In this collection, you’ll find some of the best premium and free theme frameworks for WordPress. While some of these frameworks might be familiar to you, others will likely be new. Either way, by the end of this article you’ll have detailed knowledge of the different frameworks available, enabling you to make an informed decision when it comes to choosing the right option for your website.
However, before we get to the frameworks themselves, let’s start with a quick explanation of what a theme framework actually is. After that, we’ll cover some of the benefits of using a framework.
What Are WordPress Theme Frameworks?
Some WordPress themes are created by using a framework, while others are built from the ground up.
In general, these frameworks are best described as the foundation for a WordPress theme. Typically, the framework will contain the core code, covering the basic features and design elements. The framework is then used as a starting point when a new theme is created. New features and design elements are added to the framework to create the finished product.
WordPress theme frameworks tend to fall into two main categories. Firstly, you have in-house frameworks that have been built for use by a specific theme shop. TeslaThemes is a good example of this. Each of their themes are built on top of their own framework.
Then there are the frameworks that anyone can use as the foundation for their projects. Some of the frameworks in this category are free to download, such as Beans, while others like Genesis, are commercial products.
You can also find free or commercial themes that were built upon these frameworks. For example, with Genesis, you can purchase this framework and then either use it for your own custom theme design or choose a free or commercial Genesis child theme that was built for use with this framework, by someone else.
Benefits of Theme Frameworks
The use of a framework benefits theme developers as they get a head start on a project. Website owners also benefit from using a framework as they can switch themes, without losing access to the core features and functionally of their website. Often sticking with the same framework, but changing themes, allows website owners to keep their settings, options, and other configuration choices. This helps to make the transition much more straightforward.
WordPress Theme Framework Practicalities
From the end user perspective, sometimes the theme and the framework will be separate items. In this case, the framework will be used in conjunction with a separate child theme that was built to work with that framework. Other times the framework will be integrated into the theme and they will be available together, in a single package.
The Genesis framework from StudioPress is a great example of a standalone framework, which is combined with separate child themes to offer a complete package. The Elegant Themes team, on the other hand, integrates their framework into the themes they produce, resulting in a single package for each product.
Why Should You Use a Theme Framework?
As mentioned, one of the benefits of using a theme framework, rather than a regular WordPress theme, is that it can make switching themes easier. If you stay with the same framework but choose a different theme that has been built on that framework, the migration can often be a lot easier.
Another reason to choose a theme framework for your website is that, depending on the framework, it can be a good indication of the quality of the theme. For example, the Genesis framework has a very good reputation for being a secure and well-coded product. This means that if you choose a theme powered by the Genesis framework, you can be confident that it will be a fast-loading, robust theme.
Typically, you’ll find that popular frameworks have good support communities that have built up around them. This means that if you run into problems or you want to customize your theme, you can turn to the community for support.
With the best WordPress theme frameworks, you’ll also find additional tools that have been built specifically for use with that framework. Examples include the powerful Genesis Extender plugin and Design Palette Pro extension that add new features and capabilities to your website.
Genesis is the most widely recommended framework in this collection. Even if you’ve never seriously considered buying a framework before, you’ve probably heard of it. This is because it strikes perhaps the best balance between affordability and power. What many consider the industry standard of frameworks, unlimited updates, support and sites – all for a one-time payment of $59.95.
The framework itself is lean, secure, SEO friendly, future proof and highly customizable. It is designed to always be used with a child theme – it is up to you whether you use one of the many offered by StudioPress or create your own. Some of the top-selling child themes include Parallax Pro, Magazine Pro and Centric Pro.
The Genesis framework is more for intermediate and advanced developers, although keen hobbyists can become proficient relatively quickly. Complete beginners can use it, but will probably want to stick to an off-the-shelf child theme. The most beginner-friendly option is Prose, which has a point and click design that allows you to control the theme’s design without going anywhere near the code – for the majority of the time, at least.
We would recommend the Genesis framework to intermediate and advanced developers who want a trusted platform on which they can build new child themes and sell them or churn out new client sites. It is the only framework here that offers so much in terms of features and support for such a reasonable one-off fee. Also, Genesis has a very active developer community that you can always turn to for advice when you get stuck.
