Aug 19, 2021
12 Best WordPress Theme Frameworks to Design Freely in 2021
If you own a WordPress site, opting for a WordPress framework can provide you with a much wider choice of design customization options.
These include changing the layout, functions, and overall design of your site to make it exactly the way you want it to be.
This article will explain what a WordPress framework is and how it differs from a WordPress theme. We’ll also list the 12 best WordPress frameworks and explain their advantages and disadvantages to help you make the right choice.
What are WordPress Theme Frameworks?
WordPress frameworks are code libraries that can be used as a base for WordPress themes.
They act as a foundation and include the basic features and design details needed to build a WordPress theme. Frameworks can speed up your site’s development process as there’s no need to build a theme from scratch.
WordPress theme frameworks come in two primary types – in-house frameworks and independent frameworks.
Before we get deeper into the functions of WordPress frameworks, you need to understand how child themes work.
A child theme is a copy that inherits attributes of its parent theme. It keeps the framework folder separate, so when a new core WordPress update rolls out, you won’t lose all of your work. Child themes can also serve as a backup in case of development errors.
WordPress Codex has in-depth resources to help beginners get started if you want to learn more about WordPress theme development.
How is a WordPress Theme Framework Different From a WordPress Theme?
The main difference between a WordPress framework and a WordPress theme are the customization options. As theme frameworks are intended primarily to aid website development, their code libraries and tools are more suitable for extensive modifications.
Meanwhile, WordPress themes are ready-to-use from the get-go. While users can tweak the design, the customization is limited because they come with fewer code options and tools.
The Pros and Cons of Using a WordPress Framework
If you’re still unsure whether you should use a WordPress framework, consider the following advantages and disadvantages:
- Tons of built-in functionality – this ranges from extensive code libraries and custom hooks to pre-made widgets and a drag-and-drop feature, which eases and speeds up development.
- More efficient – they’re built using the best development practices and peer-reviewed by professional contributors, so they tend to be more secure and well-coded.
- Huge communities and resources – popular theme frameworks have a wide range of developer networks behind them, which you can reach out to for tips and support.
- Future-proof – old customization won’t become obsolete every time there is a new core update. This allows developers to make changes accordingly without losing their work.
- Learning curves and limitations – the custom code can take a while to master, and each framework has limitations that can only be overwritten with patches or complex tweaks. You can refer to our guide to help you improve your coding skills.
- Price – the abundance of features typically doesn’t come cheap, especially if you need priority support and updates.
- Deprecated features – as your theme is highly dependent on your framework’s code, some features are at risk of being deprecated if it’s not up-to-date with the latest WordPress core update.
The Best WordPress Theme Frameworks for 2021
To help you find the most suitable WordPress framework for your site, we have compiled a list of the best options on the market. Here are our top picks for the best WordPress theme frameworks with their pros and cons:
- Notable Features: tons of child theme options, widgets, and design tutorials.
- Best Suited For: theme developers looking for a speed-oriented framework.
- Price: $59.95/license, $360/year (Pro).
- Pros: minimalist, clean code for fast performance, well-supported.
- Cons: expensive, steep learning curve.
Genesis Framework is one of the most popular WordPress theme frameworks. While it’s comparatively not as feature-heavy as the other options on this list, it excels in efficiency. This framework is well-coded, secure, and SEO-friendly, both on PC and mobile devices.
Genesis Framework offers lots of attractive child themes to use as a base, which can be installed in one click. The framework theme customizer allows users to change colors, elements, and other design attributes in real-time.
This WordPress theme framework offers three primary page templates to choose from: Archive, Blog Page, and Default. There are various selections of widgets to enhance these pages’ features. You can also extend the functionality using custom code.
However, Genesis Framework lacks in terms of styling options. For instance, color-change can only be made on the site-level instead of individual parts unless you install the Genesis Design Palette Pro plugin.
