We hear a lot about "factory finishes" on cabinets, but what are they? Are they worth it? What is the biggest difference? We'll break down all of the details, pros and cons, and things to ask about when selecting your new cabinets.
Basically, factory finishes are those applied in a controlled environment offsite as opposed to in the home. Additionally, I would only consider a cabinet finish to be "factory" if professional cabinet coatings products have been used (these come from companies like ML Campbell, Milesi, Sher-Wood, Gemini, Centurion, et al). These professional grade coatings are substantially more durable than regular interior house paint and will provide decades of maintenance-free use, we get a bit into the distinction in this recent guide to cabinet finishes.
The professional-grade coatings I mentioned above often have to be sprayed, and can be applied by either a skilled finisher or an automated spraying machine (also called "flat line finishing").
When sprayed by a finisher, the finishes are carefully mixed and catalyzed, poured into a spray gun or spray system, and applied to cabinets, doors, drawer fronts, and trim pieces individually. This allows the finisher to keep a close eye on even coverage. While they will cure to be very hard and durable, they also dry quite quickly which is especially helpful in a production environment (we don't want horizontal surfaces staying wet for too long).
When spraying or, in the case of wiping stains, applying by hand, the attention to detail is very high. This is excellent for stained finishes, glazed finishes, and any faux finishes like distressed or weathered.
In higher-volume facilities, an automated spray machine is used. While these machines aren't as attentive as a skilled finisher, certain finishes like paint or clear topcoats can be done very well!
Multiple spray heads often at multiple angles create a very even finish (here is a great video of one in action) replicating the skilled hand of a finisher. To speed the process of drying, a UV-curing oven can also be added to these flat-line machines. This dries the finishes immediately and allows them to proceed to the next step of the process, eliminating any dry or "rack" time.
The glowing purple section is the UV curing oven.
Are Factory Finishes Worth It?
While some finishes like clear-only or paint can be applied onsite with success, the controlled, dust-free environment, better chemicals, and the ability to focus on just one piece at a time (as opposed to spraying, say, an entire wall of cabinets already installed) all make factory finishes far superior. They are often more expensive, but for kitchen and bath cabinetry we want the most durable finish available (think of the humidity and moisture of a bathroom, and the grease and frequent cleaning in a kitchen). The best analogy is what would you rather have on your car? Spray paint, or a factory finish? Pretty easy answer.
If you're considering new cabinets for your kitchen or bath, there can be a ton of details that quickly feel overwhelming. There can sometimes be misaligned incentives between a cabinetry showroom, cabinetmaker, dealer and the homeowner (do we really need all of this, or are they just trying to sell more stuff?). From vetting a cabinetmaker to deciding between full-overlay and inset, we can help give you peace of mind with our unbiased expert advice.
Our Cabinetry Consultation puts you in touch with a cabinetry and finishing expert with 18 years experience ready to help with any questions you may have. "Does this layout look alright? Does this pricing seem reasonable? Is this finish they're using a good one?" or anything else, we're here to help!