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What Is Top Grain Leather

What Is Top Grain Leather

top grain leather duffel bag
The Wainwright Weekender

What is Top Grain Leather?

There are many types of leather out there. Each type of leather will vary in quality. Among the many types of leather, there is one they call top grain leather. Top grain leather is among the highest quality of leather there is. It possesses characteristics that make up great leather. It is likewise has a beautiful appearance that manifests its great quality. Moreover, what makes this leather so great? Or how is top grain leather made? And more importantly, how does it differ from other types of leather. Let us get to know more about this wonderful leather in this article.

Where does Top Grain Leather Come From?

Most types of leather these days are usually from the skin of cows or cowhides. This is because cowhides are easily and readily available, they have great size, and have amazing quality. Likewise, most of the top grain leather we see today comes from cowhide. However, depending on the availability and use, leather can also come from other animals. Other than cows, animals that are common for making leather are pigs, sheep, deer, horses, and kangaroos. There are also some exotic leathers out there. These exotic leathers usually come from alligators, ostriches, elephants, snakes, frogs, and stingrays.

For simplicity and because it is the most common practice today, top grain leather usually comes from cowhide. Moreover, we may also refer top grain leather as real leather, similar to full grain , pure aniline leather, semi-aniline leather, and pigmented leather. This is because they come from real animal skin. On the other hand, we call those that are not made from real animal skin faux leather or fake leather. The difference whether real or faux affects the leather grade significantly.

How is Top Grain Leather Made?

The process of making Top Grain Leather is very similar to the process used to make any other leather products such as full grain. However not similar to making genuine leather.


What really defines top grain leather is the splitting process. This is usually done when the animal skin is too thick to work with. The hide is therefore split into layers. The different layers of animal skin likewise offer different characteristics. Some layers are more strong and durable than others. Other layers also have a more uniform look while others have a natural leather look. Splitting leather is usually done by cutting the leather horizontally. Other methods of reducing the thickness of the hide are sanding and buffing the topmost surface. Splitting the leather is all done during the pre-tanning stage. It is likewise the stage where we clean and prepare the hide for tanning.

Why do we split leather?

We split leather hide mainly for two reasons. The first is when the animal's hide is too thick. Thick leather is very hard to work with because it is not very flexible or bendable. It will therefore require more manpower. We, therefore, split the leather to reduce its thickness, making it easier to work with since it now because more pliable.

The second reason is to give the surface a fresh start. Animal skin usually has many imperfections. On its surface, we may usually see some scratches, blemishes, wounds, and more. To remove these imperfections the skin goes through the process of splitting. Splitting thereby removes the outer layer where the imperfections are and start fresh. There are also other methods to remove the imperfections. These are the sanding process and buffing. Both likewise serve the same purpose which is to remove the topmost layer. A fresh start also allows us to apply a variety of finishes to the leather.

Round Vintage Leather Weekender


The next step is the tannage of the hide. Tannage is the process of soaking and tanning the skin in a variety of tannins - products like oak bark, sumac, or iron salts. Products like Sumac are still available in most grocery stores. There are two major methods or techniques to tan leather. These two techniques are the vegetable tanning method and the chrome or chromium tanning method. Either of the methods is great for producing leather. These methods however will produce leather with varying characteristics. These days chrome or chromium tanning is the most common method since it is easy and cheaper to do. It is likewise an industrialized process now. Of course, the kind of method used will depend on the tannery.

Dressing and Finishing

Once the leather goes through the tanning process it then dried, dressed, and finished. Usually, the leather goes through a dyeing process or a re-tanning process before finishing the whole leather-making process off.

Why do we call it Top Grain Leather?

Honestly, if you are trying to look for top grain on a cross-section of animal skin you might get it wrong. Top leather grain is not actually the topmost layer of the hide. We call it top grain because it contains natural grain and that the top layer has not been cut away. If we are trying to refer to the topmost layer, that would be the full grain. The layer where we alter nothing and keep it as is.

Altering or cutting off the natural grain is done through either sanding, buffing, or splitting. These are what we call the corrective process. As such top grain leather belongs to the class we call corrected grain leather or corrected leather. We may also refer to top grain as split-grain leather for the same reasons.

What Does Top Grain Leather Look Like?

Leather these days have a variety of appearances. There are many reasons for the many different looks of leather. From the tanning method, dyeing, and finishing. The look of leather will also depend on the type of hide and which side we are going to use. Great examples would be suede and nubuck leather.

For top grain it sports a uniform look on its surface. This is very evident especially when you compare top grain leather to full grain leather. Top grain has a uniform look since it goes through the process of splitting, sanding, and/or buffing. A uniform look offers a very refined look that is just not possible with other types of leather. It looks very classy and very sharp, especially on a leather briefcase. The type of leather that is perfect if you are trying to go for a business or professional look!

