Leather finishes – what are some of the more common types?
The final processes of turning animal hides into leather is known as finishing. After tanning and coloring, hides are treated through mechanical means, oils, coatings and dyes. It could also be embossed, brushed or coated during this final stage.
Vegetable tanned leather is leather that has been turned from an animal hide into non-rotting leather by the use of tannins from trees. This leather absorbs water readily and dries out quickly, making it an ideal choice for leather that is to be tooled or carved. Often this leather is not finished but is sold to the craftsman to dye and seal.
High-quality hides largely free of imperfections may be chosen to become aniline leather. This leather is dyed with soluble dyes but not coated, which allows the grain – the visible pores of the hide – to show through, sort of like staining wood. It may be waxed to give a glossy appearance. In semi-aniline processing fine spraying and dying can be used to hide irregularities. This leather can be conditioned to maintain a softer feel.
Suede or nubuck leather is buffed on one side to achieve a soft, velvety finish. Suede is the leather that is buffed on the inside, the part of the hide closest to the flesh of the animal. Nubuck is buffed on the outside of the hide, where the animal’s hair grew. In both cases, this kind of leather should be waterproofed before it is used to protect it from water and stains. Nubuck can also be oiled in the finishing process, producing what is called oily nubuck which improves its resistance to water, stains and damage.
Embossed leather is a raised pattern that has been applied with pressure to give the leather a design and texture. Sometimes these patterns are made to mock reptile skins or other exotic hides like ostrich. Often a grain design is applied to the bottom split of the leather to make it look more like top grain leather. Sometimes these patterns can be fanciful, employing floral patterns, weaves, paisleys and other designs.
Leather can also be coated in the finishing process. Metallic leather is created by a foil such as gold, silver, pewter or bronze being pressed onto the hide. Patent leather is created by linseed oil, PVC or polyurethane sprayed onto the hide giving it a high-gloss finish that shines like glass. Patent leather is virtually waterproof.