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Know Your Leather: Full Grain vs Top Grain

Know Your Leather: Full Grain vs Top Grain

Full grain vs top grain leather. Does the distinction even matter? As matter of fact, it does. While both full-grain and top grain leather are among the highest quality of leather, they still have their differences. We will therefore identify which is full-grain leather and which is top grain. Likewise, we will look at how their characteristics and how they are similar and different from one another.

Many people wonder what the difference is between full-grain leather and top grain leather. The difference lies in the finish of the leather. Top grain leather is one of the most versatile and durable leathers available, so it is widely used in commercial and retail leather goods. This type of leather is generally in the upper part of the hide (the thinner side), and is split to expose the surface of the grain. Full-grain leather is from the top layer, but also has a layer of grain that isn't split leather. It is because of this that the full-grain leather is the most durable and highest quality leather you can find.

full grain vs top grain leather

Full Grain vs Top Grain: Which Is Which?

Before we pit full-grain leather vs top grain leather it is important to know which is which. For the untrained eye, the leather may look the same. However, not all leather is of the same kind and quality. Likewise, if you are looking for only the best quality of leather it is important to know which leather is which: full-grain vs top grain leather.

full grain vs top grain leather
A Cross-Section of an Animal Hide

What Is Top Grain Leather?

Top grain leather is the second-highest quality of leather among all leather types. This excludes faux leather since faux leather is technically not leather. Furthermore, among all leather types top grain leather is probably the most commonly used. This is because among all other types top grain leather offers a pristine look.

Where Does Top Grain Leather Come From?

Technically, top grain leather comes from real animal skin such as horse's skin or more commonly from cow's skin. But to be specific, all that skin is not all top grain leather. Top grain leather got its name for a very literal reason.

Literally, the very top layer of the animal skin is either sanded, buffed, or shaved off. Many will commonly refer to this process as "splitting the leather" or just "splitting". Likewise, this process removes the top layer of the leather, taking with it the scars and marks on the animal skin. Therefore giving it a much more pristine look. A more refined look in comparison to full-grain leather as others would say. However, this process also removes the most durable outer layer of the leather. This will affect the leather's longevity by shaving more of the leather hide thickness, however, you will still have good quality leather.

If you're like us, then you love to find great deals on high-quality leather products. But sometimes it's hard to know what's a good deal and what's a bad deal. Take top grain leather for example. Many people think that top grain leather is the best kind of leather around, but it's actually just one of six different leather types and second-best in quality. So, if you're looking to buy a new leather bag, backpack , satchel , or messenger bag this year, it's best to know what leather your bag is really made of.

Why Do We Split Leather?

Now you may be wondering "if splitting leather will reduce the leather's longevity, then what is the point?" Believe it or not, there many reasons why leather is split. One reason is that sometimes the animal skin is too thick and likewise difficult to handle. They will, therefore, split the leather laterally into thinner more workable layers. Another reason is to start with a fresh top surface, free from marks and scars. A fresh top also gives the leather artisan the opportunity to apply a variety of finishes to the leather that can enhance the natural grain pattern.

What Is Full Grain Leather?

Full-grain leather is the best among all leather types. Moreover, only the highest quality of animal skin can be made into full-grain leather. This may also be the reason why full-grain leather is expensive and that is because of its quality.

Just like top grain leather, full-grain leather comes from animal skins. Full-grain leather however will not go through the sanding, burning, shaving process. Therefore it is safe to conclude that full-grain leather is made of the entire thickness of the grain. Likewise, the scars, grains, pores, and other textures are left intact.

The Thorsen Backpack

Full-Grain vs Top Grain Leather: Which Grain Is Better?

While both full-grain and top grain leather are both high-quality leather they do have their differences. While many believe that top grain leather is inferior to full-grain leather it is important to keep an open mind. This is because different types of leather have their own advantages and disadvantages in comparison to others. Sometimes it can just be a matter of perspective and preference. They are both real leather. Regardless, here are some points on where the two differ.


When it comes to quality top grain leather only comes in second to full grain leather. This is because it retains all the natural grain. That fact, therefore, is significant in the overall durability, strength, and longevity of the leather.


The higher the quality, the higher the cost. Being the best of all leather grades, full grain leather costs more than top grain leather. There are many factors that affect the price difference. An easy example is the manufacturing cost. Since full-grain leather is unrefined it is thicker in comparison to top grain leather and more difficult to work with. Full grain is great for bags, but not so great for things like a leather jacket or leather sofa even though it is the best real leather. Likewise, it is much easier for manufacturers to work with top-grain since it is thinner and more workable.

Another example would be how easy it is to procure the raw materials. Not all animal skin can be turned into full-grain leather. Only the highest quality of animal hide can be turned into good leather. On the other hand, if the animal hide is unfit to be full grain manufacturers may split the leather and remove the topmost layer for top grain.


Here we see a significant difference between the two. This also makes distinguishing the two easier compared to other leather types. Full-grain is unique. It has visible imperfections such as scars and marks on its surface due to the animal's experience while it was still alive. On the other hand, the top-grain has no imperfection visible. This is because these imperfections are sanded down, removing its natural grain. You could say that top grain leather has a uniform look in contrast to full-grain leather. Both options are better than genuine leather, corrected leather, corrected grain leather, aniline leather, or bonded leather.

The Welch Briefcase


Another significant difference between the two is the patina. Only full-grain leather will develop a patina as it ages . Patina only develops on the natural grain or topmost layer of the animal skin. By sanding down the natural grain the leather will be less breathable and prevent the patina from developing on its surface over time.


Full-grain leather will always be stronger and more durable than top grain leather. This is because by sanding down the top layer, you also sand off the strong fibers in the hide. It is the best solution for a quality leather product.

Full Grain vs Top Grain: The Final Verdict

In a match between full-grain vs top grain, the former will emerge as the winner. However, the other is still a good option. While technically full-grain is better, your preference and capacity to purchase also matters. One important thing to note is that they are both better than Genuine Leather. The important thing to remember is that either way they are both great investments to purchase and own leather good.

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