Prehistoric man first used animal hides for clothing and mobile shelters some 10,000 years ago! Today, leather is ever more popular, and used in a vast array of applications from the simple sandal to trendy wall panels and beautiful cabinetry. Sophisticated production processes make it possible to produce an array of beautiful hides in a bewildering number of finishes - so how do you make the right choice for your application?
This page contains a basic introduction to the main types of hides. However, there are no hard and fast rules regarding suitability for different applications, so do please ring us, and we will be delighted to help you make the right choice for your project and price point. For further information, we have put together a more detailed glossary of terms used in leather production.
Aniline Leather is the purest form of leather. The hides used will be of the highest grade, and will be dyed in a drum with Aniline, an organic chemical dye, rather than spray-painted with a pigment. This means that natural growth-marks and scars will be visible, which make each hide unique, evidence of the finest leather. The Aniline, often mixed with oils, soaks through the hide rather than being sprayed on top, resulting in the softest feel and richest look. Aniline leather is desirable for all uses for leather, but it does require some care through its life, so it is not practical in all situations.
Semi-Aniline leather, as the name suggests, is similar to Aniline leather, but not quite! In order to provide a slightly more durable finish, a topcoat with some pigment (colour) is added, providing an extra degree of stain resistance and a more uniform colour across the hide. As a result of this process, the leather becomes somewhat stiffer and cooler to the touch, and its natural markings are less visible.
Pigmented leather might/might not have scarring or marks. A topcoat of pigment is sprayed on, possibly with other topcoats for protection or effect. The top surface may be scoured back and embossed with a grain or pattern. This is known as Corrected Grain leather. These processes make very durable and consistent looking leather, which will however be surprisingly supple.
As a natural product, leather will take up dyes in different ways from hide to hide, so there may be slight variations in colour across the hides. This is most likely to be noticed in Aniline leather and is considered to add to the character and to the natural feel of a piece. However if the style required is for more consistent colour, then Semi-Aniline or Pigmented leather are a better choice.
If we are used to buying fabrics, but not leather, it is sometimes a surprise to find that leather does not come on a roll! Hide sizes can vary considerably, and depend on the age, species and sex of the cow. Most European cow hides range between 40 to 60 square feet and are an irregular shape, so need to be considered when covering large items as extra stitch lines may be required to join up multiple hides.