Full-Grain vs. Top-Grain Leather: Similarities & Differences

At Latico Leathers, we use only 100% full-grain leather in our handcrafted leather bags and wallets because of the material's superior aesthetic, durability, and longevity. But customers often ask us to explain the difference between full-grain and top-grain leather, so we're exploring the similarities and differences today.

What Is Full-Grain Leather?

Full-grain leather features the whole grain, using the entire hide without sanding or buffing. This results in a beautiful textured material known for its rugged durability and individuality. Each piece of full-grain leather exhibits a distinct pattern — inconsistencies that reflect the animal's life and make it unique. High-fashion accessories like handbags and briefcases often showcase full-grain leather, valued for its quality and aging characteristics.

Production Process

  • Sourcing: High-quality skins are essential for producing unblemished full-grain leather. Full-grain sustainable leather involves ethically raised animals from environmentally friendly farms. 
  • Tanning: Full-grain leather undergoes detailed tanning, with mineral tanning (chrome tanning) being the most efficient method, taking about 24 hours to complete.

What Is Top-Grain Leather?

Manufacturers create top-grain leather from the topmost layer of an animal's hide and sand or buff it to remove imperfections, resulting in a smoother surface. It's known for its refined appearance, flexibility, and blend of durability and style. Due to its soft feel and strength, top-grain leather is popular in fashion accessories and upholstery, such as bags, briefcases, and travel bags.

Production Process

  • Sourcing: Only the top layer of the hide qualifies as top-grain leather.
  • Sanding & buffing: While this process eliminates natural imperfections, it also removes the leather's authenticity.
  • Finishing: The manufacturer renders the leather smooth and blemish-free.

Key Areas of Differences Between Full-Grain & Top-Grain Leather

Surface & Appearance

Full-grain leather offers a unique, one-of-a-kind look with its natural grain and patina. Over time, it darkens, and its texture becomes softer, imparting a vintage charm. In contrast, top-grain leather has a uniform texture and appearance, appealing to those seeking a contemporary aesthetic. Its sleek, modern look is achieved through sanding and buffing, though it lacks the natural authenticity of full-grain leather.

Durability & Strength

Full-grain leather leads in durability, resisting scratches and tears. Top-grain leather, while highly durable and resistant to wear, lacks the natural strength of full-grain due to the sanding and buffing processes. Full-grain leather contains the strongest fibers from the hide, while top-grain leather is slightly less durable. Manufacturers often treat top-grain leather to be more stain-resistant.

Aging Process

Full-grain leather ages beautifully, developing a darker hue and more supple texture over time. If you care for your full-grain leather items properly, they will age gracefully. Meanwhile, top-grain leather maintains a sleek, smooth appearance over time without developing the highly unique, highly sought-after patina people have come to associate with leather.

Breathability & Comfort

Full-grain leather is breathable, making it comfortable for extended use or wear. After sanding and buffing, top-grain leather loses some breathability but remains comfortable.


Top-grain leather is the more affordable of the two. Full-grain leather comes with a higher price tag due to its superior quality and natural beauty.

How to Choose Between Full-Grain & Top-Grain Leather

Consider your intended use, desired aesthetic, and budget considerations. 

Due to its durability, strength, and breathability, full-grain leather is an excellent choice for handbags, jackets, gloves, shoes, other fashion items, and furniture. Over time, it develops a characteristic patina, adding charm to these products. Full-grain leather will appeal to you if you appreciate an all-natural product showcasing natural grain patterns—minor imperfections. 

While top-grain leather's lower price tag and consistent appearance may be attractive, it's important to remember that top-grain can't compete with the overall quality of full-grain leather. 

Care & Maintenance

Follow these leather care tips to ensure your items remain beautiful for decades.

Full-Grain Leather Care Tips

  • Cleaning: Use a specialized leather cleaner and a soft cloth to wipe the surface in a circular motion gently.
  • Storing: Remove your leather item from debris, place it in an anti-dust bag, and store it away from extreme heat, humidity, and direct sunlight. 

Top-Grain Leather Care Tips

  • Cleaning: Use a soft, damp cloth to wipe the surface in a circular motion gently. Avoid excessive moisture since leather isn't waterproof.
  • Conditioning: Regularly treat it with a high-quality leather conditioner to keep it well-hydrated and prevent cracking or stiffness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between full-grain and top-grain leather? 

Full-grain leather features all the natural grain of the animal hide and develops a unique patina as it ages. Top-grain leather removes the hide's outermost layer for a smoother, polished appearance, making it more affordable and stain-resistant.

Which leather is more durable, full-grain or top-grain? 

Full-grain leather is generally more durable than top-grain leather due to its thickness and grain.

How do full-grain and top-grain leather age? 

Full-grain leather ages beautifully, developing a vintage patina, while top-grain leather maintains a sleek, smooth appearance over time.

Is full-grain leather more expensive than top-grain leather? 

Full-grain leather is typically more expensive due to its superior quality and longevity. Top-grain leather can be a more affordable alternative that's still relatively durable.