Also, the default minimalist style makes most complex customization difficult without advanced coding, making Genesis Framework unsuitable for novice users.
You can pay a one-time fee of $59.95 to get the framework and one theme to use this tool with. Or, you can subscribe to the Genesis Pro plan for $360/year to access all theme options, more layouts, and support.
- Notable Features: version control, automatic updates, can be used to build plugins as well.
- Best Suited For: theme developers looking for a highly extendable and free WordPress framework.
- Price: free.
- Pros: open-source, over 300 child theme selections, highly extendable.
- Cons: no priority support, a steep learning curve.
If you’re looking for an open-source theme framework, consider Cherry Framework. It’s built on the latest version of Bootstrap, ensuring fully responsive websites. This tool can also be used to develop plugins.
One notable feature of the Cherry Framework is its modular system. It allows simultaneous usage on multiple projects while keeping all changes up-to-date with the latest version history. Users can also create multiple backups and restore them at any point.
The open-source nature of Cherry Framework makes it highly extendable and less restrictive. Users can contribute to the tool’s code repository in GitHub and be directly involved in this framework’s development.
There are also Cherry shortcodes that enable users to add content and elements without having to code from scratch. These shortcodes can be directly inserted into the visual editor. Some shortcode examples include parallax image settings, extra CSS classes, and style presets.
Users can choose from templates such as FAQ, Services, Our Team, and Testimonials when it comes to post types. There are also plenty of widgets to add functions such as showing ads, social links, and post categories.
The framework’s panel is organized into the General, Logo & Favicon, Navigation, Slider Settings, Blog, Portfolio, and Footer categories. Despite the straightforward division, the dashboard might take some time to get used to, as it’s rather clunky and cluttered.
Moreover, there is no dedicated support. If you need help, you can ask the community forum.
It’s also worth noting that while the framework itself is free, the demo themes are not. In general, you need to pay between $25/license to $35/license to purchase a Cherry child theme.
- Notable Features: drag-and-drop, site-wide design elements, reusable custom sections.
- Best Suited For: beginners who are looking for a user-friendly visual framework.
- Price: $89/year or $249/license.
- Pros: intuitive interface, comprehensive features, the templates have an advanced code editor with a clean design.
- Cons: the abundance of features can be overwhelming for beginners to master, custom shortcodes can’t be used with other page builders.
Divi by Elegant Themes offers an all-in-one solution for WordPress site design. Although it describes itself as being primarily a page builder, Divi lets you customize your WordPress site from the ground up.
It comes with tons of customization features, such as over 40 design elements and 800 layouts. Assets such as icons, royalty-free stock photos, and illustrations are added weekly. You can also enhance your website’s look with dynamic animations, background videos, color filters, and various hover styles.
Thanks to its extensive features, Divi can create all kinds of themes and websites, whether it’s a landing page or a large eCommerce platform. Business websites, in particular, can benefit from the many WooCommerce modules at the ready.
The advanced code editor is straightforward to use. It has such valuable features as syntax highlights, color labels, auto-complete, and a well-documented code library.
If you need to reuse custom sections or elements, use the framework’s Divi Library feature. What’s more, Divi supports fully responsive editing, so your website’s edits and effects are displayed correctly across all devices and browsers.
While the available amount of features might overwhelm some users, customer support is available 24/7 via live chat and email.
If you’re interested in purchasing this framework, there are two pricing options to consider – $89/year or $249/license.
- Notable Features: style manager, layout editor, builder blocks.
- Best Suited For: website owners looking to design mobile-responsive WordPress themes and websites without coding.
- Price: $80/year (Foundation Pack), $150/year (Developer Pack), $197/year (All Access Pass).
- Pros: fully responsive design, over 100 Page Builder themes to choose from.
- Cons: the themes are only included in the most expensive plan, clunky interface.
iThemes offers a wide variety of premium WordPress themes, plugins, and tools. With this framework, users can create a fully functional theme or website in no time without having to write any code.
