Leather, Suede, and Nubuck. What's The Difference?

Leather, Suede, and Nubuck. What's The Difference?

If you’re in the know about leather, you’ve no doubt heard of the different exotic types, including suede and nubuck. If you’re not in the know, you’re about to be. This article will educate you on the difference between suede and nubuck, and show you how to best take care of your suede or nubuck shoes.


How Leather Is Crafted

The difference in the two types - suede and nubuck - comes down to how leather is created from hide. Rawhide animal skins can be obtained from just about any animal, including cows, pigs, deer, goats and sheep. They may also be obtained from more exotic animals including alligators, sharks, kangaroos, snakes, and fish.

Rawhide skins are tanned - see how in The History of Leather - through a variety of methods aimed at prolonging the life of the hide. Hides become leather once they undergo a chemical process that changes the protein structure of the hides. Once they come out of it, the leather is pliant, supple, and durable. This is one of the reasons why leather still continues to be popular.

Dr. Dermis and Mr Hide: The Layes of Leather

The below picture shows the separation between layers of hide. Starting from the bottom is the flesh (either fat or muscle) removed from the animal before tanned hide processing. Next is the split: the splitting of the inner layer of leather (known as the “split”) and the grain end of the leather on the exterior of the hide (known as the “grain”). Generally, all leather hides have to be split because a hide is too thick to be made pliant and bendable with the “split” and the “grain” attached. The hide accordingly, goes through a machine where a blade splits the hide into two layers. The last layer, shown in this picture as the epidermis generally has all the hair removed as is it undesirable in most forms of leather shoe, leather furniture, or leather fashion accessory production.


Nap Time: What Gives Suede and Nubuck That Distinctive Look?

Both types of leather are sanded to produce a velvet soft feel. The main difference is that nubuck is sanded on the outer surface of the leather, the part that would have been the exterior skin of the animal, while suede is sanded on the inner layer of the skin.

Naps are short protein fibers that give suede and nubuck that fluffy and velvety surface. To keep naps raised use a soft nap brush; these soft bristles don’t damage the sensitive suede & nubuck surface and work to lift nap upright, giving your shoes that traditional velvet feel. 

Nubuck Is Tougher and Suede is Softer

Naturally, the outside of a hide is tougher than the inside of a hide. It has to be in order to protect the animal from damage. Since nubuck is made from the outside of the hide, accordingly it is more rough and tough and long-lasting than suede. Suede is made from the “split” end of the hide and is softer, more porous, and less resistant to scuffs and stains. But boy is it soft! Suede is often used in the lining of gloves and shoes.

To keep suede looking its softest choose a suede spray that can weatherproof and moisturize this creamy material. Look to brands like Four SeasonsCollonil, and KIWI. Refresh and rejuvenate suede with these high-quality leather care products.

Keep in mind that although suede and nubuck are made from different parts of an animal, their difference is only skin deep. We hope this article was informative; for more leather care tips please visit our blog.

And to learn more about how Elvis kept his suede and nubuck shoes in tip top shape, click here!  

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  • Alex Pop
Comments 3
  • DJ

    Actually G.Allen Boyd – If you finished reading the article carefully enough, the last two words take you to what you are looking for. The words are “click here.” You’re welcome. Have a great day!

  • G.Allen Boyd
    G.Allen Boyd

    History was good but No information on care of as stated. Thanks

  • Nick

    I didn’t realise leather was so interesting. If I’m ever in a quiz and a question on leather comes up, I’ll be glad I read this. Thanks

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