Leather vs Vinyl- Tell The Difference

Leather vs Vinyl- Tell The Difference

When you receive vinyl and leather fabrics side by side, it can be challenging to determine which is leather and which is fabric. This is due to the advancement of vinyl quality, as it effectively mimics the feel and looks of leather. Vinyl and leather are popular fabric options for clothing, upholstery, etc. Choosing between the two can be difficult if you don’t know the difference. This leather vs vinyl comparison walks you through all you need to know about fabrics and their different types. So, without further ado, let’s begin. 

Types of Leather

The use of leather usually adds a sense of extravagance and luxury to your garment. On the other hand, leather use is classic and quite comfortable. There are varying types of leather available, and in this section of the leather vs vinyl comparison, we’ll be providing the top options available. 

Faux Leather

As the name implies, faux leather is not genuine leather. It is an artificial leather fabric from synthetic materials like rubber or plastic. With technology, faux leather has experienced significant improvement in its material composition over the year to increase the comfort level it offers users. Faux leather is exceptionally durable and looks like original leather. However, it is a cheaper option that manufacturers use for many things. One of the ways you can differentiate faux leather from the natural fabric is by adding a drop of water to the product. Leather absorbs water while faux does not. Therefore, while natural leather will absorb moisture, it will simply puddle on top of faux leather.

Bonded Leather

This option comes from mixing shredded leather scrap and fibers like in the production process of paper. This mixture is then made into a roll using adhesives and other bonding materials. Afterward, it is extruded into a fiber. After forming the roll, it usually undergoes drying to reduce the moisture content. Because bonded leather features 10-17% of leather, most manufacturers do not consider it genuine leather. However, this is a good option for manufacturers looking for low-cost leather to manufacture clothes or other items.

Bi-Cast Leather

Bi-cast leather is another type of leather to consider in this leather vs vinyl comparison. Manufacturers create it using the lowest layer, which is the hide split. Unfortunately, the lowest layer is weak and usually too flawed for regular use. That’s why bi-cast leather lacks the natural beauty of the top-grain layer. Polyurethane usually covers the lowest layer, and it is then embossed to look like genuine leather for production. A downside is that bi-cast leather doesn’t offer the same comfort and features you enjoy when you use the top-grain layer. However, it is an economical option for people who want to achieve the look of leather without paying a high price. It is an affordable option, but it is far less durable than genuine leather. 

Suede Leather

This variety of leather is one of the most standard options available. It is made using the inner part of the animal hide. It is visible when you look at the underside of the leather. You can make suede leather from any animal hide. However, the common choice for most suede producers is goat, calf, lamb, deer, or pig. The animal used also affects the suede finishing. To achieve a thin, soft material, manufacturers usually cut off the thin innermost layer of the hide. Unlike other leather types reviewed above in this leather vs vinyl comparison, this option is quite pricey. However, it is still cheaper than genuine leather. Additionally, it gets dirty quickly and is a difficult fabric to clean. 


This describes the leather that retains the original imprints from the animal hide producers. To create a full-grain leather, you have to remove the hair in the skin of the hide. However, there is no finishing or polishing done on the grain of this leather. Although this leather looks imperfect, the goal is to ensure it retains the original texture and markings of the original hide. Over time, this type of leather feels better against the skin. It is a rare type of leather because of its quality. Full-grain leather is amongst the most expensive leather types you can find today.


You can also find semi-aniline, which is a common type of leather. This leather is slightly pigmented, and the treatment it receives gives it a light-protecting coating on the surface. This protective coating helps to protect the leather from all types of scratches. The downside of leathers that feature this kind of finishing is that the added pigmentation usually takes away some of the leather’s natural elements by making the color uniform. In addition, while the protective coating protects the leather, it also prevents breathability in this type of leather. 

Top-Grain Leather

This is quite similar to full-grain leather and is considered the second-best leather quality, next to full-grain leather. It is a type of leather formed by splitting the blemished hide from the rest. Next, the process requires sanding and refinishing before you can use it for different products. Unlike full-grain that becomes better with time, top-grain leather doesn’t age well. Despite its strength and durability, it doesn’t hold up well when used frequently. Because it doesn’t feature the strongest fibers of the animal hide, it is easy to pull this fabric apart.

