What’s the Difference Between Stock, RTA, Semi-Custom, and Custom Cabinets?

Cabinets come in three basic types—stock & RTA, semi-custom, and custom. However, they each have positive and negative attributes. Understanding their similarities and differences will help you decide which cabinet is best for you.

Stock and Ready-To-Assemble (RTA) Cabinets

Designed to be economical, stock and ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets are available to buy off-the-shelf. They are pre-built to standard sizes and offer limited design choices. Stock and RTA cabinets often use cheaper materials to keep the cost down.

RTA cabinets are shipped in flat boxes and must be put together at home. As a result, it can be a lengthy process. However, cabinets built in a factory are much sturdier than ones built at home.

stock photo of oak stock cabinets white appliances yellow walls

Custom Cabinets

In contrast to stock and RTA cabinets, custom cabinets often offer nearly unlimited choices of shapes, colors and sizes. They are built to exact specifications, meaning they usually take longer to build and thus, have higher price tags. Among custom cabinet makers, price, quality and delivery time vary widely. A few custom brands are built in factories, but most are built on-site in a local workshop.

custom cabinets stock photo

Semi-Custom Cabinets

Semi-custom cabinets represent the best of both worlds. With a wide variety of the most popular styles and colors available in semi-custom cabinets, homeowners find the look they want. Most semi-custom cabinet brands are also well-engineered with high quality standards. Moreover, adjustment options and custom modifications help ensure a tailored fit.

Modern gray kitchen featuring CliqStudios Dayton cabinet style in Painted Urban Stone gray.

Summary: Stock & RTA vs. Semi-Custom vs. Custom

Stock & RTA Semi-Custom Custom
Cost Economical Mid-range Expensive, but varies
Construction Mass-produced in preset sizes Factory-built for individual layouts Built for individual layouts
Product Choices Limited selection Most popular selections Unlimited selection
Customization Little, or no customization Custom modifications in 1″ increments, modular storage solutions Fully customized to your specifications
Lead Time Available off-the-shelf, or 1-2 weeks 4-8 weeks 6-10+ weeks
Quality Lower quality, but varies High quality construction Varies depending on builder
Warranty Limited Warranty Lifetime Limited Warranty Varies depending on builder
Other RTA requires self-assembly Modification options will vary Most custom shops are local

Aren’t Custom Cabinets the Best Quality?

One thing that commonly confuses cabinet shoppers is that “stock”, “semi-custom”, and “custom” don’t mean low, medium, and high-quality. Rather, they refer to different cabinet manufacturing processes.

A stock cabinet with plywood construction and dovetail joints will have higher quality construction than a ‘custom made’ box. ‘Custom made’ boxes are held together with staples and glue. Therefore, it’s important to learn about what makes a quality cabinet.

Custom cabinetry is a really vague term,” says CliqStudios Senior Designer Patty Green. “It could mean fantastic, beautiful craftsmanship, or could mean Uncle Bob in his basement.”

Another note: factory finishes on stock and semi-custom manufacturers may be higher than custom construction. Furthermore, local craftsmen may not have the same level of professional finishing equipment that larger manufacturers can afford.

How Important Is Customization for Cabinets?

When it comes to customization and modification of cabinets, “there’s always something,” said Green. “Even if it’s just a conversation about possible storage options or a possible use of space, there’s always going to be something.”

More customization means greater utilization of space: fewer fillers, less dead space, as well as more accessible storage.

If you’re unsure of how a custom-fit design can improve your kitchen layout, consider consulting a kitchen designer to see what a custom or semi-custom line could add to your space.

Which Type of Cabinet Is Best for Me?

Ultimately, your cabinets should match your house, Green advises.

Though remodelers often focus on the question ‘how much can I save?’. Moreover, an equal consideration may be ‘what value will this add to my house?’

If you imagine selling your home in the near- or medium-term, understand that your kitchen renovation may also affect the sale.

“Kitchens have gone from behind-the-scenes to front and center,” said Green. “It’s an entertaining space. The average homeowner is savvier and cares more. Therefore, put the kitchen in your house a buyer expects to see.”

illustration of a fully-assembled quality cabinet

CliqStudios Cabinet Lines
Learn about the construction and styles of our cabinet lines.

Open pot and pan drawer with hardwood sides and dovetail joints

Kitchen Cabinet Materials
What’s the difference between cabinet materials?

3d rendering of cliqstudios kitchen design with white shaker cabinets and tea leaf kitchen island with seating

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Showing 2 comments

  1. David Nolan Reply

    I’ve contacted you in the past with no reply. I’m a kitchen contractor looking for semi custom for my projects and offering it as a choice.

    • CliqStudios Social Media Reply

      We’re sorry about that! We would love to get you in contact with our design team to learn more about our pro remodel program. Please email us at socialmedia@cliqstudios.com so we can get you connected.

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