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Upholstery Leather 101 - Aniline, Semi-aniline & Pigmented

Upholstery leather hides are tanned in large drums using chromium salts. Chrome tanning is preferable to vegetable tanning as the leather remains supple and receptive to color. Upholstery hides are then finished using a variety of techniques listed below. Natural markings on leather, often called “nature’s signature” may be present on hides and are the sign of fine leather. With proper leather care, upholstery leather will remain beautiful for many, many years and will not need replacing like textile and fabric.

Full Aniline Leather

Full aniline leather hides are colored using non-toxic aniline dyes but are not treated with a protective topcoat. Because of this it will quickly absorb natural oils and developed a rich patina. Aniline dyes are transparent so natural markings in the cow hide such as healed scars, finished scratches, insect bites and brands will easily visible. As a result, only the highest quality full grain leather hides with limited natural markings can be finished as full aniline. Full Aniline is also referred to as “naked leather.”

Semi-Aniline Leather

Semi-aniline leather hides are similar to full aniline hides with the addition of a thin layer of matching pigment applied to even out the color. The hide is then sprayed with a clear protective top coat giving maximum protection against stains and wear while retaining the natural look and feel of a full aniline leather. While often subtle, natural markings such as healed scars and scratches, insect bites and brands can be present. The vast majority of premium upholstery leathers are semi aniline.

Pigmented Leather

Pigmented leather has a layer of colorants sprayed onto the hide giving it a rich and uniform color. Next, a protective topcoat is applied giving it high resistance to spills, stains, fading, and scratches. A pigmented finish can be applied to both full grain leather or corrected grain leather. Pigmented leather is the most common type of upholstery leather and when well made, will have a highly durable finish. Pigmented leather is also used for automotive purposes. Leathers (with an ES in the name) in Our Collection are premium pigmented leathers for home upholstery.

Pull-up Leather

Pull-Up is a type of semi aniline leather with a silky wax topcoat added for protection. When this leather is pulled or stretched, the waxes cause the dyes to spread giving the hide a two tone or antiqued effect. Pull-up leather is commonly referred to as distressed leather as the wax topcoat easily scratches through normal use. These scratches will often be absorbed back into the leather and soften over time. This look is considered highly desirable for antiques, rustics and high end furniture. Pull-up leather is produced on the highest quality full grain leather.

Hand Rubbed or Hand Antiqued Leather

Hand Rubbed leather is a type of semi aniline that is finished by rubbing layers of aniline dyes onto full grain leather until the desired color is achieved. This process is done by skilled artisans who understand the interplay of colors where a patina of multiple rich tones is desired. A protective topcoat is added to the dyes offering protection against stains and wear. Because the cow hide is full grain, subtle natural markings such as healed scars, finished scratches, insect bites and brands can be present. Hand rubbed leather is highly desired for heirloom furniture, antiques and high end leather furnishings. See Our Collection for hand rubbed leathers.

Nubuck or Nubuk Leather

Nubuck is a top grain leather which has a slight nap that looks and feels like suede but is considerably stronger. Nubuck leather is typically treated with a protective topcoat to protect against stains and fluids but is more delicate than semi-aniline or pigmented leathers.

Embossed Leather

Embossing leather is simply a step in the finishing process where the cow hide is stamped or rolled under great pressure to create a new grain on the hide surface. Pebble grain may be the most widely known example but these also include faux animal prints and natural grains meant to mimic the original skin. Corrected grain leather is almost always embossed but full grain leather can be embossed as well.