Build WordPress themes smarter: 23 theme frameworks compared


WordPress theme frameworks are all the rage. There is no question that developing themes using a framework is the most efficient way to develop with WordPress. So the question is: which theme do you choose?

Assuming you haven’t created your own theme framework, your next option is to rely on another developer who has. There are a number of options, both free and paid, with varying levels of complexity and support. How do you even begin to choose?

We have compared every major theme framework, provided background information on each, and provided a poll that you can use to weigh in on which is the best.

The anatomy of a WordPress theme framework

A WordPress theme framework provides PHP, CSS, and Javascript files that are most likely to be included in every theme project, and provides them in an optimized form that streamlines the process of creating a new theme. Different frameworks carry with them varying levels of complexity, but at their heart they all seek to reach the ideal number of files, that will work the greatest number of projects.

One major distinction between WordPress theme frameworks is whether they are options-based frameworks or starter theme frameworks.

Options-based frameworks seek to provide an ideal number of customization options that allow the developer (and end user) to change the look and operation of the framework without touching code. This type of framework will allow for modifications to the code, either through custom files or child themes, but the emphasis is placed on theme and page options.

Starter theme frameworks are themes with optimized and documented template files that are designed to be used as the foundation of new themes. It’s unlikely that these frameworks will offer many, if any, theme options.

WordPress theme framework comparison table

The following table will allow you to compare each theme’s price, documentation, and support options.

Note: The cost of each theme is determined based on what the cost of the full featured, fully supported, unlimited use of each theme.

FrameworkTypeSupportDocumentationCost *
Buffet forumsReference documentsFree
BuilderOptionsFull supportFull documentation$127 / year
CanvasOptionsFull supportFull documentation$150 / lifetime
Carrington BuildOptionsForum supportFull documentation$499 / year
Catalyst ThemeOptionsSupport forum for membersFull documentation$174 / lifetime
ElementalOptionsForums / Help deskFull documentation$149.99 / lifetime
GenesisOptionsSupport forumsDevelopment resource site$59.95 / lifetime
HeadwayOptionsSupport forumsDocumentation site$164 / lifetime
Hybrid CoreOptionsSupport forumDocumentation site$25 / year
Platform ProOptionsSupport forumDocumentation site$175 / lifetime forumDocumentation siteFree
StandardOptionsSupport forumsreadme.txt$99 / lifetime
StartboxStarterFull supportFull documentation$75 + $45 / year
ThematicStarterPublic forumsOnline guideFree
ThemifyOptionsFull supportFull documentation$20 / month
ThesisOptionsFull supportFull documentation$164 / lifetime
Twenty Ten WeaverOptionsForum supportOnlinedocumentationFree
Twenty forumsOnline documentationFree
WP-DaVinciOptionsForumDocumentation$279 / lifetime
WP forumsOnline CodexFree
Xtreme OneOptionsForum supportKnowledgebase$79.95 / lifetime

About Buffet Framework

The Buffet Framework is developed by Melvin Lee, a web developer in Singapore. Lee describes it this way:

The Buffet Framework is a theme framework designed not only for the theme developers who will be using the theme actions and filters to create the child themes, but also for the end users who would be able to add and remove what they want.

Like most WordPress theme frameworks, the Buffet Framework utlises WordPress actions and filters to allow theme developers to add additional content without editing the templates files using the child theme concept.

You can download the Buffet Framework here.

About iThemes Builder

Builder is a framework from iThemes built to be more of a web design tool, than just a theme. As they describe on their site:

Although we think of it more as a web design tool, iThemes Builder is a powerful, flexible, easy-to-use WordPress theme designed to allow you to quickly build websites and blogs with WordPress. With Builder’s innovative Layout Engine, you can build almost any layout you’d like within minutes. Then bling out your site with graphics and styling.

We created Builder for ourselves … so we could rapidly build customized client sites. We think it’s the premiere tool for web designers who don’t want to mess with code … so you can focus on design and content.

You can download iThemes Builder here.

About Canvas

Canvas is a blank theme from WooThemes that has been used to build other themes on top of. WooThemes describes Canvas this way:

Canvas is our most ambitious theme to date! Every element of Canvas is highly customizable through our options panel, so you can make the design, layout and typography exactly like you want. If you are after a highly customizable blog design or just a starter theme for your next client project, then Canvas will most definitely work for you!

You can download Canvas here.

About Carrington Build

Carrington Build is developed by Alex King and his team at Crowd Favorite, and they describe the biggest feature of Build this way:

Creating custom WordPress page layouts with Carrington Build is as simple as drag-and-drop. By adding content Modules and WordPress sidebars and widgets you’re free to create any page layout you can possible imagine.

No longer should you shim WordPress sidebars into your website, hard-code templates, and edit custom fields. It’s time to regain control over your website and its content. This is the way content management is meant to be.

You can download Carrington Build here.

