Microsoft makes a number of high-profile products for its Surface lineup that feature "Alcantara" fabric, including the new Surface Laptop, which is expected to be released in June. But what exactly is Alcantara?

On Windows Central, we cover everything and anything Microsoft. That means we do a lot of stories on its Surface PCs, which are some of the most exciting PCs available today. By extension, that means we do a fair amount of coverage of devices with Alcantara fabric, which Microsoft's has used for a while now on certain covers and keyboards. It will also feature prominently on the upcoming Surface Laptop, and latest Surface Pro Type Covers.

To give Alcantara its due, we decided to do a bit of digging and try to answer some of the most common questions about the semi-mysterious fabric. Here's everything you could possibly want to know about Alcantara.

What exactly is Alcantara?

Alcantara is an Italian-made fabric that looks and feels much like suede. The name Alcantara is actually a brand name, and it's a registered trademark of Alcantara S.p.A., an Italian company.

What is Alcantara made of?

Polyester (about 68 percent) and polyurethane (about 32 percent), at least according to Wikipedia. The actual "recipe" for the fabric is unknown and is proprietary information that belongs to its maker.

Where does the name Alcantara come from?

Though the brand name is Italian, it's derived from the Arabic word "al qantara," meaning "the bridge." You could say Alcantara fabric is a "bridge" between animal leather and cotton fabric.

What is Alcantara used for?

In addition to being featured prominently in recent Microsoft Surface products, Alcantara is used by various companies in the fashion, interior, automotive, yachting, and aviation industries. One notable automaker that uses Alcantara in its vehicles is Porsche.

According to a Porsche dealer in Calif., the luxury vehicle maker uses three types of Alcantara:

There are currently three versions of Alcantara available: cover (made for seating surfaces); panel (made for door/dash applications); and soft (made for headliners).

Signature Type Cover

Why do luxury brands (and others) use Alcantara?

For a lot of reasons. According to the manufacturer, it's good looking, first and foremost. It's stain-resistant (to a degree) and very soft. It's relatively durable and doesn't fade easily. Alcantara is also light weight.

Additionally, it's sustainable and 100-percent carbon neutral, meaning it doesn't release any potentially harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It's versatile and can be dyed in a ton of different colors. It's easy to clean (here's how). It's nice and "grippy." And it's reportedly fire-retardant.

It's also (generally) cheaper than leather. Which leads to our next question.

How durable is the Alcantara fabric on the Surface Laptop?

Is Alcantara expensive?

Compared to leather, usually not. But like any material, it's available in a variety of different quality levels, which can be expensive. Companies that use Alcantara like to position it as a specialty material (including Microsoft) and therefore they sometimes charge a premium for it. For example, Porsche charges the same amount of money for Alcantara in its cars as it does for leather, even though it pays significantly less for the Alcantara, according to amusing Kiwi YouTuber Nick Murray.

Is it animal-free and vegan-friendly?

You betcha. Alcantara is 100-percent cruelty-free and not of animal origin. It's sometimes referred to as "Alcantara leather," but that's simply not an accurate term.

Surface Ergo keyboard

What's the difference between Alcantara and "Ultrasuede?"

The country of origin. Ultrasuede is another registered brand name, but it's very similar to Alcantara. The main difference between the two is that genuine Alcantara is made in Italy. It's like Champagne. There are all kinds of sparkling white wine, but real Champagne is made in Champagne, France.

Is there anything bad about Alcantara? Any disadvantages to using Alcantara?

Sure, it's not perfect. If you simply don't like the look and feel of suede, you're probably not going to like Alcantara. Like suede, it can collect "pressure marks" or signs of use. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Some people who have experience with Alcantara complain about durability issues, meaning it doesn't exactly stand up to the test of time as much as its manufacturer would want you to think. However, our Executive Editor Daniel Rubino, who has used both the Signature Type Cover and the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard, says his Alcantara still mostly looks and feels like new. Your personal mileage may vary.

All about Alcantara

There you have it. That's just about everything any reasonable person should want to know about this unique fabric. If for some reason, you have a question about the fabric that we didn't answer, drop it in the comments and we'll do our best to find an answer for you.

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