Photo of Leather Collars

Taking the Confusion Out of Leather

Photo of Leather Collars

Leather is the heart of many dog collars, leashes and other products here at sleepy pup.  It’s strong, durable, easily dyed a variety of colors and it’s very versatile.  Our leather items vary from timeless, classic looks to modern twists that match your own personal style.

Furniture or clothing stores nowadays bombard you with many different terms like Genuine, Real, Bonded, PU , Full Grain, Top Grain, Corrected Grain, Leatherette, Suede, Microsuede, and many more.  While there are some generally agreed upon terms in the leather industry, there is no single standards body and terms and manufacturing requirements vary from country to country.  As a result some less scrupulous companies, especially overseas, playing fast and loose with their marketing.

Leather itself is a general term, and covers most any kind of animal hide that has been tanned.  This process alters the protein structure of the hide to make it more durable and possibly to dye it a different color.  There are a variety of tanning techniques that result in different firmness, feel, water resistance, color and more.  While we won’t get into that here, if you’re looking for a more organic style of tanning look for Vegetable Tanned leather, also known as Veg-Tan or Veg-Tanned.  This process uses plant tannins and other plant based materials, and depending on the animal it normally results in a light pinkish tan color that will darken over time and with sun exposure to a rich brown.  This is a great option if your dog has allergies.

In an attempt to make things a little easier to understand, we are going to jump into the various terms to give you a little more ammunition when you are shopping for leather goods.  As there is no standards body, these terms are not 100% set in stone, and you will see different tanneries and suppliers use the terms in different ways with slightly different definitions.

Top Grain Leather and Split Grain Leather

In the tanning process, thick hides are split, or sliced, into two or more layers.  The “top” layer with the outer surface of the skin is the Top Grain layer.  The bottom layers are called Split Leather, and this is where Suede comes from.  The fiber structure in Top Grain leather is denser than Split leather, leading to a more durable product.

Full Grain Leather

Full Grain Leather has become the new “in” marketing term for leather goods makers.  It is Top Grain Leather that has not been altered after the initial shaving and tanning preparation.  While many companies say this is the highest quality leather money can buy, this is not always the case.  The quality of the leather ultimately depends on factors like the fiber density, consistency, scars and marks and the specific tanning process.  Shell Cordovan is a very high quality type of horse leather that sells for $100+ a square foot and it is not a full grain leather.  As well, there are plenty of full grain hides out there that are low quality.

Corrected Grain Leather

Corrected Grain is also Top Grain Leather, but its surface has been buffed or sanded down to eliminate scratches, markings and other naturally occurring blemishes.  This leather may undergo additional processes, such as sanding the surface to a soft velvet-like consistency.  This results in Nubuck, which is similar in feel to Suede but more durable.  Patterns may also be pressed onto a piece of Corrected Grain to give it specific look, such as a pebble grain pattern or a crocodile pattern to mimic other hides or to present a more pleasing and uniform pattern.


Suede comes from Split Leather, the bottom layer when a hide is initially split into two or more layers.  It has a soft, napped surface and feels great.  While it is less dense than Top Grain Leather, Suede is great for many products and still lasts a long time when treated well.

Bonded Leather and PU Leather

Bonded leather and PU Leathers are usually made of scraps.  Similar to plywood, those scraps are glued together in a sheet and polyurethane or another material is glued on top.  A grain pattern is then pressed in to give it a more natural appearance.  The resulting product is much less breathable than regular leather or suede, and is generally a lot less expensive.  While it is normally used as a cost-saving measure, t does have its uses though, as it is a little more stain resistant due to the various coatings.  If you’re looking for higher quality goods, you’ll want to avoid this.

Patent Leather

Patent Leather was traditionally fine leather that had many layers of linseed oil lacquer and other oils buffed on it to create a high-gloss waterproof sheen.  Many Patent Leather products today are made of cheaper hides with a plastic coating to give the same appearance of original Patent Leather without the cost.

Genuine Leather, Real Leather and More

Genuine Leather or Real Leather are terms that refer to most any leather, and depend on the country of origin and other factors.  It is more of a marketing term than a strict definition.  These products can range from an expensive full grain leather hide to glued together scraps.  Ask for more details if you see these terms on an item.

Wrapping Up

We hope you now have a better idea of leather terms, and we will go into detail about tanning processes and more in future posts.  Ironically, if you visit the websites of some of the finest U.S. Tanneries you won’t find Full Grain or Top Grain mentioned much.  Quality is more about the consistency of the hide, the tanning process, and finally the manufacturing process of the end product.  A good rule of thumb is that if you have questions about the quality of a product, ask away.  A reputable seller will answer them and provide you with as much information as possible about your purchase.


Leather Dictionary – A good and pretty accurate database of leather terms and definitions.