Choosing a WordPress Theme: Free or Premium?

Posted in Themes, WordPress • Posted on 8 Comments

Perhaps one of the most striking features of WordPress is the easy availability of themes. Take a look at any of the other CMSs – be it Joomla!, Drupal or Textpattern – none of them comes even close when it comes to the availability of ready-made themes and templates. Not only does WP have numerous free themes to its merit, it is also well supplemented for by several Premium theme providers. So, what exactly are Premium and Free themes anyway? In simple terms, Premium themes are those which come at a price that is paid to the theme provider whereas Free themes are just that – free! 

Premium Themes

Just like any other commercial commodity, Premium themes too often undergo the debate regarding pricing – there are some who claim that Premium themes are an unfair means to monetize an open source project, whereas there are still others who hold the view that Premium themes are solutions which cannot be provided in the absence of commercial funding and, owing to the competition, often Premium themes are under-priced.

Pictured: 'Unsigned' -- a Premium Theme by WooThemes

Pictured: 'Unsigned' -- a Premium Theme by WooThemes

Link to ‘Unsigned’ by WooThemes

When it comes to positives, Premium themes have many advantages:

  1. First up, most Premium themes come with A+ grade support which is missing in Free themes. This is because the developers build Premium themes as a means of livelihood and thus tend to provide excellent grade support.
  2. Further more, Premium themes are reliable. They are updated on a regular basis, often come with extended or lifetime support and extensive documentation.
  3. Premium themes also have several unique features that are otherwise lacking in Free themes. Plus, due to stiff competition, theme providers are working hard to make their offerings the best of the lot and thus, Premium themes happen to be super-rich in features.
  4. Premium themes generally pay great attention to details. In fact, they often have better tweaks for settings such as SEO than their Free counterparts.
  5. Along similar lines, Premium themes come in several forms to suit your needs – there are special offerings depending on the genre of your website.
  6. Unlike Free themes, Premium themes are not so common and this can lend a unique appeal to your blog.

On the downside, Premium themes also have their share of disadvantages:

  1. Unlike Free themes, which are generally added to the official WP repository and undergo a review process, Premium themes can at times be mere commercial entities that may or may not be standards compliant in terms of licensing.
  2. Premium themes generally come for a fee and spending money on a blog that might just be a hobby may not suit everyone’s purpose.
  3. While this does not apply to everyone, at times, Premium themes, in their bid to be super-awesome, may come loaded with several features, whereas in reality, you may not need all of them. You will therefore, be using just a sub-set of the total number of features. In other words, for certain scenarios, using a Premium theme might be an overkill.
WP Theme Repo is an excellent place to look for free themes

WP Theme Repo is an excellent place to look for free themes

Free Themes

There are several Free themes for WordPress from different providers. Often, many developers develop Free themes to build their portfolio or just for fun. On the other hand, many Premium theme providers as well as WP-related blogs may release Free themes for their visitors.

Pictured: 'Sight' -- a Free Theme by WPShower

Pictured: 'Sight' -- a Free Theme by WPShower

Link to ‘Sight’ by WPShower

There are several advantages of Free themes:

  1. Firstly, Free themes don’t burn a hole in your pockets – simply download and use! There are no prices to pay.
  2. While personalized support is generally absent with Free themes, many developers respond to queries and comments in forums. Plus, you can always get great support from WP Codex and official forums.
  3. Since Free themes are more common, the number of plugins and configuration settings that they support is also large. And just in case a particular plugin does not work with a given theme, you can always report the issue to the official repository. With Premium themes, however, due to smaller user base, the process takes some extra time.

On the downside, Free themes come with certain disadvantages too:

  1. Free themes generally do not come with any warranty or assurance of working.
  2. Unlike Premium themes, you cannot expect top-notch personalized support with Free themes.
  3. The update frequency, though good, is not as great as that of Premium themes.
  4. Most Free themes tend to be quite common and this can kill the ‘unique’ look of your blog.
  5. Lastly, there are several Free theme providers who offer themes with spam or phishing links. If you are downloading Free themes, the ideal method is to do so from reputable providers, instead of simply searching for themes on Google.

Tips for Choosing an Ideal Theme

Irrespective of it being Free or Premium, a theme should serve your purpose well. Only you can comment on what exactly your needs are, but it helps to bear a few basic points in mind when settling on a theme:

  1. Do not compromise on the features and functionality that you need. A good theme should provide ample features to suit both your present and future needs.
  2. Even though you may be well-versed in coding, look for a theme that is easy to use and modify. In other words, try to choose a theme that does not require rocket science for customization – the time and efforts invested in configuring a theme, if saved, can be invested elsewhere too.
  3. If you have a specific genre of website, such as a photo/video gallery, opt for a theme meant for that specific purpose.
  4. Ensure that the developers are active and the theme is regularly updated.
  5. Plus, check for the available support options. If it’s a Premium theme, ask for nothing less that personalized email support/ticketing system. And if it’s a Free theme, look for the level of activity in the forums (if any) and/or the frequency with which the developer responds to the comments on his website.
  6. Next up, bear in mind that the theme you are opting for should not be too old – this is especially true if you are choosing a Free theme. Web technology tends to get updated at a rapid pace, and it makes sense to opt for a theme that is updated.

Just in case even Premium themes fail to impress you, and you have the budget, consider opting for a Custom Design.

Which theme do you use for your blog? Is it free or Premium? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

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Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and is the author of "Sufism: A Brief History". He blogs about technology, Linux and open source, mobile, web design and development, typography, and Content Management Systems at Code Carbon. You can learn more about him, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook and Google+.