About Catalyst Theme

Catalyst (previously called Frugal) is an options based theme framework with over a year of development behind it. Or, as the creators of Catalyst describe it:

The point is that the Catalyst Premium WordPress Theme was built from the ground up to be much more than a set of options you can check off your “Which WP Theme to buy” list. From the core framework to the 600+ no-coding design options provided by the included Dynamik Child Theme, the Catalyst Theme is the total package and then some!

You can download Catalyst theme here.

About Elemental

Elemental is the work of Ben Gillbanks and is available from Pro Theme Design. He describes the theme this way:

The Elemental theme for WordPress is a versatile powerhouse. Everyday bloggers can jump right in, configure their options and launch a professional blog. Developers and WordPress consultants using the multi-copy Elemental can rapidly build client sites in a variety of styles and deliver premium websites geared toward any purpose.

You can download Elemental here.

About Genesis

Genesis is the theme framework of StudioPress, lead by WordPress developer Nathan Rice. StudioPress describes Genesis this way:

Among the many features that come with the Genesis Framework are automatic theme updates, comprehensive array of SEO settings, enhanced security audit from Mark Jaquith, 6 default layout options, custom widgets and a huge selection of child theme designs.

All StudioPress themes are built as child themes on top of Genesis, and developers are encouraged to build child themes when working with Genesis.

You can download Genesis here.

About Headway

Headway is a popular theme capable of visual editing, without touching a single line of code. You can read our review of Headway here. As the Headway site describes:

Headway’s innovative Visual Layout Editor gives you the power to rearrange your site layout without touching a line of code. Even if you’re comfortable with HTML/CSS/PHP, the Visual Layout Editor saves you time. You can sculpt your design into anything you want. You’re not restricted by someone else’s ideas about columns or content layouts. The sky is the limit.

You can download Headway here.

About Hybrid Core

Justin Tadlock released Hybrid Core in October of 2010 to much anticipation. Tadlock describes the framework this way:

The framework takes an extremely modular approach. When creating themes, you only have to use the features that you want to use. It allows you to mix and match components to suit your project’s needs.

You can download Hybrid Core here.

About Platform Pro

In October of 2010 Pagelines released Platform Pro, a new theme framework that focuses on drag-and-drop page layouts. Andrew Powers, the founder of Pagelines, explains the goals of the project:

When we started work on Platform, the goal was to “take the code out of web design,” and help you build a custom site faster & easier than ever before.

To accomplish this we built a completely new type of drag & drop website control—the Section API— as well as draggable layout controls, draggable post-types (feature slides, boxes, banners) and tons of comprehensive page-by-page options.

You can download Platform Pro here.

About Sandbox

Scott Wallick is the developer behind Sandbox, which no doubt inspired a number of the other theme frameworks listed on this page. Wallick describes Sandbox this way:

One of the most influential blog themes, the Sandbox is a starting point for designers and developers—the original and best blank slate theme. The Sandbox is rich with semantic classes powered by dynamic functions and Microformats.

You can download Sandbox here.

About Standard Theme

John Saddington is the developer behind Standard Theme, a simple blogging theme that has also recently been used to developer Live Theme, a theme for live streaming. See our interview with Saddington. Saddington describes Standard this way:

The Best Coded WordPress Theme Ever.

The Standard Theme is a meticulously crafted and coded personal and professional blogging theme built with industry standards in mind.

You can download Standard here.

About Starkers

Starkers is the plain starter theme created by Elliot Jay Stocks. He describes it this way:

Starkers is a bare-bones WordPress theme created to act as a starting point for the theme designer.

Free of all style, presentational elements, and non-semantic markup, Starkers is the perfect ‘blank slate’ for your projects, as it’s a stripped-back version of the ‘Twenty Ten’ theme that ships with WordPress.

You can download Starkers here.

About Startbox

Startbox is the work of Brian Richards, who developed Startbox as an advanced theme on top of Sandbox, first released his framework in the fall of 2010. We interviewed him just before he launched. In an initial introduction post, Richards said of the theme:

For two years I started every new project by simply duplicating my Startbox theme folder and renaming it. It allowed for consistency and familiarity across all my work. As new functionally developed I made sure to merge it back in with Startbox. In time I found myself wanting to bring these new features and functionality to older projects, but retrofitting them was pretty laborious. Knowing there had to be a better way, I set out to make Startbox into the best WordPress theme framework.

You can watch a video introduction to Startbox on their blog.

You can download Startbox here.

About Thematic

Thematic, developed by Ian Stewart of ThemeShaper (and now Automattic), is a popular theme framework with a strong child theme community. Stewart describes Thematic this way:

Thematic is a free, open-source, highly extensible, search-engine optimized WordPress Theme Framework featuring 13 widget-ready areas, grid-based layout samples, styling for popular plugins, and a whole community behind it. It’s perfect for beginner bloggers and WordPress development professionals.

You can download Thematic here.

About Themify Framework

Themify, a theme shop that opened in 2010 (see our interview with Themify designer Darcy Clarke) and has released a number of solid themes. Their framework includes a number of default widgets, exportable settings, theme auto-upgrades and a custom options panel built-in.

