Cow Hide Leather Glossary
Aniline dye: A transparent dye made from coal tar used to color to leather hides.
Aniline leather: Leather that has be put in a large drum and soaked with aniline dyes until they are completely absorbed through the hide. Also referred to as "struck through leather."
Brand: A permanent mark made by a hot iron on the skin of a cow to identify ownership. Brand markings are highly valued especially for rustic and western style upholstery items and are easily visible on full grain and even some corrected grain leather. See our Natural Markings chart.
Buffed leather: Leather from which the surface grain is removed through sanding to make the surface more uniform in preparation to be embossed. This process is used to create corrected grain leather.
Chrome tanned leather: Leather tanned with chromium salts resulting in soft hides that are preserved indefinitely. Chrome tanned hides are finished mainly into upholstery leather.
Corrected grain leather: Leather that has been “corrected” through buffing away natural markings and major blemishes on the leather’s surface. Once the surface is uniform it is embossed typically into a natural or pebble grain pattern and pigmented (colored). The majority of upholstery leather is corrected grain.
Cowhide or cow hide: Leather from various species of cow and oxen.
Crust: A leather hide that has been tanned with no additional finishing - it can remain this way indefinitely.
Distressed Leather: A broad term that is used to describe leather that is usually multi toned and has the appearance of being aged or antiqued with a nice warm patina. Leather with a pull-up finish is often considered to be “distressed.” See Pull-up Leather.
Drum dyeing: A process in which leather hides are immersed in dye and tumbled in a rotating drum allowing full penetration of the dyes through leather pores and fibers.
Embossed leather: A process where the cow hide is stamped or rolled under great pressure to create a new grain on the surface of the hide. Pebble grain may be the most common example but can include countless faux animal prints, designs and natural grains meant to mimic the original grain of the hide. Embossing is typically applied to corrected grain leather.
Fat wrinkles: A unique natural marking commonly found in the neck and belly of the cow resulting from the loose skin cows must have for grazing and growth. These markings are not present in corrected grain leather and are often prized by leather enthusiast. See our Natural Markings chart.
Finish: Generally defines a surface application on the leather to color, protect or mask imperfections.
Finishing: Refers to all processes such as embossing, coloring, top coating, etc. applied to leather after it has been tanned. See Upholstery Leather.
Full grain leather: Leather in which the grain or surface of the hide has not been altered in any way except for the removal of hair. Natural markings are visible but are not excessive or unsightly when finished. Only 10-15% of all hides can be finished as full grain upholstery leather with the most becoming corrected grain. Full grain is the highest quality and most valued leather.
Grain: The surface texture of the hide.
Hand: An industry term used to describe the softness of leather. We use the term “feel.”
Hide: The skin of the animal.
Hump Hole: A narrow hole or slit along the spine in leather hides typically 6-15 inches long. The hole is a result of a large hump on the back of the neck among certain breeds of cattle such Brahman cows that must be removed during tanning. Hump holes typically do not impact yield and are increasingly common in upholstery leather. See Natural Markings chart.
Kipskin: Leather of a young cow.
Leather: A hide that has been tanned and is non-perishable.
Leather Fabric: A general term similar to leather material that simply means genuine leather from the skin of an animal. This is different from upholstery fabric which is a textile material.
Leather remnant: A broad term used to describe leather pieces that are neither whole nor half hides. Leather remnants can include very small pieces (1-2 sq ft) often called leather scrap up to ¾ whole hides and similar large pieces also called leather partials. Our leather remnants typically range from 10-30 sq ft. See our Leather Remnants category.
Matte finish: A low sheen finish ranging from flat to satin.
Milling: A hide is tumbled or "milled" in a large drum to produce a supple and pliable leather.
Natural Grain: A broad term used to describe leather that has a surface texture that is either in its original state (more accurately know as full grain) or an embossed leather where a natural skin pattern has been pressed onto the leather to mimic its original grain.
Natural Markings: Healed scars, scratches, insect bites, fat wrinkles and other markings common to cow hides. These markings are often visible in full grain leather and considered by many as the true sign of premium leather. See Natural Markings Chart.
Naked leather: A leather which has been aniline dyed and received no protective top coat. Often referred to as full aniline leather.
Nubuck: A top grain leather whose surface has been buffed and brushed to create a soft, suede like look and feel. Nubuck is much stronger and durable than suede but does not have the wear and stain resistance common to other top grain leathers.
Patina: A natural coloration that develops on full aniline and nubuck leather through the absorption of body oils that can darken and enrich the character of the leather over time.
Perforated leather: Leather that has small holes cut into the leather to form a pattern and most common used for automotive purposes.
Rawhide: Untanned leather.
Semi-Aniline: Aniline dyed leather that has received a thin layer of pigment to even out the color without masking the leather’s natural markings. A protective top coat is added for resistance to wear and stains.Most high end upholstery leather is semi-aniline.
Sheen: A term we use to describe how much light reflects off the surface of the leather – or how shiny it is. We used matte, medium, soft gloss and high gloss.
Side: Half a hide cut along the backbone. See Leather Sizes and Shapes.
Split leather: Leather made from the bottom split of a hide with the top split being top grain leather and the split being the bottom or inner grain. This leather has no natural grain so it is either embossed or processed into suede. The split is inferior to the top grain both in thickness fiber strength and typically found in garment and cheaper upholstery. We do not sell splits.
Suede: A velvety brushed leather made from the split or inner layer of the hide often used in garments and linings. We do not sell suede.
Tannins: Substances from plants and tree bark used in tanning vegetable leather.
Tanning: The process of converting raw hides into “crust“ or a non-perishable state.
Top coat: Synthetic resins applied as a protective coating to make leather more resistant to wear and fluids.
Top grain leather: Top-grain leather is the top layer of the hide. Top-grain leather may be full grain leather, which is not buffed or sanded and maintains all of the hide’s natural markings, or corrected grain leather, which is buffed and sanded to remove surface markings. The surface of corrected grain leather is made smooth and typically embossed with a natural or pebble grain pattern before finishing. See our Upholstery Leather section for the different finishing techniques.
Upholstery leather: Typically a soft, richly colored leather whose most common applications include: furniture, automobiles, aircraft, handbags and other leathercraft.
Vegetable tanned leather: Leather tanned using vegetable tannins. Vegetable tanned leather is firm unless extensively milled and is commonly used for tooling and saddlery. See What Type of Leather Do I Need.
Whole Hide: The entire hide of the animal versus a side or remnant.
Yield: The amount of usable leather from a hide after all waste and imperfection have been removed. Typically 75-80% of a standard hide is usable yield. See How much leather can I get from a hide.
The Leather Buying Guide was created by Hunter Schofield, LeatherHideStore.com.