Inset Cabinets VS Overlay – Which is Best For You?

In the world of kitchen designs, there may be no more important consideration than cabinets. They are the one which holds all your cooking and dining supplies, but since they usually cover most walls in a kitchen, therefore, they also work as wall art. That is to say, both the look and the function are extremely important.

When it comes to cabinetry, one of the decisions that you need to make is whether you want inset or overlay cabinets. No doubt, both look wonderful and are great choices.

There are three main styles of kitchen cabinets to choose from. The ones you choose will depend on your style preferences and the overall look you are hoping to accomplish. After some digging, I have found a lot of information that can be useful in making a decision.

Inset Cabinets:

Inset cabinet doors are fully inlaid in the cabinet frame. This is the oldest of the three types and is often featured on cabinetry from the early 1900s. It is the most expensive choice.

Face Frame: Inset cabinet doors and drawers are fitted inside of the cabinet face frame. This gives you a full view of the cabinet frame, with only minimal spacing or gaps between the cabinet components.

Trend: If you see the latest cabinet trends, you will discover that the inset method of construction is still a strong preference among all the house owners who are building or designing their kitchens.

Stability: In inset cabinets, the cabinetry boxes can come all the way to the floor and offers great stability.

Customize: You can customize your inset cabinet designs with either beaded or flush face frames and with concealed or exposed hinges.

Another styling option that inset cabinetry has to offer is the hinge style: concealed or barrel.

The concealed hinge: It is installed on the inside of the cabinet and is hidden from view when the cabinet door is closed.

The barrel hinge: It is a decorative hinge that is visible even when the cabinet door is shut and is available in several finishes: Flat Black, Sterling Nickel, Verona Bronze, Wrought Iron, or Polished Chrome.

Pros and Con’s Of Inset Cabinets:

  • Traditional outlook: They look very cool especially in traditional and vintage designs.
  • Draw attention: Inset cabinets make your kitchen attractive.
  • Better craftsmanship: Inset doors require more skills to install that’s why these cabinets are usually well made overall.
  • Historic accuracy: In older homes, inset cabinets can help emulate the style of a particular time period.
  • Higher cost: They are very expensive.
  • Low storage: They have framed cabinets so less storage space than frameless cabinets.
  • Humidity: In humid climates, wood doors ad drawers can expand and stick, making the cabinets hard to use


Overlay Cabinets:

·  Full overlay cabinets:

Full overlay cabinets are also called Euro-style. These cabinet doors sit on top of the cabinet frame, covering it entirely, with gaps of less than ½” anywhere on the cabinet face. It is more expensive than a partial overlay.

Large Fronts: Full overlay cabinets have doors and drawers with extra-large fronts.  These are designed to fully cover the face frame.

The extra inch of space: Since the doors are not closing into the cabinets as inset ones do, these cabinets provide an extra inch of space.

Hidden face frame: The doors and drawers completely cover the cabinetry face. The face frame is completely hidden in these cabinets.

Concealed Hinge: Overlay cabinets usually feature concealed hinges that are installed inside of the cabinet.

Pros and Con’s Of Overlay cabinets:

  • Clean look: Full overlay cabinets give a clean and fine appearance that creates a fine look for the entire kitchen.
  • Low cost: They are less expensive.
  • Storage: They provide more storage to store items.
  • Hardware: They require cabinet hardware to open the cabinet because there’s only ¼ inch of space between cabinets.
  • Exposed corners: Because the corners of the cabinets are exposed, they can be more easily nicked over time.


·  Partial Overlay Cabinets:

Partial overlay cabinets are also known as standard, traditional, or half overlay.

This is the most popular and affordable kind of cabinet. Like full overlay, the doors sit on top of the frame, however, they cover only the openings – not the full face of the box.

Face Frame: The door sits on the cabinet face, leaving a gap of usually ¼ inch between the doors, allowing the face frame of the cabinet to be seen.

Quality: The quality or partial overlay cabinets are the same as a full overlay, but less wood is required in its construction, as it does not have to cover the full cabinet frame.

