Inset vs. Overlay Cabinets – Which Type is Right for You?


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February 24, 2023
Zoe Hunt

Whether you’re building a DIY project with doors or you’re looking for some new cabinets, understanding the different types of cabinet door overlay options is important. 

In this post, we’ll look at the differences between inset and overlay cabinet doors and the pros and cons of each. I’ll also share DIY project plans that include the particular style of doors/drawers–this terminology isn’t just for cabinets! 

inset vs overlay cabinet doors text overlay on image of cabinet with partial overlay doors
Like this accent cabinet? Get the plans here!

Inset Vs. Overlay Cabinet Doors

The difference between inset and overlay cabinets is where the doors are placed. With inset cabinet doors, the outside of the doors are flush with the front of the cabinet. Overlay doors on the other hand sit in front of the cabinet base or face frame. 

So which is better? In general, I would say that overlay doors are better because they require less tinkering with. Inlay doors are more difficult from the get go and also require more maintenance over time. 

cabinet door overlays graphic

Inlay Doors

Inlay doors and drawers sit inside of the cabinet base and are flush with the front of the cabinet base or face frame. Generally inlay doors are seen most on cabinets with face frames, but they can also be used with frameless cabinets. 

The ideal gap around inlay doors is between 3/32” – ⅛” between the door and the frame, which requires a lot of precision and skill to make. Inlay cabinets are often the most expensive option because the margin for error is nearly non-existent. 

close up of inset door with shutter design detail
Our first inset doors


  • Custom, high-end look
  • Since doors are inset, the corners are less prone to dents and scratches 
  • Clean lines 
  • Can be done with frameless or face frame cabinets
  • Can choose hidden or exposed hinges 


  • Cost: inlay doors can cost anywhere between 10-30% more than overlay doors 
  • Can require adjustments to keep the gaps consistent
  • Most difficult door type to DIY if you need your gaps to be perfectly consistent 
  • Might need a magnet or door stop to prevent the doors from swinging in
  • If gaps are too small initially, temperature changes can cause the doors to stick 
  • Not recommended for environments with high humidity or earthquakes as both can cause the doors to need more adjustments 
  • Door pulls or knobs are required to open the door
DIY Projects with Inset Doors
Want to DIY buy don\'t know where to start? Click here to grab your free guide!

Overlay Doors

When it comes to overlay doors, there are two types available: full overlay and partial overlay. 

In both full overlay and partial overlay doors, the doors sit in front of the cabinet base or face frame. If you’re wondering the difference between face frame and frameless cabinets, check out this post. 

Full Overlay

Full overlay doors mean that the doors fully overlay over the cabinet box and/or face frame. Full overlay cabinets are most commonly used for frameless cabinets, but you can use full overlay doors on cabinets with face frames–they’ll just require hinges that secure to the edge of the face frame

With full overlay cabinets, there is no reveal (not sure what reveal is? Check out this post about the parts of a cabinet). The cabinet doors will go to the edges of the cabinet box or face frame, or be within ⅛” of the edge of the cabinet. 

If you have multiple full-overlay cabinets next to each other, you’ll want to leave a small reveal on the outsides to allow the doors to open and close without hitting the door directly next to it. 

TV lift cabinet with full overlay doors
  • Contemporary design option that works with a variety of design styles 
  • Can be done with frameless or face frame cabinets
  • Less expensive than inset doors 
  • Minimal adjustments needed over time

  • Require more precision than partial overlay doors 
  • Unless you open them by pulling underneath the doors, door pulls or knobs are required
  • Corners and edges might dent or scratch over time 
DIY Projects with Full Overlay Doors
Free download wood sizing cheatsheet

Partial Overlay

Partial overlay doors are a great option for those looking to save money or tackling a DIY project with doors for the first time. Partial overlay doors offer the most flexibility and room for error without noticing that the doors might be slightly “off”. 

Partial overlay doors are for cabinets with face frames. The doors will only partially cover the face frame, leaving part of the face frame exposed. 

½” overlay is the most common partial overlay amount. This means that the doors and/or drawers will overlay the face frame by ½” on all sides. Generally face frames are 1.5” wide, so most partial overlay doors will leave 1” of the face frame exposed. 

Sherwin Williams Urbane Bronze accent cabinet with partial overlay doors
  • Generally the least expensive option 
  • Most room for error if you are making DIY doors or drawers 
  • Minimal adjustments needed over time
  • No door pulls or knobs required to open 

  • When you have multiple cabinets next to each other, there can be a 2-4” gap between the cabinet doors. 
  • Corners and edges might dent or scratch over time 
DIY Projects with Partial Overlay Doors

There you have it! Now you know the differences between inset vs. overlay cabinets and the pros and cons of each type. There is no right or wrong option. It’s really a matter of personal preference, budget, and skill level. 

inset vs overlay doors pros and cons comparision

For more information about cabinets: 

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