Patent Leather vs. Leather

Patent leather: is it superior to ordinary leather? Understanding what makes patent leather distinct will give you confidence that you've chosen the best, high-quality footwear and accessories.


Leather includes any animal skin that's been tanned—a process of soaking the hide in an acidic solution that preserves, softens and makes it easier to work with. (Leather can also be colored during the tanning process.) The material is used to make clothing, shoes, purses, gloves, upholstery and book bindings. Most leather is made of cowhide, although the skins of pig, deer, sheep and other animals are also common. There are many different types of leather, each with a different finish, including suede, nubuck and Nappa leather.

Patent Leather

Patent leather is made of leather that's been coated in plastic, varnish or lacquer to make it shiny. The coating on patent leather is thinner than 0.15 millimeters and typically doesn't obscure the beauty of the material underneath. (Leather with a thicker coating than patent leather is sometimes called patent laminated leather.) Often the surface is left smooth, but it can also be embossed, crinkled or crushed. Patent leather is frequently used by edgy fashion designers to add a sleek sheen to leather goods.


Both regular leather and patent leather should be kept free of dust. Some types of leather need oiling, conditioning or polishing, depending on the finish. Patent leather doesn't need that—it just needs to be sprayed with a soapy cleanser and wiped clean to keep it free of dirt and debris. Be careful not to buff patent leather or it could lose its shine.


Some items are made with shiny synthetic leathers marketed as patent leather. These tend to be cheaper, so some people purchase them as inexpensive alternatives. Synthetic patent leather is also coveted by people who prefer not to use animal products.