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The varieties of leather: do you know your suede from your nubuck?

Updated: Oct 17, 2018

But before I started working in the leather industry (a grand total of 13 months ago) one thing used to always baffle me was the different types of leather out there: at that time, I knew there was leather, suede, nubuck, and patent leather. I knew that suede felt soft and that Elvis sang about his "Blue Suede Shoes". I knew that my much loved Timberland boots were made from nubuck. And I knew that if I was to buy my children school shoes then patent leather looks smarter for longer.


And that was about it!


So what was baffling me? I’ll tell you. It was the fact that these are all leather but are all so different. They all look different, feel different and have different properties. Luckily for me, I work with people who have years of experience of working with leather and now I know that the key is how the hide is treated during the tanning process that makes it into leather, suede, nubuck or patent

leather. So, here’s my very brief guide into what gives these types of leather their different properties and feel.


When we look at a leather jacket, bag, shoes, gloves what we are seeing is the outer side of the hide. The hair has been removed, treated and dyed but the hide itself has not been touched. It’s also known as full grain leather.


To make suede, what you see is not the skin side of the hide. It is the fleshy inner side. It has been rubbed and treated to make it feel soft and warm. Like grain leather it can be dyed into a variety of colours.


Nubuck is different to suede. It is leather which has been sanded or buffed, but this time it is the grain side and not the flesh side (like suede) that has been worked on to produce that velvet-like surface.


Patent leather is leather which, at the end of the tanning process, has been coated / sprayed to give it is glossy finish. It is leather, once you get under the layer of patent!


I hope this little summary of these types of leather which we have in our

daily lives has helped you to see who versatile leather can be. To be fair, I have only covered a few types of leather in this. I haven’t even gone into detail about other types of leather such as aniline, semi-aniline, pigmented and oiled. That may be another article for another day...



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