Differences Between Stock, RTA, Semi-Custom and Custom Cabinets

Perhaps you are getting tired of the same old kitchen cabinets and arrangement you have been living in for the past while. Or maybe your cabinets strongly bear the marks of days gone by and are past due for a much-needed overhaul. When you do choose to update your cabinets, you will find that choice opens the door to a myriad of other choices, such as the type of cabinet you prefer for your space and which ones will work best within it.

If you are at that stage of your cabinet renovation journey, you may already know that the three primary types of cabinets are stock, also known as RTA, semi-custom and custom cabinets. However, deciding which cabinet is right for you can take some hemming and hawing. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of pros and cons for each cabinet, as well as defining features to help you determine which option you want to go with!

What are Stock and RTA Cabinets?

Stock and RTA cabinets, which stands for “ready to assemble,” are economical cabinets that come in a limited selection of basic sizes, finishes and designs. Typically, RTA cabinets are either bought off the shelf or online and delivered within a short time frame from a big-box department store like IKEA or Home Depot. With that in mind, RTA cabinets require the customer to assemble the cabinet after their purchase, although some come with the option of being delivered pre-assembled at an additional cost.

If you are careful with instructions and feel comfortable with woodworking or putting furniture and appliances together, the assembly process should go fairly smoothly. However, there is an added risk with self-assembly even though it will save money in the short term, especially if the instructions are difficult to follow or mistakes are made during the assembly process.

Stock and RTA Cabinets

Pros of Stock and RTA Cabinets

  • Fewer indirect costs — the customer performs the cabinet assembly, which reduces labor fees, and the cabinet is shipped in a flat box, which reduces shipping fees
  • Held in inventory or warehouse and ready to ship when ordered
  • Increased options and improved quality from earlier RTA cabinets
  • Can be purchased directly off the shelf or delivered within one to two weeks
  • If assembly is easy to follow, RTA cabinet assembly and installation can be a fairly headache-free process

Cons of Stock and RTA Cabinets

  • Sometimes made of inferior material, such as particleboard, which is less durable and more prone to damage from moisture or regular use, leading to a diminished lifespan and low return-on-investment (ROI)
  • Cannot be custom-fitted to difficult areas or custom designed to match your preferences or existing kitchen or bathroom décor — what you see is what you get
  • Shorter warranty periods than custom or semi-custom cabinets
  • Assembly is not always intuitive or straightforward, which can be time-consuming, as each cabinet takes approximately one hour to assemble and install, on average
  • Somewhat unpredictable in terms of assembly and customer service
  • Incorrect assembly or installation can damage the cabinetry, which may or may not be covered by warranty (prepare for the latter), and can hamper their overall function
  • If damage caused by incorrect assembly or installation is not covered by warranty, RTA cabinets can quickly become comparable to or exceed the costs of semi-custom or custom cabinets
  • Require more caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) than other types of cabinets since there are many cheap RTA cabinets, both in price and quality
  • Extra additions to your RTA cabinets can be expensive

Additional Considerations with RTA Cabinets

If RTA cabinets are the most practical choice for you, there are many great options to choose from. However, be wary of bottom-budget brands that offer RTA cabinets at unusually low prices. Such cabinets are usually made from inferior materials like particleboard or pressed wood. Instead, try to find RTA cabinets made from dependable materials sold by a company with great customer service reviews. Even if they cost a little bit more, it will almost assuredly be worth it. Some signs and features of dependable or high-quality RTA cabinets include:

  • Doors and drawers made from solid wood, not just a thin veneer of solid wood
  • Dovetail joints on the drawers with high-quality glue
  • Fully extendable drawer glides
  • Hand-painted with multiple layers of finish as opposed to spray-on finishes
  • Hardwood or plywood construction, as opposed to particleboard
  • Soft-close drawers or doors

Further, many RTA cabinets are foreign imports, some of which are fine quality and some of which are not. For those foreign-imported RTA cabinets that are of poor quality, getting replacement parts can be a costly hassle, and customer service can be painfully disjointed. So, if you are eyeing up a foreign-imported bathroom or kitchen stock cabinet that would go perfectly with your existing décor, make sure the cabinet is made from quality material and the company has a good reputation.

RTA cabinets may be for you if you want to save some money with your bathroom or kitchen renovations and enjoy taking on small building and construction projects. They can also be a good choice for rental properties you want to upgrade on a budget in a cost-efficient manner. While RTA cabinets have a history of being made from inferior materials, there are increasing RTA options on the market today of great quality. As such, RTA cabinets can be a great choice, depending on the circumstance.

On the other hand, if RTA cabinets seem like too much risk and effort and not enough reward, continue reading to learn about other options like semi-custom or fully custom cabinets!

What are Semi-Custom Cabinets?

A semi-custom cabinet is a hybrid between RTA cabinets and fully-customized cabinets. As such, they are sometimes thought of as the “best of both worlds” option, although some may describe them more as stock cabinets with detailing options. Not surprisingly, they are a trendy choice for individuals stuck in the middle. They are pre-designed and manufactured in a factory like RTA cabinets but can also be customized in limited ways to meet the customer’s needs.

In order to combine the convenience of RTA cabinets with the flexibility of custom cabinets, semi-custom cabinets are made to order, which means that you provide the cabinet company with the specs in accordance with their regulations, and they will construct the cabinet after receiving your instructions. As such, they have more options than RTA cabinets but also take longer to get to you.