Price: $59.95 Genesis Framework; $399.95 Pro Plus All-Theme Package
Headway is a dream come true for designers and those who don’t know how to code. It’s a drag and drop framework that allows you to control almost every element of a theme’s design, such as layout, colors and fonts, by pointing and clicking.
The Headway Grid empowers you to create any kind of layout you want – one column, two column, three column, a mix.
Once your layout is complete, you can style your site with the Design Editor, which allows you to select any element on the page and style it in a number of ways.
Headway is up to date with the latest standards in coding, HTML5 and CSS3. And the Responsive Grid means your designs will be automatically responsive.
Headway isn’t just for non-coders. Developers can take advantage of the live CSS editor, build child themes for Headway and create custom Bock types. They can even sell their custom Blocks in the Headway Marketplace.
Blocks are a way of extending the functionality of Headway. There are the core blocks that come with Headway Base, then there are the extra blocks that can be added via Headway Extend. One of the most popular core blocks allows you to add WooCommerce compatibility to your site, for example.
If you’re a web designer and you want full control over your sites but would prefer not to have to learn how to code, Headway was built for you. It will enable you to quickly create custom websites for your clients that can be as simple or complex as you need.
Price: $89 standard; Deluxe $199
Divi is the flagship theme from Elegant Themes and it’s a multipurpose WordPress theme that includes a drag-and-drop page builder tool and an impressive collection of pre-built page templates.
Thanks to the features and functionality of Divi, it can easily be used as a framework for a wide range of different website projects. No matter your level of development experience, creating custom website designs with Divi can be a straightforward and code-free experience. You can now also buy third-party child themes, that have been created with Divi as their foundation.
When it comes to getting access do Divi, you do have to join the Elegant Themes club. Thankfully, Elegant Themes is widely considered to offer the most bang for your buck among premium WordPress theme clubs. For $69 a year, you get access to 87 high-quality themes, including the impressive Extra, and for $20 more, you also get access to a handful of genuinely useful WordPress plugins.
If you do choose the $89 per year, Developer package, as well as all of the themes, you also get access to six WordPress plugins. This includes the high-quality Divi Builder drag-and-drop page builder plugin, the fully featured Bloom email optin form plugin, and the Monarch social sharing tool. The plugins can be used with any WordPress theme and for some customers, access to the plugins alone justifies the cost of membership.
When it comes to support, joining the Elegant Themes club gives you access to the busy discussion forums. There you can open support tickets and expect fast, helpful responses from the community and help desk team. There’s detailed online documentation available for each theme and plugin, helping you to make the most of your website.
Unlike some other frameworks (such as Genesis), you don’t get access to the framework as such. Instead, the Elegant Themes framework is integrated into the themes themselves. Common framework features, which are shared among the themes from Elegant Themes, include an intuitive control panel, search engine optimized code, and impressive loading times. Using Divi or Extra as your theme framework also provides you with access to the powerful Divi Builder drag-and-drop page designer tool.
To sum up, the Elegant Themes framework isn’t a blank canvas you can use as the foundation for your own custom designs. Instead, the idea is that you pick the Elegant Themes product that most closely matches your vision and then customize it to meet your needs. Thanks to the page builder tool integrated into Divi and Extra, carrying out this customization work is very straightforward.
This has all helped to make Divi a popular framework for beginners who want to create a custom website, as well as more experienced web designers who want to speed up the development process and build bespoke websites more efficiently.
The Themify framework is used to power the WordPress themes designed by the Themify team. The framework, and therefore all their themes, includes the Themify Builder which allows you to create custom page layouts, and populate them with a range of page elements and modules, all though a drag and drop interface.
Some of the page elements or modules that can be dragged and dropped into your posts and pages include sliders, maps, galleries, tabbed areas, and a whole lot more. You can also add any widgets to your page layouts, including those widgets that are part of any plugins you’ve installed on your site, or custom ones you’ve created.
The layouts created through the builder are managed using a grid layout that consists of multiple rows and columns, and they are all 100% responsive for easy use on portable devices.
