If you’ve spent much time shopping for any type of leather product,  it’s likely that you’ve heard the term ‘bonded leather’ by now. However, there are so many different types of leathers out there that it can be easy to get overwhelmed trying to figure out just what kind is right for you. As if this isn’t already disorienting enough, bonded leather is a bit of a special case, and it’s easy to get confused about what exactly it is. We created this page in order to answer your biggest questions about bonded leather, and to help you decide if it is what you’re looking for or if there are better options out there.

What is bonded leather?

Bonded leather is a material made by combining leftover leather scraps and leather fibers with a type of plastic called polyurethane. These are mixed together and attached to a solid backing made from paper or cloth fiber, before finally being cut into the necessary shapes and sizes. It can be used in all sorts of products: furniture, handbags, and just about anything that can be made from regular leather.

There are a few reasons why a manufacturer might choose to use bonded leather instead of a different type of leather. Its primary appeal is its price: when compared to a higher grade of leather such as full-grain leather, bonded leather tends to be cheaper to make and cheaper to buy. However, this has a big drawback; it’s much less durable, and often falls apart after just a few years.

Is bonded leather real leather?

It might not be fair to call bonded leather outright fake, but it’s definitely not what most people have in mind when they hear the word ‘leather’. When someone mentions ‘real leather’, they’re usually referring to a few specific kinds of leather, such as full grain leather or top-grain leather. Bonded leather doesn’t exactly fall neatly into this category.

It’s true that some real leather is used in the manufacture of bonded leather, but this percentage can vary quite a bit. In fact, bonded leather is often made of as little as 10% leather. In short, it might be a leather-based material, but it’s not really comparable to a high quality full-grain leather. If you’re curious about how the different types of leathers stack up against each other, check out our resource on the various grades of leather.

Alternative names for bonded leather:

By now, you might be picking up on the fact that bonded leather is a bit of a controversial topic. Some manufacturers prefer to avoid the connotations associated with the term ‘bonded leather’, so you might see it be called a few different things:

  • Blended leather
  • Faux leather
  • Vinyl leather
  • Reconstituted leather
  • Composite leather

It’s important to keep in mind that these all refer to essentially the same kind of leather.

How is bonded leather made?

The first step involved in the making of bonded leather is the collection of leather scraps. Usually, these are leftovers that come from businesses that work hands-on with genuine leather, like tanneries and leather goods manufacturers. Depending on the size and quality of the leather scraps, they might be ground up further, before being blended together with a plastic substance like polyurethane or, less commonly, latex plastic.

Next, the mixture is pressed onto sheets of hard cloth or fiber, and dried. At this point, the producer adds any desired cosmetic features. This part of the process usually begins with the painting or dying of the leather. Once the surface has been colored, patterns and textures can be printed directly onto it. There are a few reasons why this might be done. Sometimes it’s truly just for the sake of visual appeal, but some producers do it in order to attempt to conceal the synthetic nature of bonded leather and give it a more authentic appearance. Finally, a finish is applied to help protect the surface, and it’s cut into the shapes and sizes appropriate for its intended use.

How to tell the difference between bonded leather and genuine leather?

Having to discern different types of leather might sound intimidating, but luckily, anyone who knows what to look for should be able to tell whether they’re looking at bonded leather or not.

The most obvious thing to keep an eye out for is appearance. Like we mentioned earlier, freshly manufactured bonded leather has an entirely uniform appearance, with none of the markings that indicate high quality leather. This is a good guideline, but there are a few exceptions. For example, you might see bonded leather products that attempt to replicate the texture of genuine leather, or alternatively, genuine leather products that are sanded down for a smoother look. In general, a lack of a variation in the surface of the leather is a strong sign that it’s bonded leather.

If you’re still not sure what type of leather you’re looking at, there’s one more big giveaway. The biggest flaw of bonded leather is its quality. In fact, it is usually considered one of the lowest grades of leather. It’s thin, inflexible, and lacking in durability. Unfortunately, bonded leather products rarely last for more than a few years. If the leather has any kind of cracks or peels, chances are good that it’s bonded leather.

Pros and Cons of Bonded Leather:


  • Cheaper than a lot of other leathers
  • Comes in many colors and textures
  • Reduces waste by using leftover leather
  • Usually water-repellent


  • Falls apart quickly
  • Brittle and not very flexible
  • Often visibly synthetic
  • Lacks breathability

Is bonded leather worth it?

There are definitely a handful of cases where it makes sense to buy bonded leather. If you’re on a tight budget or if you’re not interested in a long term purchase, then maybe this is the right kind of leather for you. Bonded leather also has one great benefit regardless of its quality: by using leftover leather scraps, it makes sure that absolutely no leather goes to waste.

In general, when you buy a bonded leather product, you’re making a trade-off: you save money at the cost of quality. This isn’t just our own opinion. In fact, researchers from the FILK Freiberg Institute compared the qualities of genuine leather with various types of artificial leathers, and came to a predictable conclusion: there are no artificial alternatives to leather that come close to achieving the same properties. For more information on this study, you can access the article directly here.

At the Buffalo Billfold Company, we don’t use any bonded leather at all, because we believe in making leather goods that are built to last. The low prices of synthetic leather alternatives might seem appealing from a glance, but at the end of the day, their poor durability is just not compatible with our values. If you’re curious about why we only use genuine American buffalo leather, we wrote an article all about what makes it our favorite type of leather.