Sometimes working with leather can be an intimidating task especially if you are unable to identify the different types. All consumer leather products (except raw leather of course) have a finish and it is important to know the industry terminology, especially when ordering directly from manufacturers.
The industry categories include Aniline (also called Natural), Semi-Aniline, Pigmented or Top Coated, Pull Up, Nubuck, and Bycast. Using your finger and a few drops of water these finish variations are easily identified.
Get your fingers wet and on an area that is not directly visible rub a small circle on the leather. If it penetrates the leather and leaves a slightly darker spot, it is Nubuck leather. If the water does not absorb then it is known as pigmented leather. If the water is absorbed but does not leave a dark spot then look for an inconspicuous area where there is a loose flap you can bend and flatten. Does the bent area have a much lighter color and areas of wear and tear that are lighter? If so then it is known as pull up leather. If it is not then it is called aniline leather. When in doubt repeat these tests again to verify results.
An aniline leather finish (also known as natural) is similar to stained wood. The surface has been colored with transparent dyes allowing the grain of the leather to show. Leather protector should be applied at the beginning of usage and a routine cleaning regiment of every 6 months is strongly suggested.
A semi aniline leather finish is a lightly pigmented finish in which small amount of color are mixed with the transparent coat to invigorate the natural appearance. Due to the thin coating it offers very minimal protection and a leather protector is recommended.
Pigmented or Top Coated
This is the most commonly used leather finishing technique. The finish is composed of an opaque basecoat of pigmented resins with a protective topcoat. There is no visible natural color of the leather making it easy to identify. This is the easiest type of leather to maintain and full refinishing of the leather is possible.
Another form of pigmented finish is known as “two tone.” In this process, the opaque basecoat is topped with a second color, often with an aniline coating. This builds depth to the appearance of the finish allowing for glaze or swirl patterns.
The term “pull up leathers” refers to waxy or oiled leathers. Another commonly used term for this type of leather is “Timberland” from the footwear producer that made the leather style famous. The name derives from the lightening of the leathers when stretched, bent, or “pulled up”. They do not have a protective topcoat resulting in t unique distressed looks with wear.
Nubuck is technically aniline leather that has been sanded to a fine, velvety surface. It’s often mistaken for suede, which is the flesh side of leather. It’s typically used in instances where there is minimal physical use and an elegant look desired. Due to it’s sensitive nature nubuck requires regular cleaning and care..
Bycast is the only leather finishing process that significantly differs from the pack. It’s usually used on split or heavily buffered leather and maintains consistency across nearly any hide. The process requires the creation of a finishing film on continual support or release paper. An adhesive is then applied to the film in order to press the film onto the leather. The finish leather is then removed from the paper producing a perfectly uniform finish. It’s a solid process for applying an inexpensive yet durable finish to the leather but it is ideal for leather with aesthetic issues. To identify bycast leather finishes you can apply pressure to the leather and the spot of pressure should revert back to the original color of the leather.
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