To create cutting-edge website themes for clients, designers need both skills and the right tools, such as WordPress frameworks. While there are a lot of great free WordPress frameworks, sometimes you just need more advanced features and/or licensing rights to a great existing theme. As a followup to Most Inspired’s list of 10 free WP frameworks, here’s 10 paid frameworks.
For convenience, here’s a repeat of the some of the key features that a theme designer might want from a WordPress framework:
Key features that a website theme designer might want:
- CSS framework – e.g., Blueprint or 960.gs.
- Gallery features
- Drop down menus
- Choice of fixed or fluid layout
- Choice of multiple columns
- Variety of templates
- Versatility – busy designers don’t have time to use multiple WP frameworks. If they can please the most clients with the versatility of one framework
So what do paid frameworks offer that free ones don’t typically provide? Here are some of the pluses of paid frameworks:
- More favorable licensing terms, when it comes to client or even personal needs. E.g., removal of framework branding text in footers, etc.
- Access to additional tutorial/ training materials.
- Access to email, chat or other personal help.
- Access to additional child/ starter themes.
10 Paid Frameworks
As with the previous previous article, the term “framework” is used loosely, giving WordPress theme designers a starting point for customization that includes HTML, CSS, and WordPress-specific PHP code, as well as suitable licensing terms, in case you’re creating a theme for a client.
While free WP frameworks often have community support behind them, sometimes you just need a quicker or more specific response, or need a more suitable, professional-looking theme with which to start customizations. Here are ten paid WP frameworks, below, to choose from.
- A few of these frameworks have free versions which likely appeared in Most Inspired’s previous article on free WordPress Frameworks.
- Some these paid frameworks have affiliate programs, so if you find one or two that you really love, you might be able to recoup your costs or even earn some side income.
- WordPress and PHP version compatibility information is shared whenever it was readily available.
1. Ashford Pro
The basic version of Ashford, which has a significant number of freebie features, was covered in the previous article, 10 Free WordPress Frameworks. In addition to what’s available in that version, Ashford Pro offers additional features, as listed below.
- Child theme starter kit — Plus automatic discounts on child themes in the Ashford store.
- Credits — Allows removal of Ashford branding credits from custom theme footers.
- Gallery — Comes with Ashford Lightbox plugin [example].
- Support — Unlimited email support for unlimited sites — via Ashford Pro Cohort Google Group.
- Templates — Comes with Ashford Pro Blogger template.
- Upgrades — Access to future releases of Ashford Pro are part of the deal.
Elemental is from the Pro Theme Design, one of whose founders is Darren Hoyt, who created the ever-popular magazine theme Mimbo and its Pro version, as well as the AllTop-like Accumulo theme. Elemental is intended for both designers who want to customize a theme, and bloggers who simply want to tweak a few controls from the WordPress control panel.
- Admin bar.
- Affiliate program – Offers 20% of every sale made through Pro Theme Design. This applies to any of the themes they sell, not just the Elemental WP framework.
- Appearance — Masthead image and logo control; typography controls; gravatar support; automatic thumbnail resizing; custom content areas via action hooks.
- Columns — 2-, 3-, or 4-column page templates. Column size controls.
- Localization and translation support.
- Menus — Animated drop-down navigation.
- Support — User forum, documentation pages.
- Templates — 12 templates for a variety of uses: blogroll, contact form, image gallery, sitemap.
- Tutorials — Video tutorials.
- Widgetized — Four regions. Widgets include popular posts, Twitter, social networking.
3. Expresso 1.0
Expresso 1.0 appears to be more of a starting point than a true framework. It’s intended for business site/ blog use, with over 70 templates to start from. Currently, templates fall into four categories: beauty & health, business, leisure, and nature. The fact is, while a designer could customize Expresso, it seems geared for small businesses who want to pick a template and have a working theme out of the box. The vast majority of templates look identical to each other, with the exception of changes to the background and text colors.