Genuine Leather

Finally, we have the genuine leather option, which is the last type of leather we’ll be considering in this leather vs vinyl comparison. This leather is regarded as the third-best quality of leather, and it is created from the layers remaining after splitting the top for the top-grain and full-grain leather. The surface of the genuine leather requires refinishing to ensure it looks like a higher grade. Manufacturers can make it from middle layers like the layer between the top grain and the suede. Genuine leather is easiest to maintain and usually lasts for several years with the proper maintenance.

Types of Vinyl Fabric

Vinyl is one of the most versatile fabrics available, and it is used for different products. However, its quality makes it an exceptional fabric for clothing and upholstery. There are three main types of vinyl fabric, and we’ll be reviewing them below in this leather vs vinyl comparison. 

Commercial Grade Vinyl

This type of vinyl is also called expanded vinyl. It is a foam type of material considered heavy duty. Most of this type of vinyl offers a texture on the surface. It is a durable option which makes it perfect for heavy-duty garments. Many companies now add special coatings to this fabric to protect its texture and make it last longer. Adding an anti-stain layer to the commercial-grade vinyl helps to improve its effectiveness.

Marine-Grade Vinyl

This is an excellent option when you need vinyl for outdoor use. This marine-grade vinyl comes with special protection to ensure it holds up under ultraviolet rays. These additional treatments help to prevent color fading when used. Producing this type of vinyl is as simple as creating the commercial-grade option. However, it always features added protection.

Non-Expanded Vinyl Grade

This type of vinyl has a backing made from cloth to strengthen the fabric while holding it in place. Most times, non-expanded vinyl is ideal for light garments. The lining it features is usually cheesecloth, flannel, or woven linen. This type of vinyl is common in the production of clothing, bags, and furniture that you won’t regularly use because of how easily it tears. 

Leather vs Vinyl – The Differences

Now that you know the different types of vinyl, learning the differences is essential to tell them apart when you come across them. Below are some of the main differences between leather and vinyl.


Genuine leather usually features an organic and natural scent that’s almost impossible to manufacture using synthetic material. Genuine leather gives off an earthy and distinctive aroma when used. On the other hand, vinyl usually feathers an unpleasant chemical and plastic odor that you can’t confuse with authentic leather. That’s why it’s best to first learn the scent of leather before comparing it with other similar materials. 


In terms of breathability, leather takes the win in this leather vs vinyl comparison. This is because vinyl is made from plastic and tends to absorb a lot of heat when used in summer. Although leather also absorbs heat, it offers more breathability features than vinyl.


Vinyl is the best option for outdoor use, as constant exposure to sunlight and water can affect leather over time. While vinyl and leather look similar and offer you the same stylish appearance you achieve with leather, people prefer leather for its patina tint and unique crease patterns. 


Processing leather takes time and is usually a tedious process. Therefore, leather is generally expensive due to its material and processing method. On the other hand, vinyl is usually an affordable option because it uses synthetic material, and the production process is easy. Leather comes from animals and requires lots of processing to become fashionable and attractive; vinyl does not. You can easily mass-produce it in large quantities using a machine.


Telling whether the material is vinyl or leather is easy if you know what to look for. Look out for tiny pores in leather materials. Vinyl has no pores since it features synthetic material and usually offers users a smooth surface. Look out for rough animal edges and natural hide marks in real leather, as you cannot achieve this in synthetic imitation. Note that no two leather items are the same.

Additionally, leather has a noticeable grain and texture, which you can feel when holding it. Vinyl is smooth and doesn’t offer a texture. Leather is also quite flexible when stretching it and is soft and supple to the touch. 

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Final Thoughts

It can be challenging to determine if a garment is leather, vinyl, or a combination of both options. There are different types of leather and vinyl, and they come with various features that make them distinguishable. This article sheds insight on the different types to help you understand better. You can also check out the distinctive features that help determine if a material is vinyl or leather. We hope this leather vs vinyl article makes it easier to determine the difference and learn the best option for you. 

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Leather vs Vinyl- Tell The Difference When choosing the suitable material, it can be difficult when it’s two similar materials. Read this leather vs vinyl comparison to make your decision.
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