Artificial leather is a material intended to substitute for leather in fields such as upholstery, clothing, footwear and fabrics and other uses where a leather-like finish is desired but the actual material is cost-prohibitive or unsuitable. Artificial leather is marketed under many names, including "leatherette", "faux leather", "vegan leather", "PU leather" and "pleather".
Many different methods for the manufacture of imitation leathers have been developed.
One of the earliest was Presstoff. Invented in 19th century Germany, it is made of specially layered and treated paper pulp. It gained its widest use in Germany during the Second World War in place of leather, which under wartime conditions was rationed. Presstoff could be used in almost every application normally filled by leather, excepting items like footwear that were repeatedly subjected to flex wear or moisture. Under these conditions Presstoff tends to delaminate and lose cohesion.
Poromerics are made from a plastic coating (usually a polyurethane) on a fibrous base layer (typically a polyester). The term poromeric was coined by DuPont as a derivative of the terms porous and polymeric. The first poromeric material was DuPont's Corfam, introduced in 1963 at the Chicago Shoe Show. Corfam was the centerpiece of the DuPont pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair in New York City. After spending millions of dollars marketing the product to shoe manufacturers, DuPont withdrew Corfam from the market in 1971 and sold the rights to a company in Poland.
Leatherette is also made by covering a fabric base with a plastic. The fabric can be made of natural or synthetic fiber which is then covered with a soft PVC layer. Leatherette is used in bookbinding and was common on the casings of 20th century cameras.
Cork leather is a natural-fiber alternative made from the bark of cork oak trees that has been compressed, similar to Presstoff.
One of the artificial leather's primary advantages, especially in cars, is that it requires little maintenance in comparison to leather, and does not crack or fade easily.