Concerning the customization options of semi-custom cabinets, the options are limited in comparison to full customized cabinets but diverse enough to allow you to make sure the cabinets are a good fit for your kitchen or bathroom. With that in mind, standard cabinetry sizes apply with semi-custom cabinets, but certain dimensions of cabinet drawers, door fronts or cabinet depth can be adjusted to fit your needs.

semi custom cabinets

Pros of Semi-Custom Cabinets

  • More options than stock cabinets — you have the freedom to choose your door style, finish, inner organization of the cabinets and other features with semi-custom cabinets because they are made to order
  • Usually come with an extended warranty on the finish and hardware
  • Adjustments can be made in three-inch increments for fitting in custom spaces, so no awkward gaps or seams are exposed
  • Approximately 15 to 30 percent less expensive than custom cabinets

Cons of Semi-Custom Cabinets

  • Since they are made to order, semi-custom cabinets have a longer lead and delivery time than RTA Cabinets — usually between four to eight weeks — but shorter than fully custom cabinets
  • Like RTA cabinets, some semi-custom cabinets are made of inferior materials like particleboard or medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which is less durable than solid hardwood
  • Less flexibility and customization available with semi-custom cabinets than with fully custom cabinets
  • More expensive than RTA Cabinets

Additional Considerations with Semi-Custom Cabinets

As a bridge between custom and RTA Cabinets, semi-custom cabinets carry a lot of appeal, especially for individuals planning on living at their residence for the foreseeable future. They are less expensive than fully custom cabinets and more versatile than RTA cabinets while also having an extended warranty in most cases.

With that being said, the customization and modification options with semi-custom cabinets are limited. So it is a good idea to figure out exactly how you will need to customize your cabinets with your renovations before deciding on semi-custom or fully custom cabinets to make sure semi-custom cabinets can meet your renovation needs. If your desired modifications go beyond what the semi-custom cabinets can accommodate, you may be better off getting custom cabinets.

What are Custom Cabinets?

Custom cabinets are expertly crafted on a case-by-case basis for each home, bathroom or kitchen they are to be installed in. As such, there are no standard cabinet sizes you need to abide by with custom cabinets — you are given free rein to let your creativity flourish, breathe your cabinet ideas into life and make your renovated space your own.

With that being said, you will need to work with a designer and cabinetmaker as you go about establishing your plans for your custom cabinets, both so that you stay within the bounds of what is possible and so that your cabinetmaker can devise how to construct the finished form from your design plan. Luckily, most cabinet companies will automatically provide this service to you when you choose to enlist their cabinetry expertise.

Your vision, combined with a professional cabinet designer’s ingenuity and creative suggestions, is a recipe for success. As you let the cabinet designer in on your vision for your renovation, they will build the cabinets to the exact specifications required to get the job done and provide helpful suggestions to help birth your ideas into reality.

custom cabinets

Pros of Custom Cabinets

  • Custom cabinets allow you to take full advantage of your space — fill any quirk, nook and cranny in your kitchen or bathroom to optimize your space in creative and aesthetically pleasing ways with custom cabinets
  • Limitless customization options — you can translate your dream cabinets into reality with custom cabinets
  • Extra accessories can be included in the overall price, such as wine racks, range hood covers, kitchen islands and other statement pieces
  • Custom cabinetmakers view custom cabinetry as an art form and apply expert artisanal attention to every step in the process of building your cabinets
  • Great ROI — custom cabinets should last 25 years or more
  • You will have full say on every material used to build your cabinets, so you won’t need to worry about paying a premium for faux-material masquerading as the real thing, and you can even choose to use wood from local, reclaimed or recycled sources for a more environmentally conscious renovation in some cases
  • No assembly required
  • Extended warranty on the entire cabinet

Cons of Custom Cabinets

  • Longest lead and delivery times out of the three different options — usually between six to ten weeks and can be longer depending on delivery considerations
  • More expensive than semi-custom and RTA or stock cabinets
  • Options, prices and warranties vary significantly between different companies, so finding the best deal can take some time and may require some extra help parsing through your options

Additional Considerations with Custom Cabinets

Getting custom cabinets does not mean that every single cabinet you purchase needs to be custom-made. Most cabinet-making companies specializing in custom cabinets also have an array of standard-sized cabinets that you can choose from for individuals who don’t need to modify their cabinets but still want high quality. In many cases, only a few of the customer’s cabinets require modifications, while the rest can work perfectly at a standard size. So when pricing out custom cabinets, you may be able to save some money by opting for standard-sized cabinets wherever you can.

However, just as there are RTA cabinets made of high-quality material, there are also custom cabinets made from inferior materials. We advise against assuming that just because a set of cabinets is custom made, they are automatically better than a set of RTA cabinets. Rather, it is best to do your research on any type of cabinet to make sure that the materials used are durable and worth the investment.

The Possibilities are Endless with Limitless Renovations!

Renovating your kitchen, bathroom or other space should be an exciting time, even though there are inevitably going to be some stressors as you figure out the logistics of your project, whether that involves choosing the types of cabinets you want to install or figuring out what color the area should be. At Limitless Renovations, our specialists have over 18 years of experience serving the Atlanta area with superior kitchen and bath remodeling services. We would be delighted to remove the stress from your project and help you achieve your goals.

Should you choose Limitless Renovations to steer your project to success, our specialists will come to you to deliver an in-home shopping experience that provides you with everything you need to get started. We offer a broad range of custom cabinet options all made from superior materials. If you are interested in learning more, we welcome you to contact us today to tell us about your project!

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