What is Top Grain, Full Grain, and Genuine Leather: Exploring Leather Qualities

Leather grain types (also called qualities) – it`s a rather complicated thing for those unfamiliar with the industry. Top Grain – actually without the highest top layer of animal hide. Full Grain – only the top two layers, not a full hide. Genuine leather – is the lowest quality. Why it’s so confusing, you may ask?

But it’s important to understand the differences when buying leather goods. The grain type of leather determines its quality, appearance, and feel. Knowing the various options is essential for finding the leather product that fits your needs or the perfect piece of leather for your crafts. In this article, we’ll take a look at the grain leather meaning, different types of leather grain, and what they mean in terms of quality.

Full Grain Leather and Top Grain Leather

As the two highest qualities of leather, Full Grain and Top Grain are known for their durability. They contain the top layers of animal hide, which provide resistance to wear and tear. Also, the grain layer has an intricate pattern of bumps and ridges known as grain patterns, that give leather its distinctive look and feel.

The layers of top grain leather and full grain leather types

What is Full Grain Leather?

Full Grain leather – it is the highest quality available, made from the top layers of animal hide. Or in some cases, from a whole hide without splitting. It makes it incredibly strong and resistant to wear and tear. But also hard to work with when producing leather goods.

You can identify Full Grain leather by natural marks and scars on its surface. This type of high-quality leather contains all the natural grain patterns which give it a unique look that can stand out from other materials. All these scars and marks give your leather item its individual character and make it really unique. However, for those who search for a monotonous texture without marks, it is rather a disadvantage.

From wallets to sofas, Full Grain leather provides a long-lasting product that will never go out of fashion. Not only does it give your furniture and garments a luxurious look but also provides the highest durability so you can enjoy them for many years or even decades!

To remember this leather quality, just notice, that Full Grain leather contains a full grain layer of animal hides – the most durable layer. That is why it`s the highest quality.

What is Top Grain Leather?

Top Grain – is the second-highest quality after Full Grain. This type of leather has been sanded down to remove imperfections from its surface, making an even look and feel overall. Because of this, it has no natural marks or scars. 

The leather grain layer is thinner than in Full Grain, so it can be more pliable and easier to work with when producing leather furniture or upholstery. But, despite being relatively thin, the durability of Top Grain leather makes it a great choice for furniture, car interiors, clothing, and accessories.

So, how long does Top Grain leather last? With proper care, Top Grain leather can remain in good condition for decades. But it is important to understand the basics of how to look after and maintain your Top Grain leather to ensure it stands the test of time.

One example of Top Grain leather is Nubuck. It is made by lightly buffing the outside surface of the leather to create a velvety texture with a very fine grain pattern. The result is an incredibly soft yet durable material that looks great and can be used in many different applications.

To remember this leather quality, just notice, that in Top Grain leather top layer is sanded down to achieve a smooth texture. Because the grain layer is sanded, and not full, it’s the second high-quality and not the first.

Full Grain Leather vs Top Grain Leather

  • Despite the fact that Top Grain leather is a strong material, Full Grain is even more durable. 
  • Top Grain leather costs less, than Full Grain leather.
  • Top Grain leather is more pliable and easier to work with than Full Grain.
  • Full Grain contains all the natural grain patternsunlike Top Grain.

Split Grain Leather and Genuine Leather

When you take the top layers from an animal hide (Full Grain and Top Grain leather), there are bottom layers are left. So, can these inner layers be used somehow? That where Split Grain and Genuine Leather are stands.

The split grain leather layers structure and genuine leather layers structure

What is Split Grain Leather?

Split Grain leather is created when the top layers of the animal hide (Full Grain) are removed. What is left after – is Split Grain. Since the outermost layer provides additional protection against wear and tear, this lack of durability can quickly show in split grain products over time. The product may look great from the start but could suffer from cracks or fraying if used without careful maintenance or heavy use.

Split Grain Leather has a uniform texture and color but without an identifiable grain pattern. It also tends to be less expensive than its Full Grain due to its lack of durability.

One example of Split Grain leather is Suede, which is famous for its velvety texture and luxurious feel. Suede is created through an additional process after Split Grain leather has been made. Abrasives are used to raise the nap, giving Suede its signature softness. After this process, it’s usually finished with a coat of dye to enhance its color.

To remember this leather quality, just notice, that Split Grain leather – is what is left after splitting the animal hide into the Full Grain part and the less durable part. That is why it is not the highest quality.

What is Genuine Leather?

And adding more confusion, when it comes to leather, “Genuine leather” is not equal to “Real leather”. It is just the name of the leather grain type. When splitting a hide into Top Grain leather, the leftovers – is Genuine Leather.

Genuine leather is the lowest quality of leather available on the market. Therefore if looking for a high-quality product with great durability, then genuine leather cannot even be considered an option. It can however make for an affordable option when used in pieces that don’t require extensive use or frequent wear and tear.

To remember this leather quality, just notice, that all you can say about Genuine leather quality – at least it is still leather. This is all that can be said positively about its durability. It is the lowest leather quality.

Leather Anatomy

If you’re wondering why each type of grain has its own unique characteristics we will look closer at each layer of animal hide.

Slice of Full Grain leather

Horny Layer

This outermost layer helps to keep out dirt while also providing some degree of waterproofing. It also serves to protect the underlying tissue from damage due to friction or abrasion. The horny layer is composed primarily of proteins known as keratins, which are responsible for their toughness and rigidity. 

Grain Layer

The heart of leather – is the grain layer. It is the most valuable part of a hide, as it provides strength and durability. A tight collagen structure ensures that leather holds its shape when stretched or pulled without breaking down or tearing easily over time. Also, contains all natural patterns and markings. This natural grain pattern can be preserved during the tanning process by using dyes, oils, waxes, or other treatments that help keep the original characteristics intact.

 Grain-Corium Junction

This layer is the junction between two layers of leather, known as grain and corium. Grain-corium junction creates a strong bond between these two layers, partly having the characteristics of both.

Corium Layer

The corium layer is the innermost layer of leather and is composed mostly of collagen and elastin. It is much thicker than other layers and contained thick collagen fibers which act as a supportive network. Among the other layers, it has the lowest durability, but it is the softest one.


In conclusion, there are 3 main grades of leather: Full Grain – is the highest quality, Top Grain – is the second-highest quality, and Genuine leather – is the lowest quality. Grain type indicates leather durability and longevity. Understanding the difference between Full Grain, Top Grain, and Genuine leather is essential for customers looking to find the highest quality leather product for their needs. As with any purchase, it is important to evaluate the features of a leather product before making a final decision.


Which is better Full Grain or Top Grain leather?

Full Grain is better than Top Grain quality. Full Grain is the highest quality, Top Grain is the second-highest quality, and Genuine leather is just the lowest quality.

Is Top Grain leather fake?

No, Top Grain leather is not fake, it is real leather, that is sanded to remove all natural imperfections of grain pattern. It is the second-highest quality after Full Grain.

Does top grain leather scratch easily?

If it is aniline Top Grain leather, then yes, it can scratch easily due lack of a natural protective layer. But if it is semi-aniline Top Grain leather then it has artificial protection layer, that can save your leather from scratches.

Is leather rough or smooth?

The answer depends on the type of leather. Grain leather, which is made from the outermost layer of animal hide, tends to be smoother than split leather which is made from lower layers. So, Top grain leather and Full grain leather  are very smooth. But split leather and Genuine leather – quite rough.