Leather Vs. Synthetic Leather: The Complete Guide

Every leather has its unique characteristics that make them the best to use with a certain leather project. As leatherworkers, when it comes to picking the leather to use, we always wanted the best and most durable kind to give customers the satisfaction they wanted. So let me familiarize you with some of the leather’s characteristics you should keep an eye on that will help you know if it is authentic leather or synthetic leather.

Authentic  leather is made from animal hides such as buffalo, cattle, and even pigs. In contrast, the synthetic leather was made from plastic material and treated with dyes to make it look like leather from texture to color.

In doing a leather project, the quality of leather we will use plays a big part. You should know where and when to use each type. There are also different ways to treat them, and that is exactly why I am here, writing this article. Aside from the main difference between authentic and synthetic leather, you will also know the leather’s characteristics that will help you decide what to use and why it is best for your leather project.

Leather Vs. Synthetic Leather: Their Characteristics

There are synthetic leathers that feel like real leather, and it adds up to the confusion of what leather is best to do for one project. Truly, leathers can be hard to distinguish if it is real or not; that is why in this section, we will discuss the main characteristics that a leatherworker should know to recognize which is which.

Authentic leather: Main Characteristics You Should Know

Let’s start by talking about the main characteristics of authentic leather. Usually, authentic leather came from sheep hide, oxen, goats, buffalo, and cattle. It is treated with dyes and other chemicals that make it durable and stretchable, so it can last for years without even getting damaged. And since the animals we mentioned have different skins, you should observe the detailed lines, stretch marks, and skin patterns if they are alike because all real leathers are unique. It also has pores that absorb the leather conditioners and oils you put in but also remember that it is not waterproof.

If you want to invest in authentic leathers, be sure to save as early as now because real leathers are a bit pricey, especially the full-grain one that has never undergone any sanding.  The artisans put a lot of effort into giving us quality leather, so they deserve to get the price for doing such hard work.

You can also tell it is real leather by simply looking at it because real leather has a luxurious appearance. Like a fine wine, it only gets beautiful as time passes by because of the patina produced as it ages. Although the color and shine may fade, they can still be enhanced with regular maintenance.

Synthetic leather: Main Characteristics You Should Know

Now let’s go to the main characteristics of synthetic leather that you must know.  Synthetic leathers are made out of plasticizers but keep in mind there is a type that still uses authentic scrap leather, which is faux leather. It is also treated with dye but with additional chemicals like polyurethane to make it more leather-like. Since it uses ingredients that can be found and bought easily, it is way cheaper than authentic leather, perfect for leather crafters who want to sell cheap leather products. It has a smooth texture and shine, and the good news is it is waterproof, so there will be no problem even if you accidentally spill your water on it.

What’s also good about synthetic leather is that you can decide the design to put on it to look more attractive. The only issue is since it is synthetic, it is not heat resistant. Synthetic leather can also be used in any leather projects but avoid or limit using it when making leather garments because it is not stretchable and can only cause reaction or irritation to the skin. However, it is best when making leather wallets and other cheap leather accessories for busy people who don’t have time to clean leather regularly.

Authentic Leather And Synthetic Leather: The Pros And Cons

Aside from knowing the two types of leather’s main characteristics, it is also essential for you to know their pros and cons. You can easily decide the leather that will suit you best for your next project by learning these.

Make Projects Like The Designer Brands With Authentic Leather

Many designer brands use authentic leather besides the fact that it can cost hundreds of dollars. They chose this kind for their world-class leather bags, wallets, and other leather products because of their durability and unique patterns that every collector wants. And surely authentic leather has the title of “The Best Leather To Use When Making Leather Garments” for it gives a much more breathable feeling because it can be stretched to fit you, which is good for your skin.

If you are to do projects with authentic leather in the future, do it like how designer brands do. Invest into it, and for sure, you will earn money, fame and name in the leather crafting industry.

Things You Need To Know Before Purchasing Authentic Leather

Image: The Jacket Maker

Although authentic leather has many characteristics that you will love, there are still those that you need to watch out for. For example, if you own a leather sofa made from authentic leather, you better not own any pets that have claws because they might scratch it or step on it, which can damage your sofa’s beauty. And if we talk about where it should be placed, ensure that it is in a warm and away from direct sunlight because authentic leathers are sensitive to high temperatures. It is also prone to having cracks and stains if it is not treated properly, so it should be given proper care, especially if it is often used. But don’t get too overwhelmed from using too much leather conditioners on it for it can clog leather’s pores, resulting in dark spots.

Are you thinking of giving your vegan friend a gift? Well, never go for an authentic leather product, for they claim that making leather is an act of animal cruelty. Be sensitive! Do not give them any, even if your intention is good or it was just a joke because you will only offend them anyways.

Synthetic Leather: Things You Might Love About It

Of course, the first thing that serves as an advantage for synthetic leather is that it is cheaper than real leather. And it can be designed based on what you want. If you want it to be a rainbow leather, go ahead and make one. If you want an animal print leather, you can freely choose the animal skin design to put on it. Also, PVC and PU, which are types of synthetic leathers, are 100%  vegan friendly, which means it is made only with plasticizers and there’s no animal killing involved.

