Prefab, Semi-Custom, and Custom Cabinetry….What’s the Difference?


I am often asked why the cabinets I design cost more than the cabinets a person can get from the big retail stores.  I mean, a box is a box, right?  Obviously, the more elaborate and ornate the cabinets the higher the price tag will be but why, when comparing similar styles and designs, are custom cabinets so more expensive than Prefab? What does “Prefab” even mean? And how do Semi-Custom cabinets factor in?  While the finished product may look similar on the surface, the differences are quite substantial.  In this post, I’ll shed some light on these differences, highlight the pros and cons of each, and hopefully make your cabinet buying decision a lot easier. Let’s dig in!



Prefab, or Prefabricated, cabinets are exactly that – prefabricated.  They are cabinets that have been pre-built to standard sizes and are purchased on a per-cabinet basis depending on your needs and the space with which you have to work.  The standard widths start at 9” and increase in 3” increments and depths are 12” for Uppers and 24” for Base. In some cases, prefab cabinets come knockdown.  Knowdown, also known as ready-to-assemble, cabinets are essentially cabinet parts that the consumer assembles on-site. Think Ikea. This assembly-line method eliminates the need for skilled labor, simplifies the design process and requires zero field work, resulting in lower overhead and ultimately a less expensive price tag.



  • Prefabricated cabinets are ready to go cabinets that can be ordered and installed rather quickly.
  • Lower Cost



*Takes a deep breath*

  • Prefab cabinets are typically built with low-grade materials
  • Do not last more than a few years
  • Often require final assembly on-site
  • Limited color choices
  • Limited design choices
  • Fit may not be perfect for the space
  • Draw Boxes are typically cheap and flimsy
  • Zero customization


When to Choose

Never! Okay, okay, I may be a little biased here so I’ll bend a little and say almost never.  The only time (in this humble designers opinion) prefab cabinets should be considered is when time and budget outweigh quality and design. Simply put, if you are in the business of flipping houses for maximum profit then prefab cabinets may be the best choice for you.





Semi-custom cabinets are probably the most popular choice for the average person looking for a quality cabinet at a reasonable price. They are built-to-order so they provide a better fit and are offered with more finish and design choices than prefab cabinets, though not as many options as custom.  Options vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but they are typically offered in 5 to 10 color choices and between 5 and 10 door designs.  Some manufacturers offer material and hardware upgrades as well and semi-custom cabinets are usually (but not always) built to a higher standard.



  • Greater design options
  • More color and finish options
  • Higher quality than prefab (typically)
  • Better materials (typically)
  • Less expensive than custom cabinets
  • Usually a quicker turn around than custom cabinets
  • Built to fit



  • Fewer options than custom cabinets
  • Fewer (if any) hardware choices
  • Minimal design options


When to Choose

Options for semi-custom cabinets vary from manufacturer to manufacturer as does the quality.  As with any significant financial decision, one should do their research on the company you plan on using. What is their construction method? What materials do they use? (Learn more about construction methods and materials here) Bottom line, semi-custom cabinets are a great option for those looking to upgrade/build on a budget, have simple taste, and do not require customization.



Custom cabinets are high-end, high-quality cabinets with nearly limitless design, finish and hardware options.  Most custom cabinet manufacturers use the highest quality construction methods and materials and work with the client to provide the perfect fit and function.  Design options may include custom vent hoods, paneled ends, clipped corners, solid wood drawer boxes, custom pullouts, custom color, and finish options, custom shapes, inserts, and much, much more.



  • Highest quality materials
  • Highest quality construction method
  • Lasts for years and even decades
  • Near limitless finish and material options
  • Custom shapes and sizes
  • Solid wood drawer boxes
  • Built to fit



  • Expensive
  • Longer lead time


When to Choose

Custom cabinets are the crème de la crème in cabinetry. They can get quite expensive but will last a lifetime and will take your home to another level.  There is no comparison when it comes to quality and variety of options.  Unfortunately, custom cabinets don’t always fall within a person’s budget or timeframe but should always be the number one option when at all possible.



Click here to learn more about Rosewood’s construction methods and materials.


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