You can download the Themify framework for free along with any of their free themes.

About Thesis

Thesis is the WordPress theme framework developed by Chris Pearson. He describes Thesis this way:

The Thesis Theme framework is a premium template system for WordPress that is designed to serve as the rock-solid foundation beneath any kind of website.

Over 32,037 people rely on the airtight SEO, incredible design flexibility, and lightning-fast loading times that Thesis provides.

You can download Thesis here.

About Twenty Ten

Twenty Ten is the new default WordPress theme, replacing Kubrick. Development was lead by Matt Thomas, who describes Twenty Ten this way:

I’m both very proud of and very grateful for the efforts of the many developers who contributed their code and advice during the development of Twenty Ten. It’s a great foundation for new WordPress users, and I hope it makes developing powerful themes possible for more people.

You can download Twenty Ten here.

About Twenty Ten Weaver

Twenty Ten is used by many to create new sites with since WordPress 3.0 came out. Twenty Ten Weaver takes the functionality of Twenty Ten a bit further, though, adding a child theme with far more options. Or as the creator Bruce Wampler describes it:

Twenty Ten Weaver allows you to tweak almost everything. You can change colors, fonts, sidebar columns, header size, and more. This theme also includes several new theme looks for an easy start.

You can download Twenty Ten Weaver here.

About Whiteboard

Whiteboard is a theme framework developed by Bold Perspective, a web design firm in San Antonio Texas. They describe Whiteboard this way:

When designing WordPress powered websites, a large amount of time is spent writing the same code over and over again. We found it annoying. Whiteboard Framework for WordPress is the result.

The Whiteboard framework for WordPress is built to speed up the process of designing and coding a WordPress theme. Whiteboard does so by eliminating the time spent on WordPress’ back-end PHP that is common to all WordPress powered Web sites.

You can download Whiteboard here.

About WP-DaVinci

WP-DaVinci is the theme framework from Solostream, named after the venerable Leonardo da Vinci. As they describe it:

WP-DaVinci is a simple, elegant and flexible WordPress theme built to work with you rather than against you. Whether you’re creating a simple blog, a business website or an online magazine, WP-DaVinci is loaded with ingenious, little optional features that make it a snap to create your own online masterpiece.

You can download WP-DaVinci here.

About WP Framework

Ptah Dunbar is the developer behind WP Framework. He released a major update to the framework at WordCamp MSP 2010. Important features include:

  • Simple theme option creation
  • Editable theme files (doesn’t require child theme creation)
  • CSS grids built in
  • HTML5 and CSS3 ready
  • Browser and device detection

You can download WP Framework here.

About Xtreme One

The folks at WP Engineer put their collective knowledge behind the Xtreme One theme framework, a new entry that promises quite a bit. As they describe it:

Xtreme One is the world’s only WordPress framework that allows solid, fluid and flexible layouts. Xtreme One has 6 layout versions with customizable width in %, em or px. This can be easily setup in your WordPress backend. Teaser and Footer Areas can be activated including dynamically generated widget layouts in 28 versions and up to 5 columns.

Furthermore, a free positioning of navigations for pages, categories is possible as well as the new WordPress menu which can be found in 4 different styles for a custom look.

You can download Xtreme One here.

Social proof is important

One of the best ways to choose which WordPress theme framework to use is to use what others have used. So let’s let the social proof weigh in. Vote in the poll below, based on which theme frameworks you have used. Choose all of the frameworks you have used in the past. Then, drop in the comments to tell us which one was your favorite, why you chose it, and what you recommend for others.

What are we missing?

We would love for this to be considered one solid resource for those considering WordPress theme frameworks. We want to include every single one that’s out there and worth mentioning. If we’ve left something out, or are missing something vital to the theme framework choosing process, please let us know in the comments.

83 thoughts on “Build WordPress themes smarter: 23 theme frameworks compared

  1. I’ve used Thematic a couple of times now an am becoming more impressed with it each time.The community behind the theme is very supportive and quick to assist,which has made my decision to keep using Thematic easy.

    Great article Ryan!

  2. I’ll jump in here, myself.

    I’ve been using my own internally-managed theme framework for a couple of years, but that theme was largely inspired/borrowed from Sandbox in the first place. Because of this, I have a special interest in Startbox, since Richards has talked about it having its roots in Startbox too.

    I’m also really intrigued by WP Framework lately. The stuff Ptah has been doing with it is really cool.

        • Nah, no shame in that link, not at all. That post is entirely related 🙂

          Atahualpa is a tough call, but I have to recognize that this post will end up serving as a launch pad as much as anything else—people will be using it to find theme frameworks to use. It’s entirely table based, and I’m not sure I can feel good about recommending, even implicitly, that people use it as a theme framework. And really, I think calling it a framework may have been a mistake on my part to begin with.

          I’m definitely open to other thoughts on it though.

