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If you are reading this article, you are probably one of those people who are lost with all the different leathers. It is sometimes difficult to find your way around, especially as many leathers look the same at first glance, even though they are quite different. Or maybe you've come across the term "aniline leather" or "semi-aniline leather" and are wondering what it is. Either way, don't worry, you'll find all the information you need here.
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What is aniline leather?
Simply put, aniline or napa leather is a high quality leather used mainly in the furniture and fashion industry. The term aniline refers to the dyes used in the leather manufacturing process. It is a special dyeing treatment used on fine hides. The hide does not undergo any further treatment, no thin protective layers or surface coating. This is why it is the most natural leather. 🌳
In this case, natural means several things. On the one hand, aniline is the most beautiful and desired of all leathers, with an incomparable softness and an authentic leather smell. On the other hand, the lack of a protective layer makes it more susceptible to moisture, soiling and tearing. This is an option that many people are willing to take because of the durability of this leather, which gives it an exceptional patina over time.
The reason why aniline is so beautiful is because only the best hides are selected. This is an important condition in the manufacture of leather, coatings hide the imperfections on the skin of the animal, but the napa has no coating. This means that every scar, insect bite, scratch or other imperfection is visible on the final product. The tanners state that less than 5% of hides can be made into aniline leather. Since few hides can be made into aniline leather, supply and demand make it one of the most expensive materials. 💰
The absence of a protective layer and coating not only makes the leather more beautiful, but also softens it. The feel of quality aniline leather is often described as particularly soft and warm. Even the porous appearance of the product can be seen as a quality "Aniline leather naturally allows the heat from the body to be absorbed into the leather because there is no pigment or polyurethane barrier (as used on lesser quality leathers). This is the sign of a top quality aniline - it feels natural - you can feel it," explains Craig Jones of Instyle.
Unfortunately, every product has its faults, and in the case of aniline, it's resistance. Napa is sensitive to water marks and stains of all kinds, as well as being sensitive to sun damage. It is also more fragile to scratches and tears than most leathers. Finally, this leather requires more rigorous maintenance and is more expensive than conventional leather because of the high demands placed on the selection of hides. Aniline is therefore not recommended for families with children or pets, or worse, a clumsy partner! 😨
Despite these weaknesses, aniline leather is popular because of its exceptional patina (ageing process). Good leather properly cared for will always live a long lifetime and will always have a unique patina but aniline has probably the best. This is debatable of course as some people might prefer new leather. Like a fine wine or a piece of marble, leather gets better with time, especially this one. "If you use a great aniline leather, you have a piece for life, something that will age gracefully and naturally," says Richard Munao, founder and director of Cult.
Aniline leather is used quite regularly in the luxury industry because of its natural characteristics. As it is often produced from full grain leather (the best kind of leather) it is even more appreciated by the luxury industry.
A wide variety of products are made from aniline:
- furniture (mainly sofas)
- bags & backpacks
- car seats
- bicycle seats
Aniline leather is also called full aniline leather to differentiate it from the variants that exist on the market. Semi-aniline leather in particular raises a lot of questions about the differences between them. 🤔
What is semi-aniline leather?
Semi-aniline leather is very similar to full aniline, they are often both made from the same grain although the selection of the skins is much less demanding. The difference between the two leathers is that a thin protective layer is added to the semi-aniline.
This layer helps to protect the leather from sunlight, stains, moisture, scratches or any other damage that an object may encounter during its life. Semi-aniline is therefore a very good compromise for most people who want a more affordable and forgiving leather accessory for everyday use.
Semi-aniline is particularly popular in areas of high traffic, sunlight or humidity. It retains a more uniform appearance over time compared to napa which is more random in appearance as it ages.
As you have probably guessed, it is also a better option for those with children, pets or clumsy surroundings. Above all easier to maintain compared to full aniline. In addition, semi-aniline has a slightly longer lifespan (well maintained, both leathers can last a lifetime anyway). ⏳
Where semi-aniline is very good is that it no longer has the major flaws of full aniline, while retaining most of its qualities. For example, it is very soft, not as soft as napa as you might expect, but its protective layer is very thin, it does not change the appearance of the leather entirely.
In the same way, semi-aniline is quite breathable, like any quality leather for that matter. Furthermore, the protective layer of semi-aniline does not completely hide the marks of the animal and gives the product a very pure and authentic look. 😇
Aniline and semi-aniline are two great leathers that appeal to different customers. Aniline is more natural, soft, breathable and aesthetically pleasing while semi-aniline is more affordable, durable and long lasting. In the end, it's just a matter of knowing which one works best for you.
By now you know the key differences between aniline and semi-aniline leather, but do you know how these great materials are made?
How is aniline leather made?