Hinges: Like inset, Partial overlay cabinets are available with either concealed or barrel hinges.

Pros and Con’s Of Partial Overlay Cabinets:

  • Hardware: No hardware is required.
  • Storage: It provides a good amount of storage.
  • Low cost: They are the least expensive.
  • Dotted surface: They can sometimes seem to be dotting the surface of your cabinets rather than defining them.


Both inset and full overlay cabinets are beautiful choices for your house. Consider the pros and cons of each as you shop, and you’re sure to get a look that suits both your style and your budget.

Which one is best between inset and overlay cabinets?

Whether you go with the classic appeal of partial overlay cabinets or opt for the more custom look of inset, your kitchen is sure to bring you years of enjoyment because it will reflect your style. There is no right or wrong choice- there is only YOUR choice. Make it one that you’ll be satisfied with for years to come and what style fits best within your budget.

My Opinion:

I personally think with full-overlay cabinetry, the frame of the cabinet is almost fully covered by doors and drawers so you don’t see the edges of the chip unless you open the cabinetry. Not so with inset cabinets, because the frame of the cabinet is fully exposed around all the edges exposing any potentially chipped and damaged edges, even when drawers and doors are closed.

The one major difference between the two is the price. Inset cabinets can cost approximately 15-30% more than overlay cabinets. You can also lose some storage space for those larger dinner dishes in inset cabinets.

I will recommend you to go with a full overlay instead of an inset. Full overlay cabinets are gorgeous and will look great in your kitchen.

Mixing of inset cabinets with partial or full overlay:

My opinion: Many people mix cabinet types and it looks fine, even great. I would agree that inset and overlay cabinets can be mixed either by having the island different than the rest of the kitchen or uppers different from lowers. Lowers would need to be the overlay style for the proportions to feel right.

Mix and match may not be a problem as long as there is a plan, system, or consistency! It helps to save your money and gives an attractive look.

Final Thoughts

So, should you go for insets, or should you do for overlays? Well, it mostly depends on your budget and your installation skills – but also your personal preferences. Some people get along better with inset cabinet types, whereas others prefer overlays. You just need to find out which one you love more.

A professional cabinet-maker can present you with a staggering amount of choices for customization. Many options are available to you in terms of wood, color, and construction.  Make sure your cabinet has dovetailed drawers and that they are made of solid wood and invest in Soft-Closing drawers and doors.

I hope that you now feel more confident in knowing how to choose inset vs. overlay cabinets for your home!


Do you lose space with inset cabinets?
There is very little storage in inset cabinets because the cabinet face is inside the cabinet. Some people complain that their larger dinner dishes do not fit in the cabinets.
Are partial overlay cabinets out of style?
Partial overlay cabinets exude a traditional look for cabinets that many homeowners choose as a replacement. As of this time, however, it is not a trendy kitchen cabinet design element.
What is full overlay vs half overlay?
Full overlay hinges are for individual cabinets or the cabinets on either end of a run of cabinets. Half overlay hinges are intended for pairs of doors in the middle of a run of cabinets, where two doors have their hinges mounted on opposite sides of a shared middle partition.
What is the difference between standard overlay and full over lay cabinets?
Standard overlay cabinets ( also called traditional overlay) tend to be less expensive and do not require hardware whereas full overlay cabinets give cabinets a more custom look and require hardware.
Are inset cabinets more expensive than overlay?
Yes, inset cabinets are very smooth and give a clear appearance that’s why they are more expensive than an overlay.
Are inset cabinets worth it?
I don’t think inset cabinets worth the cost. Full overlay cabinets give a similar appearance to that of inset cabinets without the higher cost!
What hinges to use for inset doors?
Full inset doors use either butt hinges or surface mounted cabinet hinges, such as H and HL hinges or strap hinges.
Does humidity affects inset cabinets?
Yes, Inset cabinets may expand and contract when humidity changes. To protect them, the humidity in rooms must stay between 30 – 50%.

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