Its primary features include a layout editor, a style manager, and the option to use builder blocks. There are more than 100 child themes to choose from, with varying layouts and color schemes.
While the layout editor isn’t as flexible as other WordPress theme frameworks, it’s pretty straightforward to use. It enables users to customize headers, widgets, content modules, and optional layout extensions. Some pre-made layout templates provided include portfolio, magazine, and image grid.
Further customization can be done with the builder’s Style Manager plugin. Users can configure backgrounds, format headers, style comments, or add various navigational elements.
What’s more, changes made using this plugin can be set to apply site-wide or only to particular pages and posts. Live previews are available so you can see how the edits look to visitors in real-time.
Last but not least, iThemes offer various content blocks that can enhance your website. The available blocks are Restaurant, Church, Events, and Audio.
If you’re interested, iThemes is available in multiple pricing options. The most affordable of them all is the Foundation pack, which costs $80/year.
All packages come with dedicated technical support and the Style Manager plugin. However, if you want to unlock all theme options, you have to purchase either the Developer Pack for $150/year or pay $197/year for the All-Access Pass.
- Notable Features: visual editor, grid layout, snapshot backups.
- Best Suited For: business owners, freelancers, or designers looking for an easy-to-use framework.
- Price: $89/year (Standard), $199/year (Deluxe).
- Pros: ease of use, compatible with most plugins, flexible.
- Cons: need to pay more to get the block extensions in Standard, lack of theme options in the starter plan.
One of the most notable of Headway’s features is its grid system, which makes dragging and dropping elements much smoother.
Aside from the drag-and-drop feature, Headway also sports point-and-click dropdown menus to adjust the element attributes like size, margin, and borders.
Most importantly, if you mess up your edits, you can return to the various backup snapshots, saving you time.
There are also blocks that enable users to add various content sections on the website, like testimonials and product showcases. These blocks work just like plugins, which you can install and enable. However, it’s important to note that these extensions cost extra unless you buy them with the Deluxe plan.
Similarly, the Standard plan for $89/year doesn’t offer many theme selections. You’ll get the Whiteboard starter theme and another one of your choice. If you wish to unlock all of the themes and features Headway has to offer, the Deluxe tier costs $199/year.
6. Thesis 2.0
- Notable Features: point-and-click elements, various landing page templates, modular content.
- Best Suited For: experienced developers or tech-savvy users who want to create a fully functional website with a simple design.
- Price: $87/year (one site), $187/year (five sites), $297/year (20 sites).
- Pros: easy maintenance, fast performance, search engine optimized.
- Cons: lack of custom theme options, steep learning curve, clunky interface.
If you want to build simple custom theme designs, then we recommend Thesis 2.0 Framework. This WordPress theme framework is lean, optimized for speed, and SEO-friendly. It’s also easy to maintain.
One notable feature of this theme framework is modular content. Essentially, it’s the option to save custom elements and layouts for reuse. You can set it to apply on all templates made using this framework or just on individual sections.
While there are some drag-and-drop elements, it’s closer to point-and-click. Elements can be placed within a hierarchical structure, creating an organized, linear layout. However, this can make the design too simplistic, depending on the needs of your site.
The interface of Thesis 2.0 may also take a while to get used to. It’s cluttered, clunky to navigate, and some feature names are not very intuitive. For instance, layout elements and widgets are called Boxes, while CSS snippets are labeled as Packages.
The above factors raise the learning curve for beginners, making this theme framework harder to use for those who are new to website design.
The Thesis 2.0 framework comes with the Focus theme package that offers technical support and various content presentation styles. The prices vary based on how many websites you have, with a one-website license costing $87/year.
- Notable Features: intuitive layout manager, visual editor, mega menu style option.
- Best Suited For: non-tech-savvy users looking for a free WordPress framework.
- Price: free.
- Pros: open-source, highly extendable, versatile.