If you love your wallet to have a glossy finish and are a busy person who doesn’t have time to clean your leather regularly, synthetic leather would be perfect for you because it requires little to no maintenance at all.

Take A Note Of Synthetic Leather Cons

Like authentic leather, synthetic leather also has cons that you should know to decide better what to use. Let’s start by it being plastic. Economically speaking, synthetic leather is way cheaper  than real leather. That’s why many leather workers still choose to make projects with it. But environmentally speaking, it is wasteful, for it can add up to the environmental problem that we have, which is global warming.  In addition, when a garment was made with synthetic leather, you better not wear it as often as possible because it is not hypoallergenic.

Authentic Leather Vs. Synthetic Leather: Time To Compare!

For the great comparison, this section was made to serve as a guide and answer to better understand the difference between these two kinds of leather. We’re going to break down all their price differences, look, smell, etc., so keep reading because you still have to know a lot!

Take a Look At Its Appearance

       Image Source: CDN Decoist

When shopping for leather in a warehouse or anywhere, you will see a variety of leather displayed right in front of your eyes, which might confuse you. But don’t fret! Because there are ways to determine real leather and synthetic leather by just looking at it.

Image Source: swatches.alma1938

Leather experts like Al Stohlman can surely know if the leather is real or not, and it is time for you to be like Mr. Stohlman! Real leathers came from different animal hides, which means the details, patterns, lines, stretch marks should never be in the same look. Furthermore, it should have a buffed skin, and it must have imperfections for some of it does not undergo sanding, especially the full-grain leather. And suppose you have the heart and eye for luxury brands. In that case, you can easily tell an authentic leather by its luxurious appearance that only gets sumptuous as time goes by. It is  because of the patina. A chemical reaction  responsible for it to age beautifully. 

Image: MadeInChina.com

In contrast, synthetic leathers have a uniform look and they are shiny. Although they were made to imitate real leathers well, look carefully on its pores and see that they are perfectly aligned, unlike authentic leather. The best example of this would be the PU or polyurethane leather and faux leather that can addled your brain more.

Know Which Is More Durable

Image Source: Thumbs.Dreamstime

In this round, authentic leather won the durability title. Authentic leather can last a lifetime when taken care of properly. If you maintain its beauty, especially the limited edition leather products, even after decades, then expect to increase in value over time. Authentic leather feels like skin when touched. They are stretchable and will have a bit of wrinkles, but that’s nothing to worry about.

On the other hand, synthetic leather does not feel like skin at all. And due to its materials, it worms out quickly. Although authentic leather is more durable than synthetic leather,  if we talk about the synthetic group itself, they have their most durable type, the PVC leather.

Comparing Prices

Both authentic and synthetic leather making takes time. But because of the process from getting the layers of the skin to drying and hard work poured by the artisans, authentic leather became more expensive than synthetic leather. And this is without the help of any machines. Aside from this, authentic leather prices also depend on the animal skin that was used. So far, the most expensive leather is the ones that came from alligators and crocodiles, which cost $9  or more per centimeter.

Compared to authentic leather, synthetic leather is much cheaper than authentic leather because the materials used to make it are readily available in the market to mass-produce it even every day. In addition, it only needs a machine and a person to operate it.

Smell Test

Image: Zaman Promotions

Who knew that we could use three of our five senses to determine leather?  Here comes the smell test! To know if it is authentic or synthetic, always remember that authentic leather smells natural. It has a kind of pleasant odor that your nose will get addicted to. For sure, you’ll smell it just like how you love to smell newly bought books. Adjacent to that is that synthetic leather smells like plastic and leather applicator combined. Which means this has a strong smell that some don’t like.

Another way to know if it is authentic or not is by doing the burning test (if the store permits). To start, simply get a small piece from both kinds of leather and then burn them one at a time. The authentic leather will probably smell like burned hair, while the synthetic will smell like burning plastics.

Determining The Type Of Leather To Use In A Project

Although almost all of the leather projects can be made by both kinds of leather, they still have the projects that they suit best.

Let’s start with authentic leather. When you do a leather project using authentic leather, it will be more expensive because you also invested in your leather, aside from your tools. Many designer brands love to make leather projects using authentic leather and sets because they love its quality and durability. But other than that, they set aside the money they use to buy authentic leather because they know the money they invested will return to double or even triple! And the perfect type of authentic leather to make your first designer bag, wallet, purse, etc., is the full-grain and top-grain leather.

Now for the synthetic leather, if you do a project using this one, it will be much cheaper, perfect for people who don’t want to spend a hundred thousand on a single product.

Although synthetic leather, especially faux leather, can imitate authentic leather almost perfectly, don’t expect it to become even more beautiful as it ages because it doesn’t have a patina just like the authentic ones. However, if you are to open an upholstery business or you just want to test your creativity making one, synthetic leather will be perfect for it, particularly the PVC and PU leathers.

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