  3. You should learn what a Framework is since some of the ones you have listed are not true frameworks using Parent/Child themes.

    • I have to second this. While this is a useful roundup of parent themes and starter themes, calling all of these “frameworks” is muddying some already cloudy waters.

      Hybrid Core isn’t an installable theme – it’s the only one on this list designed as a behind-the-scenes code base for developing entirely new themes. To make the list more consistent and less confusing, it would be better to replace the Hybrid Core framework with the Hybrid parent theme.

  4. I think the comparison table fails to reflect what the customers of the paid frameworks you list actually get.

    For instance, the $127 you pay for Builder only gets you one year of support and updates, the $59 you pay for Genesis gets you unlimited support and updates forever. I think that almost all of the companies you list, apart from StudioPress and DIYthemes, only give one year of support and updates, so, not acknowledging that vital limitation in your chart distorts the comparison against companies who do adopt that long-term, strongly pro-customer approach.

    The $70 version of Canvas does not include PSDs. Any developer settling upon a particular framework is not going to waste his time on a crippled version, so, why bother listing it? It cannot be considered a reasonable comparison. For real use, the price of Canvas is actually $150 (with one year of support and updates).

    The same goes for Carrington Build – it costs $499, and you can only use it on one site. The $149 price you mention only gets you a THEME, Carrington Business, not the framework or the framework documentation or the one year of support for the framework. It also be worth mentioning, in the table, that “premium support” costs $65 per incident, not exceeding 30mins.

    Headway does offer unlimited updates for life BUT, again, the $87 license only allows 2 sites. For anyone planning to standardize upon Headway as their framework, the price is actually $164. Any price that ties you to a ridiculous limit on the number of sites you can create should not be included in the comparison table.

    Elemental is worse, their $59 license ties you to just ONE site, and only the basic theme files, and only “basic” forum support. Again, the real price for the purposes of comparison, should be $149.

    Thesis does give lifetime updates but, again, the $87 option only gives you ONE site, the real price for a fair comparison is $164.

    The reason why I bothered to list all the above details is that it is incredibly unfair to route your readers towards bad options. The WordPress theme market is currently undergoing a period of intense activity but, a year or two from now, a lot of these companies will be defunct or stagnant. Most are clearly pursuing short-term profit at the expense of long-term audience. Just a couple are going all out to establish themselves as standards and they are doing that by making their offerings as simple and fair as possible, avoiding subscription traps, tiered support, crippled versions and site limits. That is the only approach that will give a paid framework the momentum and audience to ensure that it becomes a standard and that is the only way to remain relevant for years to come.

    For any of your readers who are currently considering mastering a particular framework, the nightmare scenario would be to invest their limited time and energy into one that overprices itself into insignificance. I would advise everyone to pay very close attention to where the market is actually moving, what people are actually choosing to buy, drawn by value and long-term support commitments, because whichever framework gets ahead over the next year will become the de facto standard and that is where the lion’s share of energy and action will follow in the coming years.

    People have to figure out which option is going to be the best for them but, if you’re going to bother creating a comparison table, you really should include vital details such as time limits on support and updates, limits on the number of sites you can create and, most importantly the price of the real, uncrippled version that anyone planning to adopt a framework will end up having to buy.

    • I see your point, absolutely. And thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts.

      I think it is worth pointing out all price options, because having a less expensive version of otherwise more costly themes may allow some people to try them out. And as far as I know, though it may not be the case across the board, most of these shops allow you to upgrade a membership from user to developer for the cost of the difference. So listing all price options, I would argue, isn’t as useless as you make it out to be.

      I agree with you that the table doesn’t currently compare theme prices in a fair way. Different prices do mean different things here, and certain options are available in some themes and not elsewhere, and that should be clear. I’ll see if I can’t revise how the table works.

      Re: the successful theme frameworks, I think it’s way to early to pick “the winning” frameworks, assuming there will be winners. I think many of these frameworks take vastly different approaches to theme development, and those approaches aren’t likely to become one anytime soon. Just out of curiosity, which themes do you think are the best options now? And which ones should be avoided?

    • Thanks again for the input—I updated the table to simply reflect whether a theme costs money, or is free. I think it brings it one step closer to a fair comparison, at least until I can figure a way to properly compare the terms of the various commercial theme companies.

      In a way, the way they are structured makes it very difficult to do, and in the end the comparison needed might instead be a comparison of the benefits/limitations of theme shop’s commercial themes. Sounds like another post idea 🙂

      Thanks again Donnacha, for shaking this one out for me.

      • And thank you for being so responsive to your readers’ suggestions! 🙂

        I’m not sure if it was necessary to get rid of the prices altogether – I guess my preference would be to see how much they charge for me to be able to use their framework, with all the PSDs etc, to create as many sites as I want i.e. how much do I have to pay for the framework to become part of my toolbox as a designer. That means no limits on usage (preferably with my freedom to use it underwritten by it being full GPL) and full access to updates as new security problems emerge and as WordPress itself changes. Whichever of their prices allows customer that, that’s the one that should be listed for the purposes of the comparison.

