It’s pretty easy to confuse real authentic leather with faux or bonded leather. And the reason is not far-fetched.

Both Faux leather, also known as PU, and Bonded leather are quite similar in look and feel like the real thing. And it does not help too that plenty unscrupulous marketers are pushing these materials as the authentic leather.

For someone not experienced in identifying these materials; telling which one is original and which one is bonded or PU is simply hard.

We’ve heard stories of people who supposedly purchased leather goods only to find out later that it was actually synthetic.

And considering that leather is much more expensive than faux or bonded, it becomes even more important to tell the difference between them.

In this piece, you’ll learn what real leather is, plus how to identify PU leather from Bonded. You’ll also learn what to look out for before purchasing either of these fabrics.

So, let’s get started…

What is Real Leather?

It’s safe to say at this point; you have come across goods with the “Real Leather” label, right?

But, the question is, is it actually real or genuine?

If you noticed, I’ve used both “real” and “genuine” in this piece. And I can imagine you asking “Are both terms not the same thing?”

Well, strictly speaking, they are not. Real leather describes the full complete layers while the term genuine leather is often a marketing gimmick.

Stay with me, and you’ll get to understand what I mean.

So, back to our initial question: What is Real leather?

Leather is an organic, long-lasting, and flexible fabric made from treating animal hides with chemicals. The process of transforming rawhides into usable material is known as tanning.

The processed leather is then used in the manufacturing of several items including shoes, car seat upholstery, clothing, fashion accessories, sofa, book bindings, and bags.

Pay attention to here, as this is where it starts getting a bit confusing.

Real leather is generally grouped into three grades – top-grain, split grain, and full-grain leather.

Think of these grades as the possible range of quality you can get from leather. The full-grain being the premium, most expensive grade while the split grain is the least costly, lower quality leather you can ever get.


The Full-Grain Leather

As the name implied, this leather grade offers the highest quality. It comprises the entire layers of an animal hide, including all the imperfections, toughness, and natural traits of a rawhide.

Due to its toughness and durability, they are often used to make heavy-duty goods such as utility belts and weapon holsters. This does not mean it can’t be used for dress belts, dress shoes, work boots, briefcases, and other leather goods; though, the items will cost a lot more.


Split Grain

On the scale of quality, the split grain leather is the least quality. It is created from the lower remains of the leather after removing the top layer.

What happens is during processing all hides are split into two; the reason is, they are too tough and pretty hard to use in any kind of manufacturing.

The lower layer of the hide is the split grain leather. Most low priced goods are made from this grade.



Sandwiched between the high-end full-grain leather and least quality split grain. The top-grain leather is the upper part of the hide.

It is made by splitting full-grain hide into two; the rough patches, scratches, and imperfections are sanded away from the hide and then treated and dyed to provide a consistent look.

The finished product looks great; however, you should keep in mind that it doesn’t age well compared to full-grain.


What is PU/Faux Leather?

PU leather, also known as pleather or leatherette, literally means manmade. A type of faux leather made to look and feel like an authentic rawhide leather without having to use any animal hide.

It is an imitation of the real thing; and often, if you’re not experienced with handling leather, you can mistake it for a real one.

There are many ways to make PU leather; however, the most common method used by manufacturers is to combine polyurethane with split grain then paste it on a surface – this process ensures that PU goods are cheaper.

The only thing going for this type of leather is that it is inexpensive. But, it is not particularly durable. Hence, goods made of PU are likely to suffer some damages within a couple of years.


What is Bonded Leather?

Bonded leather, also called blended leather or reconstituted is a type of leather made from bonding together scrapes from the hide splitting process.

Remember, the hide splitting process we talked about earlier? Well, as you can imagine, during the process, scraps of leather are created. These tiny bits instead of being thrown away are gathered together then blended to form a new piece of material.

To make bonded leather, manufacturers often ground together with the scrapes of hides with plastics before sticking them unto a hard fiber surface. Then finish it off by adding coats of colors and paints which make the material resemble the real thing.

Depending on a manufacturer’s standard, the bonded material could contain as little as 20 percent real L and still be classified as a leather product. Though, in most countries, anything less than 20 percent are classified as faux.

Now you know what each term means; let’s look at their difference in regards to their quality, cost, and durability.

The main difference between Real, PU and Bonded

1. Quality

real leatherReal Leather – that is full-grain, is durable. Goods made from full-grain leather are very likely to last you a lifetime as long as you take proper care of them.

They pretty much age well as they don’t wear out easily instead develop a patina, which is a thin film protecting the surface from damage.

Another essential quality of real leather is its breathability. A feature that comes in handy if the goods are exposed to extreme weather conditions.

However, keep in mind that the material often tends to absorb oil and odor easily.


Bonded as mentioned earlier, is the lowest grade of leather. This means, goods made from this type of material don’t last for long.

And often the surface starts peeling within two to three years of continuous use.


PU leather, on the other hand, does not hold up as long as real leather. Also due to the strong coating, it is not breathable which makes the material prone to extreme weather conditions.

That is, it gets extremely hot during sunny, sweltering weather and cold during winter. Plus, if used as upholstery, it can get quite sticky.

After a couple of years of continuous use, the material is prone to tear or peeling of the polyurethane coating. In addition, it tends to transfer color onto other pieces of fabric, unlike real leather.


2. Cost

leather costHands down real leather cost more than the other types. And there’s a good reason for it.

It’s guaranteed that you’re going to get the money worth of your goods plus more since it is durable.

PU and Bonded leather both cost relatively less than the authentic one.


3. Durability

If durability is a major concern for you and cost is not a problem, you may want to go for real leather goods. The thing is, the 100% genuine material is made entirely of animal hide.

If however, on the other hand, you just want a product you could use for a couple of years or perhaps, you are on a budget, Bonded or PU products are the best options to check out.


Wrapping it up

Real 100% authentic leather made goods are going to serve you for a very very long time. However, you must be willing to fork out good money for it.

Bonded and PU made goods though not as durable as the real thing has their merits. Like a relatively cheaper price point. Diverse color options to make your choice. And the fact that they often look like the real thing.

At the end of it all, deciding on which leather grade to go for depends on your personal preference, budget, and what purpose you need the material.


Nick Davis

Technology blogs contributor, I love everything that's high-tech and super solid. While traveling, hiking and surfing, I make sure to put my gear to the toughest tests. Join me in my quest of discovering gadgets with superpowers!

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