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There are three main differences between full grain leather and top grain leather - and yes, they matter.
Full grain leather is the highest quality grade of leather money can buy. It comes from the top layer of the hide and includes all of the natural grain. It is more expensive for manufacturers to buy and more difficult for them to work with. This is reflected in the cost to the consumer.
Top grain leather is the second highest grade of leather, and has the outermost layer of the hide removed. This difference makes the leather thinner and more workable for the manufacturer, which is reflected in the price compared to full grain leather.
The natural surface of full grain leather is unique - it tells a story and reveals natural imperfections, marks, and even light brands in the surface. Full grain leather is extremely strong and durable, as the natural grain contains the strongest fibers in the hide. While strong and durable, full grain leather remains extremely breathable, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact.
The natural grain from the top surface of top grain leather is sanded away, which removes imperfections and blemishes. After sanding away the natural grain, top grain leather is imprinted with an imitation grain to give it a more uniform look. If uniform 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.
As full grain leather ages, rather than wearing out, it burnishes and beautifies, developing a much sought-after patina and unique character that cannot be easily duplicated. Truly, the more you use it, the better it looks and feels.
The difference in top grain leather is a finish coat applied that provides protection against stains that would otherwise sink right into full grain leather. However, the refinishing process of top grain leather greatly reduces the leather’s breathability, and also prevents the leather from developing a natural patina over time.
Bottom line: if you’re comparing full grain leather vs. top grain leather, they can both be good options, depending on what’s important to you. Top grain is typically less expensive than full grain leather and even offers greater stain resistance if the finish remains unbroken. But if you’re looking for leather that can last a lifetime - and look good doing it - then, full grain leather is the way to go.