Top-Grain Leather for Shoe Making

The second layer, which has been sanded or buffed to remove imperfections.

Top-Grain Leather More flexible than full-grain but slightly less durable.

Mentioned in this video- Sneakers Making Course

Main characteristics of the Top-grain leather

Top-grain leather is a widely used and popular material known for its balance between quality, affordability, and versatility. It is the second-highest grade of leather, making it a practical choice for a variety of applications. Here are the key aspects that define top-grain leather:

Smooth Surface: Top-grain leather is derived from the upper layer of the hide, where the fibers are tight and uniform. This results in a smooth and even surface without the natural markings found in full-grain leather. It's often sanded and buffed to remove imperfections.

Durability: While not as thick or robust as full-grain leather, top-grain leather still offers good durability and resistance to wear and tear. It can withstand daily use and is commonly used in furniture, clothing, and accessories.

Affordability: Compared to full-grain leather, top-grain leather is more affordable. It strikes a balance between quality and cost, making it accessible to a wider range of consumers.

Versatility: Top-grain leather's smooth and consistent surface makes it a versatile material. It is commonly used in the production of furniture upholstery, wallets, belts, handbags, shoes, and clothing items like jackets.

Aging Process: Unlike full-grain leather, top-grain leather may not develop as distinctive of a patina over time. However, it can still gain character and a slightly worn appearance with use.

Maintenance: Proper care and maintenance are important to keep top-grain leather products looking their best. Regular cleaning and conditioning can help prevent drying and cracking.

Leather Types: Top-grain leather can be sourced from various animal hides, including cowhide and sheepskin. Each type has its unique characteristics, such as texture, grain pattern, and thickness.

Now, you can explore the world of premium leathers with my in-depth look at Box Calf, a luxury leather choice for the discerning craftsman. Delve into our detailed article to enrich your knowledge about this exquisite material.

cut leather for shoe upper


Description: Leather derived from the hide of young cattle, known for its softness, fine grain, and durability. Can be processed as full-grain or top-grain.

Thickness: Typically 0.9 - 1.2 mm.

Benefits: Offers a smooth and luxurious feel, is durable, and provides a fine grain that's ideal for high-quality footwear and other luxury items.

Common Uses: High-end dress shoes like Oxfords and Derbies, sneakers, luxury handbags, wallets, and other premium leather goods.


Description: Top-grain leather that's been lightly sanded or buffed on the grain side to create a velvety surface similar to suede but more durable.

Thickness: Typically 1.0 - 1.5 mm.

Benefits: Soft and has a distinct appearance, but can be more susceptible to stains and water damage.

Common Uses: Casual footwear like Oxford shoes, Derby shoes or Loafers, fashion-forward designs, and boots.

Saffiano Leather

Description: Top-grain leather that's been treated with a stamping method, giving it a cross-hatch texture.

Thickness: Usually 1.2 - 1.6 mm.

Benefits: Resistant to stains, water, and scratches due to its unique texture.

Common Uses: Luxury footwear, handbags, and accessories.

Corrected Grain Leather

Description: Leather that has had its surface imperfections corrected or sanded off, and then embossed to give it a uniform texture.

Thickness: Typically 1.0 - 1.4 mm.

Benefits: More uniform in appearance and often more affordable than full-grain.

Common Uses: Everyday footwear, especially where a consistent appearance is desired

Leather stack

Pull-Up Leather (or Waxed Leather)

Description: Top-grain leather that's been stamped with patterns or textures, such as crocodile or snake, to achieve a specific look.

Thickness: Typically 1.0 - 1.5 mm.

Benefits: Offers a unique and exotic appearance without the cost of genuine exotic leathers.

Common Uses: Fashion-forward footwear, statement pieces.

Patent Leather

Description: Top-grain leather that's been coated with a high-gloss finish, resulting in a shiny and sleek appearance.

Thickness: Typically 1.0 - 1.5 mm.

Benefits: Offers a polished and elegant look, and is also water-resistant.

Common Uses: Formal shoes like classical Flat Ballet shoes of High heels pumps, dance shoes, fashion-forward designs, and accessories.

