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What Even Is Cabinet Overlay?

Let's be honest. Picking out cabinets can be overwhelming. You need to decide more than just the style and color. You have to think about what kind of extension you want, the overlay, the budget and the list goes on and on. To stay relaxed during this overwhelming process, we have gathered a list of key terms you will hear while you search for cabinets.


When meeting with your designer, you will hear the word "overlay," a few times. What exactly does that mean? It refers to how much the cabinet doors and drawers overlap the cabinet frame.

There are three different types of overlay when it comes to cabinets, and each of them has benefits and drawbacks. They are partial overlay, full overlay and inset cabinets.

Partial Overlay

Cabinets that have a partial overlay have cabinet doors and drawers are made slightly larger than the openings. When looking at the cabinets, you can see that both the drawers and doors are overlapping part of the face frame. Partial overlay cabinets are the most economical among the three. This look is more traditional and does not need hardware, unlike full overlay and inset cabinets, since you have finger space. Additionally, since the door sits outside of the frame, it provides more storage than inset cabinets.

Unfortunately, there are a few downfalls to having a partial overlay door. One downfall is people do not like the appearance of a cabinet that has a partial overlay. They prefer something that looks cleaner, such as a full overlay cabinet door. Another downfall is that the corners are always exposed, making them susceptible to damage.

Full Overlay / Modern Overlay

Full overlay cabinets have doors and drawers that are bigger than the opening and fit over the entire frame. These cabinets are a great alternative to inset cabinets, as they are not quite as expensive. They are, however, slightly more expensive than partial overlay cabinets, so that is something to keep in mind.

Besides price, why are people choosing full overlay cabinets? These cabinets have a unified look to them. One would hardly see any of the frames, as the doors cover the majority of it. They also provide more storage space than inset cabinets, so you may want to choose full overlay cabinets if that is a concern for you.

Like with many things in life, full overlay cabinets are not perfect. The corners of the doors and drawers are exposed at all times, so wear and tear may become an issue.

Inset Cabinets

Inset cabinets sit directly inside the frame. There is no overlapping between the frame and the door, giving your kitchen or bathroom a clean, sophisticated look. Wear and tear will be less of an issue for inset cabinets, as its edges are not always exposed.

Unfortunately, the clean look of inset cabinets does come at a price. It requires skill and expertise to be able to line up the doors and drawers perfectly in the frames. Because of this, inset cabinets are going to be more expensive than both partial and full overlay cabinets. Inset cabinets are also going to have the least amount of storage space since drawers have to sit directly inside the frame. It will not be an astronomical amount, but it is still something to consider if storage is an issue in your kitchen. One of the biggest things to consider with inset cabinets is the humidity. If you live in an area with high humidity levels, your doors will expand and may become difficult to open and close.

Picking out cabinets is a big decision, but it all comes down to what you prefer. If you prefer a more clean look and are okay with paying a little more money, you may want to go with inset cabinets. If space and money is a concern, but you still want that clean look, full overlay is the way to go. If money is tight, you may want a partial overlay. No matter what type of cabinets you are looking for, Waukee CabinetWorks can help! Make an appointment today to meet with one of our experienced designers.


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