        Regarding your previous comment, that’s a fair point, that most of these companies probably allow customers to later buy upgrades to the full versions. I still feel, though, that pricing clarity is important and that offering a crippled version of your framework, although it does allow you to attract initial attention with an artificially low price, is no way to build trust.

        I don’t say that any of these frameworks should be avoided – they are all the fruit of talented people who sat down and did something productive, it is not as if they have punched my mother in the face. Anyone who spends time thinking about WordPress and contributing, in any manner, to the overall evolution of the platform should be thanked.

        HOWEVER, it is often surprising how little understanding they have of marketing and pricing, and how little they seem to care about pursuing the real, long-term prize of entrenching their product as a standard. The money that any of them are making no is absolutely NOTHING compared to the earning potential of being the framework upon which the mass of other designers start to base their themes. Also, although WordPress use has exploded over the past couple of years, I believe that we haven’t seen anything yet, it will get truly crazy in the coming years and, for the frameworks that can remain relevant, the market will be massive.

        You asked which themes I think are the best options now, so, I’ll take that to mean which I think are positioning themselves in a way that suggests they get the big picture and want to be one of the two or three dominant frameworks in two years time.

        Chris Pearson of DIYThemes has, with Thesis, been playing the framework game longer than anyone else, making millions in the process. I don’t like his attitude but I do respect his grasp of customer psychology and the nature of this market. He operates on the principal that his customers buy in once and receive lifetime updates thereafter. This is incredibly smart because it means that your existing customers have a vested interest in your continued success and your continued incentive to improve the framework, so, they become your biggest advocates, singing your praises all over the Web.

        Just to be absolutely clear, I’m saying that Pearson’s secret recipe for success, especially at a time when there were almost no other paid themes, was to understand that having your customers stick with you and spread the word to their friends is worth far more to you, in real dollar terms, than crudely gouging them for subscriptions or upgrades or add-ons. Treat the people you already have onboard like royalty, even though you aren’t going to get any more money out of them, because they represent the first waves, the first opinion-makers, of what will ultimately be a much bigger market.

        As it happens, the recent rise of more modern frameworks and, then, an ugly spat with, have dampened the growth of Thesis, with a lot of that momentum going, instead, to someone who understood and adopted for himself Pearson’s clever approach to customer loyalty: Brian Gardner of StudioPress.

        Right back to his previous company, RevolutionThemes, Brian has taken his existing developer customers along, giving them access to the full fruits of his efforts for no extra charge. This created a growing wave of goodwill that has carried him right to the top. There was a time when I thought WooThemes were going to take the crown, they have some beautiful designs, but they don’t really understand pricing – again, don’t get me wrong, I am sure they are making plenty of cash in the short-term and they will definitely still be around in two years time, but Canvas is not going to become one of the standard frameworks.

        You say that it is way too early to pick the winning frameworks, but I’m not sure I agree. While there could be a spectacular new entrant that blows the rest away, that is unlikely. One of the current players could change their strategy and aggressively pursue growth, but that is even more unlikely – there is a lot of ego wrapped up in their current pricing and policies. No, I think that the market as it currently stands shows patterns that are quiet likely to progress logically.

        Let’s take the PollDaddy poll you are running alongside this article: Genesis is currently in the lead with 16.86%, remarkably above Twenty Ten (bundled for free with every download of WordPress!) at 16.28% and almost twice the nearest paid framework, Thesis at 8.72%.

        Canvas, despite all the WooThemes hype, is at 7.56% and, remember, the poll asked “Which WordPress theme frameworks have you used before?” – so, that includes people who tried a framework but then dropped it. As WooThemes operate a subscription model, they won’t be retaining as many longterm users as one-off payment shops such as StudioPress and DIYthemes, and they are not going to get the same viral spread.

        If canvas is currently less than half as popular as Genesis, WooThemes simply aren’t going to be able to catch up within the next year or two, and that will be the vital period in which de facto standards will become entrenched. We can already see other companies building their paid themes on top of Genesis and I’m guessing that, as his volume increases, Brian will be smart enough to encourage that trend by offering theme developers very attractive pricing incentives and/or commissions. While the other framework companies screw around with complicated pricing and subscription models, StudioPress will be slowly digging a trench.

        So, if you’re going to invest time into mastering just one framework, Genesis is a pretty good bet. I do hope, though, that the other companies will surprise me and start competing more aggressively, on both pricing and innovation. The coming opportunity is definitely worth fighting for.

        • Great post Ryan and some really important and insightful comments from you donnacha. I have been split between 3 frameworks and am interested in the poll results to get a feel for where others think we are heading.

    • Elemental doesn’t restrict you at all actually – perhaps we should reword the theme page. The basic license includes ‘support’ for a single website. You can use it on as many sites as you like (it’s GPL afterall) however we will only offer customer support for 1 domain. Not sure how to explain that in a clearer way.