The Endre Weekender

What is the Difference Between Top Grain Leather and Full Grain Leather?

When it comes to high-quality leather, both top grain and full grain will always be in the conversation. What are their similarities? Most importantly what is their differences? In order for us to distinguish the two, there are five main differences to look at as a guide.


Even though we both consider top grain and full grain leather as top quality leather, there is still a bit of nuance when it comes to quality. The difference in quality is mainly because of the leather-making process. Specifically during the process of splitting leather. When we split leather there are pros and cons that come with it. In this case, when we split leather, we also split the layer of animal skin that contains the most fibers.

The difference, therefore, is that full grain contains all of the fibers that are found in the grain layers because we do not split it. It, therefore, is stronger because of it. The top grain on the other hand still contains some of the natural grain which nonetheless also makes the leather strong. It is however not the same quality when we compare it to full grain.

Comparing the quality of full grain and top grain, however, is not very obvious. It might take some time for you to find out which is which. The following differences however will be easier to spot.


The cost of leather will vary, and it is a very good indicator of quality. The cost of leather will factor in a lot of things. From the type of animal hide that was used, the method of tanning, and the cost of labor. When comparing full grain and top grain, the former will be obviously expensive. There is a significant difference in prices and it is mainly because of labor.

As we mentioned earlier, when leather is too thick we split. Mainly because it is difficult to work with. Working with full grain leather will cost more labor because it is not as easy to work with in comparison to top grain. Top grain is flexible and easy to shape. It, therefore, requires less labor and therefore requires less cost. There are other factors that contribute to the price difference.

Check the price tag!

Vintage Leather Duffel Bag


Sometimes, the price tag is not the most reliable way to identify and differentiate full grain from top grain. Sometimes, you just need to take a closer look.

Full grain and top grain have different looks. Full grain has distinguishable natural leather marks from the days the animal was still alive. It therefore may contain wound marks, scratches, blemishes, and other imperfections on its surface appearance. Top grain on the other has a more uniform and refined look. This is mainly because the leather has been through the corrective process. The corrective process either splits, sands, or buffs the leather to remove the unwanted imperfections.


When it comes to aging, there is a clear difference between top grain and full grain. Because full grain possesses natural grain, it will change like fine wine. Its surface will develop a patina as time passes. The patina will likely give the leather a more vintage or antique look. It is beautiful and is proof of its age.

Top grain on the other hand will not develop a patina over time. This is because the patina will only develop on the natural grain of the hide. Nonetheless, top grain may still look vintage with the help of modern technology.


When it comes to durability, both make it to the top of the list. Both types of leather are durable and are made to stand the test of time. However, full grain is the more durable one, while top grain only comes second to it. The main reason for the difference in durability is the presence of those strong fibers found on full grain. These fibers make the leather stronger and durable, however, it sometimes sacrifices flexibility.

While top grain only comes next to full grain do not get the wrong idea that it is an inferior type of leather. It is still strong and durable.

Thoughts from Comparison

Both full grain and top grain are excellent leather. While there are differences between them, they are not that far off. Both belong to the higher echelon of leather quality. Choosing between the two can sometimes just be a matter of preference.

What is the Difference Between Top Grain Leather and Bonded Leather?

When it comes between top grain leather and bonded leather, there are quite a few differences. For one, the quality gap between the two is wide. Top grain clearly having the better quality. To understand the difference between top grain and bonded, it is best to know what is bonded leather.

What is Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is a type of top grain leather that has been pre-stretched or pre-bent into shape. It's usually done by applying hot plastic to the leather. Then it's allowed to cool, hardened, and then heated again to remove it from the plastic. The result is a piece of soft (bonded) leather that can be shaped easily but will bend back into shape easily if you try. Top grain leather is stiffer than full grain and pre-saturated leather, but it still benefits greatly from a good quality press. The layer of skin separating the two layers can also be removed by applying heat to the skin and then allowing it to cool. This process results in much harder, more durable leather that can last for years without wearing out.


Top grain is also more durable and stronger than bonded leather. It will therefore handle more stress and will last longer. Bonded leather easily cracks and/or peels especially when there is frequent exposure to sunlight. It is also more difficult to repair and it requires a lot of experience and skill to make it look good.

Bonded leather is usually more flexible than top grain (pre-saturated) leather. It is most often used in shoes as it will stretch (bounce back into shape when you strike the heel with your foot) but will not bend as much when you move your foot around. There is also a difference in price. Do not let a low price fool you. Sometimes it is best to invest in pricey leather because of the overall quality. Sometimes people tend to get enticed by the price and invest in bad leather. What makes leather great is that it lasts for a very long time, and that is mainly due to its great quality materials.

What are the Advantages?

