What’s the difference between aniline leather and semi-aniline leather?
Aniline leather is leather dyed using only transparent aniline dyes, which preserves the full characteristics (blemishes, hair pores, etc.) of the leather. Semi-aniline leather is aniline leather finished with a protective top-coating that increases durability and water/weather-resistance of the leather, but sacrifices some visibility of the leather’s natural characteristics.
What is aniline leather actually?
Does the word “aniline” refer to an animal, a treatment process, a chemical coating, or something else entirely?
There are so many leather types (nubuck, suede, full grain, Heritage, etc.) to choose from that it can sometimes feel impossible to know which is the best type to craft boots with.
We’re here to help!
By the time you reach the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what aniline leather is, what it’s great for, where its flaws lie, and whether it’s the right material for your boots.
What Is Aniline Leather?
Bear with me for a moment while I dive into some history and science—they’re both necessary to help you understand what aniline leather is.
Aniline leather is any type of leather that is dyed using soluble dyes synthesized from aniline.
To expound: Aniline has been used as a dye since the 1800s. It revolutionized the dyeing industry in Germany, where it was first discovered, and quickly spread throughout the world.
Aniline dyes are soluble (meaning they absorb into the leather), but they’re also transparent (meaning they won’t cover up the leather’s details).
This is a very important detail, as you’ll soon see…
What Animal Does Aniline Leather Come From?
Interestingly enough, aniline leather doesn’t come from just one animal. In fact, it can be made using any animal hide:
- and the list goes on…
What makes “aniline leather” isn’t the base material, the hide used to craft it. No, what makes aniline leather is the aniline dye that is used to treat it.
(See, I told you the dye details I mentioned above would matter!)
How Is Aniline Leather Made?
Aniline leather starts off with an untreated raw animal hide. There are no corrections made to the skin (no sanding), so the skin retains all its natural colorations that give it true “character”.
For this reason, typically only the highest-quality leather is used for aniline leather.
After all, if you’re going to see the details in the leather, you want to make sure those details are beautiful: natural leather grain, no discolorations or blemishes.
Once the hide is ready for dyeing, it is colored using soluble, transparent aniline dyes.
Other dyes may cover up the surface (like a top-coat of paint) as they color the leather to the desired hue (black, brown, burgundy, etc.), but aniline dyes will only dye the deeper layers of the hide.
The top layer, the part visible, remained unaffected by the transparent dye. This means that the details—blemishes, discolorations, visible pores, even scars the animal might have had—all remain visible.
In fact, in order for leather to be categorized as “aniline leather”, the skin’s pores must be clearly identifiable after the leather is dyed.
And that’s it! The aniline dye is the only form of treatment that is applied to the leather (with the rare exception of some light non-pigmented hydrophobic treatments for waterproofing).
The resulting aniline leather will have color and character, but it is the most natural form of the leather types. It retains all the natural suppleness, smoothness, and warmth of the original hide.
It’s easily argued that aniline leather is the best leather because the dyeing process in no way interferes with the look, texture, or feel of the leather.
What Is Pure Aniline Leather?
Any leather that is free of finish and completely porous is classified as a “pure aniline leather” (or, often shortened to “pure aniline”). “Pure aniline” is also another name for “full aniline”.
With pure or full aniline leather, the pores and the hide’s characteristics are fully visible.
What Is Refined Aniline Leather?
“Refined aniline leather” is a term that refers to aniline leather that features a very thin coating of pigment on the surface.
According to regulations, the coating has to be thinner than 0.010 mm. By contrast, full aniline leather can’t have any pigment coating the surface.
The result of adding the pigment is a degree of waterproofing, as well as a natural resistance to the natural markings, fading, and discoloration that gives with regular use of (or damage to) leather.
Refined aniline leather is slightly more treated than full or pure aniline leather, but the addition of the pigment layer gives it a bit more durability.
What Is Pull-Up Aniline Leather?