As well as the Themify Builder, the framework also makes it easy for users to customize their chosen theme without editing any code or editing any templates. This is thanks to the styling panel that is included. This gives you a great amount of control over the appearance of your theme without the need to touch any code.
With some other frameworks this visual approach to editing requires an additional premium plugin to get the same functionality, but not with Themify. The framework also includes a selection of widgets and shortcodes for inserting elements into your posts, pages, and sidebar areas. When using the Themify framework, you are able to export the settings from one site and then import them into another to help save time during the setup process of a new site.
This is an integrated framework, rather than a separate parent theme which is used alongside a child theme. This means that in order to use it you will have to choose a theme from Themify. However, at the time of writing the price for admission to the Themify club, which includes access to all of their current themes is just $79.
Like Elegant Themes, the WordPress themes from the TeslaThemes club are all built on a custom-made framework. By joining the club, you get access to all the existing themes and future releases.
With TeslaThemes, the framework is part of the themes themselves, so there is only one set of files to upload, as opposed to the parent child relationship that is used by products like the Genesis Framework. As these themes are all built on top of the same framework it means that whichever theme you use from Tesla, it will have the same control panel and options for customisation.
For the end user, the only direct interaction most will have with the Tesla Framework is through the theme control panel. From there, users can find an easy way to change some of the settings of their theme, these include:
- Upload a logo image and set the header text
- Add a favicon
- Set the default colour of the site
- Upload a background image
- Configure the social icons
- Add contact information
- Easily append code to the footer
- Add custom CSS
The framework control panel also includes handy links to the documentation section on the TeslaThemes website, the support forum, and the company blog.
While this framework doesn’t give you too many options for configuring the appearance of your chosen theme, it is easy to use and find your way around.
Price: $39 per theme or $49 for all themes (get 20% off with the coupon code ‘ATHEMES‘)
If you want all the advantages of the popular Genesis framework, such as its high levels of security, fast loading code, and SEO friendliness, but just can’t find a child theme to match your vision, and you don’t have the coding skills required to create your own designs, Dynamik is the tool for you.
The Dynamik Website Builder is a visual editor for WordPress and the Genesis framework that allows you to change almost every aspect of the appearance of your website, without directly editing any code. From changing the fonts used for specific page elements, to creating your own custom layouts that can then be applied to your entire site, or at an individual page and post level, Dynamik lets you do it all.
Despite having all this control over how your WordPress site looks, you aren’t dropped in at the deep end. Dynamik comes with a large number of pre-set configurations that can be used as is or customised to give your site an even more personalised look. It’s also worth pointing out that this tool isn’t just for beginners either. As well as giving you vast amounts of control over your site’s design without the need to edit any code, should you decide that you’d like to start delving into the CSS and PHP of your theme, then Dynamik supports you in doing that too.
WPZoom is an in-house WordPress framework that has been created by the team of theme developers that are also known as WPZoom.
The WPZoom theme company created this framework and now use it to power all of their commercially available WordPress templates. This means that if you choose one of their many impressive WordPress themes, the underlying structure, code, and functionality of the framework will be coupled with design and appearance of your chosen theme.
Not only does this make switching between the theme themes available from WPZoom a breeze, it also means that your website will be built upon a solid foundation, provided by the framework. One of the main features of the WPZoom framework is its user-friendly control panel.
Through this visual set of options and controls, you can customize many aspects of your website. This includes the color scheme, website logo, and easy one click demo content installation. This last feature makes it easy to setup your website and configure it in the same way as the promotional demo version of the theme you are using. After taking advantage of this feature, you can then go in and add your own content to the template.
The WPZoom framework also includes a number of shortcodes. These can be used to insert a good selection of elements into your content. This includes as buttons, tabbed areas, info boxes, column layouts, and more. There’s also a slideshow shortcode on offer. This makes it easy to add animated images galleries to your website. This feature removes the need to install a separate plugin.
Speaking of plugins, the WPZoom team also offers a handful of WordPress plugins that can enhance your website. This includes the impressive WPZoom Builder plugin, a drag and drop landing page creator which can be used to promote your products and services in the right way for your business.
