Understanding the Differences Between RTF Cabinets and Wood Cabinets

Understanding the Differences Between RTF Cabinets and Wood Cabinets

One of the most significant decisions that people have to make during a kitchen or bathroom remodel is which cabinets are the perfect fit. The most important reason to make the right choice is because cabinets often make up a large portion of your budget for the remodel. You’ll also be using the cabinets you choose for many years, so considering all your options – from wood cabinets to RTF cabinets – is essential to get the results you desire.

While all kitchen cabinets have similarities, there are also many differences between materials used to construct them. We’ll delve into the fundamental differences, pricing differences, ability to customize, and more. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have all the information you need to choose between wood cabinets and RTF cabinets for your home.

RTF Cabinets vs. Wood Cabinets: The Basics

RTF (rigid thermofoil) is a material used to create many modern cabinets today. It is applied as a substrate using heat and heat-activated glue, while a high-vacuum press provides pressure during the process. This creates an exceptionally durable material that will last for years in your home. Thermofoil cabinets are well worth their price and can even work well in the kitchen, where there might be extra moisture and heat present.

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With new advances in RTF veneers, homeowners can enjoy RTF cabinets that look nearly the same as natural wood. The veneers come with natural-appearing wood grain textures built right in to ensure the look and feel are as close to wood cabinets as possible. Homeowners who want beautiful cabinets without the need for excess maintenance will likely appreciate RTF fixtures.

Wood cabinets have many benefits, as well. You can choose from various grain patterns, several color variations, and nearly countless species of wood. These cabinets are typically durable and easy to repair, which means they are going to last. Versatility is also high with wood cabinets since you can personalize the wood you choose to match your needs.

However, wood cabinets tend to be more expensive and may be out of the question for those who have a smaller budget for their remodel. These cabinets require a higher level of maintenance and special products to get the cleaning done correctly. Wood cabinets also tend to take longer to build and install and are prone to issues if you’re located in an area with excess humidity. Wood cabinets are less resistant to moisture and frequent cleaning.

Pricing of RTF Cabinets Compared to Wood Cabinets

We mentioned that wood cabinets tend to be more expensive than RTF cabinets, but we want to go into more depth with that. The first thing to be aware of is that cabinets can come in materials ranging from wood to RTF, wood veneer, acrylic, and stainless steel. Each has its own price point and may be right for different situations.

The least expensive option for cabinets is RTF in most cases. The materials used for the cabinets tend to run around $60 to $70 per linear foot. The most expensive is stainless steel, but this is also typically used more in commercial institutions than homes. Acrylic is also relatively expensive and less common as a choice for homeowners. Those who prefer a wood veneer will pay around $80 to $100 per linear foot, while solid wood cabinets can be from $200 to $500 per linear foot.

Customization Options for Various Cabinet Types

Many people looking for the perfect cabinets have customization ideas in mind. You might want a particular style of cabinet, or you might have an idea of the color you want the cabinets to be. Some customization options are available with all cabinets, while others work better with a specific material.

Framed Cabinets Compared to Frameless Cabinets

One of the things that is crucial to decide early in the process is whether you want to use frameless or framed cabinets. If you choose frameless wood or RTF cabinets, you can expect to spend more than you would on framed cabinets. You’ll also find that costs can vary based on the size of your project, the construction needs, and what wood or RTF option you choose.

Framed cabinets are built in a way where the stiles and rails are visible from the front and the flat frame the door is attached to. These cabinets are the best option for a homeowner who wants a traditional style in their space. Frameless cabinets, on the other hand, are often seen in modern and contemporary areas. A heavier box is required to hang the doors and hide the frame.

Another choice is an inset cabinet, which has doors that are flush with the rest of the cabinet. This kind of mounting is more expensive than traditional methods when using the same materials. When you close doors and drawers on inset wood cabinets, the doors are flush with the frame opening.

Shaker cabinets are another consideration for homeowners; they rely on style rather than material to make them unique. Choosing between custom and stock cabinets and deciding on materials will determine the actual price for shaker cabinets.

Painting Options for RTF and Wood Cabinets

Some homeowners choose to paint their cabinets to get a new style or to cover up blemishes as the cabinets age. The good news here is that both wood and RTF cabinets can be painted, although the process is slightly different for each material. While most people have seen painted wood cabinets, the idea of painted RTF cabinets might be new to you.

As long as your thermofoil cabinets aren’t peeling, painting over them is no harder than painting over wood. You’ll need to visit a paint store to get the right primer, and then choose a finish paint for the exterior that you and your visitors will see. Keep in mind that most people with RTF cabinets want a semi-gloss sheen on their cabinets.

Some people find that it helps to use sandpaper on the cabinets before painting them since that helps the paint adhere to the surface.

Wood cabinets don’t need this extra preparation before being painted since the surface is already porous. Acrylic paints are recommended for painting these cabinets rather than vinyl. It’s up to you whether you want a shiny gloss finish or a semi-gloss, but the latter is typical for use in kitchens.

Other than the step involving sanding the surface, painting a wood cabinet is mostly the same process as painting one made of thermofoil.

Selecting Materials for Your Cabinet Doors

While we’ve so far talked about cabinets as a whole, kitchen doors have their own considerations to be aware of. Not only can you choose RTF or wood cabinet doors, but you can also make use of MDF cabinet doors. MDF stands for medium-density fiberboard and is one of the most common composite materials in use today.


MDF cabinet doors are dense, have no grain patterns or knots, and tend to be quite smooth. Because of that, the material works well as a base for wood grain and solid color RTF laminates and veneers. It also works well for painting, since no wood grain shows through. When compared to wood cabinet doors, MDF has no joints that can crack after painting occurs.

The particles in MDF cabinet doors are uniformly separately and are heated and pressure-steamed to make a consistent material. It has many of the same benefits of RTF and wood cabinets but without many of the limitations associated with them.


With RTF cabinet doors, technology has come a long way. These doors no longer have a plastic look. Instead, they incorporate wood textures and grains that look almost like the real thing. Beyond that, RTF cabinet doors are easier to clean and longer-lasting than most other options.

These cabinet doors come in various styles ranging from flat slab doors to classic European doors and everything in between. Regardless of your style, there’s bound to be a cabinet door that meets your needs.


Wood is also an option for cabinet doors and is a solid material that is relatively durable. They are often quite breathtaking to look at and can make your home feel more inviting. Wood cabinet doors are strong and durable, with the ability to last for decades if the proper upkeep is provided. There are also a wide variety of choices when going with wood doors since there are so many varieties of wood.

Unfortunately, wood cabinet doors are more prone to cracking and warping than other materials, and they can be especially sensitive to moisture. You’ll also find that pests are attracted to wood, and the material can grow mold and mildew.

Choosing the Perfect Cabinets in Colorado

If you’ve been debating whether to install wood cabinets or RTF cabinets, you should now have a grasp on what each of the choices offers you. Keep your priorities in mind to be sure you make the right choice. Those who are looking for an expert to help with cabinet installation can reach out to Cabinet Facing Trends to learn more. Visit our website or call us at 719-217-4146 for a free estimate.


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