Is Leather Really Better Than Vinyl?

Published by Naseem Muaddi on December 5th, 2011

In the past, when manufacturing restrictions affected the quality of vinyl, it developed a bad rap – especially when compared to genuine leather. Dubbed plastic leather or “pleather”, the general public disgraced the product and wrote it off as a cheap imitation of the real thing.

Today, technological advancements have improved the quality of leather-simulated vinyl to the point where it’s arguably better than the real thing. The stigma, however, remains.

With the availability of quality faux leather like Gran Reserva, Ultraleather and Rave, that’s just not fair. If the general public knew what we auto trimmers know about leather-simulated vinyl, the stigma would not exist.

Let’s examine the facts:

1. Vinyl costs a fraction of the price of genuine leather. While a quality hide of leather runs about $300, it only provides around three yards of usable material. Most quality faux leathers cost less than a third of that. What’s more, the uneven shape of hides makes for a lot of waste. Vinyl, on the other hand, can be cut all the way up to the fabric’s straight edge. Combined, these characteristics of faux leather spell big savings – which we can in turn pass on to customers.

2. The feel and grain of vinyl has become so good that the average person can’t even tell the difference between the two. In fact, most of my customers are surprised to find out that only the faces of their factory seats are leather and that the sides and backs are a color-matched vinyl. Quality that good almost makes faux leather a no brainer.

3. Leather-simulated vinyl is also much easier to work with. It’s more pliable and stretches further than real leather, making the covering of sharp curves a cinch. Vinyl also requires less maintenance – never needing to be conditioned and taking longer to crack under the sun.

4. Oh and for our friends at PETA, consider this: no cows are harmed in the making of vinyl. Let’s be honest, it seems a little old fashioned to slaughter a cow and wrap its skin around a car seat – doesn’t it?

To me the advantages of faux leather are clear. So why do customers still prefer genuine leather?

Maybe it’s the unmistakable aroma of a fresh hide. Or, perhaps it’s the mere knowledge of knowing they’ve got the real thing. Whatever the case, I’ve got to admit that genuine leather has a certain je ne sais qui that no imitation can match.

What do you think?

— — —

The Hog Ring is the #1 online community for auto upholstery professionals and enthusiasts. Here you can browse pictures, read news and connect with others who share your passion for auto upholstery. You can even check us out on Facebook and Twitter!




15 Responses

  1. I Must share a job actually two I’ve done last week and today. These were dinning room chairs, and a recliner. Both from reconstituted leather. I have to say this material surpasses leather in its hand. Very nice to work with. Not exactly vinyl but man made imitation leather none the less.

  2. Naseem Muaddi says:

    Hey Paul. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you brought up reconstituted leather. I have heard of it and even have some samples but haven’t tried it yet. But from what you say I’ll definitely be giving it shot in the near future.
    Coast to Coast leather offers it for around $25 a yard. http://coast2coastleather.com/content/html/products/green/eco_earth/green-eco-friendly-recycled-leather.html

    • Lisa says:

      We sell OEM Automotive Vinyls in First Second and Third quality by pound and yard. First quality $2.50 per yard USD. Canadian Made

  3. Nadeem says:

    Great post Naseem! For all the reasons you listed, I think faux leather is superior in every way. Then again, you’ll always have those folks who nothing is good enough for them but the real thing. I guess like kodydog says below, it’s a status thing.

    Below are some comments that our friends on Facebook and another upholstery forum wrote about this article:

    Jon Webb: More consistent grain & color as well

    Mark Muller: I think vinyl last longer and looks just as good if not better than the real thing…I try and talk my leather customers out of real leather daily,more choices and alot less expensive, Plus it is alot more forgiving to work with.

    James Romero: I like both

    Ted Brooks: I have been telling my customers the same information as your article points out.

    Jeff Woodward: I like leather. It is a sustainable resurce. It doesn’t have the memory of vinyl which is an advantage or disadvantage whatever the project may be. Customers need to be better educated in the care for their interiors.

    kodydog: je ne sais quoi: An intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive.

    If your talking about that cheep leather used on $800 sofas then defiantly yes, better to go with vinyl.

    For the people who want leather its all about status. Driving a $60,000 Porsche with vinyl seats? I don’t think so. These people aren’t concerned about price. In fact they would rather pay more, it gives them the feeling of success.

    ahkahn: I’m going to say no. Everyone thinks that leather is better than vinyl, but it never holds up as well.

    The reconstituted (or recast) leather, which I call “leather hamburger”, is typically only about 3-15% leather. The rest of it… vinyl. – Andrew

    coachtrim: vinyl was invented as a less expensive imitation of leather. Vinyl and other plastic coated fabrics will always be a cheap imitation of the real thing. No imitation will age or patina as fine leather will. Leather has stood the test of time. There are very few occupations older than leather worker. Hundreds, maybe thousands of books have been written on leather, leather working, or leather working tools. Would you admit to being a “vinyl worker”? Leather has character, vinyl is utilitarian. It’s like comparing real fruit to wax fruit. – Johann

    • Larry says:

      Well, not I can say that is not true at all. Suggesting that nothing stands the test of time like “leather” is just dead wrong. I guess you would also suggest that “leeching” and “drilling a hole in your head to let out the evil spirits” are pretty much time tested medical procedures as well!
      There are a LOT of vinyl products that have “character”. Perhaps you are saying that “Character” is that worn out discolored area on the seat from that fat-assed porche driver who has been sliding his abundant “character” in an out?
      It’s already passed the millennium, dude.