- Cons: no built-in WooCommerce support, some missing features.
Gantry Framework is one of the best free WordPress theme frameworks on the market. It’s comparatively beginner-friendly, as it has an intuitive visual editor with drag-and-drop elements.
Plus, Gantry offers many options to structure site navigation, such as the mega menu feature that enables expandable dropdowns with all page links displayed under categories.
This theme framework also has a particle system which is similar to widgets, but can function independently outside of the content management system. As such, it can support third-party widgets.
However, Gantry is not without its limitations. For one, some features you’d usually find in other WordPress theme frameworks are missing, like parallax animation and the option to set a background image for particular elements.
If you’re a business owner who wants to implement an online store into your site, Gantry may not be the best option. This is because there is no built-in support for WooCommerce, and the workaround requires some technical knowledge.
Regardless, Gantry is a solid theme framework worth taking into account. It also has a well-established community and comprehensive documentation.
- Notable Features: drag-and-drop visual builder, lots of add-ons, plenty of supporting plugins to enhance functionality.
- Best Suited For: designers looking for an easy-to-use, affordable theme framework with comprehensive features and multiple pricing tiers.
- Price: $59/year (Single Themes), $89/year (Master Club), $249/license (Lifetime Club).
- Pros: WordPress multi-site support, various pre-made templates and sections.
- Cons: lacks some builder features, as well as header and footer options.
With over 100,000 active users, Themify is one of the leading WordPress theme and plugin providers. It’s not officially classed as a theme framework, but it delivers just as many options for customization as the other choices on this list.
The Themify Builder is intuitive and filled with lots of features to speed up the development process. Themify’s interface is straightforward to navigate and allows responsive customization and styling through a seamless grid system.
The design element options include parallax animation, sticky effects, transitions, and video backgrounds. These features can be extended further by using more than 20 Builder extensions and five Post Type Builder plugins.
What sets Themify apart from most WordPress theme frameworks is that it provides pre-made themes and includes their Photoshop files, allowing for more customization.
However, Themify is missing some convenient features like adjusting the width of a particular page. There’s also no built-in option to stylize the footer and header. The workaround for these is to use a CSS editor, but that requires technical skills.
If you’re interested in this WordPress theme framework, there are three pricing options to consider. You can buy one theme for $59/year or a Master Club package for $89/year. Alternatively, you can make a one-time purchase of $249 and get lifetime access to everything Themify Builder has to offer.
9. Hybrid Core
- Notable Features: media grabber, font loader, various utility features.
- Best Suited For: developers and tech-savvy users who need a sleek, minimalistic, open-source theme framework.
- Price: free.
- Pros: open-source, minimalistic, extensive documentation, and community support.
- Cons: steep learning curve, no visual interface.
Hybrid Core is an open-source WordPress theme framework intended for developers. It offers advanced features such as a layout API, filter hooks, and other utility functions. Also, users can choose from a wide variety of theme selections as their project’s base.
On top of the robust toolkit, Hybrid Core also offers features to implement third-party content and assets. For example, developers can use the media grabber feature that lets direct media embedding from outside sources or the font loader, enabling the integration of third-party fonts.
Hybrid Core comes with a neat templating system that lets you structure layouts without being restricted by the WordPress format. Plus, the advanced breadcrumbs system keeps everything appropriately indexed, so your website can be smoothly navigated regardless of its size.
However, as this WordPress theme framework is targeted at developers, there’s a significant lack of beginner-friendly features. To access dedicated support, you need to pay a membership fee.
- Notable Features: one-click demo installer and updates, theme options panel, live customizer.
- Best Suited For: beginners and experts looking for a user-friendly premium WordPress theme framework.
- Price: $99/year (Personal), $149/year (Business), $199/year (Agency).
- Pros: easy installation and customization process, yearly and one-time payment options, multilingual support.
- Cons: no drag-and-drop function, a short refund period of 14 days.
