WordPress Themes vs Theme Frameworks & When to Use Which?

We’ve all used WordPress themes… and we’ve all heard of or used at least one theme framework. Time and again I’ve often been asked which theme to use and why should I use a framework at all. After having tested waters and having built professional websites on both, here are my findings.

Note: I’m not comparing “free” themes with “premium” WordPress Theme Frameworks. I’m assuming that given both pieces of software fall under the free or the premium domain for a fair comparison.

WordPress Themes

Themes are well themes in technical definition as defined by WordPress.

Fundamentally, the WordPress Theme system is a way to “skin” your weblog. Yet, it is more than just a “skin.” Skinning your site implies that only the design is changed.

A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software. Themes may include customized template files, image files (*.jpg, *.gif), style sheets (*.css), custom Pages, as well as any necessary code files (*.php).

Benefits of Using a WordPress Theme

  • Themes allow you to get started faster since you don’t have to build the design from scratch.
  • Themes are available in abundance. There are lots of good, free and premium themes and a whole variety of themes with good options and settings.

Disadvantages of Using a Theme

  • Different themes come with varying degree of flexibility and what is easy to tweak in one design could be difficult in others.
  • Each themes has a different usability, function, flexibility and it is difficult to find one theme that has it all.

WordPress Theme Frameworks

Theme frameworks could mean:

  1. A “drop-in” code library that is used to facilitate development of a Theme
  2. A stand-alone base/starter Theme that is intended either to be forked into another Theme
  3. A Parent Theme template


Advantages of Using a Theme Framework

  • Allows you to build any design.
  • Comes with a standard set of functionality that you can build your expertise or become comfortable with.
  • Allows for rapid development of themes (based on the framework).

Disadvantages of Using a Theme Framework

  • It’s difficult to get a ready made design.
  • Support could be limited.

Should you use a WordPress Theme or a Theme Framework?

It actually depends on your usage scenario. If you are the site-owner you couldn’t care less as long as a theme serves the purpose.

However if you truly want a unique, custom tailored design or are into the business of design and delivering fully custom website design then a theme framework is the way to go. That’s because theme frameworks allow you to rapidly develop the custom designs for a website or a new theme. That is when you have to be more concerned about building upon the right framework.

The beauty of a framework is that it brings with it the flexibility of creating just about any kind of custom design or a theme. Get creative and the possibilities are unlimited! The theme frameworks provide a robust foundation on which you can start building with ease.

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