You can pick up the themes that are powered by the WPZoom framework on an individual basis. However, by purchasing the All Themes Package, you get access to over 50+ WPZoom themes and any new templates that are released in the future, for one discounted price.
Ultimatum includes everything you need to build your own custom theme using WordPress. The tool comes with a powerful form builder, a range of sliders for creating post and image slideshows, is fully WooCommerce compatible, and comes bundled with the powerful Visual Composer drag and drop page builder plugin. This last inclusion means that creating custom layouts for individual posts and pages is very straightforward and produces some great results.
This theme builder also gives you a few options for working with templates, allowing you to create your own or import any existing ones. When creating the template for the basis of your theme, you can opt to use the popular Twitter Bootstrap to create a fully responsive layout, as well as having the option to use a mobile web app template.
More advanced features of Ultimatum include the Custom Post Type creator which allows you to create your own post types and custom taxonomies for organising your content more effectively. The tool also comes with optional integration with Google Fonts and a large selection of icons for giving your designs greater visual appeal.
If you are looking for a blank canvas to build your design upon and would like access to a wide range of drag and drop page elements and configurable settings then Ultimatum is a good choice.
Price: $65 Starter License; $125 Pro License
Builder is another framework that doesn’t require the user to know code to build powerful sites. It is made up of the Builder Core Theme, child themes (the exact number will depend on which package you go for), the Style Manager plugin and a year of support and updates.
Builder is a responsive framework that includes a Layout Editor, which allows you to create a layout by pointing and clicking. You choose the modules, such as header, navigation bar and footer, and insert them in the order you want on the page. There is no coding involved.
The Style Manager plugin enables you to customize your site’s style – changing the background color, for example – without writing any code.
There are 80 Builder themes to choose from, which should be enough of a range for you to use one as a starting point for most projects. You can then add your layouts and style the design elements just the way you want.
Like Headway, Builder makes use of Blocks to add niche-specific functionality. The Restaurant Block, for example, allows you to add menu items and location details to your site.
Builder is one of the better supported frameworks, with support staff, a comprehensive codex as well as video tutorials and walkthroughs.
The bottom line is that Builder enables anyone to build a great website fast.
Price: $80 Foundation Pack; $150 Developer Pack; $197 All Access Pass
While not quite as popular as Genesis, Thesis is still one of the most well-known WordPress frameworks. It used to be known mainly for its focus on SEO. The relatively recent release of Thesis 2.0, however, has seen its feature set expand considerably and as a result it is attracting more novices and DIYers who want more than just a beautiful site: they want something they can make their own, too.
Thesis 2.0 is primarily about three features: boxes, skins and site tools.
Skins are great-looking designs that you can add to Thesis. You can tweak them using the visual template editor, which gives you point-and-click control.
Boxes are like widgets in that they allow you to add functionality (email signup forms, social sharing buttons, etc) to your Thesis site. Using the visual template editor, you can drag and drop boxes into your template wherever you want – no coding required.
Lastly, site tools enable you to optimize your site for Google by doing things like adding Google authorship and markup schema with the click of a button.
The best of the first iteration of Thesis has been retained: Thesis 2.0 is still SEO-conscious and still comes with an active community and a well-staffed support forum.
We would recommend Thesis to anyone with an interest in SEO and performance, as well as those looking for customizability without the code. Thesis 2.0 has a passionate following, made up of both developers and amateurs, and while its unique interface and features may take some getting used to, once you do, you’ll have a powerful set of tools at your disposal to create any kind of site you want.
Price: $87 Thesis Basic; $164 Thesis Basic Plus; $197 Thesis Professional
Jump Start is a framework that has been created by the Theme Blvd team and is used as the foundation of all of their commercial WordPress themes.
Unlike the other themes from Theme Blvd, the Jump Start framework hasn’t been built with a specific type of project in mind. Instead, it’s a multipurpose tool, which can be used to create almost any type of website with WordPress.
Jump Start has been created for both developers and non-coders, to help them built the website they need. Developers can use Jump Start as the foundation of their website and then add their own code to design and build their own bespoke theme.
