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Leather and Vinyl – Learn the Difference and Tell Them Apart

Leather and vinyl are highly durable materials used for many different purposes.  You may be wondering, why would I choose one over the other?  And that’s an excellent question.  Let’s review the differences, characteristics, and pros and cons of leather and vinyl material.

Leather and vinyl are popular materials for clothing, accessories, shoes, and vehicle interiors. Although genuine leather is made from animal hide and vinyl from synthetic materials, they are both used similarly due to their versatility, durability, and aesthetic appeal. 

Are you considering a new jacket or coat and can’t decide between leather or vinyl?  Let’s check out the pros and cons of each and the many differences and similarities between leather and vinyl.

What Are Leather and Vinyl

Leather and vinyl are materials used to create accessories, clothing, jackets, shoes, luggage, vehicle interiors, and more.  Leather is a usually natural material made from animal skins, while vinyl is manufactured to mimic leather and other materials.  Both leather and vinyl are made for multiple applications.

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Leather and Vinyl Luggage

Difference Between Leather and Vinyl

There are several differences between leather and vinyl; the first is the source of the material.  Leather is often made from animal hides tanned with either chromium salts or vegetable tannins to preserve the hides and enhance durability. 

Vinyl is created from resin or plastic and can be used in many different applications, from clothing to flooring.  Genuine leather has natural patterns and markings from the animals, while vinyl is often stamped to imitate leather patterns. 

Characteristics of Leather

Surface Texture

Because natural leather comes from animal hides; the texture is smooth and luxurious.  Sometimes the hair is removed, but marks and blemishes are left behind to give it character.  Natural patterns in the skin are visible and even accentuated with certain dyes.

Flexibility

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Leather material is naturally flexible, although the process of tanning and preserving can make it slightly stiffer.  Over time and with use, the leather relaxes and becomes more flexible.  Protective coatings applied to leather can also decrease flexibility but increase durability.

Softness

Genuine leather is naturally a fibrous material made of hundreds of thousands of collagen fibers.  The leather is softer when these fibers are more flexible, and vice versa.  Tanning preserves these fibers, which can initially make them stiffer.  Greasing the fibers can also affect softness during the tanning process.

Sewability

The sewability of natural leather is how well it holds up to being sewn together for products like clothing, shoes, etc.  Tanning has the most effect on leather sewability, and according to authors Ork, Mutlu, Yildiz, and Pamuk, chromium tanned leathers retain better sewability than vegetable tanned leathers, which tend to be thicker and denser.

Durability

Real leather is naturally tough and made to hold up to frequent use over time.  Not just because it’s animal hide but because it is tanned and preserved to be durable.  Leather can last a lifetime as long as it is cared for properly.

Leather is very durable, and the higher the quality of leather, the better it will age.

Ease of Maintenance

Leather is relatively easy to maintain if you use the right products.  Occasional cleaning and removal of stains can be done with soap and water, and a leather conditioner keeps it supple and soft. 

Colors

Natural leather comes in multiple colors, from natural hide to dyed rainbow colors.  If you want the authentic look, browns, blacks, whites, and even spotted leathers are available.  There are greens, blues, purples, and pretty much anything you can imagine for a more eclectic look.

Waterproofness

Various levels of leather waterproofness exist, as some have protective coatings while others do not.  Genuine leather has some natural waterproofness, although it should not be submerged or put in a washing machine as this could stain the material.  Protective coatings make some leathers highly weatherproof, perfect for coats and jackets.

Cost

Genuine leather does cost a bit more than other fabrics due to its high quality and durability, but it is made to last a very long time.  You’re saving money in the long run compared to lower-quality fabrics because leather does not need replacing like other fabrics over time.

Versatility

Leather is highly versatile and can be used in various applications.  Leather goods from keychains, wallets, and purses are easy to find and reasonably priced.  Many vehicles offer leather interiors, and clothing can include everything from leather jackets and skirts to boots and gloves.

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A Tan Leather Car Interior

Characteristics of Vinyl

Surface Texture

The surface texture of vinyl fabric is made to mimic that of real leather.  It is made from resin or plastic, so it doesn’t quite feel like natural leather on the surface.  Vinyl surface texture is more like leather with protective finishes, similar to motorcycle jackets and some leather couches.

Flexibility

Vinyl is highly flexible, elastic, and resistant to impact.  It is one of the most often used materials for many projects today. 

Softness

Vinyl is not quite as soft as natural leather; in fact, a vinyl couch will have a bit of a plastic feel.  Because it is a synthetic material, it can crack if not maintained or with heavy everyday use.