There are many advantages to using top grain leather, but here are some of them that we can list: It's more durable than normal-grain leather and will last longer. One advantage is that it's more comfortable for shoes that have thinner soles and footbeds. It is softer and more flexible than regular leather, making it more comfortable in shoes. It is also stretchier than average-grain leather, making it perfect for clothing items like jackets and pants. Its flexibility makes it great for upholstery in cars.

The biggest advantage of using top grain leather is that it is cheaper to use than alternatives like full grain leather and kangaroo. Its appearance can also be dyed to imitate other appearances of other leather types. It can therefore be made to look like vintage leather or other exotic leathers. However, at most times, people prefer to keep the sleek and refined look of top grain.

top grain leather duffel bag
The Dagny Weekender

What are the Disadvantages?

While we regard top grain leather as high quality leather it still has its disadvantages. One disadvantage of top grain leather is that it is not a very breathable leather. This is usually the effect when the animal hide goes through the process of sanding and buffing. While the corrective process does remove the imperfections brought by scars and blemishes on the surface of the skin it does have adverse effects. One of those affects the leather’s breathability. Removing the top layer of the skin also prevents the leather from absorbing bodily oils.

The biggest disadvantage of top grain leather however is that it's not as long lasting as full grain leather. It's also not quite as durable as average-grain leather and won't be quite as water resistant. Thus, it is more likely to get brittle and crack as the fibers dry out. It, therefore, has a shorter lifespan, especially if not taken care of properly. Moreover, unlike full grain leather, top grain leather cannot develop a patina likewise for the same reasons.

Proper Care and Conditioning

If you want your top grain leather to live and last as long as it can, proper care and conditioning are very important. Moreover, without any proper care and conditioning, most if not all leather types would not survive the test of time. Likewise, taking care of top grain leather is not enough. Leather no matter how strong is delicate, and therefore needs the proper tools and technique to clean. So what is the proper way to take care and condition top grain leather?

The Right Tools

Cleaning top grain leather is no different from cleaning full grain or aniline leather. However, you will still need the right tools for the job. Do not be intimidated. Most if not all of the “right” tools you can find inside your home or in your local grocery. Of course, the kind of tools you will need will depend on whether you are cleaning a leather sofa, a bag, boots, or even a wallet. For the sake of this article, we will use a leather bag as a reference. To clean a top grain leather bag you will need a few things. You will need:

  • Soft and Dry Clean Cloths (3-4);
  • Dry Paper Towel
  • Leather Cleaner or Saddle Soap
  • Leather Conditioner

Doing it the Right Way

Leather is delicate so you will need to clean it properly. It is always important to remember to never submerge the top grain leather on water. Water will ruin the leather and it will eventually start to crack. What you need to do is use a damp cloth to moisten the leather. Afterward, you may apply the soap. If you have saddle soap or leather cleaner available you may use baby shampoo or mild soap. Rub the soap in a soft circular motion until you remove any dirt, grime, or dust. Rinse the leather afterward with a damp cloth. Make sure to wipe it dry right away too!

top grain leather duffel bag
Large Leather Duffel Bag

Let the leather air dry as well. Do not dry the leather through direct sunlight as it might dry out and crack. After it dries you may apply the leather conditioner the same way as applying the soap. The leather conditioner revitalizes the fibers and offers a protective coating on the leather. It makes the leather less susceptible to the elements. That is why it is important to apply a finish coat after every cleaning.


Water is harmful to leather especially when there is no protective coating around it. In case you spill water or when the leather gets wet make sure to dry it right away. Always keep a dry cloth around to wipe it dry. NEVER, and we mean NEVER use heat to dry it. You may overdry the leather and it will start to crack.

We also advise that you condition your leather at least twice a year or every 6 months. This will keep the leather strong and protected. However, if you use your leather more frequently, we suggest you clean and condition it as frequently as well.

Also, it is best to avoid storing the leather on a plastic cover. Plastic covers may cause mold to grow on the leather especially in humid areas. It is best to store leather in a cool dry place where it has no exposure to direct sunlight. To remove the mold, use a soft clean cloth and dip it in a solution of water and isopropyl alcohol in equal parts. Wipe it dry after.

The Bard Weekender

What are the Possible Uses of Top Grain Leather?

There are many uses of top grain leather. From leather furniture, leather accessories and other leather goods. It can take many forms including sofas, shoes, belts, wallets, and especially bags!

Where Can I Get Top Grain Leather Bags?

There are many places to get top grain leather bags. But if you want the best of the best Steel Horse Leather Co. is the place. We have all sorts of leather bags, from travel bags to messenger bags, from briefcases to Dopp kits, and backpacks to wallets. More importantly, we use only top grade leather, including top grain leather!

Handmade Leather Bags

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