Club to earn points and rewards anytime you make a purchase.

rich patina developed on Popov Leather wallets
R​​ich patina developed on Popov Leather wallets

Pearlized Leather

Leather that’s colored and with a pearl-like luster.

Perforated Leather

The process by which small holes are die-cut to create a pattern. These holes and patterns may have varying sizes and densities.

Pigmented Leather

Leather finished with a pigment coating to hide imperfections, increase durability, or maintain consistency in color and texture.

Pleather

Plastic fabric made to resemble genuine leather.

PU Leather

Synthetic leather made from polyurethane to have a similar feel and touch of real leather.

Pull-Up Leather

Leather treated with oils, dyes, and waxes so that when it’s pulled or stretched, its finish becomes lighter in the pulled areas. It’s another mark of quality leather.

R

Rawhide

A hide removed from an animal’s body, but has only been treated to preserve it before the tanning process.

Re-Tanned Leather

Leather subjected to secondary tanning with the same or different tanning method used during initial tanning.

S

Semi-Aniline Leather

Leather that's been aniline dyed, then added a light surface coating of pigment to increase durability and improve color consistency.

Shrunken Grain Leather

Full grain leather that’s shrunken to enlarge and give the grain surface uneven folds.

Side Leather

A piece of grain leather cut into half to form two sides to accommodate the tanning equipment effectively.

Skive

A term used to describe the slicing or splitting of leather into a thin layer to reduce it to the desired thickness.

Split-Grain Leather

Leather created during the splitting process when the fibrous bottom half is separated from the top grain of the hide. It’s mostly leather leftovers, hence not recommended for making quality products.

split-grain leather at a glance
S​​plit-grain leather at a glance

Suede

Leather made from split hides and finished by buffing or brushing to create a soft, fuzzy texture similar to nubuck.

T

Table Run

Leather that’s not graded. It’s cheaper and used to make low quality leather products.

Tanning

Process by which rawhides and skins are converted into finished leather.

Top Coat

A transparent, protective coating applied to a leather surface, which may give it a glossy or shiny finish.

Popov Leather wallet coated with a pale wax
Popov Leather wallet coated with a pale wax​​

Trimming

Removing hide parts that aren’t suitable for making leather, such as outer edges.

U

Unfinished Leather

Naked or aniline leather without additional application meant to color, finish, treat, or strengthen it.

Unprotected Leather

Leather without a protective coating. It’s softer than treated or protected leather.

V

Vegetable Tanning

Conversion of rawhide into leather through vegetable-based tanning agents or extracts to enhance or modify the hide.

W

Wet Blue Leather

Leather that’s not been processed further after chrome tanning and sold in its wet condition.

Y

Yield

Amount of usable leather produced from a hide after all imperfections and wastes have been removed.

Popov Leather—Your One Stop Shop for Everything Leather

cut leather pieces ready to make leather products
C​​ut leather pieces ready to make leather products

All Popov Leather products are highly durable, made with the highest-quality leather, and manufactured with great attention to detail.


Browse the entire collection of our products here. From ready-made wallets to DIY Kits, you’ll indeed find an item for you. 


For any inquiries, do not hesitate to contact us. Our team of leather experts will respond to you in no time.

Article by Ryan Popoff


Ryan Popoff is the CEO and Co-Founder of Popov Leather. He has absolutely no business background, in fact, he graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Ryan's leather goods business was born from a hobby at the dining room table and a passion for technology (ecommerce in particular). Ryan calls Nelson BC his home where he's raising his family and enjoys spending the odd afternoon at a local craft brewery.


Ryan Popoff

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