Sewability

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Vinyl has a lower sewability than leather, which can be a bit of a drawback.  Holes made from sewing needles in vinyl can decrease this material’s waterproofness and durability.  Smaller sewing needles must be used to maintain the vinyl fabric’s durability.

Durability

Vinyl is extremely durable due to its composition of plastic or resin.  Vinyl will not fray with use and maintains its finish over a fairly long period.  It is resistant to punctures, rips, tears, everyday use, and stains.

Ease of Maintenance

Vinyl is the lowest in terms of maintenance and cleaning.  Most vinyl fabrics are easily cleaned with soap and water or just a damp cloth.

Colors

Because it is artificial, vinyl comes in infinite colors.  There are no limits to the colors and patterns that can be made with vinyl fabric.

Waterproofness

Vinyl is the best for waterproofness due to its composition of plastic or resin.  Its finish is not only water resistant but can repel moisture, making it ideal for outdoor use. 

Cost

Vinyl was created as a cheaper alternative to real leather, so you get a similar material for less money.

Versatility

Vinyl is one of the most versatile materials on the planet and has been used for everything from tarps and food wraps to rugs and vehicle interiors.

Pros and Cons of Leather

Pros of Leather

Leather is very durable, and the higher the quality of leather, the better it will age.  Repairing leather is relatively easy if a puncture, tear, or worn spot should occur.  Leather is easy to clean and remove stains from as well. 

Leather is comfortable and great for keeping you warm when it’s cold outside.  Leather can also be recycled, which can create more leather products and decrease environmental effects.

Cons of Leather

Leather can be sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, direct sunlight, and excess moisture.  Leather can also be stiff when it’s new, requiring a bit of time and use to make it softer and more flexible.  High-quality leather can be cost-prohibitive for some.

Pros and Cons of Vinyl

Pros of Vinyl

Vinyl is made of polyvinyl chloride, a synthetic plastic created from petroleum products.  It is soft, durable, versatile, and beautiful.  Its durability is similar to genuine leather and can last for many years.  It’s comfortable and great for vehicle seat covers, convertible roofs, clothing, shoes, bags, and more.  Vinyl is UV-resistant, so it works well outdoors.

Cons of Vinyl

Vinyl isn’t quite as soft and durable as leather and doesn’t have the classic leather smell.  It gives a plastic feel to couches and vehicle interiors and can be prone to cracks over time, which aren’t quite as easy to repair. 

Average Cost of Leather

  1. Square Foot – Depending on the quality and color, leather averages anywhere from $4–$12 per square foot.
  2. ½ Hide – A half hide of leather is about 25 square feet and ranges from $275–$375.
  3. Full Hide – A full hide is about 50 square feet and ranges from $550–$750.

Average Cost of Vinyl

  1. Square Foot- A square foot of vinyl ranges from $2–$10 per square foot.
  2. ½ Hide- A half hide of vinyl leather will cost about $100–$200.
  3. Full Hide- A full hide of vinyl leather will cost about $200–$400.

Popular Uses for Leather and Vinyl 

  1. Upholstery for boats, cars, restaurant chairs and booths 
  2. Couches and loveseats
  3. Clothing and accessories

Popular Uses for Vinyl 

  1.  Patio furniture
  2.  Outdoor awnings and convertible tops
  3.  Car upholstery

My Research on Leather and Vinyl Car Interiors

I asked friends and family if they were to purchase a new vehicle, would they prefer genuine leather or vinyl fabric.  Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about leather and vinyl.

Car Interior FabricTimes Selected
Genuine leather36%
Vinyl fabric46%
Neither18%
Leather and Vinyl Car Interior Preferences

Check out this helpful video to learn about the main differences between leather and vinyl and how to tell which fabric is in your vehicle’s interior.

Related Insights

Which is better: faux leather or vinyl?

Faux leather tends to maintain its beauty, finish, and quality over longer periods than vinyl.

How good is vinyl leather?

Vinyl leather is great for many products as it looks nearly identical to genuine leather, although it’s not very durable.

Are leather and vinyl the same thing?

They may have many similarities, but leather and vinyl are not the same.  Genuine leather is made from tanned animal hides while vinyl is made from plastic or resin.

Is vinyl more expensive than leather?

Depending on the application, vinyl is usually about 25% cheaper than leather. 

Does vinyl leather peel?

Vinyl leather can peel due to the separation of the finish from the material, as it is thinner and doesn’t breathe very well.  Applying coconut or baby oil can prevent vinyl leather peeling.

Final Thoughts

Leather and vinyl both have excellent properties and are suitable for making clothing, accessories, vehicle interiors, and more.  They each have their pros and cons, but both leather and vinyl are made to last.  Now that you’ve learned the similarities and differences between leather and vinyl, which will you choose?

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