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What’s the Difference Between Inset and Overlay Cabinets?

When you purchase replacement cabinet doors there are a lot of factors to consider: what size do you need, what style do you like, what kind of finish do you want? As you’re debating options, be sure to compare inset cabinets vs. overlay cabinets. There are subtle but significant differences between the two that you need to consider before replacing the cabinet doors in your kitchen, bathroom, office, or anywhere else.

What are Inset Cabinet Doors?

As the name would imply, inset cabinet doors are “set in” to the frame of the cabinet. That means when you shut the door it sits flush with the frame and the only thing sticking out is the cabinet door hardware. The hinges can be on the outside or the inside.

Paint, Installation, and Photo Cred: Dwell Custom Cabinetry

Homeowners and designers choose inset cabinet doors because they offer a clean, sleek look. Modern homes often incorporate these doors or any space that wants to look streamlined and stylish. With a wide variety of style and finish options available, inset cabinet doors are an option to consider in any space.

Paint, Installation, and Photo Cred: Dwell Custom Cabinetry

There are good reasons to avoid inset doors as well. Since they have to fit precisely inside the cabinet frame they are harder to make, take longer to complete, and typically cost 15-30% more than the alternatives. Many outlets that sell cabinet doors do not sell inset options because they take so much careful customization.

Paint, Installation, and Photo Cred: Dwell Custom Cabinetry

Inset doors are also prone to a problem known as gapping. If the doors are thrown out of perfect alignment (something that happens inevitably with regular use) they will begin to show gaps between the doors and frames. Gapping throws off the clean look of inset doors, and it can take a lot of trial and error to fix the problem. Keep this in mind as you’re debating inset cabinets vs. overlay cabinets. Remember, price and performance matter just as much as style. We highly recommend consulting with an experienced cabinet company if you do decide that Inset is the right choice for you!


What are Overlay Cabinet Doors?

Overlay cabinets are much more common – you probably have them in your kitchen or bath right now. They “layover” the frame of the cabinet, essentially sitting on top of the cabinet frame. Overlay doors come in two styles: full and partial.

Full-overlay doors cover up the entirety of the cabinet frame, meaning when all the doors are closed they almost meet edge to edge and they cover the frame completely. The look is very similar to inset cabinet doors and creates the same kind of clean, continuous look.

Paint, Instillation and Photo cred: Dwell Custom Cabinetry

Partial-overlay doors only cover up part of the frame, so when all the doors are closed you can see the individual doors sitting on top of the frame underneath. Many people prefer how partial-overlay doors give their cabinets depth and dynamism instead of a uniform appearance.

Photo cred: Customer

Whether partial or full, overlay doors require less precision and are a little more homeowner friendly than inset doors. It’s relatively easy and affordable to produce high-quality overlay doors in any style. As a result, homeowners can expect to receive their doors faster, to pay less, and to find more companies to order from.

Overlay doors are also preferable in terms of performance. Gapping is much less of a problem, even with full-overlay doors, since the door transitions into the frame rather than the empty cabinet space behind it. These doors are also less likely to get misaligned since they don’t have to sit precisely inside the cabinet frame. When it comes to inset cabinets vs. overlay cabinets, the latter is the clear winner in terms of long-term performance.

Which One Should You Choose?

Ultimately, the type of replacement cabinet doors you choose is entirely up to you. Realistically, however, overlay cabinets make a lot more sense, especially if you’re looking for an easy and economical home improvement project.

Depending on how many doors you want to replace, you will spend much more money on inset doors. And even if your budget is limitless, you may struggle to find a professional carpenter who is available to build the doors. You could wait months to get the finished product, then have to bring in a professional to ensure that each of the doors are installed correctly.

Overlay doors are just the opposite. They offer lots of styles and consistent performance at a lower price. Custom sized doors can be produced in as little as 7-10 business days before being shipped to your home. And when they arrive, it doesn’t take too much experience, or expertise, to hang the doors yourself.

Many homeowners want to make a big impact on a small budget. If that is your priority too, the inset cabinet vs overlay cabinet debate is settled – go with overlay.

Order Doors You Love from CabinetDoors.Com

In our experience after over 30 years of making custom-sized cabinet doors, we understand what works for homeowners. We’ve found that overlay doors are the most common and are easier to measure for, they offer everything people want in replacement cabinet doors without the time and expertise of inset doors. Discover how easy it is to order custom-sized doors from an online retailer, and be sure to peruse our FAQ if you have questions. For more information about anything we do, please contact us.


October 2019
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