The most important aspect you need to consider when shopping for a sofa is: leather grain. This is the surface material you’ll actually be sitting on. Do not be deceived by the term top grain. Most people assume top grain leathers are the best when, in fact, the term is describing the top layer being sanded off and a fake grain being stamped onto the hide during the tanning process. To make sure you are purchasing only the best grain, choose leathers that have been allowed to retain the original animal grain. Below details the different types of leather on leather sofas.
As the name suggests, this is not real leather. It is man-made leather made from synthetic materials such as plastic and rubber-coated fabric. Faux leather has come a long way as the technology has resulted in great improvements in the material composition, thus increasing the comfort level of such sofas. It is durable, looks like original leather and is the cheapest type of leather for furniture.
“Bonded leather” is a cheaper manufacturer’s first line of attack in selling you the look and feel of leather for a “great deal.” Unfortunately, bonded leather is hardly leather at all—by definition, it has to be only 17% leather. So leather is to bonded leather what chicken is to chicken McNuggets (or pressboard to wood, or dryer lint to fabric): In other words, it’s processed beyond recognition.
To create bonded leather, leather scraps and fibres are mixed together, and then formed into a roll using adhesives or other bonding materials. In fact, the manufacturing process is very similar to making paper. After the roll is formed, it goes under drying equipment to reduce the moisture content. Since it usually contains only 10 to 17 percent leather fibres, some industry experts do not consider it real leather and express concerns with it being marketed as such.
Bonded leather does has its advantage as a furniture material. Firstly, it is highly durable. Secondly, it contains low levels of environmentally unsafe formaldehyde as it doesn’t undergo chemical tanning and is therefore suitable for people with leather allergies. Lastly, bonded leather furniture is significantly cheaper than real leather.
In reality, a person sitting on bonded leather is not sitting on leather at all, only plastic. And unlike real top-grain leather, the ground-up hide and plastic will never acclimate to your body temperature or get better with age.
Bicast leather (also known as bi-cast, bycast, or PU leather) is what most people consider the next step up in quality.
Before a hide is put into production, it is cut horizontally into layers. These layers consist of the top grain (the top layer that maintains the actual surface of the cow’s hide where the pores and hair follicles used to be) and then every split below that.
Bicast leather is a layer of split which was too thin or flawed for normal use and that, like bonded leather, is completely sealed on top with a layer of polyurethane. Like bonded leather, no actual point of contact is possible between the natural leather and your skin and, therefore, bicast doesn’t demonstrate any of the same wear or comfort attributes of top-grain.
That being said, bicast can still serve as an economical alternative for people wanting the look of leather without the price. Another benefit might be that bicast and bonded leather wipe up easily (since they have plastic surfaces) and you won’t run into many of the food/drink stain issues you may experience with upholstered furniture.
It is made by gluing a sheet of polyurethane colour to a split grain. It has the appearance of top grain leather, at a fraction of the cost. Bi-cast does not age well. In fact, it cracks and peels when exposed to too much friction. So, make sure that you purchase bi-cast furniture knowingly and not because you were led to believe it is real leather.
After the removal of the top grain, you get split leather from the remaining part of the hide. This leather is harder and cheaper than full grain leather. Split leather is comparatively more fragile and gets easily damaged if not handled properly.
As mentioned before, a split is merely the lower layers of a hide underneath the top-grain. A split is still 100% real leather but does not have all of the characteristics of top-grain due to processing differences.
When a split is made, it is initially light-colored and fuzzy or suede-like on both the top and bottom of the hide so that it won’t look like top grain. On leather furniture, the traditional top-grain leather look is shiny, has natural variations in color (as a hide is a natural product with variations in thickness and quality and, therefore, withstands dyes differently), has a smooth and soft hand (or feel), and natural “pebbling” (the unique bumps that vary depending on from which part of the cow the hide was taken).
