What to choose: lateral or vertical file cabinets

How do you select your file cabinet and what do you have to consider to best match your filing needs? Basically, you can decide between a lateral file or a vertical file system depending on the material you are going to file. Lateral means horizontal filing, while vertical refers to files stored facing the front of the drawer.

Several file storage criteria play a role before you should decide on a filing system. How much space can you allocate to your filing cabinet, for space saving choose a stackable model. Also think about fire resistance and security issues and how quick and easy your storage system will allow you to access your files or media.

Do you require the traditional design of lateral and vertical files for your record paperwork storage?


  • Vertical files hold from two to five drawers and files are stored facing the front of the drawers.
  • Generally, vertical filing cabinets take up less office "real estate" (square footage), being narrower and having less depth. They've been the workforce for offices for many years, yet:
  • In general, lateral (a.k.a. horizontal) files allow greater flexibility as they can be set up to handle both letter and legal-size documents at the same time, whereas vertical file cabinets must house the same size document in every drawer.
  • Lateral drawers are also larger, holding about 1/3 more files than a standard vertical unit.                                   

Binder and Filing Cabinets

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  • When a combination of filing material needs arise, lateral files may offer your answer since some lateral files have a top shelf area where you can store binders, supplies, or other material.
  • Specially designed lateral media cabinets are built to handle all your various media needs, including CDs, VHS, audio, and DVDs.
  • File cabinets are most usually available in standard black, gray, or shades of beige, but now some manufacturers are offering a wider variety of colors.

File Cabinets for multiple purposes


Specialized filing needs:

Innovations in filing systems have occurred. Mobile hanging file storage carts and carousel storage units allow movement of files where they're needed. They can be "stackable," meaning you file UP instead of out saving additional space. Now carousel files for both binder and media storage are available inside locking cabinets for added security.

Binder Storage Carousels


When choosing a file cabinet, consider quality not just price of filing systems in your criteria:

  • Are the filing cabinet drawers built to open and close smoothly even when filled with weighty files?
  • Is the cabinet built with devices limiting the potential for tipping, such as counter-weighted drawers and internal locking devices which prevent more than one drawer from being open at a time.
  • Should the fire resistance rating of the cabinet be a consideration in the storage of your files?
  • Shipping charges for the large cabinets can be quite expensive and their size can result in dings during transit, but there are well-known quality-built cabinets that ship unassembled and whose solid performance record is unblemished.
  • If security is a concern, some cabinets are built with locking tambour doors which also have the additional benefit of recessing into the cabinet, thus keeping walkways cleared.