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December 05, 2022 4 min read

by Monique Youzwa

Monique has been a full-time freelance writer for over 5 years, plus has a few fiction credits under her belt and is currently working on a novel. When not writing, she spends her time reading, playing video games, hiking, and camping with her husband and daughter.


The process of turning an animal hide into wearable leather involves several steps. One of the most significant aspects is finishing since it gives the leather its completed look. Finishes also prevent the dye from rubbing off onto other surfaces while protecting the leather. Of course, with so many options, it’s hard to know which one to choose, so let’s look at the most popular leather finishes and what you need to know about them.


Aniline leather receives its color from soluble aniline dyes, which maintain the pores for a more natural texture and a soft, smooth finish. It is made of top or full grain leather, ensuring the highest quality piece. A thin coating is usually applied on top for protection against wear, though it is susceptible to sun and water damage.


Semi-aniline uses similar aniline dyes as aniline leather. The result is more pigmentation for a natural appearance. The pores are large and distinct, though a light finishing coat is applied to hide noticeable blemishes. Semi-aniline leather can have a slight sheen and resists moisture and sunlight damage.


Pigmented leather is one of the most common and highest-quality finishes. A resin-based pigment is applied to full grain leather, hiding the pores, defects, and natural color for a smooth, uniform appearance. Though this leather isn’t as breathable, it offers exceptional resistance to light and water.


Pull-up leather, also known as oil, waxy, or waxed leather, has oil and a thick wax layer applied after pigmentation. The result is a dark coating, though as the leather moves, tiny cracks appear, revealing the light pigmentation underneath. The two-toned effect gives pull-up leather a worn, rugged look that evolves over time, though it is more vulnerable to scratches and abrasions.

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Nubuck is created when the surface of top grain leather is sanded, creating a nap of short protein fibers. The material feels velvety-soft, similar to suede, has a remarkable appearance and has high durability. It is expensive, though, and susceptible to water damage, so it needs to be kept dry.


Made of split leather, suede is created when the material is buffed to raise the corium fiber, resulting in an even layer of short fibers. Suede is durable, soft, and stylish, making it a terrific option for jackets, shoes, and gloves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mix well with moisture.


An embossed finish occurs when the leather is pressed using a hot metal patterned plate. The leather retains the pattern permanently and is often used to mimic the look of crocodile, snake, lizard, or other exotic animal skins as an affordable alternative to genuine exotic hides. The downside is reduced breathability and a firm, stiff feel.

Antiqued Grain

An antiquated grain finish makes new products look aged and worn. The process involves a few tones of finish layered over the material to accentuate depressions and hollows, creating a natural patina in very little time. A thin, protective coating is applied, adding moisture resistance while maintaining flexibility. It is a specialized process, though, so it can be more expensive.

Dry Milled

To create a dry milled finish, leather is placed into a milling drum. The heat and rotation of the drum enhance the natural lines in the material while creating a pebbled effect. The finished product is incredibly soft, with a unique, lived-in look.


Patent leather has a lovely, shiny surface. Traditionally, this sheen was created using linseed oil, though modern leather companies replaced this with liquid resin or laminated plastic. Though durable and eye-catching, the coating isn’t biodegradable, so it is not an eco-friendly choice.

Leather finishes

Final Word

Leather finishes give the leather its final look, but with so many options, the right choice should reflect what you’re looking for in a finish. For high durability and moisture resistance, aniline or semi-aniline are best. Those looking for a soft velvety feel may want to stick with nubuck or suede. For an aged look, antiqued grain is a good choice, while a patent finish gives the leather a shine that can’t be beat.

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