Pull-up aniline leather is leather that is deep-drum-dyed using soluble, transparent aniline dyes that give it its color (without compromising its unique characteristics), then finished using a combination of transparent oils and waxes.
These oils and waxes don’t interfere with the leather’s natural character, won’t cover up the pores, and will leave the natural warmth, suppleness, and smooth hand-feel of the leather intact.
However, when the leather is pulled or stretched (such as around a boot mold), the color in those stretched areas migrate and lighten.
The “pull-up” coloration effect grows more pronounced the more the leather is stretched. Add to that the natural patination and marks that show up (due to wear, scuffs, and scratches), and pull-up aniline leather makes for a truly character-rich, really unique-looking leather.
Is Aniline Leather Good for Boots?
Aniline leather isn’t just good for boots; it’s very likely one of the best types of leather to use for boots, for a number of reasons:
- It’s softer and suppler than more heavily treated and thickly coated counterparts. This means they conform to the shape of your feet more easily and feel more “bespoke” as they develop the natural warmth and comfort that are the hallmark of a great pair of leather boots.
- It develops its own unique patina more quickly than treated leather, becoming more “personalized” with less wear necessary.
- It retains all the characteristics of the high-quality leather used in its crafting. Boots made using aniline leather are more beautiful and “natural”.
- It’s more breathable than treated leathers, so your feet are less likely to overheat in warm-weather conditions.
Aniline vs Semi-Aniline Leather
The big difference between aniline and semi-aniline leather is that one is all natural, while the other has undergone a bit more treatment.
Can you guess which is which?
That’s right: aniline leather is the fully natural, untreated rawhide dyed with transparent aniline dye. Semi-aniline leather, on the other hand, goes through the same process, but is “finished” with a protective top-coat.
This top-coat, though thin, offers protection to keep the leather from staining. However, the protection comes at a cost: the coating reduces the visibility of the leather’s natural characteristics.
I want to make one thing very clear: with semi-aniline leather, the hair pores and natural leather grain must still be visible post-pigmentation. These details cannot be covered up, otherwise it’s no longer semi-aniline leather (but “smooth leather”).
The leather is also untreated, like aniline leather, so it retains all the characteristics of the original rawhide. It’s got the natural warmth, smoothness, and soft hand-feel of aniline leather, just with a bit of a thicker protective layer to add resilience.
Pros and Cons of Aniline Leather
Benefits of Getting Aniline Leather Boots
A “Natural” Look
I don’t know about you, but I love the way natural leather looks. It’s got depth, texture, and “character”. I’d hate for anything to cover it up; the smooth finish of pigmented leather just lacks the richness that I love in leather.
But not with aniline leather boots. Aniline leather is the closest it gets to raw, natural leather, which means it’s got all the unique flair and style I love.
More Bespoke Feel
What is it that you like most about a great pair of boots?
The protection, sure. The stability and ankle support, absolutely. But really, at the end of the day, what makes a good pair of leather boots great is the way they feel.
Really good leather boots feel soft to the touch, and they’ve got a natural suppleness that will make your feet fall in love from the moment you pull them on. And the more you wear them, the more they conform to your feet until they feel like they’re made for you.
The great thing about aniline leather is that even if you don’t buy a bespoke pair of boots (with all the measurements taken exactly on your feet), the leather will adapt and mold to you until they feel like they’re bespoke.
Trust me, you’ve never felt comfort quite like a good pair of aniline leather boots that have been worn for 2-3 months. The break-in period for aniline leather is shorter, and they become comfortable so much faster than semi-aniline or pigmented leather.
Patinates to Perfection
Because there is no “finish” or “coating” on aniline leather boots, they absorb body oils and other substances they come in contact with more readily.
This may sound like a bad thing, but I promise you it’s not.
Sure, it takes a bit more cleaning and care to keep them in good shape (see the “Cons” section below), but the trade-off is that the boots develop a natural patina more quickly.