The manufacturing process for napa leather is quite different from other leathers. But first things first, the animal. Leather can come from any animal, but the vast majority of products are made from bovine animals already used in the food industry. The beef can come from anywhere but the majority of anilines are European. 🐮
European farms are often smaller and do not have barbed wire which increases their chances of having a little less damage. No skin is flawless, there will always be some scratches or growth marks.
The next step is the selection of the skins, only high quality skins are chosen. There is no sanding for this kind of leather so the skin must be flawless. Then comes the treatment of the leather, because if the skin has no treatment, it will rot like any other skin. The treatment used is a transparent aniline dye, this is the only application that is added to this leather.
Originally, the colourings used for napa were synthesised with chemicals. But don't worry, today there are regulations on dyes. Aniline has the reputation of being the most natural leather and he intends to keep it that way!
Aniline colouring is a soluble and transparent colourant, so any marks on the skin remain visible, proof of the quality of the product. Another proof of the authenticity of the leather is that the colour is not uniform due to different absorption rates from one area to another. This means that each piece is unique, the ageing of the leather will be different from one product to another even if they are made in exactly the same way. 🤦♂️
The manufacturing process for semi-aniline leather is very similar except for two details. The selection of hides is much more forgiving (which is why it is cheaper) and a thin protective layer is added to the product. Semi-aniline dye contains a small amount of pigment to maintain its characteristics over time and to even out the colour of the product.
Now you know almost everything about aniline and semi-aniline, all you need to know is how to care for it.
How do I care for aniline and semi-aniline leather?
Despite their many similarities, full aniline and semi-aniline are not maintained in the same way. Napa is a particularly demanding leather that requires more rigorous care than other leathers.
It is not that aniline is more difficult to clean than other leathers, it is that specific care products are required. Ideally, you should use a leather cleaner. Chamberlain leather milk seems to do the trick from the various tests and reviews I've found but any specialist cleaner should work fine. If you are unsure or using the product for the first time, you can always try it on an inconspicuous part of your accessory just to be sure.
I know I've mentioned several times that aniline is not very moisture resistant, but you still need to hydrate it from time to time to prevent it from drying out or cracking. That's why you can also use water for maintenance if it's urgent and you have nothing else on hand. As a matter of fact, I was just lying to you. 😈
It's not that leather doesn't like water, otherwise leather shoes, backpacks or jackets would be utopic. If a leather is wet, dry it on high for a few hours and it will be fine. Water damage can come in two ways, if you don't dry it or if the water contains minerals that are harmful to the leather (I'm talking about water, if oil for example stains your leather that's another story).
What leather doesn't like is minerals, so avoid tap water. That's why rainwater or distilled water is best. With your mineral-free water, use a microfiber wipe, a washing glove, a clean cloth, an old t-shirt, or a tea towel to gently rub the leather. The final element to maintain your leather without a cleaning product is soap. Use the least aggressive soap possible. 🧼
I would like to point out that even with rain or distilled water, leather can harden, so using a leather cleaner is the safest solution. For more serious stains, it is difficult for me to advise you since the cleaning can vary depending on the nature of the stain. I leave you with this link for those who are in need of more specialized advice.
In any case one thing is certain, using aggressive products like isopropyl alcohol, disinfectant sprays or Javel water can damage your leather. Only use these products if all other attempts have failed. If in doubt, especially for an expensive product like napa, ask for personal advice from a professional who can see the damage for himself.
Semi-aniline requires less maintenance. You can simply dust with a microfibre cloth and then gently rub the leather with soap and water. You can occasionally apply a special leather milk if it dries out. For larger stains, the problem is the same as for aniline leather, I refer you to the link above.
You are now an expert on the best known of all soft leathers, but can you tell the difference between it and other leathers? 🤯
Difference between aniline leather and other leathers
There are many different types of leather and not all are equal. Some are durable, some are soft, while others will be cheaper. Is aniline leather really the leather for you? To find out, it may be worth comparing it to the most common leather and artificial leather.
To keep this section relatively short, I will only talk about the most common leathers. I should also point out that there may be differences between some of the leathers in the same category, depending on the quality of the hide, which animal the leather comes from etc.
- Natural: The surface of nubuck leather is sanded with sandpaper while the surface of the aniline remains intact. Get used to reading that full aniline is more natural.
- Resistance: It all depends on the thickness of the product, the more the nubuck is polished, the less resistant it is. Also, both leathers are fragile to the same things.
- Durability/ patina: The life of the leather will largely depend on its strength and use. In any case, both leathers are very durable if they are well cared for.
- Feel: Nubuck has a soft, velvety feel, both aniline and nubuck are very pleasant to the touch although many prefer the feel of aniline.
- Softness: Both leathers are known for their flexibility.
- Breathable: Nubuck leather is very breathable, but probably not as breathable as aniline.
- Maintenance: Like aniline, nubuck leather requires rigorous maintenance due to its fragile nature.