Regular users can achieve a similar amount of freedom by choosing one of the 10 website demos that have been created for Jump Start. They can then use the integrated layout builder tool and powerful admin control panel to customize their website further.
Other features you’ll find in Jump Start include a portfolio plugin for displaying your work in style, unlimited sidebar configurations, social media integration, a library of useful shortcodes, and a fully responsive and retina-ready design.
Jump Start is a framework that will appeal to both coders and non-developers alike, due to the way it can be customized in a range of different ways.
PageLines is a drag and drop Design Management System (DMS) that allows you to create responsive websites without editing any code.
It works by allowing you to drag and drop modules – the layout and design elements that make up a website – such as navigation bars, columns and sliders onto the page. You can place them wherever you want, so you can create just about any kind of layout or design you desire. Those who have no interest in learning to code will appreciate the ability to control the modules from the front end. So, too, will developers, who will be able to create mock ups faster than ever before.
Price: $99 Standard; $179 Developer; $129 Club (then $20/mo)
Beans is a freely available WordPress theme framework from the Theme Butler theme. Instead of charging for access to the framework and its library of child themes, Beans generates revenue for its creators through the placement of adverts and theme sponsorship arrangements. This relatively unique pricing model means that you can get a high quality, commercial grade theme for no financial outlay.
Whether you want to use Beans as the foundation for your own bespoke WordPress website or choose from one of the child themes available for this framework, Beans is a flexible option that includes some useful features and properties. This includes a fully responsive design, a search engine friendly structure, fast loading code, and easy to follow online documentation.
The showcase section of the Beans website displays some great examples of the different type of sites you can create with this framework. There are also a number of free items available on the Beans website, including Sketch resources and WordPress plugins.
Ad-supported WordPress themes won’t be for everyone. However, if you do want access to a premium framework at no cost, Beans is one option available to you.
Unyson has been created by the popular ThemeFuse team and is a free plugin that has all the features and components of the best WordPress theme frameworks.
Unyson contains many of the essential items that you’ll need to create your own custom WordPress website. This includes a drag-and-drop page builder tool that allows you to break free from the constraints of the WordPress post editor and create some truly unique layouts and designs for your website. You’ll also find a slideshow tool and a number of pre-built sliders that make adding interactive image and video displays to your website easy.
Unyson also includes a mega menu tool to upgrade the navigation areas of your website, a portfolio tool for displaying your work, and the ability to create as many sidebars as you need for display alongside specific pieces of content. An impressive feature of the Unyson framework plugin is that it includes a backup and restore tool to safeguard your work from user error and data loss. There is even an events management tool for sharing important dates with your audience.
As Unyson is available as a plugin, it offers a different approach to WordPress frameworks and might be a better option for those who’ve already found a theme they are happy with.
Once the plugin and the theme are active on your site, you get access to a wide selection of page builder features. One of the highlights of Gantry is the drag and drop page builder tool. Gantry makes use of widgetized page layouts, where individual widgets can be dragged and dropped into place to populate the page layouts with content. Gantry includes a large selection of its own widgets, or you can use third party widgets to add content to your page layouts.
All the widget positions on the pages can be customized, allowing you to add additional widget slots, and alter the number of columns and the distribution of the columns widths for each section, such as the header area, or main content areas. This is all done through a visual interface which makes use of sliders, dropdown menus, and other intuitive navigation aids that are easy to understand and get to grips with.
Like the best website frameworks, Gantry features a fully responsive design which you can see in action on the demo site. Simply resize your browser window to see how the page layout responds to screens with narrower widths, such as smartphones and tablets. The responsive 960 grid system has been built using Twitter Bootstrap for maximum compatibility.
Other features of Gantry include the ability to switch the site to maintenance mode while you are making changes; the use of the gizmos feature to add custom CSS to existing tags to quickly modify the styling of your site; and support for creating multiple templates for all the different views and page layouts on your site.
If you want a framework that lets you build highly customizable page layouts for your WordPress site, all through a user friendly visual interface, then Gantry is definitely worth taking for a test drive.