- Appearance — Support for two different backgrounds.
- Colors — Single-click color change for backgrounds, borders, links, menus.
- Design — No need to switch between home page and WP Admin pages. Click an admin on the front page and edit from there. Hide to view page.
- Gallery — Slideshow that’s cross-browse and iPhone-friendly.
- Templates — 71 templates, available as a pack or individually. (See pricing info below).
- Widgets — 5 areas, including header (2), sidebars (2), and footer.
Pricing: PayPal only.
- Single license – US$97; includes 71 templates for single install.
- Multi-license – US$197; includes 71 templates for unlimited installs; allows for removal of copyright.
- Templates – US$9-29; single install only. Gives you the option to buy just a single template, which comes with the Expresso framework.
- Discounts of 10-20% per order, depending on number of items purchased.
Genesis theme framework comes from Brian Gardner, who has a score of themes to his credit, including Revolution and a number of the free themes for Performancing. The framework’s description page surprisingly has very little, considering how well document Brian’s Revolution theme was (when it was still available). However, you can get a sense of the style from the numerous sample pages in the demo. There has been some comparison of Genesis to Chris Pearson’s Thesis framework (discuss below); however, Brian points out the differences in his blog.
- Columns — 2 or 3, fixed-width.
- Comments — Threaded.
- Tutorials — Access to tutorials through private forum.
- Upgrades — No-cost access to future theme updates.
Designer Darren Hoyt, who has two entries in this list (see Elemental, above), says that Gravy “isn’t a framework in the sense of great projects like Hybrid or Thematic, which are geared toward coders with child themes, action hooks and upgrading in mind.” Gravy is aimed at “front-end designers looking for speed and consistency” when moving moving from mockups to finished WP themes. He adds, “It’s also a great tool for beginners to bridge the connection between design, markup, and template code.” This can indeed be a problem, moving from a Photoshop mockup to the final WP theme code — a fact supported by how many “PSD to WP theme” services there are online. The nice thing is that he himself has “used Gravy for years to streamline dozens of projects and wouldn’t build a site without it.”
- Appearance — Supports search-term highlighting; styling for WP125 ad plugin.
- Browsers — Compatible with IE7, IE8, Firefox 3.5, Safari 4.
- Columns — 12-column grid based on 960.gs CSS framework.
- Comments — Supports styling for author comments; has threaded comments; can separate trackback and comments sections.
- CSS — Uses 960.gs. Includes a “print” stylesheet.
- Functions – Includes functions for all WP 2.8+ features.
- License — GPL license.
- Localization support.
- Menus — Uses animated and multi-level Superfish (jQuery) dropdown menus.
- PSD — Comes with Photoshop files, which are optimized for Adobe CS3 & CS4, but require the Arial and Georgia fonts. Files include homepage and single-post layouts, pre-cropped 125×125 ad files, various icons and favicon. Additionally, files are based on a 12-column 960.gs CSS grid, and guides and layers are precisely placed to match HTML/ CSS. CSS and PSD naming scheme is optimized for easy conversion. Includes sample multi-level dropdown menu.
- Templates — Custom archive, author, blog and full-width templates.
- Widgets – Widgetized sidebar
6. Hybrid + membership
Justin Tadlock’s Hybrid framework is itself free, and is one of the more professional choices, both in features and looks. However, for a US$25/year subscription, you get exclusive membership that provides access to tutorials and support forums. (The subscription fee is apparently to help defray hosting costs.) This is in addition to the free Hybrid community forums, where you can freely post your requests for designers/ developers to do paid Hybrid-based theme customizations.
Features: Same as for the free package; repeated here for convenience.
- Child theme support.
- Hooks -– Action, filter, shortcode and contextual hooks.
- Localization –- Hybrid has been translated into over 20 languages.
- Plugins –- Hybrid-specific plugins.
- Templates -– over 15, including one each for Sitemap, Log In, Register functionality, and another for Twitter-style content (called Quick Post).
