A look at the definitions and pros/cons of stock, semi-custom, RTA, and custom cabinets. Plus, examples of each to help determine which type is right for YOU!

Designing cabinetry doesn’t have to be overwhelming! When starting a home build or renovation that requires cabinets, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is the type of cabinet you need. There are 3 main types: stock, semi-custom (and RTA), and custom. Each has its own pros and cons, as well as price points. So let’s look at the differences between these cabinet types so you can make a decision that’s right for YOU!

White bathroom vanity with makeup area in center and tower

Stock Cabinets

A stock cabinet is one that is fully designed and ready to go. What you see is what you get. Stock cabinets are available in standard dimensions and with limited colors and finishes.

Stock cabinets are boxed and typically, ready to take home with you that day. Occasionally, they might have to be ordered, but even so, they are pre-manufactured and ready to ship.

Typically, stock cabinets have some component of MDF or particleboard used in their construction. This, along with standard dimensions and limited colors/styles helps to keep the costs down.

You won’t need any design help if you choose a stock cabinet. Simply measure to ensure it fits your space and you’re ready to go!

You can find stock cabinets at big box hardware stores, as well as many online sites that sell furniture, including Wayfair, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Build, Joss & Main, etc.

Pros: Least expensive option and readily available {either take home that day or ready to ship}

Cons: Limited selection of styles and finishes and no customization of design

kitchen with gray cabinets with shaker style doors
Kitchen design using stock cabinets from Home Depot
white bathroom double vanity with open storage at the bottom and gray countertop
Stock bathroom vanity at Pottery Barn

Semi-Custom Cabinets

A semi-custom cabinet is a cabinet that can be somewhat customized. For example, the frame might come in standard sizes, but you can change the drawer widths or the number of drawers, for example.

You can also select from a larger variety of woods and painted finishes, as well as door styles, with semi-custom cabinets.

The quality on semi-custom cabinets is usually better than stock, but not quite as good as custom. Longer semi-custom cabinets tend to include a few different base cabinets that are pushed together. The seams are covered with pieces of trim {called scribe} and gaps are covered by trim pieces known as “filler“.

Semi-custom cabinets also allow you to add some details, like crown molding or feet, to give the appearance of a higher-end, custom cabinet.

Within semi-custom cabinets, there are Ready-to-Assemble cabinets, or RTA. You can design these the same way you design any semi-custom cabinet, but they don’t come assembled and ready to install. If you really want a semi-custom cabinet but want to keep the cost down, consider an RTA cabinet.

You will need some design help if you choose a semi-custom cabinet. Luckily, stores that sell semi-custom cabinets have designers on staff who use computer programs to help with your layout and show you 3D drawings of your choices.

If you choose RTA cabinets online, you’ll still be able to see drawings of the components that you choose; however, as you build your cabinets, you’ll need to keep track of your overall dimensions on your own.

Pros: Can customize the layout to fit your needs and select from a wide variety of styles and colors

Cons: Might not be able to get exactly what you want if it doesn’t conform to the standard frame sizes. Lead time is longer than Stock

kitchen with white cabinets and black hardware subway tile backsplash
via HGTV

Custom Cabinets

Custom cabinets are made specifically for you to your exact specifications. You can choose any wood, any style, and any color. You can also choose any design feature you want!

The quality of custom cabinets is very high, but so is the price! Longer cabinets can be made from one box to eliminate the need for any filler strips and box seams. This not only contributes to its high-end look, but also ensures that your space is maximized.

If you have a particular design that can’t be found elsewhere or odd dimensions, sometimes custom cabinetry is the only way to go.

One caveat about custom cabinetry. While the quality is great, depending on your state, the finish might not be as durable. In California, for example, cabinet makers cannot use the same paint products as other states, making painted finishes less durable than stock or semi-cabinets that are made in another state. Always check with your cabinet maker to verify the durability of the finish if you choose a custom cabinet.

Pros: Get exactly what you want with high-quality materials

Cons: Most expensive option with the longest lead time to create

french bathroom with marble floor and white double vanity
Custom cabinets in my bathroom makeover
bathroom vanity with pullout drawer for hair dryer
Customized storage solutions are possible with custom cabinets

What I Have in My Home

In my master bathroom makeover, I chose custom cabinets because I wanted a very specific layout and design that just wasn’t possible with semi-custom or stock. My bedroom built-in is also custom because the space was an odd size.

In my upcoming kids’ bathroom makeover, I chose semi-custom. I was able to get a style and color I love and almost the exact layout I wanted. While not 100% what I would have designed if were making a custom cabinet, the savings by going semi-custom more than made up for the small concession I had to make.

Shop My Favorite Cabinet Hardware!

Recommendation: What Cabinet is Right for You!

There really is no right or wrong choice when it comes to cabinets because it’s a matter of preference. The three biggest factors to consider are Function, Budget, and Timeframe.

If stock cabinets meet your needs in terms of function, style and size, they are a great option in that they are readily available and reasonably priced.

If your space requires something unique or has unusual dimensions, custom might be your only option and you’ll need to plan ahead to account for the time it takes for the cabinets to be made. Also, don’t forget to ask about durability!

Semi-custom cabinets really straddle the two other options in that you’ll be able to design exactly or almost exactly what you want but at a more reasonable price. And even within semi-custom cabinets, there are still varying price ranges between manufacturers, so do your research!

There are a few other things that affect price, so changing one of the factors below can help if you find yourself over budget:

  • Stain vs Paint {stain is less expensive}
  • Flat panel vs Raised {flat is less expensive}
  • Mitered corners versus Coped (Butted) {coped is less expensive}
  • Type of wood
  • Amount of embellishment on the door
  • Overlay vs. Inset!

I hope this helps you better understand the types of cabinets that are available. If you want more information on designing cabinets, you can get my *FREE* 10 tips for designing cabinets HERE!

Next week, the cabinet discussion continues…

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  1. This is so helpful! We are looking to buy a new house, and I can already tell there is a good chance I will need to gut a kitchen! These tips are informative and enlightening!! Thank you for this!

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