Testing new designs with real leather always felt wasteful to me. Recently, however, I have turned to pleather when testing. It mimics many properties of genuine leather without the same high cost.
Pleather is a synthetic leather whose main material is plastic. This alternative leather attempts to recreate real leather in a more accessible way. Pleather will mimic the qualities of natural leather, including fragrance, at a fraction of the price. Costs start at $10 per yard or 18 square feet.
With pleather being a much cheaper material, it can be helpful in any workshop. Let’s explore what pleather is and how it may benefit leather crafters.
What Is Pleather?
Pleather is a synthetic leather alternative made from polyurethane plastics. It aims to mimic the qualities of real leather, offering a more sustainable, affordable option. Pleather is similar to corrected grain leather, as the material’s surface is artificial.
This allows various patterns and vibrant colors to be added to the pleather. Pleather, however, lacks durability. The leather will wear much quicker, with peeling, cracking, and holes often becoming problematic.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Pleather
- Pleather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Pleather
- Pros of Pleather
- Cons of Pleather
- How Pleather is Made
- Production Stats for Pleather
- Cost of Pleather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Pleather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Pleather
- Examples of Goods Made from Pleather
- My Personal Research on Pleather
- Pleather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Pleather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Synthetic leathers such as pleather are often considered a better alternative to real leather. In theory, it removes the need to harvest animal hides, and the production of it is considered more sustainable due to the amount of waste tanning generates. However, the biggest drawback that prevents pleather from succeeding is the use of plastic.
All synthetic leathers currently use plastic to mimic the durability of real leather, but this prevents the material from being truly revolutionary. Pleather often wears out much quicker than real leather and is thrown away. Then the material can sit in landfills for hundreds of years.
As it stands, the waste pleather tries to offset only becomes a different problem. One that arguably creates a worse impact than the tanning methods currently used. However, with new types of synthetic leather being created, we are closer to a truly sustainable leather alternative.
History of Pleather
Although synthetic leathers date back to the late 1800s, with Presstoff being a leather-like material used in World War II, pleather was created a century later. In the 1920s, a rubber plant in Naugatuck, Connecticut, developed a method of creating a leather-like material using vinyl.
To further recreate real leather, this synthetic material would have texture added to the surface to simulate the look of leather. “Naugahyde,” the term for this material, would inspire other methods for creating synthetic leather. Its creation method is still widely used as a guide as new manufacturers develop alternative leathers.
Pleather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)
|1–9 ounces (0.4mm – 3.5mm)
|Largest Workable Size
|Around 10 yards or 180 square feet
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)
|Cost per Square Foot ($)
|55¢ per square foot
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)
|Annual Production Volume
|40 billion square feet per year
|Biggest Exporting Country
|Biggest Importing Country
In-depth Characteristics of Pleather
Natural or Synthetic
Pleather is entirely synthetic leather. While it is made to look and smell like real leather, it is entirely made from plastic. This means pleather will not develop any patina and only deteriorate over time.
Since pleather is artificial, it often has various surface textures applied to it. Fashion brands may use pebbled leather to recreate the look of shrunken leather artificially. Pleather may also replicate exotic leather types, adding bumps or ridges to recreate various animals.
Pleather can be purchased in many different thicknesses, between 1 ounce (0.4mm) and 9 ounces (3.5mm). With the material having difficulty with durability, thinner pieces are seldom used. However, since the material is artificial, the surface of the leather is not impacted by a thicker or thinner body.
Largest Workable Size
With pleather being an artificial fabric, it is sold as such. Offered by the yard, pleather can come in rolls up to 10 yards or 180 square feet. This is much larger than the standard 25 square feet from cow leather. In addition, pleather will not have an unusual shape. Instead, it is offered in large rectangular sheets.
Pleather is often more flexible than most leathers, but may still feel somewhat rigid. Plastic is a main ingredient in this material, so even delicate pieces will have added rigidity when bent. However, leather will feel extremely flexible in most uses until pushed to its limits.
While the material itself can feel soft, the difference is immediately noticeable compared to real leather. Pleather has a distinct artificial feeling that is felt when touching the material. Although mostly convincing, small areas break away from what would otherwise be a soft material.
Sewing pleather is similar to other leathers, with a few key differences to watch out for. Since the leather surface is artificial, any guidelines scribed into the leather will remain, potentially being visible when finished.
While hand-sewing pleather is often more plush than real leather, it can cause bunching if the tension of the thread is pulled too tight. In most cases, machine sewing pleather is the best.
The durability of pleather leaves a lot to be desired. The artificial surface can quickly scratch or peel, with no easy solutions to fix issues. Similarly, the structure of pleather is much weaker than real leather. When torn, the surrounding area begins to fall apart.