- Theme options support.
- Widgetized -– 8 areas.
If the WordPress sites you’re designing for are visual media-heavy, you might consider Graph Paper Press’ Modularity framework. We missed this one in our “free WP frameworks” list, but there is a free version. Both free and paid versions require membership to Graph Paper Press. “Freebies” is a free lifetime membership, which includes limited access to video tutorials but no access to the support forum. Paid memberships (pricing below) give you access to theme updates and new releases, support forum, HD video tutorials, and written tutorials. Once your subscription ends, support, updates and tutorial access ends, but you can keep whatever themes you’ve already downloaded.
For an example of how visually powerful Modularity-based themes can be, check out the gallery on the Graph Paper Press homepage, especially the sites Photography by Tone, digitalartwork, and Mira Yung. Also see Heart of Glass, and click through any item on their homepage gallery to see mini image galleries (look for numbered tabs on the bottom left of the first image on the pages you click through to).
- Affiliate program.
- Appearance — Choice between a magazine-style homepage layout and a blog style layout. Control over homepage “apps,” which can switch the theme’s roles, from blog to magazine to portfolio. Over 100 design options that can be accessed without editing any code.
- Child themes — Coming in a future edition.
- CSS — Built on Blueprint CSS framework.
- Gallery — Multiple options for visual elements, including full-screen HD video player, slideshow, Mac-style image slider, auto-generated thumbnails.
- Thumbnails — auto-generated.
- Widgetized — 4 areas.
Pricing: The Modularity framework is free, and includes 21 free themes, plus access as described above. Memberships: Quarterly (US$49), Annual ($99), Annual for Developers ($299). The latter option gives the purchasing designer and up to three clients access to themes, theme updtes, support forum, written and HD video tutorials during the subscription period. (Try searching for “coupon codes graph paper press,” or something similar, to possibly get discount codes on paid membership. Most of the time, you’ll probably have to sign up through an affiliate’s link.)
Links: Main, Demo, Signup.
ThemeFrame is a drag’n'drop interface that requires no coding to create WordPress themes. The snapshot above is of the Atahualpa theme, which is part of the WordPress.org Free Themes Directory. Flynn, the creator of the theme, claims (at least in 2009) that it’s “the most popular and best rated of all WordPress themes, free or premium…” (Ratings and download confirmation can be found at WordPress.org.) Atahualpa is an example of what you can create with ThemeFrame. The software is in Beta 7, and the (donation) price keeps going up with new releases, with the 1.0 release expected to be “$1xx,” which could mean anything.
While Atahualpa does seem to be popular enough to drive sales of ThemeFrame, the latter offering seems to be disorganized. There is either no centralized page where everything is explained, where screenshots can be found, etc., or it’s really hard to find. (Here’s a partial tool feature list.) A browser through the BytesForAll forum, where both Atahualpa and ThemeFrame are supported, shows that buyers of the tool regular have a problem finding where to download it. Its access is hidden under the ThemeFrame Member’s forum, but which you can’t see the link to until you’re manually added by an admin as a member, after your payment donation. Given one of the moderators posts that exact same information over and over again, it’d make sense to have a central ThemeFrame FAQ page to make it easy for people to get started. (The closest to that is the original ThemeFrame homepage, which little and links to the forum.)
However, ThemeFrame is included in this list because of Atahulpa’s popularity and because it’s an alternative that might suit some designers who want a desktop-based rapid WP theme prototyping tools. Paying members of the BytesForAll forum do seem to like it, from what their postings suggest. But a suggestion to creator Flynn: make it easy to find features, and throw in a few screenshots. If you already have these, make up a prominent to link over with, as it’ll likely benefit you with more donations.
- Columns — Atahualpa can be configured with 1-5 columns. Presumably, the themes you create will have at least the same flexibility, if not more.
- Interface — Desktop drag and drop interface for rapidly creating WordPress themes like the popular Atahualpa example shown above.
