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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
About Hybrid Core
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.