Ease of Maintenance
Since the surface of pleather is artificially made with plastics, pleather is extremely easy to maintain. Pleather does not need any conditioning and can use soap with water to address any mess on the surface. However, the soap must be tested first to see if it causes unwanted reactions with the pleather.
Lifespan with Daily Use
Due to its lack of durability, pleather will only last a few years. Small scratches and dings are enough to ruin the look of the surface. With bigger trouble being tears or peeling. When these things occur, the leather will begin to degrade. The peeling area and the tear will slowly expand more with use.
Pleather can come in any color or many colors. Since the material is an artificial plastic, there is no limit to how the pleather can look. While most retail items will come in a solid color, pleather used for crafting can have detailed patterns or designs. This may be as extreme as adding complete images or logos onto the material.
Pleather is highly water resistant and can withstand long exposure to it. The artificial surface provides a protective barrier that repels most liquids. Pleather can be used in the rain and cleaned with water with no issues. However, it is not protected from complete saturation, which may cause peeling when dried.
When compared to real leather, pleather costs almost nothing. Pleather is sold at around $10 per yard or 55¢ per square foot. This heavily translates into less expensive retail goods and is one of the most attractive features of the material.
Ease of Crafting
Pleather can be a friendly material, but it may require some changes to get the most out of it. Since the material is spongy, sharp knives or shears are required to make a clean cut. The surface of pleather is also easily damaged.
Any scribe lines or accidental scratches that occur while working will be permanently marked on the material. Careful precision is necessary when working with pleather.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Pleather is a common and heavily produced material. Walking into almost any store, the majority of leather-looking items will actually be pleather. This is due to the low cost, making the material much more accessible. Annually, 40 billion square feet of pleather is produced, which continues to grow.
Pros of Pleather
Pleather is a great leather alternative with many characteristics that make it low maintenance when compared to real leather. Although it may not have all the qualities of genuine leather, the pros of pleather include:
- Low cost, around 55¢ per square foot
- A good practice tool or alternative to leather
- Not limited to scrap
- Vegan friendly
- Doesn’t require conditioning
- Can be cleaned with water and soap without damage
Cons of Pleather
While pleather is a popular choice for many manufacturers, its shortcomings stop it from becoming a true replacement for leather. Some of the downsides of pleather include:
- Doesn’t patina like real leather
- Lack of durability
- Little to no hope of restoration
- Lifespan of fewer than five years
- Often feels like a cheap, plastic imitation
- Plastic is not environmentally friendly
Pleather often wears out much quicker than real leather, and is thrown away. Then the material can sit in landfills for hundreds of years.
How Pleather is Made
Pleather starts by mixing polyurethane, UV protection, and a flame-retardant solution. Once mixed, dye can be added, which provides the color of the pleather. This liquid is poured onto sheets of textured paper, providing a fake leather texture.
The paper is then heated so the plastic may harden. After this first layer an additional, thicker layer is applied to the back of the paper to give the pleather its thickness. Finally, a fabric backing is applied to the back of the pleather, finishing the product for retail.
Darko Ujević, Stana Kovačević, Larry C. Wadsworth, Ivana Schwarz, and Blaženka Brlobašić Šajatović, from the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Textile Technology, in Zagreb, Croatia, described how the fabric backing applied to pleather, helps it achieve various levels of strength. Finding a woven fabric will provide the most strength when used in places such as upholstery.
In this informative video by How It’s Made, we see the manufacturing process of pleather, explaining each material used and the steps they undergo.
Production Statistics of Pleather
- Volume per year – 40 billion square feet
- Key country or countries where it is produced – China, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan
- Biggest exporting country – China
- Biggest importing country – Vietnam
Cost of Pleather
- Square Foot – 55¢ per square foot
- ½ Hide – $6–$10 for about 10 square feet
- Full Hide – $12–$20 for about 20 square feet
When You Might Leathercraft With Pleather
- When testing new designs, before using real leather
- When in need of a vegan, alternative material
- When trying to save money on material costs
Tips for Leathercrafting With Pleather
- Use shears or an extremely sharp knife to keep each cut clean.
- Cover the surface with a cloth to protect it while working with pleather.
- When hand sewing, manage the thread tension to prevent the pleather from bunching.
Some Examples of Items Made From Pleather
- Watch straps
My Personal Research on Pleather
To get a better insight into what it is like to work with pleather, I decided to go through the process of making a small bag using the material. With this, I learned how it cuts, punches, sews, and finishes, providing a closer look at the alternative leather material.
The pleather I used had a cross grain applied to the surface, making it difficult to cut with a knife. The blade wanted to jump around due to the bumps and stretch the soft leather. Instead, I opted for my shears which made the cutting process simple.
