Free Themes vs. Premium Themes – The Big Debate

Choosing a theme for a WordPress website is not an easy task. There are so many beautiful themes with amazing features and browsing them to choose one can be an overwhelming task. This freedom and abundance of choice is one of the most important reasons for which people choose WordPress as their CMS. The official WordPress Theme Repository alone has hundreds of free WordPress themes, which you can not only use, but also modify to meet your needs. Apart from the official theme repository, there are many Premium WordPress Theme providers, selling themes with extra options and preferential support.

WP Astra - a free Multi-Purpose WordPress theme

Choosing a Free WordPress Themes

A common myth among new WordPress users, particularly those that started using WordPress after the dawn of premium themes industry, is that free themes are probably low quality themes. Many believe that due to the growing industry of WordPress based solutions, theme developers are not developing free WordPress themes anymore. However, this is not true. In fact, free WordPress themes listed in WordPress repository, go through a rigorous review process. Some developers think that the review process is becoming lengthier and stricter. On the other hand they find it quick to develop a theme for a Premium Theme company, or resell it on their own website.

As far as incentive part is concerned, there are benefits of distributing your WordPress themes for free. Check out wplift’s free WordPress themes Busby and Photum. Many other developers distribute their themes for free to get free linkbacks, develop a portfolio, build a reputation, and to get some more paid work. So please rest assured that a free theme is not a low quality theme.

Pros and Cons of Free WordPress Themes

Making a pros and cons list is a time tested method to understand the advantages and disadvantages of anything. Lets see how free themes do on our list:


  • Price – These themes are free.
  • Freedom – You are free to use, build upon, modify and redistribute these themes.
  • Community Support – Free support is available from WordPress Community members on official forums, WordPress Codex, and IRC. Some developers also provide support on their own theme websites and forums.
  • Backward Compatibility – Due to the rigorous review process most free WordPress Themes use latest functions and hooks which will remain compatible with core WordPress for at least a couple of years and sometimes even longer than that. Even if they get deprecated they will still be supported for next few releases.
  • Easy Upgrades – WordPress automatically checks for upgrades of themes downloaded from WordPress Theme repository and notifies you as soon as a new version is available. You can then upgrade your theme with a single click.
  • More compatible with Plugins – Since support is provided for these themes through official forums, usually when a plugin doesn’t work with any of these themes; it gets reported and resolved quickly.


  • No Warranties and Obligations – When you are download and use a Free WordPress theme, it comes with no obligation or warranty of any kind. We will discuss this aspect for Premium Themes too.
  • Limited and unreliable support options – Free community support is a good option if you are not running a high priority professional website. Sometimes you would need answers to resolve things quickly and you cannot force community to answer your questions. Even the help you get may not be helpful at all.
  • Updates not regular – Even though providing upates for a free theme is easier but you will not see many themes issuing updates regularly.
  • No Instant Patches – If there is a bug in theme you might see a quick fix available somewhere on the forums but this quick fix will not be sent to you via update system.
  • Over exposure – Most popular and good themes are used on thousands of websites across the web, their design, layout and colors have been used on many websites.

Choosing a Premium WordPress Theme

Many people in the open source community believe that premium WordPress themes are unfairly priced, and an attempt from greedy people to feed and buildup empires on open source projects. I think this is totally inappropriate and incorrect.

Premium WordPress themes are actually contributions to an existing open source project. These themes provide solutions that the Open Source community cannot provide without charging money. Secondly, I think that due to the competition among theme developers, the prices are fair and in fact some themes are underpriced considering the effort their developers put on these themes.

Pros and Cons of Choosing a Premium WordPress Theme

What are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a Premium WordPress theme, lets make another list:


  • Price – paying for it gives you a sense of relief and assurance that you can make demands from the developers because you are a customer.
  • Support Options – The official theme support forums will have actual developers available for you to respond to your queries. This works out great for beginners, especially those beginners who are interested in learning the basics of theme development.
  • Feature Rich – When developing a premium theme, most developers are aware of the fact that they need to provide features that are not available elsewhere. Hence, you get a theme that is feature rich and makes things a lot easier for you.
  • Variety – Premium themes come in a variety of flavors to meet different style and type of websites.
  • Less exposed – Due to the price factor and heavy customizations built in with premium themes, they are generally less exposed and your visitors would find your design reasonably fresh.