WPZoom offers tons of themes for all kinds of purposes, all of which are built using the company’s flagship Zoom theme framework. On top of being robust and secure, this tool is also equipped with lots of useful features.
The code is clean and optimized for search engines. Plus, it can run seamlessly on all WPZoom themes without manual installation, activation, or updates.
Users can start their projects from scratch or use any of the demo content provided to get started. Regardless of your choice, the backup feature has you covered in case you want to restore to the previous edit version.
Both beginners and seasoned developers alike can take advantage of Zoom theme framework’s clean dashboard. Through there, users can tweak the look and feel of their site, ranging from color schemes, layouts, backgrounds to banners and fonts.
Shortcodes are available to cut down on the development time of the site further. They’re used for making various custom elements such as buttons, slideshows, and tabs, all for a more dynamic website look.
Moreover, all of WPZoom is translation-ready, making your website more accessible to visitors regardless of their locales.
However, it’s also worth pointing out that the live editor doesn’t have a default drag-and-drop feature. If you want this functionality, consider pairing this WordPress theme framework with other builders such as Elementor, Visual Composer, or Beaver Builder.
Price plans are divided into annual subscriptions or one-time payments. The most affordable option is the Personal plan that starts from $99/year, while its lifetime subscription version costs $299.
- Notable Features: point-and-click editor, tons of responsive child themes, Genesis Extender integration.
- Best Suited For: developers and design freelancers looking for an all-rounder tool to tweak and edit Genesis-based themes.
- Price: $99/year.
- Pros: improved Genesis features, more than 800 design options, live preview for both the visual builder and code editor.
- Cons: cluttered interface, a steep learning curve.
While Dynamik Website Builder is the child theme of the Genesis Framework, it’s a robust standalone theme framework that’s just as good as its parent theme.
Compared to Genesis, Dynamik Website Builder is more approachable for beginners. Users can view their edits in real-time whether they use the CSS editor or the visual builder.
However, Dynamik’s editor is still relatively difficult to get used to. The interface is clunky and cluttered.
Regardless, Dynamik has lots of design options to choose from. They are categorized by sections such as header, body, sidebar, and comments, making them easier to navigate.
The custom CSS editor can also generate custom code if you have no knowledge of coding but want to make more advanced tweaks.
Dynamik Website Builder only has one plan that costs $99/year. With it, you’ll get various Dynamik Skins, dedicated support, and updates, as well as licenses that can be used on multiple sites.
- Notable Features: over 1000 Gutenberg templates, filter template dependencies, unlimited widget layouts.
- Best Suited For: site owners and designers looking for an easy-to-use theme framework regardless of their technical expertise.
- Price: Freemium. $49/year (Standard), $249/year (Unlimited).
- Pros: lightweight, compatible with any theme, flexible.
- Cons: short refund period of 14 days.
With over 1 million customers and 7 million downloads, Redux Framework is undoubtedly one of the most popular WordPress theme frameworks.
Both free and premium versions let users create starter blocks or reusable templates which can be built from scratch or from existing demos. If the templates require additional tools or software to function, the filters will let you know what’s missing.
If you want more features like unlimited widget areas, priority support, and monthly new templates, consider upgrading to the Standard ($49/year) or Unlimited ($249) plan. Keep in mind, however, that the refund duration only lasts for two weeks.
WordPress theme frameworks are convenient tools that can speed up WordPress theme and website development.
There are many different frameworks for all kinds of projects, such as blogs, landing pages, or eCommerce websites. When choosing the best option, consider the project you’re working on, your technical experience, and your budget.
To summarize, here are the top five WordPress theme frameworks:
- Gantry Framework – the most budget-friendly theme framework.
- Cherry Framework – the framework with the most features.
- WPZoom – the most beginner-friendly theme framework.
- Genesis Framework – the best framework for advanced users.
- Redux – the most popular theme framework.
We hope this list helps you select the best theme framework for your WordPress website. Good luck.