leather 101: pigmented or aniline?

Leather is indestructible, right?

That is one of the most common questions I am asked when working with a client who is considering leather for their home.  Often, they are weighing the option of the more expensive leather over an upholstery option. They are hoping that selecting the leather would be equivalent to a bullet proof vest for their new investment. This would be a true statement in most cases for a pigmented leather, but not all leathers are created equal.

Understanding the options available and being realistic about how you are going to use the furniture in your home are my best bits of advice I can offer at this stage of the design.  Will it be used in a family room with small children and pets and popcorn?  How about direct sunlight?

A little leather 101

Pigmented leather has been treated with a pigment for color consistency while also having a top coat added for protection.  This leather will have maximum resistance to wear and fading though it will still need to be conditioned regularly so the leather doesn't dry out or crack.  The downside of pigmented leather?  The color will only have been applied to the surface layer {like a paint in a sense}so if it is scratched the natural color will show through.

Pure Aniline leather is soaked in large vats or barrels of dye so the color is soaked into every layer of the hide.  The color will be lighter and darker in areas due to the way it soaks into the hide naturally.  In my opinion the color inconsistencies and inherent imperfections from healed scars and wrinkles on the animal all add to the appeal of this type of leather.  No top coat for protection is applied on a pure aniline, just a wax that adds to the softness so this leather will fade in sunlight and oils will soak in creating dark spots.  Regular use will create a great patina over time.  Like a well worn leather coat.  Totally gorgeous.

A perfect case study in how aniline differs from pigmented leather:

A wonderful client called yesterday to ask what she could do for her leather sofa she bought from us a few months ago.  She'd gotten a pedicure then snuggled up on the sofa and the oils they used on her feet soaked into the cushion leaving a terrible black splotch on the cushion.  She couldn't believe this had happened since she'd had other leather furniture before and never had to worry about this before. But this new one even got spots if she got water drops on it.  Is there something wrong with it?  No, just the difference between between the types of leather out there.

I suggested ordering a leather degreaser foam to apply to the rough side of the leather {inside the cushion in this case}.  It will pull the oils through the leather, hopefully lightening the dark spot on her cushion.

So what if you want the great imperfections of aniline while getting the protection and durability of pigmented? The perfect compromise: Find a protected or semi - aniline leather which has a little pigment added and a top coat of some kind {different options and methods out there}added for strength and will keep the leather from fading in sunlight while allowing the beautiful natural imperfections to be seen.


  1. Now I want to curl up on a leather sofa.

  2. Great info. Thanks! Now I feel like buying a leather couch!! :)