A few different pieces and types of leather all laying on top of each other.

Not All Leather Is Real (5 Ways to Spot the Difference)

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Three Types of Leather

Real Leather

Also known as “100 % leather,” “genuine leather,” or “true leather,” real leather is the hide of a cow without any synthetic materials.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is a material made up of scraps and extra pieces of leather. It’s mixed with synthetic materials, chemicals, and glue and then backed with a piece of paper.

Faux Leather

Faux leather is a plastic material that is treated with wax, dye, or polyurethane to create the colors and textures of leather you’re used to.

Real Leather: Three Grades

Now that we’ve covered our bases, let’s dive in a little deeper. Did you know there are three different grades of real leather? Stay with us.

1. Full-Grain Leather

Full-grain leather is the real deal. With full-grain products, you’re getting the best of the best, and it’s obvious, too. Because full-grain leather is made from the full cowhide in its natural, raw form, there is a certain kind of depth, color, and quality visible to the eye. This is why we use full-grain leather with our products at Bullstrap.

2. Top-Grain Leather

Top-grain leather is by no means a poor choice; it’s simply second best in line. “Top-grain” typically refers to the top layer of the cowhide that has been slightly altered. For example, top-grain leather is sometimes sanded down to conceal imperfections. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a) the sanding process can make the leather weaker and b) you don’t see the leather in its full, natural state – it loses some character. 

So, if you’re wanting the next best thing (at a more affordable price), top-grain leather is the way to go. We also use top-grain leather with some of our products at Bullstrap, depending on how thin the leather must be.

3. Genuine Leather

Last but not least – well, it technically is the least – we have genuine leather. Confusing, we know. Shouldn’t “genuine leather” rise above all else?  Unfortunately, this is what several consumers believe. In reality, genuine leather could come from any animal’s hide. That means you could unknowingly purchase goat leather, pig leather, or even discarded scraps constructed into something and think you’re getting the real deal. 

After taking random scraps of animal hide, altering it, layering it with chemicals, and structuring it into a bag, voila, you have genuine leather. This is why we are so particular about what grade of leather we use here at Bullstrap.  That being said, genuine leather is still better than bonded or faux leather.

5 Ways to Spot the Difference Between Real and Faux Leather

Back to knowing the difference between real or genuine leather and faux leather. Here are five ways to spot the difference:

1. Check the Label

Start with a simple label check. If anything on the label mentions “synthetic,” “polyester,” or “man-made materials,” it is not genuine leather.

Most genuine-leather products will indicate so on the label; leather is not easy to manufacture nor inexpensive, so manufacturers want you to know when their products are made with high-end materials.

2. Touch It

A man holding the Bullstrap leather AirPods case.

Real leather is soft to the touch, with a slightly grainy texture. Try pushing your finger into it; the material will flex with your finger and stretch only a little.

Faux leather, on the other hand, feels completely smooth throughout, offering no grainy texture. There is also no give to faux leather, so it cannot be stretched.

3. Smell It

Genuine leather has a distinct scent that cannot be replicated through fake materials. After you smell real leather once, you’ll be able to easily decipher whether or not the leather you’re sniffing is indeed genuine.

Faux leather will often smell like plastic or chemicals, while the scent of genuine leather is more earthy and natural. Trust us when we say real or genuine leather smells much better.

4. Look Closely

Check out the texture and grain of the material. Genuine leather is imperfect, with larger grain here and smaller grain there. You might also find slight creases or sporadic lines that run through the leather.

a close-up look at the Bullstrap’s leather iPhone case

Faux leather is far too perfect; the grain is often very similar in size throughout the material and sits in an exact pattern that has been stamped onto the material.

5. Check the Edges

If there is an exposed edge you can take a look at, by all means, check it out! Most faux-leather edges will look nice and clean-cut, without imperfections. Genuine-leather edges, however, are a bit more tattered and rough since the material is made from a true hide and not a synthetic plastic.

Benefits of Real or Genuine Leather


Genuine leather is considered a durable material and does not crack or peel. Since faux leather doesn’t breathe as well as genuine leather does, it ends up puncturing and cracking. Because of the way bonded leather is constructed, it can similarly scratch, peel, and even fade.


The texture of real leather is soft and tactilely satisfying. Bonded leather is thin and scrappy, while faux leather almost feels like plastic.


Genuine leather may not be the most popular product among vegans, but faux leather is made up of plastics that are not eco-friendly. 

Bonded leather uses chemicals and glue to bond the scraps of leather together. Over time, the release of these chemicals can make bonded leather a less eco-friendly option than genuine leather.

Bullstrap’s Commitment to Leather Lovers

At Bullstrap, we love leather. That should come as no surprise. We know you love leather, too, so we aren’t going to provide our customers with second-rate faux or bonded leather.

All of our leather products are made using supple calfskin leather, with microfiber interior linings and brushed stainless steel buttons. 

Quality is our highest priority; with a minimalist design and uncompromising commitment to quality, our leather iPhone case, leather watch straps, and leather bags are designed to exceed your expectations.

Come to Bullstrap, and find the finest materials that come to life with a patina unique to your lifestyle.

Check Out Bullstrap's Full-Grain and Top-Grain Leather Today