  4. […] I couldn’t have said it better myself. Some people’s expectations of leather are unrealistic. They expect a hide’s grain to be flawless and consistent. But as the Harley tag states, each leather hide is unique with its own distinctive markings, grain lines and even wrinkles – all of which give leather its character. If what customers want is uniform perfection, they should stick with vinyl. […]

  5. RETIRED… SO DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE GOING TO STOP EATING BEEF, AND IF THEY DONT WHATS TO BECOME OF THE HIDES. YOU CANNOT BEAT LEATHER I DONT CARE WHAT YOU SAY I KNOW FROM A LOT OF EXPERIENCE. LEATHER MAKES YOU USE YOUR HEAD INSTEAD OF YOUR FRIENDS IF YOU PLAN YOULL KNOW EXACTLY HOW MANY HIDES YOULL NEED.IM OLD SCHOOL THE ONLY RESON ANY ONE WOULDNT WANT LEATER IS SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO COVER THE SEATS AGAIN …SOON. IMITATION LEATHER IS JUST WHAT IT SAYS IT IS. WANT TO CK YOU COPITITION DO IT HERE NOW THIS IS JUST NORTH CAROLINA.
    http://www.manta.com/mb_41_ALL_34/north_carolina?search=AUTO+UPHOLSTERY&osp=AUTO+UPHOLSTERY+NORTH+CAROLINA

  6. james pursell says:

    There’s a lot of dishonesty in the car seat business. Leather is leather. All else is imitation. Nothing smells like leather. Nothing slips your bottom over the seat like leather. Nothing has the eye appeal of leather. Why debate the condition. Leather is leather.

  7. Jeff says:

    Durability of imitation leather is a serious issue. Most of them are made in layers and those layers are prone to peeling. This is especially true of “reconstituted leather” or bonded leather. It is made worse by stitching detail (double stitch or cover stitch.) Also, the super-soft products tend to stretch too much for their own durability good.

    Also, just like vinyl, there are so many grades of leather… People don’t realize the $5/sqft monotone, grain-corrected leather isn’t a lot different appearance wise than vinyl but $10-$15/sqft clear hides with minimal processing and correction are in a completely different category with a depth and beauty that surpasses anything man-made (even ultra-leather.)

    Last point, staining is a big issue people (general public consumers) don’t realize about leather. It’s naturally absorbent so stains are a problem — much less so with vinyl.

    Oh, and check out “Majilite” sometime. It’s generally used on our commercial projects but I’ve got booths that hold up over 20yrs with the stuff. It’s fantastic (spendy, between Rave and Ultraleather.)

  8. […] Faux leather delivers all the desirable traits of leather without the high cost. The most common type of faux leather is made out of plastic, hence the term “pleather.” It’s versatile in the way that you can pretty much get any design you want because no animals are ever harmed in the process. Faux leather is easy to clean and is exceptionally durable. However, unlike real leather, faux leather doesn’t have the same luster. It doesn’t smell or age the same way either, which is a shame. […]

  9. Tom says:

    We had a Morgan sports car. The dye in the leather seats would bleed out onto your shorts on hot and sweaty summer days. When we needed to reupholster it we found Rave. We had a professional do the seats and I did all the rest. We were so pleased that when we recently needed to have a leather love seat and chair reupholstered we went with Rave. Not, it doesn’t smell like leather, but with the money you save you can buy a LOT of very nice smelling steaks and red wine.

  10. Enrique says:

    Hello im writing to ask what you guys suggest I do, I want to do the interior of my Nissan Altima coupe but i don’t know if vinyl will be a good investment or will I lose my money because of it cracking? The man at the auto upholstery told me that vinyl isn’t as durable as leather and will crack, he told me all that even though the only product he offers is vinyl. Hopefully you guys are able to help me because I truly do not know what to do.

  11. Cesar Cesar says:

    Hi Enrique,
    We’d better talk about ‘synthetic materials’ to cover the seats…vinyl is included in this list. Before deciding, think over you’ve got a Nissan Altima…it’s a nice car and if you upholster it with a ‘cheap vinyl’, the price of your car would lower.
    If you want to save some money, you could upholster the ‘main plates/panels’ in leather and the other ‘lateral panels’ in a like-leather vinyl.
    Check this website (hog ring forum’s sponsor), get in touch in order to get some assistance to choose the right material for your car…they could give you different options including leather material.
    http://www.albrightssupply.com/

  12. David says:

    Leather is a great material. It adds a lot of character and is extremely durable. It is however very expensive and can be difficult to use. As Cesar mentioned you could use both Vinyl and Leather in different places, but it would leave a very inconsistent look to the car. I have found the consistency of vinyl is great and it’s so much easier to use. Most people I work with actually prefer the look and feel of Vinyl. I actually found an amazing vinyl store online that has great quality material at really affordable rates. You should check them out here http://www.marinevinylfabric.com/

  13. Alvin says:

    Hello, this is really a good article. We are embossing roller manufacturer for vinyl leather. I know you must know very well faux leather industry. So can you advice me some faux leather manufacturers?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *