Coloured Leather

The basic colour of leather before it is dyed depends on the tanning method. Vegetable tanning leaves it brown, synthetic tanning makes it white, while bluish-grey is the result of chrome tanning. 

But, thanks to the wide range of dyes available, hides can be transformed into just about every colour you can imagine.

  1. Through coloured leather - when dyes penetrate the surface, colouring the leather throughout.
  2. When the surface or pigmented area is subsequently coloured after being dyed through.

Let us now look at the two methods in more detail:

Through Coloured Leather

The leather is soaked in large, barrels or vats containing aniline dye. Then the dye is fixed and the excess rinsed off. Since aniline dyes are transparent, leaving the grain structure visible, they only work in darker colours.

                     Drum Tanning leather   Leather tanned in drums

In the case of lighter colours, no additional dyes are applied. When viewed in cross section, it is evident that as a result of tanning the leather in cross-section is so bright that it appears almost white. 

Smooth leather, which is dyed through, but has no additional protective layer of paint on the surface, is classed as Aniline leather. 

Suede or nubuck leathers can only be dyed through. Sometimes they are embossed and printed with patterns. These embossed surfaces can be pigmented or smooth. Embossed nubuck was very popular in the 90s for furniture. 

Leathers are usually dyed to cover scuffs, signs of wear or colour damage. If a similar colour tone in the damaged area shines through, it is a clear example that the leather is dyed through completely. Whereas, when the surface colour and the underside (flesh side) do not match, it is usually considered to be of lower quality. Nowadays, a leather is therefore ideally completely coloured in the same colour as the surface colour.

Pigmentation

After the leather has been dyed through, a protective coat of paint pigment is sprayed on. Almost all leather used in cars, furniture, bags, clothing and shoes often have a protective layer of pigment. You can easily identify pigmented leather by rubbing a small amount of water onto it. If it doesn’t penetrate the surface, it is pigmented leather.

                        Tannery leather pigmentation   Colour Sprayed on leather

Smooth leathers are designated according to the thickness of the pigment layer, as follows: 

  • No layer of colour : aniline leather . 
  • Little paint, but hair pores still visible: semi-aniline leather 
  • Lots of color and hair pores only slightly or not at all visible: pigmented leather.

Aniline leather can have a pigment-free finishing of more than 0.01 mm (= 10 micrometres (microns) thick. A normal leather finish has 0.035 to 0.04 mm thickness. In car leathers the thickness is more than 0.1 mm.

These pigments can represent just about all leather colours. There are shades of leather with light effects or metallic effects.  A protective lacquer top coat is also sprayed onto the colour to prevent it from damage. The top coat controls the stability and the degree of gloss of the leather. A pigment layer makes a leather feel less soft and ‘colder’, compared with Aniline leather.

 

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