  • Price – Not everyone can afford or is willing to pay, and sometimes a subscriber can feel that they properly over paid for a theme that does nothing special.
  • Compliance – A premium theme may not be as standard compliance as free themes on official repository which go through rigorous review process.
  • Difficult to configure – Premium theme developers, usually develop themes that are not easy for everyone to play with. A user with basic knowledge of theme development, PHP, HTML and CSS will find premium themes difficult to modify.
  • Overly Efficient – In the race to build most feature rich themes, developers could add a lot of functionality that you will probably never use and would only make configuring theme more troublesome for some users.

How To Choose The Perfect Theme

When choosing a WordPress theme you should concentrate more on the needs of your website, goals you want to achieve, your budget and your own capabilities of managing things. Considering the pros and cons of both options you need to figure out which one is better for your website. Ideally you should be looking for a theme that:

  • Provides the features, layout and functionality you need.
  • A theme that is easy to configure and customize.
  • Comes with extra features for specific websites.
  • It is regularly updated and is properly maintained by developers.
  • Comes with plenty of support options, so that you can get help if needed.

If you feel that both premium and free options have no answer for your needs, just remember that there are many developers who could make you a custom theme that would fit your needs perfectly. This is the true beauty of open source, you are never out of options here.

Noumaan Yaqoob

Noumaan Yaqoob

Noumaan is a blogger and social media expert. He loves Quora, Facebook, Wordpress, OpenSource Software and The Sims.

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9 thoughts on “Free Themes vs. Premium Themes – The Big Debate”

  1. Another nice post Noumaan keep em coming, your right there are drawbacks to both sides, it all depends on the individuals needs.

    Need a feature rich theme for a new news site etc, best to go paid. Just want a simple blog, get a free one.

    Whilst there can be no doubt there are some excellent themes available out there both free and premium at the end of the day it’s you the user who has to make the choice based on your own checklist of needs.

  2. @wpinme:disqus Exactly my point, that the decision should be made based on requirements of the project itself. There are some great news websites that use free themes, they had the resources to modify it to meet their needs so they opted for free. I guess their main reason was the freedom they had with the free theme. On the other hand, a lot of people choose premium themes even for a personal blog they just started. They have their own reasons mainly they want to standout from the beginning.

  3. Good Point NoumaanYaqoob

    There are thousand of free themes, that circulate on internet, but sometimes they serve for bad things, i mean you open door for hackers. And Themes in Premium i think are more secure and easy to use. 

    Some of free themes are difficult to add such as featured image, thumbnails to all posts and featured content. Contrary on Premium Themes you have support from Theme Creator so one plus more.. 

    It’s great to discus here.. 

    • @0505543912badeeb32ac442fecc7b3fe:disqus  yes I noticed that security is a big concern for free themes specially the ones that are not on the official repositories. The themes on official wordpress repository are thoroughly reviewed so they are a little bit more secure.

      Also I agree with you that Premium themes come with features built in and there are premium themes for every kind of website. Specially there is so much variety in Premium themes for news/magazine style themes and themes custom made for publishing different type of content.

  4. What do people think about the amount of Premium theme shops effecting the quality of free themes – are the better theme designers deciding to go paid when in the past they might have released the themes for free?

  5. I think the distinction should be made between free themes that are available in the WordPress repository and free themes that are available elsewhere. Generally speaking, you should be wary of free themes that are not in the WordPress repository, as more often than not, they contain at least spammy backlinks, or worse yet, malicious code. If you see base64 anywhere in the theme, run a mile!

  6. Hey there, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your website in Opera, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, great blog!

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