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The Tale of Leather vs. Vinyl Upholstery Fabric

Posted by on 07 Feb 2018

Leatherette, vinyl, bicast leather, polyurethane, you can call it whatever you want, but for this blog post we will call it Vinyl. This is a synthetic material made to look and act like leather but it is sold on a roll with a typical width of 54’’. Leather on the other hand is a hide from an animal, typically cow hide but can also be buffalo and more exotic animals as well. For upholstery purposes the standard is cow hide.

Generally speaking upholstery leather is from two areas, south america or Italy. The Italian hides offer more cutting and usable square foot area, which produces a higher yield of material for use. The process has been perfected in Italy and the hides are flawless, they are significantly more expensive then hides from south america. South American hides would be recommended only in cases where the customer wants real leather. The trend of south american hides will show branding marks, lots of bug bites and markings , along with holes in the hides which would be where imperfections were cut out. Don’t get me wrong there is some great product from South America, but these are things to consider when purchasing leather for upholstery. You must consider ordering about 20% extra to accommodate for unusable waste.

When working with leather, we have to address the issue of wrinkling or puddling. This is a major concern as leather is a skin, once pressure is applied it will stretch. Can the customer live with the product showing puddling? What about if we use the leather for tufting… that will look great but there could be some slight discoloration due to stretch and tension. These are all as we say, nature of the beast. Leather offers a premium product and feel, but how does it hold up against vinyl?

We are strong believers that the technology behind commercial grade vinyls and polyurethanes are far superior to the old school vinyls of years past. Major fabric houses are investing in green technologies bringing LEED friendly products to the market which are made to perform. These products look and feel like leather, but add additional benefits such as cleanability and lightfastness.

Where to use leather vs. where to use vinyl:

We recommend using vinyl in a hospitality setting as the maintenance is far superior to leather. That being said, leather will always be leather, meaning it will always feel far superior to the feel you will get from vinyl. The question becomes “what are you looking for?” Ease of maintenance or luxurious feel.

Companies we can stand behind for vinyl upholstery fabrics:


Knoll Textiles –

Designtex –

Companies we love that supply leather:

CTL Leather-

Maharam –


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