Interestingly, Top Grain leather does not actually refer to the top - or outermost - layer of the hide from which it’s taken. To add to the confusion, Top Grain leather is also not the “top” grade of leather quality; that distinction is reserved for Full Grain leather. (Don’t ask us - we didn’t name them.) Top Grain leather is, however, the second highest grade of leather and is the grade most commonly found in high-end leather products.
The difference between Full Grain and Top Grain leather is actually quite important.
Here are the three main distinctions of Top Grain leather:
The natural grain from the top surface is sanded away, which removes imperfections and blemishes and makes the leather thinner and more workable for the manufacturer. (This is the main reason why Top Grain leather is less expensive than Full Grain leather.)
If uniformity is what you’re looking for, then you’re in luck with Top Grain leather. The downside is, by sanding off the natural grain, they’ve sanded off the strongest fibers in the hide.
Even with the removal of the natural grain, Top Grain leather remains strong and durable - but the refinishing process greatly reduces the leather’s breathability, and also prevents the leather from developing a natural patina over time. On the other hand, the finish coat provides protection against stains that would otherwise sink right into full grain leather.
Because Top Grain leather is not the highest grade available, it is typically less expensive than Full Grain leather and even offers greater stain resistance if the finish remains unbroken. But if you’re considering investing in Top Grain over Full Grain, it’s worth knowing the compromises you may be making regarding durability and the natural aging process.