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What Kinds of Leather Finishes are there?

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No leather good is complete without a solid finish. The finish helps bring out the best appearance while helping to seal it to preserve its integrity. If you’ve paid top-dollar for the best leather, hopefully, that’ll be for years.

There are as many kinds of finishes as there are kinds of leathers, so you’ll want to know something about all of them so you know which one is perfect for your leather piece.

We put together this article to help you understand the ins and outs of leather finishes. When you’re through, hopefully, you’ve learned something that will help you ensure a maximum lifespan for your possessions.

What are Leather Finishes?

A leather finish is applied to the top layer of leather. It gives the leather its best appearance and helps seal and protect it.

As a protectant, it does a handful of different important things.

Finishes enrich leather dyes and make them look beautiful and clean. Certain finishes will give a glossy look to certain kinds of leathers.

As for the leather itself, finishes protect the leather’s surface and prevent the growth of mold. It also seals in dyes so they won’t rub off on skin or fabric. While leather is often associated with a low threshold for harsh weather, without a finish you couldn’t wear a leather jacket during a spring rainstorm.

What are the Types of Leather Finishes?

Using leather

When we talk about finished leather, we’re not just talking about consumer products applied to a kind of leather, but also the way the leather is finished during the tanning process. This will help you know which finishing prodcut to buy.

Among the kinds of finish, analine is considered one of the highest quality. It’s made only from all-grain leather and made only from the highest grade of it. It breathes well, ages well, and is a great choice for clothing and accessories.

If you have analine products, you’ll want to take special care to preserve them.

Semi-aniline is a little more protected than full aniline, but it won’t develop the deep, rich patina associated with the highest-end leather products. It is also used to obscure small blemishes on hides only lower quality than those used for aniline leather.

Hides with a few more blemishes are used in pigmented full-grain leathers. Because the layer of pigment covers the entire hide, it isn’t nearly as breathable as aniline, nor does it develop the patina of a full aniline.

Most people find it suitable and it’s the most affordable of the high-end full-grain leathers.

Split-grain leathers are finished into suede, softer than full-grain but not nearly as associated with the mystique of full-grain. It’s more of a physical brushing than a layer of pigment, but it leaves the leather durable, soft, and elegant looking.

Nubuck is higher quality than suede and is more expensive. The buff is finer than with suede and it is even more durable.

If the distressed look of leather appeals to you, pull-up leather is an option. It has oils added during the tanning process with a final coat of spray-on wax. Watch for color changes where it comes into contact with skin during high levels of use.

Embossing involves searing a pattern into leather with a hot metal plate. It is often used to mimic the pattern of a specific animal skin without it actually being that animal skin. Stiff and with very little breathability, it’s often used to make purses and other products with no give.

Some clothing and upholstery use dry-milled leather, which is softer leather loaded into milling drums. The result is a pebbling effect, which is attractive, and a softer product.

Antiqued leather, also called two-toned, is achieved when a top coat of finish is unevenly applied or even partially removed to show an underlying color. It may be applied after a pattern is embossed on the surface.

The high-gloss finish of patent leather is achieved when linseed oil products are applied. These days, a final layer of resin or plastic laminate helps preserve the sheen.

What is the Best Finish for Leather?

Leather sofa

There is no simple answer to which finish is the best for leather. Different finishes excel in different ways, so the question really comes down to what you want from your finish.

An acrylic is a good overall finish. It adds the best shine to the rest of finish products and also offers the best protection. Of the major product lines, it also darkens the least. If you want a leather finish to offer a little richness, you might want to keep looking.

Synthetic waxes leave leather feeling the most natural and don’t leave a shine. It does add a little more darkness to your leather than acrylic, but less to than oils do.

Natural waxes tend to react the same as synthetic waxes. They offer protection in a top layer. It shines up well, but you can reduce that by buffing it out. Because it leaves a layer of wax atop the leather, it also offers great protection.

Of the different kinds of commercially available finishes, oils are the kind most likely to give you fits. It is hard to get them on evenly, and they also darken the leather the most. If you can’t get the evenness right, that might mean a streaky appearance.

Not for nothing, you can also choose to do nothing but physically buff your leather. If that’s the case, it doesn’t offer much protection against water or sunlight, but it will feel the most natural. Over time, the appearance will mellow as it develops a natural patina.


Leather furniture pieces

If you own leather pieces, knowing how they are finished is an important part of ownership. They not only make leather look its best, but it helps seal it up and protect it to give it a long life.

There are as many kinds of finishes as there are kinds of leathers, and knowing which ones work best with the different kinds of leathers is important to getting the most from them. The most expensive isn’t always the best idea.

We hope you found value in this article exploring the topic. If you did, or have some input of your own, we’d love to hear about it in a comment down below. You can also share it on your social media networks. Someone else is bound to have the same questions.

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