      In addition the support is perpetual – no 1 year licenses or anything like that.

      Also I don’t like the implication that Elemental (or many of the other themes for that matter) are bad options. I have put an awful lot of time into Elemental (it gets updated 2 or 3 times a month), so seeing it labelled as ‘bad’ by someone who has no clear knowledge of what goes into something like this is very hurtful.

      • Ben, I think I was pretty clear in clarifying that I appreciate the effort that you and any other developer put into their work, I deliberately avoiding discussing the technical merits of each because I wanted to highlight the inconsistency and needless complexity in how most companies present there product, resulting in a minefield for customers.

        I also touched on pricing, not because anyone’s pricing is bad or evil, but because it is often dumb, choosing to charge more money to fewer customers and forgoing the opportunity to build momentum so that they can have enough users and advocates to be relevant in the far bigger markets of the coming years.

        I had never heard of Elemental and, as I dashed out my comment, I spent about as many minutes on your site as the average potential customer will. It is worth noting that your comment does a much better job of explaining your offering than your site does.

        Nothing I said was intended to hurt your feelings, I was addressing much broader issues affecting the paid theme market, but you could take my feedback – the fact that I, a typical user, misunderstood your offering – as an opportunity to address problems that are costing you sales every day, such as:

        … the fact that you don’t list the prices of the different license clearly on the Elemental product page but, rather, force users to initiate a purchase and enter the checkout process before they are shown the prices.

        … the fact that in order to get any idea of what the difference between the two licenses is, you have to hover your mouse over the buy buttons(!). Let me guess: zero time spent testing your sales page with actual users, right?

        So, seriously, stop wasting your time sitting there feeling hurt because some dude on the Internet didn’t pat your head and tell you what a clever boy you are; welcome feedback in whatever form it may come, toughen the fuck up, stop whinging and focus on making your product even better.

    • Ryan
      Thanks.I too agree with donnacha.
      Three more column should be added to the table. Licence info, Price and No of websites it can be used.Thus the users can make a wise choice for their investment.

      • To my knowledge, every framework listed above is licensed under the GPL, at least in terms of the PHP. So, as far as using any of these themes as a framework (which likely means you won’t be recycling images and CSS) you’re free to use it however you like.

        Am I wrong in that understanding?

    • Headway does offer unlimited updates for life BUT, again, the $87 license only allows 2 sites. For anyone planning to standardize upon Headway as their framework, the price is actually $164. Any price that ties you to a ridiculous limit on the number of sites you can create should not be included in the comparison table.

      Your only limitation is on the number of sites we will provide our support for. You are not limited on how many sites you can build on. And why should we not have a limit on the number of sites we will support you on.

      • That simply wasn’t communicated effectively by the Headway homepage at the time I wrote that comment, almost a month ago now.

        No-one was questioning your right to limit the support you give your customers.

        Limiting the number of sites you will support per license is certainly better than limiting the number of sites that can be created per license, and I do appreciate that some frameworks need a lot more support than others, that each additional site you have to support can be a real burden.

        I doubt, however, whether limiting support is a workable or enforceable long-term solution – it won’t be hard for dishonest users to claim that their support questions arise from one of their two named sites, while honest users will, exactly as I said, be forced to pay $164 to gain support for all their sites.

  5. Ryan, thanks for initiating this discussion and thanks donnacha for shinning some light on the big picture. I’ve been looking into which framework I want to dive into and this information has been super helpful. I’m looking forward to See how this discussion unfolds.


  6. great list Ryan!

    I’ve used lots of frameworks in the past. Sometimes I still work on my own custom framework when I need to do really specific things that invariably take longer in a framework. I’ve been using Thematic and Genesis quite heavily and am leaning more and more towards Genesis. Brian and the guys are innovating quickly with Genesis.

  7. Terrific post Ryan! I really appreciate non-biased overviews like this and feel they are very important in helping readers make informed decisions for themselves, especially with more and more products to choose from.

    It’s interesting to see how both established and emerging frameworks are falling into ‘genres’ (options vs starters) as well. This is valuable information for any dev to have when considering whether to adopt a framework. But speaking of options, it’s my opinion that frameworks have gone overboard with them lately. Perhaps that’s because I don’t necessarily consider heavy options based themes to be frameworks anymore. They should instead be billed as “site builders” (for lack of a better term).

    I don’t know if I’m conveying my meaning very well so I’ll refer more specifically to Carrington Build, Platform Pro, Headway and iThemes Builder. To me these products aren’t really for developers. They are for end users who can’t code, in which case those users have no business creating child themes for clients or resell… and isn’t that the point of a framework in the first place?

    Not to diminish the work of “builder” products or the shops behind them. In fact I think what they’re accomplishing is really cool – but a dev who wants to pick up a framework for the purpose of creating their own themes must know the code top to bottom. How else can they hope to solve customers issues? An options (or builder) based framework does not exactly encourage code familiarity.

