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?
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Paul M. Minichillo says
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.
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
We sell OEM Automotive Vinyls in First Second and Third quality by pound and yard. First quality $2.50 per yard USD. Canadian Made
What’s your email address?
Lisa where are you I’m in Canada to
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
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.
EDWARD MUNDAY says
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.
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.
Very true! No matter what good is to be said of Vinyl,leather is what it is. Leather! And it not only feels good,it does smell gooooood!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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/
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?
Brandon Leonard says
Great Article! We (Core Products Group) have been in the wholesale leather and vinyl industry for over 50 years, and the vinyl has improved a lot even in recent years. We have some old stock from the mid 90’s and it looks and feels incredibly different from todays OEM vinyls.
Mary Smith says
I am at a complete loss.I purchased a living room group and thought it was leather.Three years later it started to peel.Only the arms have this faux leather.I am going to have someone re-do them.I need a material that is gong to last,which I thought would be leather.After reading this article,I am confused.Which one will be best,with regards to longevity and cost?
At 64 And oweing 15 cars , the only problem I had was with leather die wearing off my 1995 Cadillac and 2007 mustang gt. To the point it would wear a small hole in the leather but no problems with high grade none leather in 47 yrs and 2 million miles of driving 15 cars.
Anyone who thinks vinyl is better than leather has either never sat on a vinyl seat, or never sat on a leather seat. Leather breathes. You don’t stick to it. Your back, butt and the backs of your thighs aren’t wet when you peel yourself out of the seat. You don’t get cold or hot sitting on it. As it wears it only becomes more beautiful. Now there are some synthetic seats that breathe fairly well. But they don’t have the beauty of leather. Leather makes better seats for the same reason it makes better shoes, jackets, baseball gloves, wallets, belts and many other products. Leather is better, period!
If synthetic leather is so cheap, then why car companies charge 5000 EUR for “leather” upholstery? Why aren’t they saying it’s synthetic and foools us with the word”leather”? And I have to say this from experience, fake leather isn’t breathable and makes your feet sweaty in summer, independent of the air conditioner settting. The fact that you can’t condition it makes it crack easier in the sun too. And the ecofriends claims? Wel, l the cow’s going to be killed anyway for meat, why throw away it’s leather! That would be even more cruel! Thing is the only thing that REALLY matters here are money.
Sherry Gajos says
I really liked what you said about how leather-simulated vinyl is easier to work with than leather. My husband has a project car and wants to redo the seats soon, so we’re discussing material options. Thank you for the information about how vinyl requires less maintenance and is more pliable and stretches further than real leather.
Jack Davis says
Vinyl the article above it depends on the quality of vinyl.
Some of the aftermarket vinyls are not the same quality OEM,vinyls. I try as often as possible to buy surplus vinyls from new car production some of the distributors have them.laminate verses callendern goods are different genuine auto vinyls can hold up better ,however,I’ve noticed that some of the vinyls in newer vehicles is not as good there not lasting as long.
Often the bolsters covered in leather or vinyl crack because the bolster has broken down on seat bottom. Our sons 2000 Lexus front seat bolster broke down causing the bolster and leather edge to crack and tear. I ordered the original leather and vinyl repaired it and rebuilt the bolster it lasted 175000 miles the bolster no longer went bad the insert of leather went bad. The car now has 359000 miles on it we replaced the interior with Roadwire leather kit holding up very well.
I keep a good inventory of OEM vinyls in stock for doing pics and other vehicles the original vinyls hold up well.I not sure about some of the vinyls used in newer vehicles some of the new fabrics are real thin. I believe we have returned to the 70’s with materials do you think the car manufacturers are wanting more to buy new vehicles cut the quality?
