Creating new WordPress themes from scratch can be a time-consuming and demanding task that requires in-depth coding knowledge and constant learning to keep up with the updates of the WordPress Core. In reply to this challenge, more and more WordPress theme frameworks have appeared on the market in recent years.
Theme frameworks function as a scaffolding for a new theme; they provide developers with a set of features and functionalities they can use to create their own themes.
Opinions about WordPress theme frameworks are divided in the developer community. Fans argue that they are real timesavers, shorten and facilitate the development workflow, take the burden of intensive coding off our shoulders, and make it possible to focus more on design. Opponents say theme frameworks can have high learning curves, and they are too restrictive as well, as, by their predefined rules, they prescribe what we can do and what not.
A good counter-argument against higher learning curves can be that we have to understand the logic of a framework only once, then we can reuse the same knowledge several times and don’t have to worry about following all the new updates of the WordPress Core. Predefined rules, the other criticism coming from opponents, are called best practices by the fans.
Whatever stance you take, WordPress theme frameworks have become wildly popular these days, so it’s worth checking out what they have to offer. In the rest of this post, we will take a look at five premium and five free WordPress theme frameworks so that you can decide if they’re worth their salt.
Genesis is a highly customizable, secure, and mobile-friendly WordPress theme framework offering custom page templates, featured content widgets, elaborate Theme Options, and many other cool features. The framework itself needs to be installed as a parent theme, then you can customize it according to your needs by using a child theme.
The parent theme (Genesis framework) itself is currently the most popular WP theme on the market. There are also many professional Genesis child themes available on the web (premium and free), but you can create your own child theme if you want as well. Check out Genesis’s showcase if you want to see how other designers made use of it.
Underscores, the popular and flexible starter theme framework created by Automattic, is the starting point for many professional theme developers. It’s recommended only to advanced developers, as Underscores comes with neither a visual builder nor a Theme Options panel.
In return, it has high coding standards, well-commented HTML5 templates, a well-organized starter
style.css file, a toggled dropdown menu for small screens, a handy 404 template, 2 sample CSS layouts, and many other developer-friendly features that takes theme development to the next level.
Thesis is a flexible theme framework that focuses on search engine optimization and easy customizability. It has a drag-and-drop visual template editor that makes it possible to add different functionalities, such as newsletter signup forms and social buttons, to your designs.
It also comes with editable Skins that allow developers to quickly implement beautiful designs. It’s not just for novice developers though, as experienced coders can also take leverage of its flexibility with the help of the development tools of the Thesis API.
Headway is an elegant drag-and-drop theme builder that can be a great choice for designers who don’t want to get their hands dirty with code. Building themes with Headway is a two-step process: first, you are supposed to create the layout with the help of the Visual Editor; secondly, you can add custom stylings, such as typography, colors, and other visuals using the Design Editor.
If you want to tailor the CSS code, there’s a Live CSS Editor for that purpose as well. Headway also makes it possible to export your themes to other Headway-powered WordPress sites easily.
Storefront is a theme developed by the team from WooCommerce. It comes with minimal styling with deep integration with WooCommerce.
It makes Storefront a perfect base to create a custom WooCommerce theme. You can easily modify the layout, the typography, and other design elements through the Customizer or through the child theme.
GeneratePress is probably one of few WordPress theme frameworks that I think is very well built. Each feature is modular, which allows you to enable or disable a particular one as needed, and enable it to be performant right of the box.
It also integrates with the new editor in Gutenberg seamlessly through its sister plugin, GenerateBlocks. The theme framework and the plugin provide a great experience for the developer to build a site and the end-users to author content.
Gantry is a fast and lightweight theme framework for creating WordPress and Joomla themes. It is developed by RocketTheme, a popular premium theme webshop that decided to give their framework away to the general public for free.
Gantry has a visual menu editor, an Ajax admin that makes the backend incredibly fast, a drag-and-drop layout manager, a content block builder called Particle System, and many sophisticated visual design features, such as an image picker, an icon picker, a font picker, and many others. Gantry pleases advanced developers as well, as it supports CSS preprocessors (SCSS and LESS), the YAML syntax, and Twig-based templating.
Sage is an advanced WordPress framework for developers to build a custom WordPress theme from Roots. It comes some modern development tools like Webpack, Blade templating, Sass, Yarn, and Composer pre-configured and fine-tuned for WordPress development. So you can start building your next awesome theme without wasting time on setting up configurations.
What’s unique about this framework is that it also provides its own “tonik” CLI as an additional tool that allows to generate theme scaffold or refactor the theme.
UnderStrap extends the Underscores start theme with Bootstrap 4, which allows you to easily reuse components like the Grid Layouts, Buttons, and Forms on the theme.
It also integrates with some Jetpack functionalities, WooCommerce, and provides Panel options to customize the theme from the WordPress dashboard. It’s a theme framework with apt tools and built-in features to build your next awesome WordPress theme.