Many cabinet companies will tell you that there really is no difference between Custom or Semi-Custom cabinets and RTA or Pre-Fab cabinets. There is. In this post, we hope to help explain the primary differences between the two.
Custom Kitchen Cabinets
RTA (Ready to Assemble) cabinets are cabinets that are delivered to a customer or to a job site, broken down in a flat box. These must be built or assembled either by the customer or the builder/contractor the is doing the installation. Typically, they are made in a foreign country and then shipped across the ocean in large shipping containers to the U.S. where they are then sold to the customer. They are typically made of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) or Particle Board which is less expensive than the much stronger and more stable Plywood, but is much more sensitive to moisture and damage. They are boxed and shipped flat in large containers to allow the companies to fit more into a container, but also to help minimize the effects of the moisture causing the wood (MDF) to swell and deteriorate. Yes, there are some that use plywood for their panels, however it is usually a very cheaply made plywood and on top of spending days, and in most cases, weeks on a ship traveling over the ocean, surrounded by water and very high humidity levels, the glue that is used to bind the layers of wood together in the plywood can become week and begin to separate. Some companies that offer these types of cabinets, also offer the ability to assemble the cabinets for you, at time of purchase, and then deliver to you a completely assembled cabinet, ready to install. If not, it is up to you, the buyer, to arrange assembly and installation, either by yourself or with your contractor, handyman or builder that you have hired to perform the work.
Bix Box RTA Cabinets Vs. Custom Cabinets
Pre-Fabricated cabinets are completely built, or assembled, by the company that makes them and are sold to the customer as such, a completely assembled, ready to install cabinet. You can see examples of this type of cabinetry in most of your local ‘Big Box’ home improvement stores. Again, these are typically made with MDF panels/boxes with a wood face frame and door/drawer front(s). Many cabinets are done this way and are also available with better quality, plywood construction. There are also, typically, a few more wood species and door styles available. Even many of the larger, top quality cabinets are done in this manner. One negative is that if you need a unique size cabinet, they are not available and the vast majority of these manufacturers do not offer any form of customization for their cabinets. They come in standard cabinet sizes of 3″ increments (i.e. B12, B15, B18, B21, etc…)
Then you have Semi-Custom cabinetry. Semi-Custom cabinets are very much like the Pre-Fabricated cabinets, however, the company offers the ability to custom size the cabinets or even build you a completely custom cabinet, in some cases, on a case by case basis. They will have to individually quote the cabinets in question. Sometimes they may not be able to make the desired cabinet, but they will let you know. Semi-Custom cabinets also tend to offer many more doors styles, wood species and finish options such as distressing, sand through, and more color & stain options, with and without glazes. More and more people are opting for this type of cabinetry as it allows them to “individualize” or “personalize” their kitchen, bath or office space to fit their taste and style. Yes it does come with an increase in cost, typically 25-35%, depending on the company and their available options, etc. To most people, the additional cost is well worth the investment in the quality and customizability.
Finally, you have CUSTOM cabinets. Full custom cabinets are built by a cabinetmaker to fit an exact specification, size, color, texture, design, etc. Each and every cabinet box, face frame, door panel and drawer front are made individually, then assembled into box form or brought to the project site and installed in place. With fully custom cabinets, you get exactly what you want, built to your specifications, one cabinet at a time. Custom cabinets also come at a premium cost and typically take much longer to have made, delivered and installed. But, for some people, nothing is better than a completely custom cabinet, or a kitchen full of them!