Because a split has none of these qualities, the split must be processed through various means to simulate the appearance and feel of top-grain leather. Although the result is still 100% leather, some softness is always lost through the processing procedures and natural variations in color and pebbling are no long evident as these hides are run through a uniform screen.
The leather, otherwise known as corrected grain or full grain pigmented, is taken from the outer layers of the hide and is the toughest leather type. Unlike full grain, top grain is usually buffed to remove any imperfections. Top grain leather furniture will typically be more expensive, but will have an incredibly soft feel and will be long lasting.
As stated above, the top grain is the smoothest, supplest, most natural, and best kind of furniture leather your money can buy. Each hide is as individual and unique as a fingerprint. Real, top-grain is comprised of about 12-14% water. For this reason, top-grain leather acclimates quickly to your body temperature. Leather is a natural product and thus breathes like one.
Top-grain comes in two different grades: aniline and semi-aniline. Aniline is the most natural and has no protective coatings or treatments that alter its natural feel. Because of this, it’s the softest but also susceptible to stains, while semi-aniline may be coated with a protective topcoat.
Many people who have experienced “sweating” on leather and are therefore turned off by the idea of leather furniture are referring to a leather product like bonded leather or vinyl. This is especially true in car seats that sit in the sun for hours.
This is top grain cattle rawhide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side, giving it the appearance similar to velvet and suede. It has a more uniform appearance because the exterior is sprayed with a finishing agent. It is cheaper as compared to full grain leather. However, nubuck furniture is fragile in nature and requires careful maintenance. A waterproofing treatment is mandatory to keep the material looking good.
The term full grain describes leathers retaining the imprints original to the hide and the animal it was taken from.
Full grain leather, is the leather that is formed just by removing the hair present on the skin of the hide. The whole hide is used, rather than just some layers of it. Except for hair removal and soaking in some form of natural dye like analine vegetable dye, it is basically untreated leather. No polishing and finishing is done to the grain. Although there may be imperfections on the leather, as it retains all of the original texture and markings of the original hide, this kind of grain tends to look and feel better with time. As such, it is usually the most expensive kind of leather furniture available.
Leather Coloring and Dye
Choosing the color of a new leather recliner or leather chairs is important for maintaining the appeal of your decor. The color you select for your leather furniture should be the one you are using the least in a color scheme. The colors of dyed leather can be brilliant. If the accessories, wallpaper and flooring all have the same color as your leather couch, you may find the furnishings to be overbearing. The color of your new leather couch can also be subtle and still add a great level of appeal.
When choosing colors for your leather sofa, consider what texture you prefer. Choosing semi-aniline leather allows a softer texture with a small amount of finish for adding a low level of protection against stains. Velvety, suede leathers have been sanded a great deal more than other leather choices. Suede provides a tremendous softness to the touch, but it is also the least resistant to stains than any other choices.
Leather that is too shiny can be a bad choice. Choosing leather that is not shiny and looks worn is best and more likely to be real leather. The patina leather gathers over time gives it a worn and classy look you can only achieve with properly tanned animal hides. Overstuffed styles with a few years of patina present a beautiful, well preserved vintage appearance. Many smoother styles can also gather patina around areas of hand tufting. If you are interested in buying a leather piece that has the worn, comfortable appearance of patina, you might consider buying a used piece. Some retailers offer used leather furnishings in great shape and they are sometimes more affordable.
Aniline leather used for furniture is dyed inside a special drum. The translucent quality of the dye allows the grain to show through, but it can also show imperfections, therefore only the best quality hides are used for this process. When leather is saturated with dye in the aniline process, the texture becomes a lot softer to the touch. This type of colorful leather may not be the best choice for families with children due it generally not having a protective finish added. Soft leather normally does have any protective finish added because it takes away from the luxurious texture.
Semi-aniline (also called protected aniline) leather is also dyed in a vat and has a small amount of coating applied, giving it slightly better protection against stains and fading than aniline leather.
Pigmented leather refers to when color is applied only to the surface, and not dyed through. While this color isn’t as rich, this process hides imperfections and adds durability.