8 Comments Best Comments First
  • Paul

    Friday, March 30th, 2012 15:05

    1

    When choosing between a free or premium theme I would always go for a premium theme for a price of only $40 you get so much more than you would get from free themes.

    The only useful file in free themes is the CSS file, for Premium themes you can get other features such as slideshows, portfolios, galleries, translation, SEO settings, etc.

    But given the choice I will always go for custom made themes, they can have all the features of premium themes but are more lightweight because they don’t have to be as flexible.

    0
    • Steven

      Saturday, March 31st, 2012 12:25

      3

      Well custom made theme is always the best but the thing is that you have to be a coder/web designer to create or you have to pay someone. And if the premium theme costs 30-50$ then custom made theme will cost way more money and/or time to create.

      0
  • KBharath

    Saturday, March 31st, 2012 03:45

    2

    Definitely i would choose Custom WordPress Theme rather than this Free and Premium WordPress Themes. But The Custom WordPress Themes will cost more and we can stand out of crowd and say that our design is awesome.

    0
  • John

    Thursday, April 26th, 2012 09:08

    4

    A free, premium or custom theme has advantages and disadvantages, as you have highlighted in the above article. What I want to say is that a free theme is not always the worst choice. If you have some basic knowledge about CSS and PHP is very easy to change the theme’s design or layout. A good source of free themes is http://www.creattor.com and if you will browse through those themes you will find some high-quality stuff.

    0
    • Loïc Tortelier

      Thursday, May 10th, 2012 03:41

      7

      I am absolutely in your opinion of steep.
      From a free theme to customize it in code or design may be sufficient to emplement customer request. I think the important thing is to anticipate customer needs and possibly the evolution has come. From there you can choose to use a free theme, premium or to measure.
      For me or not choose a premium theme is mostly a time saver for failing to implement certain features that it is level with the back office or front office. It also saves time if the design convien the client. Everything is well explained to him that he will not be unique, unless it requests a customization or a custom design.
      This is often a matter of budget and development opportunities for the customer who ultimately determines the choice for me.

      0
    • Karl

      Friday, April 27th, 2012 06:10

      5

      Hi John,

      Thank you for sharing the website. I found a couple of nice free themes, that I am working on right now. You should have said that you are required to register before downloading…however the registration’s free and took me ~ a couple of clicks. Thanks again for sharing.

      0
  • Solomonc

    Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 10:58

    8

    When I first started out with WordPress, I went for free themes until I got my first premium theme… this is where I discovered a big difference – no more frustration that themes cannot display well or with error messages. Premium themes usually have great support and will always work when there is a WordPress revision. Now, I anytime go for premium themes.

    0
  • Bharat Chowdary

    Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 00:53

    6

    Very clear explanation, I always choose premium themes and customize myself to give it a fresh and perfect look.

    0
  • Solomonc

    Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 10:58

    8

    When I first started out with WordPress, I went for free themes until I got my first premium theme… this is where I discovered a big difference – no more frustration that themes cannot display well or with error messages. Premium themes usually have great support and will always work when there is a WordPress revision. Now, I anytime go for premium themes.

    0
  • Bharat Chowdary

    Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 00:53

    6

    Very clear explanation, I always choose premium themes and customize myself to give it a fresh and perfect look.

    0
  • John

    Thursday, April 26th, 2012 09:08

    4

    A free, premium or custom theme has advantages and disadvantages, as you have highlighted in the above article. What I want to say is that a free theme is not always the worst choice. If you have some basic knowledge about CSS and PHP is very easy to change the theme’s design or layout. A good source of free themes is http://www.creattor.com and if you will browse through those themes you will find some high-quality stuff.

    0
    • Karl

      Friday, April 27th, 2012 06:10

      5

      Hi John,

      Thank you for sharing the website. I found a couple of nice free themes, that I am working on right now. You should have said that you are required to register before downloading…however the registration’s free and took me ~ a couple of clicks. Thanks again for sharing.

      0
    • Loïc Tortelier

      Thursday, May 10th, 2012 03:41

      7

      I am absolutely in your opinion of steep.
      From a free theme to customize it in code or design may be sufficient to emplement customer request. I think the important thing is to anticipate customer needs and possibly the evolution has come. From there you can choose to use a free theme, premium or to measure.
      For me or not choose a premium theme is mostly a time saver for failing to implement certain features that it is level with the back office or front office. It also saves time if the design convien the client. Everything is well explained to him that he will not be unique, unless it requests a customization or a custom design.
      This is often a matter of budget and development opportunities for the customer who ultimately determines the choice for me.

      0
  • KBharath

    Saturday, March 31st, 2012 03:45

    2

    Definitely i would choose Custom WordPress Theme rather than this Free and Premium WordPress Themes. But The Custom WordPress Themes will cost more and we can stand out of crowd and say that our design is awesome.

    0
  • Paul

    Friday, March 30th, 2012 15:05

    1

    When choosing between a free or premium theme I would always go for a premium theme for a price of only $40 you get so much more than you would get from free themes.

    The only useful file in free themes is the CSS file, for Premium themes you can get other features such as slideshows, portfolios, galleries, translation, SEO settings, etc.

    But given the choice I will always go for custom made themes, they can have all the features of premium themes but are more lightweight because they don’t have to be as flexible.

    0
    • Steven

      Saturday, March 31st, 2012 12:25

      3

      Well custom made theme is always the best but the thing is that you have to be a coder/web designer to create or you have to pay someone. And if the premium theme costs 30-50$ then custom made theme will cost way more money and/or time to create.

      0

Comments are closed.

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