A Lesson in Leather: What’s the Difference between Full-Grain and Top-Grain?

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: American Signature Furniture)

All leathers are not created equal. Learning a few key facts about how it’s made will tell you a lot about the quality of leather upholstery and how it will wear over time. We took a look at the Grayson and Burnham Artisan Leather Collections, both collaborations between American Signature Furniture and Italian designer Modesto Scugliusi, to learn more about what to look for in quality leather upholstery.

Full-Grain vs. Top-Grain

Full-grain and top-grain are two terms that refer to what section of the hide the leather comes from and how it is processed. Full-grain leather is taken from the outermost section of the hide and is the most sought-after leather for its durability and character.

Confusingly enough, top-grain leather does not actually reflect the “top” (the outermost section) grain of the hide it was taken from. Top grain leather is usually sanded down to remove any imperfections and then imprinted with imitation grain to give it a more uniform look.

Only full-grain leather is suitable for aniline dying, a process that relies exclusively on soluble vegetable dyes without covering the surface with a topcoat. The result: a rich, luxurious finish that retains the hide’s natural surface grain and achieves a unique patina over time. You may have also noticed Italian leather is touted as being top-quality, which begs the question…

Do Italians do leather better?

Yes. As with most beautiful things in life, Italians just do it better. The best tanneries are in Italy, where centuries of experience and a commitment to using traditional dyes and tanning methods have given the country a reputation as the leading leather manufacturer in the world.

The Burnham and Grayson Artisan Leather Collections by American Signature Furniture highlight the experience and creativity of Italian artisans who tan, cut and sew the leather to artfully combine old world craftsmanship with modern design. Made with 100% full-grain Italian leather, the Artisan Leather Collection offers luxurious pieces at up to 70% less than other 100% full-grain Italian leather furniture.