all of your comments are beneficial to those “working” with the materials….the customer doesnt give a damn about any of that. You argue the ease of working with the materials and lack of waste savings can be passed on to the customer in lower prices however they are not…not ever. It simply equates to a higher profit margin for the manufacturers…..I’ll take a leather seat every day over vinyl
Robert Stracquadaine says
We could argue about which way to go here forever! This is a very personal choice. I’ve worked with leather for decades. Love leather. It’s a sustainable by-product produced by the consumable meat. supply industry, (not just beef! Water buffalo, bison, kangaroo and many other leathers come from the food chain! Kangaroo being one of the strongest) leather is more costly because of the work involved in manufacturer. Not all leathers are created equal! Automotive upholstery grade leathers are finished tougher and with UV stabilizers. If your leather does what some have previously described… it’s because short cuts were taken by the manufacturer …whether in a car, or your house furniture! Do not use bonded leather! It just sucks…plain n simple! Glue and ground leather….garbage! No wonder it peels. Leather types are different. Full grain is the way it is, right from the animal’s skin. Scars and rangemarks and all. Top grain is a corrected surface, sanded to remove imperfections. It’s usually embossed with a grain, with eveness and consistency as a goal. All there for someone to choose what’s right for them. I’ve seen real quality leather interiors last for over 30 years properly cared for…which is the key. Take care of your leather the easy you take care of that nice paint job and you’ll love it. The whole breatheability factor is real and a big factor in your choice.
Synthetics…ahhh!…. I’ve seen some really nice stuff here too. It has is place for sure. Like marine grade pearl white naugahyde for a roadster or convertible? Or fancy some dinosaur? (incidentally the pattern was reproduced from mummified dinosaur skin!) Less waste, easier to maneuver and sew, consistency in texture and color, price point, and a sweaty ass are all factors to consider here. As in leather, ….quality counts! UV stabilized? Rub test results? Made for automotive upholstery use? For both sides of this fence your usage counts in the decision….big time! Show car? Daily driver? Kids/pets (well behaved or not!)? Open car? Closed car? Etc.,etc.!
On the environmental aspect? Leather…sustainable by-product….this needs no explanation unless you’re just daft. Some chemicals used in the centuries long tanning/finishing process could have negative impact (except veg or bark tan is a bit better), but have been closely monitored and made safe for that for years now. Plus it smells and feels real nice!
Synthetics? Don’t let blind rhetoric fool you. The manufacturing processes for this stuff is far from sustainable with no environmental impact! It is, however, great material if it fits for you. Feel has improved, but smell (ie. outgassing) is an issue. It can actually cause a residue to build on the interior side of your glass!
Here’s another side for you (pardon the pun)… Are you finished with that leather? Dispose of it and mother nature reclaims it with open arms. Done with that synthetic? Well…people may dig that up after millennia and emboss that into whatever stuff they’re making at the time! Mother nature doesn’t like that stuff at all!
Everyone has their opinion. An opinion is neither right or wrong. I endeavor to give you the facts as I know them and as experience has taught me. I hope this helps in your decision. There are other factors not listed here…but here is the gist. Happy motoring#
Lydia Jane Cypher says
Hi folks, I am struggling at this moment with the decision to either buy the same sturdy, inexpensive, Coaster Darie bonded leather sectional that I’ve had for nearly 15 years ~ or pop for a genuine leather J&M Furniture LEGO leather sectional. I had my old sectional reupholstered in genuine Naugahyde a few years ago because the bonded leather was showing scratching and peeling on the seating in my houseful of 6 cats and 3 big dogs, but still looked like new on the back and sides. I figured I could change the color and make it look like new again. Unfortunately, the upholsterer seems to have used too small a stitch and the Naugahyde has pulled apart at the seams where my big Doberman likes to lay. The only reason I didn’t just buy another Coaster Darie sectional was that I wanted WHITE instead of black and they don’t offer it in that color. Between the yardage and the labor, it was an expensive undertaking that SHOULD still be in great shape after 3 years, but is not. What worries me is that leather definitely stretches out more than bonded leather or even high quality synthetic material over time. Just looking at used leather sofas and sectionals that people are trying to sell, it is obvious that they start looking sloppy and shapeless after a few years of use. People want a lot of money for their used leather furniture because they paid a lot when they bought it – even though it looks like hell now. Maybe it’s just the “fat American” syndrome that takes a toll on ANY kind of upholstery, but the truth is that the structure of my inexpensive Coaster Darie Sectional has held up far better than many of the leather pieces I see for resale. (I live in Phoenix, Arizona and see a lot of used leather furniture for sale in the neighboring upscale community of Scottsdale.) What is your view?