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So you’re launching a website with WordPress. Obviously, design and functionality are at the forefront of your mind. One of the first things you’ll need to decide is if your needs can be met by a pre-made theme with some customizations or if you need a fully custom theme developed just for you. There are certainly pros and cons to both, which is what I’ll be exploring in today’s post.

The Pros of a Custom WordPress Theme

There are two big pros to custom WordPress themes. The first is that you will be the only person and/or company online sporting that theme. With millions upon millions of blogs running WordPress, any pre-made theme is bound to be used by not just a few others – but many. So right out of the gate you have a big advantage in terms of setting yourself apart from the competition.

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The second big advantage of a custom WordPress theme is custom functionality. WordPress and the plugins that run on it are notorious for keeping certain powerful elements (such as custom post type templates) just out of reach for the average user to fully leverage. But with a custom theme you can have your developer(s) come up with all of the custom elements you’ll need to succeed in your specific niche.

The Pros of a Pre-made WordPress Theme

There are also two very big pros to pre-made WordPress themes. The first is affordability. While some themes may be more expensive than others, they typically stay under $100. There is no custom option available for those kinds of prices. So if you can find a pre-made theme that meets all of your needs, you stand to save a lot of money.

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The second big pro for pre-made WordPress themes is future-proofing. Granted, not every pre-made WordPress theme is made equal. Not by a long shot. But the best ones all come with regular updates, good support and a large/active community that can help with customizations, troubleshooting, etc. If you have someone create a custom theme for you, it’s very likely you’ll be on your own after it’s delivered.

The Cons of a Custom WordPress Theme

Obviously, the biggest con for someone considering a custom WordPress theme is cost. It’s not going to cost you hundreds of dollars (or Pounds, Euros, etc.), but thousands. So depending on your size and budget this could be an immediate deal breaker for many. That said though, it’s important to invest in your online presence. These days it can make or break you. So anything you spend on making your website an attractive and effective part of your business is a good investment.

The only other thing I would make sure to look into before deciding on a custom theme is whether or not future updates, bugs, etc. are going to be addressed by the developer. If they are not then you’ll have to find another developer or online WordPress Maintenance Service that can jump in where they leave off.

The Cons of a Pre-made WordPress Theme

To a large extent, the downsides of choosing a pre-made theme depend on who you buy from. Is their code clean? Do they follow the recommended WordPress development best practices? Such as separating out core functionality from theme design. What’s their support like? Do they have an active community forum for everyday troubleshooting? How often do they update? And so on.

The answers to these questions will be crucial to picking the right author or shop to buy your pre-made WordPress theme from. Only after these questions are answered correctly will you be able to look at the basics like price point, theme design and features.

Assuming you get all of that right, the one con that will always follow you no matter which pre-made theme you choose is limited customizability. Especially if you’re buying a theme because you’re unable to get what you want out of a theme you can create or customize on your own. For the most part, you’ll have to stay within the boundaries set up by that theme author and customize only the basics like theme colors, fonts and images.

Final Thoughts

I always like to close posts like this with an assurance that there is no right answer that covers all cases. As I mentioned during the post, your website is extremely important and a good deal of thought should go into how it is created and what purposes it will serve. So whatever you decide (pre-made or custom) you’ll want to take as many factors into account as possible before making your final choice.

My personal preference and what I recommend to my friends and clients, is to find a WordPress theme framework capable of doing what you want. If there is an existing child theme for that framework that suits your needs then you’re set. If not (and you’d like some other custom elements) then hire a developer that specializes in working with that framework.

Ideally you’ll get the best of both worlds: a solid framework from a reputable WordPress development shop that has great support, updatability, community, etc. and you’ll also get the custom elements you’re after too. In this way it might be possible to keep costs down to a minimum while still getting the custom look and functionality you’re after.

What are your thoughts on custom vs pre-made WordPress themes? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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Hi! I'm Nathan B Weller: writer, book lover, and digital publisher. I use WordPress to launch blogs, products, businesses and portfolios for myself and my clients. If you'd like to see what I'm up to on a regular basis stop by my website at www.nathanbweller.com.

8 thoughts on “Custom vs Pre-made WordPress Themes – A Look at the Pros & Cons

  1. IMHO the best is to have whatever WP theme that suits your needs but that YOU understand (both the function & the the code of!). This maybe custom made or prebuilt ( & you do not need to spend any money on it-there are many great & free themes in WP theme directory).
    This ideal of understanding your WP theme code is probably beyond the scope/means of many users but I do recommend learning the basics of WP themes. I would recomend building your own custom WP theme (& you can take time for this and there are plenty of resources on the net to help). This is a good way to learn about WP themes & help you to understand your theme. Again imho it is worth the time and effort to do this and so to understand something about WordPress themes and your own WordPress theme. However if you need help with WP themes there are many experts around and if you want you can ask me too! Enjoy your WordPress theme :-)

  2. I’m currently debating this very issue, custom or premade, for my blog. I’ve found some developers that I can work with for a custom theme but I’ve also found a nice premade theme I could buy for a lot cheaper. Given my limited budget right now, I’m likely going premade but I still desire a custom theme. I wish prices were so ungodly high for a single custom theme.

  3. Good post – I agree with it all and really think it comes down to money as most things do and who is using the WordPress install. Is it a casual, a pro, a coder, a designer, an average joe, etc. I personally love finding pre-made themes and hacking away at them to meet my look. Been thinking about using a framework though as you mentioned, might save a little money in the long run.

  4. I like your post. However, I must not be charging enough. It says “It’s not going to cost you hundreds of dollars (…), but thousands.” My average charge for developing custom themes is $600. That includes about 3 page templates, ability to change out slides on home page sliders, ability to change header images on internal pages and a few other items. I charge more when building special features with custom post types. My average time on a them is 8-12 hours. Am I not charging enough? Thanks!

  5. This is always an interesting point, some client know that they can buy a premium theme for less than $50 so to build a custom theme you really need to understand the benefits of doing this. A custom theme will always be better than a premium theme, this is because a premium theme has to have loads of different functionality where a custom theme doesn’t need to be as flexible. With page loading times a custom theme will always load quick and will always have to make less calls to the database.

    Open a header.php file from a premium theme, how many times do you see the function bloginfo()? This makes a database call each time, the result of this function can most of the time be hardcoded in a custom theme.

    But it all comes down to price, if the client has a budget of less than $500 might be better to get a premium theme and customise it, else I would always build a custom theme.

  6. Good article, but it’s missing a few points IMHO

    * Custom themes, bespoke built will take a lot longer to develop, test & deploy
    * Custom themes may not work with all plugins, just because its built for you doesn’t mean it’s better built; from my experience this is far from the reality
    * Off the shelf is quicker, lower cost and, typically, easier to throw away

    As you can tell, I’m a fan of basing sites on pre-built themes – in the same way as I think re-inventing the wheel or ploughing your own furrow is wasteful. If you’ve made the leap to use a framework such as WP, why go down the self-creation route? If you’re determined to do that then bespoke build the whole site, CMS and platform; whilst you’re at it you may as well hand cut your own web server, OS & database engine :roll

    Pricing is not, I believe, the issue – the client or company will pay for the value of what is delivered, not the cost of the production time or theme.

    The WP market space had a lot of growing up to do, the next step is getting rid of the fear of charging more than 4 figures for deploying a $50 theme.

    My 2p

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