- Price: These are both leathers for the luxury market.
Suede leather or "daim":
Suede is very similar to nubuck leather, the difference is that nubuck is on the grain side while suede is on the flesh side of the animal skin.
Crazy Horse leather:Crazy horse leather is not as common as the other leathers on this list but it is one of the best examples of full grain leather (aniline and semi-aniline are also full grain leathers).
- Natural: Crazy Horse is very natural, but still uses more products than Full Aniline.
- Resistance: Crazy horse is particularly resistant, which is why it is used for products that endure a lot of shocks during their life.
- Durability/ patina: Both aniline and crazy horse live a lifetime, but the protective layer of crazy horse makes it more durable. Both leathers develop a unique patina for each product.
- Feel: Crazy horse has a particularly soft feel, but aniline is unbeatable in this category.
- Softness: Both leathers are very soft, but the king of softness is aniline.
- Breathability: As for the flexibility, aniline is the most breathable of the two leathers, despite the very good breathability of a crazy horse.
- Maintenance: Crazy horse is often much easier to maintain than aniline.
- Price: The price depends on several factors, but aniline is often more expensive.
- Natural: Not surprisingly, patent leather is not as natural as aniline since it is finished with polluting materials.
- Resistance: Patent leather is scratch and water resistant. It is more resistant than aniline, which is why it is often used for objects that have to endure a lot, such as shoes.
- Durability/ patina: Patent leather loses its shape more quickly than other leathers, aniline is often more durable.
- Feel: The feel of these two leathers is very different, so the comparison is not very relevant, so remember that both types of leather have a pleasant feel, but a very different one.
- Flexibility: Patent leather is not particularly flexible, so there are variants such as retro patent which are much more flexible.
- Breathable: Patent leather is breathable enough to be used in many fashion areas, but it is not as breathable as aniline.
- Maintenance: Patent leather is relatively easy to maintain compared to full aniline.
- Price: Patent leather is a luxury product, its price depends on the quality of the leather but it is often quite expensive.
- Natural: Aniline is much more natural than polyurethane leather, but synthetic leathers like PU leather do not require the death of an animal to excite.
- Resistance: The advantage of plastic is that it is quite resistant. But even aniline, which is very fragile, is more resistant to tearing. PU is however more resistant to humidity and heat.
- Durability/ patina: Most synthetic leathers live a few years, which is much less than the worst of the real leather. Synthetic leathers do not have a patina.
- Feel: PU leather feels fake and synthetic compared to real leather.
- Softness: PU leather is relatively soft, not as soft as aniline but that's not the biggest difference.
- Breathable: The problem with plastic is that it is not breathable, so polyurethane is much less breathable than a porous material like animal skin.
- Maintenance: There is no doubt that PU leather is much easier to maintain than aniline.
- Price: Aniline is much more expensive than any synthetic leather.
- Cactus leather is not very well known yet as this innovation is still very new but I wanted to talk about a truly vegan faux leather and cactus leather is a very good example.
- Natural: This is the main feature of cactus leather, it is environmentally friendly, here the full aniline doesn't stand a chance even if it is a very natural leather.
- Resistance: Cactus leather is surprisingly strong, this leather is more resistant to scratches, moisture and sunlight than aniline.
- Durability/Patina: Cactus leather has a life span of 10 years, which is less than real leather.
- Feel: The feel of aniline is probably unbeatable, but cactus leather is described as smooth and soft.
- Suppleness: Aniline is a soft leather, so again, despite the qualities of cactus leather, aniline is the softer of the two.
- Breathable: Between the most breathable synthetic leather and the most breathable real leather, which is the most porous? Quite frankly I don't know but both materials are extremely porous therefore breathable.
- Care: Cactus leather is easier to care for than napa leather which requires much more rigorous care.
- Price: Cactus leather has a similar price to real leather. But it is still cheaper than aniline which is expensive even for leather.
I guess I don't have to explain the differences between aniline and semi-aniline leather.
Pros & Cons
- ✔ It is the most beautiful and natural leather.
- ✔ Aniline leather is very soft and feels good to the touch.
- ✔ It is also a very absorbent leather.
- ✔ The patina of full aniline is beautiful, each accessory made with this leather will be unique over time.
- ✔ It is one of the most desired and appreciated leathers by experts and the general public.
- ✖️ It is a leather that is generally more expensive than others.
- ✖️ It is a material that is fragile to direct sunlight, moisture and tearing.
- ✖️ Aniline requires more rigorous maintenance than other leathers.
- ✖️ This leather is not recommended for families with young children or pets.
When buying leather, it is often difficult to make a choice. You have to take into account the price, your surroundings, the use or the time you will spend with it. There is no objective best choice, but rather a good choice for one situation rather than another. Are you more of an aniline lover or semi-aniline lover and why? Feel free to tell us in the comments! 😉
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