Overlay vs Inset Cabinets – Do You Need a Full Overlay or an Inset?

Updated: | Author: Brad Javernick | Affiliate links may be present.

Choosing the right cabinets for your home is an important decision! First, you need to understand your options: overlay or inset cabinets. Since both have their own pros and cons, you will have to decide which type will better suit your home based on a few factors.

Overlay cabinets are a more modern option if you are looking for a contemporary look in your home. They completely cover the frame of the cabinet and offer the highest amount of storage space. Inset cabinets give a classic and sometimes more historically accurate appearance. Inset cabinets are set in the frame with flush-fitting doors to give a more streamlined appearance. While the look of this option gives more character, it’s the more expensive choice.

What is the Difference between Inset and Overlay Cabinets?

While inset and overlay cabinets both have similar functions, they differ in price and functionality.

Required Craftsmanship

One thing that sets these cabinets apart is the skill required to build them.

Overlay cabinets don’t require as advanced and time-consuming construction as inset cabinets. Since they are not set in the cabinet frame, less skill is needed for the job – making it a quicker option if you are looking to get your kitchen done fast!

Inset cabinets are not a DIY project that you can learn how to do at home. They require a professional installation from experienced cabinet builders who can adjust the cabinets properly and take into account humidity concerns.

To maintain the proper function of inset doors, the humidity in the house will have to remain between 30-55%, and your cabinets will most likely need adjustments every now and then to function properly.

Price Difference

Considering the different requirements in craftsmanship, inset cabinets will cost more to install. You will need to hire a professional who knows how to properly install inset cabinets and adjust the doors and hinges.

This will take a few more days than installing overlay cabinets which means you will have to pay your builder for a longer period of time.

Pros of Inset Cabinets

Inset cabinets are a popular choice for their sleek look and high-quality appearance.

Smooth Appearance

Since inset cabinets are built inside the frame, it allows for a streamlined appearance. If the look of your cabinets is at the top of your priority list, then inset cabinets are probably the best choice.

Historically Accurate

If you are looking to build or maintain the appearance of a certain period, inset cabinets are a great option. They bring back a classic styling technique for a more personal and characteristic look.

Cons of Inset Cabinets

Choosing inset cabinets for your kitchen can be a more appealing choice for their refined look, but the required craftsmanship for this option comes with a price.

More Expensive

Installing inset cabinets will take skilled craftsmanship and more time to build than overlay cabinets, making it a more expensive option.

Inset cabinets can cost similarly to custom cabinets, but the price will depend on the quality of material and skill. Always compare prices between local cabinetry companies and online brands.

Less Storage Space

Since inset cabinets are set inside the frame, you will lose some storage space with this option. The construction allows for a limited amount of space, so keep this in mind while making your decision.

If you are more of a minimalist and don’t need a lot of storage for your appliances, inset cabinets can be the better option for you.

Humidity Concerns

Humidity can cause wood to expand, which will affect the functionality of inset cabinet doors. Too much humidity can cause the doors to get stuck more easily. Depending on the location of your home, this can be a factor to take into account when deciding on cabinets.

Pros of Overlay Cabinets

Although overlay cabinets have a more modern appearance, they can be a more cost-effective option compared to inset cabinets.


Overlay cabinets take less time and skill to install, so they typically cost a lot less than inset cabinets. Since the construction required for overlay cabinets is simpler, you will not be spending as much money and still receive a similar put-together cabinet look.

More Storage Space

Because overlay cabinets are not set inside the frame, this option provides the most storage space. If storage is an important factor in building your kitchen, overlay cabinets will give you ample space for pots, pans, and larger items.

Cons of Overlay Cabinets

One of the main cons of overlay cabinets is that they don’t have the same high-end look of inset cabinets.

Hardware is Needed

Since there is no finger space around these cabinets, you will have to install knobs to open the doors. It’s best to leave any hardware installation to your hired professionals unless you are experienced in this kind of construction.

Exposed Corners

Overlay cabinets have doors on the outside of the frame, leaving corners exposed for easy nicking or damage. If you want to avoid obvious signs of wear like chipped corners, be extra careful with your overlay cabinets or opt for another alternative.

Consider Partial Overlay Cabinets

You can also choose not to get involved in this debate altogether and instead go with partial overlay cabinets for the most cost-effective option with easy installation.

The Most Common Option

Partial overlay cabinets are the most common option for a few reasons. Because this option allows for the cabinet to sit on the frame, it’s the least expensive choice and the easiest to install.

With partial overlay cabinets, there is typically a small gap between the doors leaving the face of the frame exposed. However, the exposed frame means that the hardware isn’t necessary for the doors – there is finger space above and around the cabinet for easy opening.

Final Thoughts

When choosing the right cabinets for your kitchen and home, there are several factors to consider: budget, storage, and length of the installation.

If a streamlined look is important to you, go with inset cabinets. If you are looking for a more cost-effective option, consider going with full overlay or partial overlay cabinets.

Avatar photo

About Brad Javernick

Brad is a licensed home inspector and the editor of Home Oomph. He's a massive DIYer, and loves to take on new home renovation projects!

Leave a Comment