However, I did notice some jagged edges due to the leather bunching together when cutting. Overall the material is spongy, causing cutting tools to pull rather than cut.
Since my pleather had a surface texture, I punched my holes from the backside. This allowed me to mark my guideline with a pen and keep my punches straight. Punching holes in the pleather feels very similar to real leather.
Align the chisels, hammer them through, and pull them out. Since the material was soft, my chisels easily went through, making the process easy. In addition, the holes I created did not close up once removed, making hand-sewing much easier.
Hand sewing pleather is fairly easy. The holes created when punched stay open and provide a lot of space for the needles to pass through. Tension, however, did need to be managed while sewing.
Pulling a stitch too hard looked worse, as it would sink too far and could cause the pleather to bunch together. As an additional note, I found while I was poking around trying to get the needle through, I would scratch the surface. Leaving marks behind that did not come out.
After working with pleather, I wondered how the material would handle standard finishing practices. I tried to burnish the edge, which did not work. I instead moved to edge painting.
While the edge paint sticks to the pleather, sanding the edge between layers generated a lot of extra debris that needed to be brushed away, the pleather was simply much messier. The last thing I wanted to try was buffing the pleather by applying clear shoe wax to a clean cloth. This allowed me to achieve a higher polish after working the wax in for a while.
Before working with pleather, I would have assumed it had no merit or place in leathercraft. However, although the material may have limitations, it does a good enough job of imitating leather for crafting. Working with pleather felt very natural, with only a few necessary changes. Although pleather will not become my main material, I will likely use it for practice or testing.
Pleather Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Pleather
Pleather is a very simple material to clean. Since the surface is plastic, water can be used to remove any unwanted mess. Most soaps can be added to the mix if a wet cloth is not enough to clean the pleather. When using a soap, however, test a small area to ensure no unwanted effects occur from the addition.
How to Condition Pleather
Pleather, unlike real leather, will not require any conditioning. The leather alternative contains no natural oils; therefore, pleather does not become dry like real leather. Pleather will simply need to be kept clean to look its best, or it can have an additional protective coating to help prolong the lifespan of an item.
How to Store Pleather
Like real leather, pleather should be stored in a temperature-controlled, dark environment. Although pleather mixes UV protection into their final product, sunlight may cause damage. Long exposure can begin to bleach the color of an item, causing the color to dull or fade completely.
Helpful Insights on Pleather
What is pleather made out of?
The main thing pleather is made out of is a plastic, polyurethane. The mix includes a stabilizer, artificial fragrance, and a softening agent. When thoroughly combined, it creates a soft, sturdy pleather with the added smell of real leather.
Are pleather and faux leather the same?
No, while the terms are used interchangeably, they are not the same. Pleather specifically refers to alternative leather made with polyurethane. Faux leather covers additional types of alternative leathers whose main material is not plastic.
Why is pleather called pleather?
Pleather’s is a slang term to shorten “plastic leather.” This name comes from the main material used to make pleather, polyurethane. Polyurethane is a plastic that helps recreate the structure of real leather.
What does the P in pleather stand for?
The “P” in the word pleather stands for polyurethane or plastic. This is due to the use of plastic in producing this alternative material. Although this term is often used as a catch-all term when referring to all faux leathers, including those whose base building material is not plastic.
Can pleather get wet?
Yes, because pleather is a plastic material, it does an excellent job of repelling water. Pleather can safely be used in a rainy environment. This always helps when needing to clean the alternative leather, as a wet rag can easily wipe away any mess on the product.
Can vegans wear pleather?
Yes, one of the main benefits of pleather is it removes the need for animal hide. Pleather is made from polyurethane, a plastic, and contains no real leather. Therefore those who avoid animal-made products can enjoy using pleather as a leather alternative.
Is pleather environmentally friendly?
Generally speaking pleather is not environmentally friendly. While the production of pleather is more sustainable than that of real leather, most pleather will not be biodegradable. When combined with pleather’s short lifespan, the material can often sit in landfills for over 500 years.
- Pleather is an artificial leather alternative made from plastic.
- Purchasing any leather alternative will be much cheaper than real leather but may lack durability.
- Pleather is ideal for testing new leather designs or offering vegan-friendly alternatives.
As leather crafters a huge part of our passion for the craft is the material we work with. Pleather’s low price can be the perfect practice tool, helping dial in new designs. In addition, offering pleather can help reach new customers who are searching for vegan-friendly material. While pleather has its differences, it still can have a place in any workshop.
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- Leatherette – Its Uses, Costs, and Benefits Over Leather
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- Cactus Leather – An Innovative, Vegan Leather From Plants
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- Apple Leather – Vegan Faux Leather With a Natural Twist
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