Patinated leather is truly gorgeous, but more importantly, unique. Two people can start off with identical pairs of boots, but after just a few weeks or months, the boots will look different because they’re exposed to different things—from your skin oils to the weather/climate conditions to the environments where you walk around.
The boots become more “you” the more you wear them, and because there is no coating to interfere, the patina develops more quickly.
Cons of Aniline Leather Boots
I’ll be the first to admit that while I love aniline leather boots, it’s definitely got some drawbacks that make it less than ideal for every situation or use.
Here are a couple of issues that are common with aniline leather you need to know about:
Susceptible to Damage
This is probably the biggest drawback of aniline leather boots—and the reason that many people steer away from them when looking for tough work boots or winter boots.
Aniline leather is as close to “untreated” as it gets; there’s the soluble transparent dye, and maybe an ultra-thin coat of water-resistance added. Other than that, it’s basically just raw leather.
And, as you well know, raw leather is extremely vulnerable to damage.
Damage can be caused by all kinds of things:
- Exposure to water
- Excessive UV/sunlight exposure
- Contact with oil, dirt, or mud
- and the list goes on!
Really, aniline leather is the most vulnerable type of leather, which is why it’s usually only used in higher-quality luxury boots, the sort you’d wear with a good pair of chinos or slacks, not your average farm, lumberjack, or hiking boots.
Requires More Maintenance
Aniline leather stains and marks easily, so it requires a lot more maintenance to keep in good shape.
Not only does it need to be cleaned (to get off grease, stains, dirt, and dust), but aniline leather also needs to be regularly conditioned with waxes and oils to keep it from drying out (which causes it to crack).
Some brands (like Red Wing) sell a special protective spray that can provide an extra layer of water, dust, mud, and oil-resistance.
However, regular cleaning and maintenance is absolutely imperative to keep your aniline leather boots in good shape.
Some experts recommend applying some form of conditioner (cream, wax, oil, waterproofing spray, etc.) at least once every three months.
Compare that to the minimal once-a-year care required by smooth leather, and you can see why aniline leather is considered as “high maintenance” as a reality TV star.
High Price Tag
Because aniline leather retains all the characteristics of the rawhide leather (sans treatment), only the highest-quality rawhides with the least amount of blemishes and imperfections are used.
No surprise, these are also the most expensive materials.
With smooth leather, the pigment/paint can cover up imperfections, so cheaper leathers can be used.
Aniline is all about the top-quality look, so expect to pay top dollar, too.
Aniline leather is, without a doubt, the leader when it comes to luxury, elegance, and character. Because it preserves the rawhide’s natural look and details, the end-result is a pair of boots that is unique.
Sure, it needs maintenance and regular care, and the price tag is high. I’d say it’s still well worth the cost for a pair of boots that will feel bespoke, mold to your feet faster, and just look better all around.
Brands such as Red Wing, Grant Stone and Thursday Boots are excellent options to consider if you want a good-looking pair of affordable aniline leather boots.
Is aniline leather real leather?
Aniline leather is absolutely real leather. It can be made from any animal—cow, goat, pig, deer, or you-name-it—and is maintained in as close to a natural form as possible. Only soluble, transparent aniline dye is used to add color, and the leather is ready to craft into a gorgeous pair of boots.
Is aniline leather hard to maintain?
Aniline leather is difficult to maintain because it is very porous and easily absorbs oils and liquids. As you can read in our article on “Red Wing Boots Care”, high-quality boots need regular cleaning and conditioning—at least once every 3 months, in the case of aniline leather.
I recommend you check out our article on the “5 Best Leather Conditioners for Boots” to find a product that you can apply regularly to protect and maintain your aniline leather boots.
Does aniline leather peel?
Aniline leather doesn’t peel. In fact, neither will smooth leather, semi-aniline leather, or refined aniline leather.
Only bonded leather (formed by gluing multiple layers of real and fake leather together) is prone to peeling. Any full, real leather will never peel.