Selecting the Right Seating Vinyl

Item # X-HT-300157

Vinyl is a high-quality, durable fabric that’s perfect for anything from the seats on boats and personal watercraft to automotive and hospitality seating. Here at Sailrite we also offer luxurious faux leather fabric that will be right at home in your family room. But not all vinyl materials are created the same. We’re going to take a closer look at vinyl to help you decide which brand and style will be just right for your next seating application.

Saloon cushions in White Brisa

Settee cushions in white Brisa fabric by customer Jack R.

We should note that the decision making process of choosing a fabric includes purely preferential considerations like brand loyalty or needing to have an exact color, regardless of the performance differences. These reasons are completely valid, but are not the focus of this guide. Instead, we will be looking at the properties of fabric.

Vinyl is typically made with one of two broad applications in mind—to be used as a seat or as a protective cover. Because each of these applications requires a fabric with such different properties, there are virtually no fabrics that can be used for both seats and as covers. Cover applications include both marine tops like biminis, dodgers and boat awnings as well as traditional protective covers. In this post, we’re going to focus on seating vinyl. If you’re interested in vinyl for a cover application, head over to our companion guide “Selecting the Right Cover Vinyl” (300158XHT).

What Makes a Seating Vinyl?

NaugaSoft Blue Fog Vinyl front and back

NaugaSoft Blue Fog Fabric--note the soft knit underside of the fabric

Seating vinyl includes brands such as Brisa, Morbern, Naugahyde and Ultraleather. These vinyl fabrics were designed to be stretched for upholstery and to be comfortable to sit on. Seating vinyl often features a supple, soft hand sometimes with a faux leather-like texture. To add durability so the material can stretch and recover when upholstered, seating vinyl features a reinforced backing. This soft backing means that only one side can be exposed to the elements, but the vinyl topside is often made of a thicker layer of vinyl than a cover fabric to increase abrasion resistance and longevity. Another common feature of seating vinyl is that they are often treated with a stain guard to be life-proof whether used on a boat or in the hospitality industry.

What to Consider When Selecting a Seating Vinyl?

When you’re looking for the right vinyl for your project, there are four main points to consider: the location of the project, the material of vinyl, the thickness of the vinyl and if the fabric has any topical treatments.

Seating on the bridge deck of the 2016 project power boat in Seabrook vinyl.

Morbern Seabrook Seats on our 2016 Project Powerboat

First, you’ll want to think about the location of your vinyl. Not all seating vinyl is meant for exterior applications like on the deck of a boat, so knowing whether you need an interior or exterior fabric will narrow your choices. Interior vinyl fabrics are designed to mimic the look of leather for applications like saloon cushions and home décor upholstery. Interior vinyl lines at Sailrite include NaugaSoft, Ultraleather and Brisa. Exterior vinyl fabrics are designed for all-weather exposure in applications such as seats on boats, motorcycles, snowmobiles and golf carts. Our exterior seating lines include: Naugahyde Universal, Naugahyde All-American, and Morbern’s Seabrook, Allsport, Hexx and Shock lines.

Next, it’s important to look at the material of the fabric. Products that fall under the broad category of “vinyl” can be made from either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU). Brisa and Ultraleather are made from polyurethane. This is a more expensive material than PVC but it looks more like real leather. Another plus of PU is that it adapts to your body heat better than PVC, creating a cooler seat. A drawback to PU is that it is less resilient than PVC, so in seating applications it can start to puddle after an occupant rises over time. On the other hand, PVC can also be made to imitate leather and it has a highly durable surface. PVC is usually more affordable than PU and is easier to tailor. Most of the vinyl fabrics offered at Sailrite are made from PVC.

Another variable to note when selecting a vinyl is the weight of the material. The more the fabric weighs, the greater the thickness of vinyl present. This is important for durability because more vinyl means that the fabric will better withstand weather and abrasion. The tradeoff here is that heavier vinyl can be trickier to sew, so you’ll want to strike a balance between ease of fabrication and durability. Heavier vinyl also tends to be more expensive, so you’ll want to consider cost as well.

Teal and white Naugahyde boat cushion

Naugahyde Universal Teal boat cushion by Sailrite customer Donella B.

The last main consideration is to see if the fabric has a topical treatment added. For example, Naugahyde fabrics are treated with their Advanced BeautyGard®, which is a protective finish that works to block bacterial and fungal microorganisms and keeps the fabric looking and performing at its best. This treatment is especially important for upholstery in the hospitality and medical industries.

Conclusions

Other than selecting a seating vinyl that is appropriate for interior or exterior use, the rest is preferential. We recommend taking some time to think about how you will use the fabric and which additional properties will best suit your needs.

When you’re ready to start shopping, you can find all the vinyl fabrics discussed right here at Sailrite.