How To Quickly Identify Your Leather Type ... Before Using Any Care Or Restoration Products

photo of different leathers

With so many different types of leather available for cars, furniture, and even clothing, bags and shoes, it's not easy to identify the difference between the leathers used.

Here's a very simple way to know what type of leather you have, focusing on car and furniture leathers.

Here's A Simple Chart To Make It Easy ...

leather types diagram

To keep things really simple, I've divided leathers into 3 categories:

  1. Aniline, Nubuck or not sealed (finished)
  2. Semi-Aniline or Lightly Finished
  3. Sealed or Top Finished

In all categories, the leather substrate is dyed, usually to a colour which is related to the intended finished colour.

You'll also notice the main differences are in the amount of pigment, clear sealer and if a print colour is used. A print colour is a thin darker colour lightly applied over a base colour to achieve and 2-tone effect.

Waxed oiled or pull-up leather is processed differently from those in the diagram. Yes, it is dyed like the others but instead of a clear sealer over the top, hot oils and waxes are used. If I had to put it in the diagram, waxed oiled leather would be closest to semi-aniline.

Hopefully this all makes sense. Now, let's take a closer look.

Examples Of Different Leather Types:

Top Finished or Sealed Leathers:

Top finished, sealed leathers all have an even sheen over the surface, ranging from satin or low sheen to a gloss.

They do, however, come in different finishes:

  1. Single Colour
  2. Mottle or Two-Tone.

So, let's look at some examples ...


This leather has a single, solid colour with an even sheen over the entire surface.

Here's the single colour process:

  1. Dyed
  2. Pigmented (single colour, several coats)
  3. Clear Sealer
top finished leather
car seat leather

Products You Can Use On Single Coloured Leather:


antiqued leather

Mottled or 2-tone leather is finished with two colours and here's how it's processed:

  1. Dyed
  2. Pigmented Base Colour (single colour, several coats)
  3. A dark colour either lightly sprayed or printed over the top (called the print colour)
  4. Clear Sealer

This is how the antiqued look is achieved. A clear sealer over the surface gives a final protective layer.

After several years of wear, the print colour will often wear off in high wear areas exposing the base colour ...

print colour wearing off

Products You Can Use On Mottled Leathers:

Waxed Oil Or Pull-Up Leather

waxed oil leather example

Waxed oil or pull-up leathers are simply dyed leather with waxes and oils rolled over the surface which darkens the leather and give its distressed characteristics.

Here's how waxed oiled, pull-up leathers are processed:

  1. Dyed
  2. Hot Oils and Waxes Rolled Over The Surface
  3. Rolled With How Rollers To Shine and Smooth The Leather

When you press your finger into a hidden area, the colour generally lightens. This is because the oil is always mobile and moves with pressure.

Over time, direct sunlight and heat will evaporate the waxes and oils, causing the leather to lose suppleness and the original dye will often fade.

faded waxed oil leather couch

but if the dye has faded, this will need to be refinished professionally.

Products You Can Use On Waxed Oiled Pull-Up Leathers:

Semi-Aniline Or Lightly Finished Leather

semi-aniline leather

Semi-Aniline leather is dyed and is often lightly pigmented, with a clear sealer making it easier to clean.

How Semi Aniline leather is processed:

  1. Dyed
  2. Sometimes lightly pigmented
  3. Clear Sealer

This leather will have an even sheen and will feel softer and more pliable than normal top-finished leathers. This is because there is very little pigment used.

Products You Can Use On Semi-Aniline Leather:

Aniline Or Unfinished Leather

sample of aniline leather

These leathers are dyed with NO pigment or sealer, making it very easy to mark and stain.

Here's how it's processed:

  1. Dyed only

One of the ways this leather is identified is, it will darken if you firmly press a wet finger onto the surface. If you look closely in the photos (above and below), the nap slightly changes colour when you run your hand over it. It's almost like suede.

close up of aniline leather

You can use the leather cleaner (with sponge) and leather conditioner but not the protector.

Products You Can Use On Unfinished Leather:


bicast leather sample

I thought I would inclue bicast as many folks are led to believe this is leather but simply put, is a polyurethane film bonded onto a background of compressed leather fibres.

Here's how bicast is processed:

  1. Bottom Split or leather board substrate
  2. Bonded film applied to surface

It has a firm glossy finish with a smooth vinyl-like surface.

Products You Can Use On Bicast:

NOTE: Because it has a plastic-like finish, the conditioner will NOT penetrate so the twin pack is best.

Still Not Sure?

No problem! If you could take some pics and send them to me, I'll happy to take a look for you. Simple.