Is full grain leather good leather? And what is the highest quality leather?

When it comes to leather products, your options are endless! So, how do you know if what you're about to buy is high quality or not? Do you know what genuine leather, full grain leather, top grain leather, nubuck, suede, split leather, or corrected grain leather mean?

There's a lot of information out there on these terms and leather quality, so I hope to break it down in a way that is useful when you're looking at a leather journal or other leather goods to purchase.

Let's start with the bad news: there's no official standard for grading leather. In fact, most tanneries have their own systems for grading based on cosmetic imperfections rather than quality.

Here's the good news: if you understand leather and its layers, you can choose the highest quality every time.

Here's a basic breakdown of the layers of leather:

leather cross section diagram

And here at Ox & Pine, we only use the best full grain leather. So, you can be confident your leather will age beautifully and last for generations to come!

Let's go over 6 differentiating factors you should know about leather quality:

1. Density of Leather Layers

The Grain layer has the tightest, strongest fibers. Technically, this is the breakdown by leather grades:

  • Full Grain Leather: consists of the Grain and the Junction; natural markings visible and grain intact; STRONG
  • Top Grain, Corrected Grain, and Nubuck: consists of part of the Grain, the Junction, and some Corium; surface has been sanded (removing some natural markings in the leather); STRONG
  • Splits, Suede, Genuine, Bonded: sometimes some of the Junction and a lot of Corium, only Corium, or ground up Corium; WEAK

2. Quality and Cost

Full grain leather is the highest quality leather and is more expensive. Top grain is a close second, and the only difference you'll notice in your lifetime is a few less natural markings (due to the surface being sanded).

Splits and genuine leather will be inexpensive.

3. Appearance

Full grain is incredibly unique and each piece tells a story through the beautiful grain texture, marbling, and other natural markings. Top grain will still retain some light natural marks, but has lost some of the unique and beautiful grain.

Splits and genuine leather will appear very uniform and almost look like plastic.

4. Aging

Full grain will gain a beautiful patina (beautiful sheen) over time--it truly gets better with age. Top grain will also develop a patina, but may take a little more time and intentionality.

Splits and genuine leather will not look better with age and will wear out.

5. Durability

Full grain is very strong and durable making it last for generations. Top grain will also last for generations, but may not exhibit the highest level of strength as seen in full gain.

Splits and genuine leather will pill and fall apart with time.

6. Care

Full grain and top grain will generally be conditioned over time with the oils in your hands as they're handled. However, when the leather is feeling dry, adding a natural conditioner (like Smith's Leather Balm) will enhance its features and nourish the leather.

Splits and genuine leather won't be restored with treatment and will eventually wear out.