Buying Premium WordPress Themes vs Designing & Coding Templates Yourself

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Much of what passes for web design or development these days is really just someone slapping a logo on a premium WordPress theme from some place like Theme Forest, changing some colors and moving some elements around.  I shouldn’t cast any aspersions- we do it too when that is all a client’s budget will allow. In fact, full-disclosure, we’re customers of Theme Forest, so just like all their customers, we enjoy a referral fee if someone clicks on the link above and subsequently makes a purchase.

But there can be problems with this approach making it much harder than it looks, especially if you have to do anything more than just cursory edits. So, in this post I will lay out the pros and cons of buying a “premium” theme versus coding your templates from scratch based on your designer’s PSD or AI files.


Using a “Premium” Template 

Pro’s

  • Sometimes that is all the client can afford or needs.
  • Some templates are highly customizable and can be made to look less generic.
  • The “design” process  can be whittled down to the client choosing from a few templates you have scouted.
  • You can search by features such as “Responsive” to make sure the theme supports the functionality you need.

Con’s

  • Some themes are not coded using WordPress best-practices, which can be annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst. Poorly coded themes can break when a WordPress update is issued and recently, a number of premium theme authors have neglected to update the highly vulnerable Revolution slider plugin.
  • Some themes do not tell you when there is an update available.
  • Sometime it takes longer to figure out how a theme was put together and where to make edits that you end up spending more time learning the theme than you would have had you coded from scratch. This is especially true when theme authors use their own custom frameworks which can be  difficult to modify.
  • Many premium themes don’t get updated by their authors to keep up with the Joneses of WordPress updates.
  • Many people use the same themes so your site can end up looking generic or worse- identical to others.
  • Sometimes theme authors just disappear or stop supporting their older themes altogether.
  • If a theme relies on a plugin or plugin framework for certain functionality, an update to the plugin may break that functionality.


Coding a theme from scratch

Pro’s

  • Often it’s actually faster and easier to code your own theme since you don’t have to hunt around to figure out how the theme was built if you build it yourself.
  • Provided your design isn’t generic, your site will stand out.
  • Your codebase will be cleaner and lighter since you can include only what you need.
  • When an update is required, you’re likely the one to get the job.
  • You’ll learn a lot more about how WordPress works if you build it yourself.

Con’s

  • There are likely going to be situations you won’t have anticipated so your theme might end up missing templates or styles for things like error pages, multi-level lists and drop-down menus, user’s comments and such.
  • If your design doesn’t take into account how it will look on mobile from the outset, making it responsive as an afterthought might prove to be a challenge.
  • You’ll want to be extra careful that the end result looks as close as possible to the design or risk incurring the wrath of your designer- especially if you are subcontracted by the designer.
  • When searching for tutorials online you have to be careful because there are a lot of articles that have outdated information, which can be dangerous.
  • You have only yourself to blame when things go wrong

So which to choose? Well that all depends on your budget and situation but  there is another option – choosing an HTML template and converting it to a WordPress theme yourself. This gives you the benefits of both approaches as you will save time on the design phase and then can control how the theme is built. Some templates even let you buy them outright so that they are no longer for sale to others once you pay for the exclusive rights. Of course, anyone who bought the cheaper license ahead of you will have a similar looking site, but you are less likely to see loads of cookie cutter sites with the same look as yours.