- License — No additional cost to supply clients with themes created with ThemeFrame. You can create your own licensing terms.
Compatibility: Based on forum member posts, up to 2.9.x.
Pricing: $100 donation for BytesForAll forum members. Price includes lifetime access, all upgrades for “Early Adopters”.
Links: Main, Forum Main, Demo.
Designer Chris Pearson has the distinction of having one of the highest Google PR (7) ratings for a personal blog ever. His custom paid WordPress themes have graced countless blogs — including those of top A/B-list bloggers — and his free themes, including Cutline, have helped establish him as one of the busiest website designers around. So it’s no surprise that his Thesis framework has become so popular amongst bloggers and online entrepreneurs/ publishers. Thesis is sophisticated enough for designers to use to customize for their clients, and simple enough for a non-designer who just wants to tweak a few of the options in the WP admin panel to quickly customize the appearance of their site. (Have a look at the showcase to see how other users of Thesis have tweaked it for their site.) There’s even a possibility that Thesis will spawn its own CMS because of WP’s limitations (see Mark Macdonald’s comment and Chris Pearson’s response).
Features: There are way too many options to list here that aren’t already well-covered in the videos at the DIYThemes site (links below). Here are some of the selling points.
- Affiliate program.
- Appearance — Typography options; control of headers, bylines, tagging, comments, sidebars and much more; resizable layout.
- Colors — change color attributes easily.
- Columns — 1, 2, or 3 column themes.
- Cross-browser compatible.
- Documentation — Tons of text and videos.
- Footer — Developer license allows for removal of footer attribution.
- Guarantee — 30 day money-back guarantee.
- Images – Set defaults for post image thumbnails.
- Updates — Developer licenses offer access to upgrades before they’re released publicly. All licenses include lifetime upgrades and access to members-only “Answers and Forums.”
- URLs — Control canonical URL behavior from WP options panel. E.g., determine how the following sample URLs for your site will behave: http//www.example.com, http://www.example.com/, http://example.com, http://example.com/, http://www.example.com/index.php, http://example.com/index.php. If you don’t control them, you lose valuable “search engine juice” because of the multiple “paths” to your site. You can do it the hard way (manually, using regular expressions in server configuration files) or the easy way, from the options panel.
- Support — Extensive forum support, with thousands of threads of discussion.
- Single license: $87 (Personal option). Can be upgraded to Developer license for an extra $77, which will increase after Thesis 2.0 is released.
- Multi-license: $164 (Developer option). Requires additional fees per client site, which are $40 per client, or can be purchased in 5- and 10-site packs at $36/site and $32/site, respectively.
- Both licenses provide access to lifetime Thesis upgrades.
10. WTF WordPress Theme Framework
WordPress Theme Framework, or WTF, minimizes the amount of work you need to do to create premium themes. Designer Gilbert Pellegrom says there’s a Getting Started Guide that is suggest reading, to determine minimum requirements before purchase of WTF. This guide is part of a larger set of documentation pages (see link below) that highlight the framework features in more detail. However, there was no readily obvious list of theme features, and also no demo link.
- Browsers — Compatible with Firefox 2 & 3; IE6-8, Safari.
- Functionality — Pre-made functionality that can be accessed from the WP admin panel (image) and includes: Setting an RSS URL; subscribe by email URL; tracking codes; navigation switcher; and more. Extended functionality that includes: Breadcrumb navigation; popular, related and future posts; Feedburner count; latest tweet; TinyURL; and more.
Compatibility: Only tested with WP 2.8 and up. Requires PHP 5.x, though some features might work with PHP 4.
Pricing: Regular license: $6, which includes single use on a commercial, personal or non-profit site. Purchase has to be made through ThemeForest. To resell a theme created with WTF, or to reuse such a theme multiple times requires an Extended license of $300. (This is based on ThemeForest’s rule that Extended licenses are 50 times the cost of a Regular license.
Links: Main, Docs.
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