Napa leather

Napa leather originally referred to the soft and smooth leather from Napa, California. Today, it's used to describe soft, smooth leathers in general. Napa leather is typically dyed and can be made from the outer (top grain) or inner (split) layers of the hide, but the most common and higher-quality Napa leathers are made from top grain.  So, when we are referring to top-grain Napa leather, we are talking about the outermost layer of the hide, which has been sanded or buffed to remove imperfections, resulting in a smooth and flexible leather. This makes it a type of top-grain leather.

So napa leather, often referred to as "napa" or "nappa," is a soft, smooth leather typically known for its pliability and buttery texture. It's commonly used for high-quality leather products, including gloves, wallets, upholstery, and, of course, shoes.

Napa leather can be made from the hides of different animals, including sheep, cows, and pigs. The primary characteristic that defines napa is its softness, which is achieved through a specific tanning process.

Description: Soft, smooth leather known for its pliability and luxurious texture.

Thickness: Varies, but typically on the thinner side, around 0.6 - 1.2 mm.

Benefits: Extremely soft to the touch, comfortable, and often has a fine grain.

Common Uses: Luxury footwear, gloves, handbags, and upholstery.

Depending on the grade and the particular tanning procedure applied, napa leather can be produced from both full-grain and top-grain leather. However, top-grain leather is most frequently linked with it since that material's surface is frequently buffed or sanded to obtain the leather's distinctive smoothness.

If you want to discover other materials that you can use in making your shoes, read more about it here.

Also, I welcome you to learn about the full shoemaking process, which will help you realize what you truly need in order to make shoes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Top-grain leather?

What is top grain leather?

Top grain leather is the second-highest grade of leather, known for its versatility and workability. Unlike full-grain leather, it is slightly thinner and more pliable but may not possess the same level of strength and durability.

What does top grain leather look like?

Top grain leather features a smooth and consistently patterned surface. Natural imperfections are removed by sanding, and an imitation grain pattern is often embossed onto the leather, giving it a uniform appearance.

Where does top grain leather come from?

Top grain leather is sourced globally, with leading producers including China, India, Italy, Brazil, Korea, and Russia. It is derived from the upper layer of the hide, with several millimeters of the surface removed to eliminate any imperfections.

How is top grain leather made?

The production of top grain leather involves sanding away the surface of the hide to create a blemish-free and smooth texture. This meticulous process results in its characteristic appearance.

How to maintain top grain leather?

To preserve top grain leather, it should be nourished every three months using an aniline dye or semi-aniline dye. Additionally, periodic conditioning helps maintain its softness and overall care.

What is the lifespan of top grain leather?

The longevity of top grain leather depends on factors such as the hide's quality, the type of product it's used for, and the care it receives. Proper maintenance can significantly extend its lifespan.

How thick is top grain leather?

While thickness can vary depending on the animal source, a typical cowhide, commonly used for top grain leather, is approximately the thickness of a coin.

Is top grain leather high quality?

Top grain leather is considered a high-quality leather type, but it falls just below full grain leather in terms of quality. While it offers a good balance of workability and durability, some consider full grain leather to be of even higher quality due to its unaltered grain surface.

Is top grain leather genuine leather?

Yes, top grain leather is genuine leather. It is derived from the top layer of the animal hide and is, therefore, a legitimate leather product.

What is better top grain or full grain leather?

Whether top grain or full grain leather is better depends on your specific needs. Full grain leather is known for its natural grain surface and durability, making it preferable for some applications. Top grain leather, on the other hand, offers increased workability and may have a smoother appearance, making it suitable for different uses. The choice between the two depends on your priorities and preferences.

Does top grain leather peel or crack?

Top grain leather, particularly when treated with a semi-aniline dye and protective coating, may experience peeling or cracking over time. The presence of protective coatings can affect its longevity and resistance to such issues. Proper care and maintenance can help minimize these concerns.

What are common uses of top grain leather?

Top grain leather is popularly employed for various everyday items due to its softness and attractive appearance. It is commonly used in the production of numerous products such as footwear, handbags, furniture and much more.

Online stores to buy leather for shoe making

Here are some online stores where you can purchase various leather types mentioned above:

All Shoemaking Supplies 

If you want to make shoes there is no way around it, you will need knifes, hammers, leather, glue, shanks, boards, and everything else to get the job done.
For that purpose I have created a detailed list of everything you need to make shoes.