    I feel these shops should be targeting a different demographic to avoid confusion. For example, Bootstrappers who can’t afford to hire a professional. Tinkers with the interest but not the technical skill to create a site from scratch. Entrepreneurs with plenty of ideas but not the time or desire to implement an online presence. I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea. Or maybe the target audience is not the problem, but these shops probably shouldn’t refer to their product as a framework any longer. To their credit, iThemes does a better job than the others, describing Builder as a design tool… and Crowd Favorite is careful not to mention the word framework anywhere on the actual product page for Carrington Build.

    Conversely, Hybrid Core fits the bill of framework very accurately. It’s totally modular and without a doubt ONLY for developers. There are no stylistic presets. It is not a theme at all. The only predefined choices are the scripts, folder structure and naturally, the habitual coding practices of the developer behind it. But it only takes shape when the end user does something with it! Even the well respected Thematic can’t claim that. Starkers is close.

    Anyway I apologize for the digression about what these products should be called. Maybe we as a community should just add another genre to the framework umbrella? 😉 Getting back on topic, I think it’s curious that TwentyTen has such a strong lead in the poll, with two more free of cost frameworks not far behind. All are starters. (Which reminds me, there’s a mistake in the table. Hybrid Core is definitely not options based.) It’s also noteworthy that the only paid product (Genesis) keeping up with the freebies is and “options” framework! Very interesting outcome.

    p.s. For anyone keen on this topic, Technosailor’s smackdown provides a detailed analysis of four of the frameworks mentioned here. And wouldn’t you know it, Genesis (from 1.1.1) scores very high.

    • Thanks for that Charity, I totally agree. I love coding/programing and I definitely intend to keep doing it. I don’t think I could ever call myself a web developer if I start using “builder” frameworks.

  8. Hey Ryan, great comparison of Premium WordPress Frameworks.

    We just released the WordPress Framework Xtreme One with the complete flexibility to create your layout with just some clicks and drag and drop, no coding required.

    It saves you tremendous time in coding and you can focus on your design and functionality.

    It also includes many features like 12 unique widgets, including 6 different sliders easy to implement. Able to add teaser and footer with dynamical created widget areas in 28 layout variations and up to 5 columns. More details and a complete list of the features can be found on

    It would be great if you could add Xtreme One to your post.

    I hope you and your readers going to enjoy Xtreme One!

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  10. I’ve just released Version 1.5 of my free theme 2010 Weaver. This new version has many new features, and allows customization of virtually every WP page/post element. I believe that this theme is now as good as, or better than, virtually any other theme that supports customization. It has been in the top twenty or so theme downloads at since it was released, and is now significantly easier to use.

  11. Thanks for adding us to your list of WP Framework Themes!

    I’m just stopping in to mention that, although it’s not (currently) displayed in the grid above, we have a very active and well-tended Support Forum that is available to all who own Catalyst.

    We hope to see you over there! 🙂

  12. Pingback: iThemes Builder framework turns one year old, 2.7 adds new theme settings | WPCandy

  13. I’m trying to decide which framework would be better to use for a project which will roll out loads of websites each with a few colour & layout variations. Hoping to use the one which makes it simplest to integrate additional theme options.

  14. Thanks for sharing. I like Whiteboard framework, I don’t know about anyone else, I found its very easy to use and its simple. some time its can be bit annoying, but once you get to know the framework is is very easy and simple to work with.

  15. I’ve stumbled on another one that seems worth mentioning – “Gantry” by RocketTheme
    It’s free.

  16. Here is my little blog about traveling. After many many theme, i have buy HeadWay. After a long time, not the perfect framework, lot of css tweeking, but can get things done. Still searching about the framework that allow me to no longer use a external editor.. and code it directly on the web… builder look good… will see

  17. This a great article, very informative and I believe it ties in well with what I’m doing. I have started a database speed test programme for WordPress Themes/Frameworks. I have so far ranked 40 Themes and will look to rank as many of the Themes you discuss.
    You can see the results of my speed tests here:

    I would very much like to hear your feedback on my testing and would welcome any advice you have on improving my results.

    Regards, KJ

  18. Pingback: What the Heck Are WordPress Theme Frameworks? | New Tricks WordPress Web Design and Social Media Marketing

  19. Many frameworks are not free 🙁
    It would be good to create parent framework-theme with default and free functionality and child framework-theme with paid functionality. I am using TwentyEleven framework-theme on my site based on Duster theme. It is not available to download for now but it will be soon.

  20. As its creator, I would ask that your readers consider Ashford.

    I believe if you scored it against many of the one listed here it would be very competitive. Plus it has several features that are not available on other frameworks:

    1. instant mobile without plugins or a separate theme
    2. ability to create mega menus using widgets

    It is well established being first available in 2008. There is a free and Pro version ($49). It has been profiled by well regarded blogs like Smashing Magazine.

    • Consider Ashford! I love it. I have been using it for a long time, and it has made my life easier in so many ways. Tim Bednar’s thinking and ideas have been HUGE to us. You will love the features and capabilities.

