Leather stain vs Dye: 7 Key Differences

When it comes to leather, crafters always compare two ways of changing its color: using leather stain vs dye. While they may seem similar at first, there are a few key differences between these two methods.

In simple terms, leather stain coats the leather surface while leather dye penetrates the leather and gets deep into the fibers.

In this article, we will get deep into the differences between leather dye and leather stain and guide you on which one you should use for your leather project.

leather stain vs dye differences

What’s the difference between leather stain vs dye?

The difference between these two methods is that leather stain coats or stays on the surface of the leather because its molecules are larger and heavier. In contrast, the leather dye penetrates deep into the leather fibers since its molecules are smaller and lighter.

Leather stain

Leather stain is a sort of coloring chemical or agent that is applied to the surface of the leather to modify its color or to provide a decorative finish.

It is frequently used to give a distressed or antique look to leather items, as well as to repair scuffs and scratches on the surface of the leather. As a result, it produces a slightly muted effect because the color doesn’t penetrate the leather as deeply as with dyeing.

Qualities of leather stains

  • Leather stains do not penetrate through the leather pores.
  • They come in a wide range of colors from light to dark and can be matched to the desired color of the finished leather product.
  • Stains have different consistencies with some being thick and viscous while others may be thin and watery.
  • They are obtained from different sources. Some are may be made from natural substances like fruits or plants while others may be made from artificial dyes or pigments.
  • Stains are not permanent as they tend to wear off over time.
  • They are normally applied using a sponge or brush.

Types of leather stain

There are several types of leather stains that can be used to achieve a range of colors and effects on the leather depending on how they are applied and the type of leather they are used on.

But the most commonly used stains include;

  • Liquid leather stain

This type of stain can be applied to large surfaces of leather and typically dries to a matte finish. It can be easily controlled to create a consistent and even finish on the leather

  • Gel leather stain

This is a thicker, more viscous substance that is applied to the leather and can dry to a glossier finish. It is often used for small or detailed areas or for creating special effects on the leather.

Can you stain leather a different color?

Yes, you can stain leather in a different color. Leather stains are used to change the color of leather by depositing pigments or dyes on the surface of the material.

So, you can stain leather darker or lighter than the original color depending on the type of stain you use.

For a darker color, look for a leather stain that is a darker shade than the original color of the leather. If you want to lighten the leather, you can use a leather stain that is a lighter shade, or you can use bleach to lighten the leather color.

Leather dye

Leather dye is also a type of coloring agent that is often used by leather craftsmen and shoemakers to create a wide range of colors and designs on their leather products.

It is typically made from a mixture of pigments, solvents, and other chemicals that are designed to penetrate the surface of the leather and create a permanent color change.

Some people even use coffee as a leather dye and it works effectively while others may use a fabric dye like Rit to dye leather and it works effectively.

Thus, it can also be used to restore or refresh the color of an old or worn leather item.

Qualities of a leather dye

  • Leather dye is permanent so your items will not rub off or fade over time even with regular use.
  • It does not wash off since its colorfast
  • Leather dye is flexible so it does not crack or peel even when the leather is bent or stretched
  • Dyes come in a wide range of colors and can be used to create a distressed or vintage look.
  • It is easy to apply and bonds well with leather

Types of leather dyes

  • Oil-based leather dye

This is made using oil as the solvent rather than water or alcohol so it is more viscous and longer-lasting. It tends to create deep, rich colors on the leather since the oil base helps the pigment to penetrate the surface of the leather more deeply.

  • Alcohol-based leather dye

This dye is made using alcohol as a solvent which makes it less vicious than oil-based dye. As a result, it is easier to apply on the leather since it has a thinner consistency and dries more quickly. This also allows it to spread more evenly on the leather leaving a uniform finish.

  • Water-based leather dye

This leather dye is also less vicious since it uses water as a solvent. It is the easiest to apply and also dries the quickest leaving a bright and vibrant color on the leather with a smooth finish.

One of the most popular leather dyes is Fiebing’s Leather Dye. It is an alcohol-based dye that comes in a range of colors and penetrates the leather to create a durable and long-lasting color that will not peel or crack. Because it is alcohol-based, it is easy to apply and dries quickly. You can use it on a wide variety of leather items, including furniture, shoes, bags, and small items like wallets and belts since the thin consistency allows for precise and even application without over-saturating the leather.

Is leather dye permanent?

Leather dye can be considered permanent, but it depends on the type of leather and the quality of the dye used.

Basically, leather dyes are formulated to provide long-lasting color but the exact longevity will depend on the leather’s condition and how it’s used.

If the leather is well-maintained and not exposed to excessive wear and tear, the color from a high-quality leather dye can last for several years.

However, over time, the color may fade or wear away, especially if the leather is subjected to frequent use or exposure to sunlight, heat, and other environmental factors.

Can you tie-dye leather?

Yes, you can tie-dye leather. Tie-dyeing leather involves applying different dyes to specific areas of the leather to create patterns and designs.

The process is similar to tie-dyeing fabric but it requires a few special considerations when working with leather.

Key differences between stain and dye

If you are still confused about how leather stains differ from leather dyes, here’s a summary of the primary differences.

1. Intended use

Leather stain is used to add color to leather and create a more natural, uneven look, while the leather dye is used to uniformly change the color of the entire leather surface.

This means that if you want to completely change the color of your leather, you should use leather dye.

2. Mode of application

Stains and dyes are applied differently on leather. Stains are typically applied to the surface of the leather using a brush, cloth, or sponge while leather dyes are usually applied using a spray or immersion method.

3. Durability

As mentioned earlier, leather stains sit on the leather surface so they are not permanent. They can be wiped off easily or removed and reapplied when necessary. In addition, they tend to rub off or fade over time.

Leather dyes on the other hand are permanent. When applied to leather, they penetrate deep into the pores creating a long-lasting color change that cannot be wiped or rubbed off.

4. Color options

Leather stain typically comes in a limited range of colors, while the leather dye is available in a wider range of colors.

5. The finished look

Leather stain creates a more transparent, washed-out effect on the leather, while leather dye creates a more solid, uniform color.

6. Cost

Leather stain is typically less expensive than leather dye, as it is a simpler and less labor-intensive process to apply.

Leather dye, on the other hand, can be more expensive due to the specialized equipment and process required to apply it.

7. Type of leather

Leather stains may not be compatible with all types of leather, while leather dyes can be used on most types of leather.

Can you stain leather a different color

Leather dye vs leather paint, which is better?

Whether leather dye or leather paint is better depends on your specific needs and the outcome you’re looking to achieve.

Leather dye is ideal for producing a uniform, opaque color change that penetrates the surface of the leather and provides long-lasting results. Leather paint, on the other hand, sits on the surface of the leather and provides a temporary color change.

Leather paints are ideal for adding designs or patterns to the leather or for covering up stains or imperfections. In addition, they are not as long-lasting as leather dyes and they may not provide the same level of color uniformity.


In conclusion, the choice between using a leather stain or a leather dye for your project comes down to the desired outcome and the specific properties of the product.

Leather stains are designed to enhance the natural color and texture of the leather, while leather dyes are intended to create a new, permanent color on the surface of the leather.

Both have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, and the right choice will depend on the project at hand.

But, whichever product you choose, it’s important to test it on a small, inconspicuous area of the leather first to make sure you get the results you want.

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