If you've been shopping for kitchen cabinets, chances are you've looked at both framed and frameless lines of cabinetry. You have probably heard of all the advantages of one over the other. But you've probably come to realize, that it just depends who you are talking to as to which one is better. At our company Cabinet Pro-Supply we offer a huge selection of both framed and frameless cabinetry so I think I can give more of an objective viewpoint, as we don't depend on the sales of one vs the other.
First if you don't already know framed cabinetry is the more traditional American made construction, and just like it says, it has a frame. The frame is 1-1/2" solid wood that goes around the front of the cabinet box. The cabinet door hinges mount onto the face frame with screws. With the face frame you have the option of doing three different types of hinges. Standard overlay where the door just barely covers the opening of the cabinet box. Full overlay where the door covers about 98% of the cabinet box, and inset where the door is actually set inside the opening of the cabinet box. These are three very different looks that are available with a framed cabinet box.
Frameless cabinets are just like they sound, a 4 sided box without any frame on the front. The door covers about 99% of the cabinet box, giving them a very full and tight look, where you really see nothing but doors and drawer fronts when you look at them. There is only one hinge option and it is a special frameless style hinge that mounts directly to the inside panel of the cabinet. They are usually called clip hinges because they will separate in half for easy removal during installation or cleaning.
If you've been talking to someone who is pushing frameless cabinets they will no doubt have told you about the extra room that's inside the boxes, giving you a ton of extra storage space. While there is a bit of extra storage space, this can also be misleading. There is actually no extra space in the box itself, because both types use up 3/4" for the side panels. There is however a larger opening in the front of the frameless box, by 3/4" on each side, but not actually any more room. Where you would get a little more room is in a drawer box, the drawers can actually use up a larger percentage of the width of the cabinet box, without the face frame. A typical drawer box inside a framed cabinet would be about 3 1/2" less than the width of the cabinet, whereas a drawer box in a frameless cabinet would only need to be 2" smaller.
One thing you won't be told by someone who is trying to sell frameless cabinets is that they are a little tricky to install, and should only be done by someone who is aware of the differences and willing to deal with them. Because there is no face frame to keep them perfectly aligned as they were when they were assembled, they can tend to get knocked out of square a bit during shipment. This isn't a huge problem with a good manufacturer and can be easily fixed by a good installer. Once they are all screwed together and to a wall this is no longer an issue. Another slight issue is there is no where to attach the crown molding on the front of the cabinet box, so it must be attached to a nailing strip on the top of the cabinet box, again not a big deal if your installer has worked with these kind of cabinets before.
As far as the finished look of the cabinets, a nice advantage of the frameless cabinets is that the finished sides will always just be nice and smooth, and you won't have to deal with trying to make the sides flush with the face frame. This is a pretty small thing, and really doesn't come into play that often as most manufacturers have great options for finishing the ends of the cabinets. The last thing I would mention about the frameless cabinets is that if you are ordering them, I would strongly suggest you use framed cabinets where ever you will have an open box. Such as a book shelf or open display cabinet. The edge tape that is used on the front of frameless boxes doesn't make for a very nice open cabinet look, and it is not as durable as a face frame on the front. This also applies to the panels that will be on either side of the fridge.
Since most of the differences are discussed when talking about the frameless products there is really no need to go into the pros and cons of the framed box, other than to say they are a bit stronger with the support of the face frame and probably a bit easier to install depending on who you're talking to.
I am personally comfortable with both these types of cabinets, so it's really just a matter of your preference. But the main reason I am comfortable with them is because we work with some really good American manufacturers that do both types very well. You can get great or poor quality cabinets in both styles and in all types of construction. So it's really important to do some digging when checking out the quality of kitchen cabinetry products.