  21. I second Tim’s recommendation for Ashford.

    From a design and development standpoint, Ashford is great. It’s my go-to WP theme for nearly every site. I recommend it highly.

    Tim goes above and beyond for supporting the community he’s built. I’ve actually made connections to other designers and developers through the support channels, and they’re proving to be highly valuable.

    Ashford is free, give it a test drive. Going pro and getting a developer license for $49 will be a natural next step after you’ve experienced its awesomeness.

    • I agree with Chris… Ashford is a terrific solution and having Tim actually interested and committed to offering detailed support is amazing.

      As a newbie developer, I’ve been surprised how easy it is to use Ashford to create for my clients a meaningful CMS environment rather than just a website.

      I fully recommend that others take a peek at Ashford and learn why this may be the perfect solution for both rapid development and to create a site with a professional look and feel.

      • One more vote for Ashford to be included on the top of the list. If we go by the article’s criteria for options, support, documentation, cost and amazingly helpful community Ashford deserves a spot here.

        Tim is constantly adding and improving existing features, quickly fixing any problems that surface, asking for recommendations to build an even better product and assisting in custom requests by the “Ashford Clan members”.

        On top of all that, Ashford is well commented, it includes the necessary files for translating it to other languages, elegantly coded and able to adapt to any situation you can dream of.

        Overall I fully agree with Tim, Chris and Dave. Buying the PRO version is the way to go.

    • I agree with Chris, Dave, Ken, et al. Ashford needs to be on here.

      All of them are awesome designer/developers, and all of them I met through Ashford’s excellent community of helpful users.

      As for the framework itself, my business literally wouldn’t exist without it. Well-commented and documented, robust, flexible, and so easy to pick up. I’m doing things with WordPress that I never would have dreamed possible just a year ago.

  22. What is the best way to find out if a company providing themes is legitimate? Is there a digital “Better Business Bureau” for this? Would appreciate guidance. I had posted earlier about Gabfire, a demo site I spent a lot of time on yesterday, but I did not see these developers listed in this story. Obviously, you cannot list them all, but how is one to research the reliability of companies most efficiently? Thanks for any light you can shed. Love this site.

  23. Pingback: Why I Love the Genesis Theme Framework - The Pixelista

  24. Pingback: Which is the Best WordPress Theme Framework? Themeframework for Design | VibeThemes

  25. I’m looking for SEO optimized WordPress themes and found your article.This was really helping but I’m little bit confused on wwhat to choose between thesis / genisis

  26. We would love to have you review the K9 Canvas framework by Howling Dog Themes. We started building our framework almost three years ago. Originally we built it to use internally with our own clients. The more we refined it and the better it got, the more we thought we should release it to other designers and developers.

    We’ve been able to cut our own development time on sites in half and with the K9 control panel we’re able to make changes on the fly while doing site reviews with clients which they love and saves us a ton of back and forth time.

    If you’d like to review it to update this post, we’d be happy to supply wpcandy with a copy for review.

    Keep up the good work you guys.

  27. Thanks for the article which proved very helpful to me in my quest for a good WP theme. It seems to me that the answer is right under our noses, work hard with the one you choose to get the look and feel you need to get your message across to your readers. From free to mega-bucks there is no short cut (even hiring an ace designer requires a choice of theme, which you may be happy to leave to someone else?)

    If you were thinking of up-dating this post, I noticed that 2010 Weaver has gone through some changes since your article was written?

    Once again, many thanks AJ

  28. Good post Ryan !!! You can include one more framework i.e. ‘rtPanel’. Its an open source framework, good for SEO as ‘WordPress-SEO by Yoast’ plugin is integrated with it, provides amazing hooks and filters and free technical support.
    Visit rtPanel

  29. Great list some I have not come across. I have both ithemes and Catalyst. Catalyst has really surprised me. It is really well put together, and has over taken builder for me when I need to do a custom job. Genesis is also a great framework with a good selection of themes to choice from.

  30. Hi
    It would be useful if you added to your comparison chart some of the following information.
    – Support for HTML / CSS3 / Modernizer
    – An ongoing score board or star system based on popularity or downloads.

    The list is not entirely useful for me as a new to WordPress designer, I’m trying to make sense of the current best practices in WP theming and which is the best theme to start with.

    There’s nothing here that says this starter theme is the most used for “xx reasons” or for “xx” kind of projects or developers.

    For my needs (having never created a theme for WP before) which is the best free starter theme that will be a durable platform to create future websites on. I’m interested in starting with a HTML5 based theme since this is where its all heading.

    Built in features are great but not if they make the theme creation unnecessarily complicated..

    For instance I’ve looked at Gantry which looks great but at the same time seems complicated.

  31. Please add more columns to your table: responsive, MultiSite, BuddyPress, and anything else.

    Catalyst doesn’t do BuddyPress, for example.

    Also, PageLines allows static width or 2 kinds of responsive, so Xtreme One isn’t correct if I’m understanding their statement correctly.

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