Even though Elegant Themes could be properly labeled a “Premium Theme Shop”, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a great appreciation for themes – both free and otherwise – outside of what they themselves have created.
As that is the case, I really wanted to showcase some truly amazing, beautiful and totally free WordPress themes in hopes of paying homage to other great minds in the WordPress community.
However, instead of just creating another run-of-the-mill list post, I also wanted this post to bring up some differences between free and premium themes that are worth considering when searching for your perfect theme.
Free WordPress Themes: The Pros And Cons
Free WordPress themes are great! Why? Well, because they’re free. (Duh!) But is there a bigger upside than that? Yes. Quite a few actually.
With WordPress being as popular as it is, you have a pretty large selection of free themes to choose from. In fact, the WordPress Theme Directory alone has over 2,600 free theme to choose from. With so many free themes to choose from, you can download and try out as many themes as you like until you find the perfect one for you.
Contrary to popular belief quite a few of these free themes come with some pretty decent support. However, even with all those upsides, there are still some drawbacks to the some of the themes available for download.
Though some free themes have great support, often times you get what you pay for: nothing.
This can be frustrating when you have questions or run into bugs with the theme. Also, a lack of virtual support lends to the other major downside to these types of themes. That is, they often lack the needed bug and security updates.
It takes a lot of time to keep a theme up-to-date with WordPress core updates, and just keeping it updated in general. While many designers create their themes with the best of intentions, they usually don’t have the time to devote to something that doesn’t make them any money. Therefore, when searching for a free theme, it is important that you do a bit of digging as to how old the theme is and when it was last updated. If it hasn’t been updated in the past 2 years, it’s a dud.
The last point worth bringing up could really go either way in terms of being a pro or con. Many free themes do not have a lot of features to utilize in the back-end when designing a site. As that is the case, this could be either really nice if you’re looking for something simple and easy to navigate, or it can be a total headache.
Free Theme Pros:
- They’re free (Boo-yah!)
- There is a large selection to use and try out
- Some have great support
Free Theme Cons:
- Most don’t have any support to speak of
- Eventually, some theme authors will no longer update themes
- Light on features
The cons on this list do not apply to every single free theme out on the market, however, the issues do come up from time to time so they’re still good to bring up. (*wink*)
Premium Themes: The Pros and Cons
Even though premium (i.e. paid for) WordPress themes sound like they would be the best option for you and your site, there are still some drawbacks to consider. Many times, when people hear the word “premium theme”, they often think that means it’s better; however, that isn’t always the case.
Every WordPress theme is different, therefore, the back-end options, theme functions, and code vary from theme to theme. For example, some themes make it easy to change things like color or font, while others don’t. It’s really just a toss up.
Also, community and support for even these paid themes or memberships can be a bit lacking. But again, that’s not a blanket statement. Here are at Elegant Themes, the vast majority of the people behind the scene is support staff. Why?
Because Nick and his team wanted to create an online community of loyal customers. Any good business person knows that you can only do that by providing great products and amazing customer service. I’ve always been treated well here, and that’s the reason why I use their themes and recommend them at any chance I get.
Another drawback that keeps many from opting into a premium theme is the fact that you have to pay – and the price can be a doozy…
The cost for themes generally ranges anywhere from the comfortable price of $30 and on up to a staggering $200 or more. However, many casual bloggers and others who are just starting out in the online business world, often find it hard to justify paying a high fee for a theme(s) that they may not want to use after they’ve purchased it.
Now, I don’t want this to sound like I’m dogging on premium themes – no way Jose! Premium themes and theme shops have some major features that usually put them leaps and bounds ahead of many free themes out on the market.
Premium themes often have more features and functions than the latter, and price isn’t always such a drawback. For example, Elegant Themes sets a reasonable starting price for their over 80 themes. Plus, all of their themes come with the same ePanel so that you don’t have to keep re-educating yourself with every new theme of theirs.
I can’t begin to tell you how much a time-saver that is!
Premium Theme Pros:
- Tend to have more back-end features and functions for a more powerful site
- Most are continually updated
- Generally have great customer support and documentation
Premium Theme Cons:
- Some themes and theme shops don’t have the best support…
- Things can get a bit pricey
- More features means it will probably take more time to learn how to use the theme
So far we’ve covered free and premium themes, but did you know that there is a third option? There is, and it’s sure to please many WordPress users.
Freemium Themes: The Digital Love Child Of Free and Premium Themes
Freemium? Yep, you read that right – freemium. Obviously, the word is a combination of the words Free and Premium, but just what does that mean? Actually, it’s pretty awesome. A Freemium theme is the best of both worlds:
It is a free theme (generally) from a premium theme shop.
Why is that so awesome? Because not only do you get a free theme; you get a free theme from a place who will provide support and regular updates to said theme. Those free themes will often still be lite on features, and don’t always have the exact same level of support as a paid theme, but you get the peace of mind that you may not get with another free theme.
In short, Freemium themes are amazing!
Our Top 20 Pick Of The Best WordPress Themes
After scouring the web for some truly great WordPress Themes, we were finally able to narrow down our top pick. Almost all of the themes that you will come across on the list are freemium themes, but with a few exceptions.
In this way, the team and I felt that we could supply you guys with the best of the best. Why? Because you deserve it!
Now let’s dive in.
It only seems right to kick off our list with the Freemium theme offered by, Elegant Themes.
Serene is a responsive blogging theme that marries power with simplicity. The theme allows you to add new background color on a post by post basis, and it supports 6 custom post types: article, video, audio, gallery, quote and link. And since it is from Elegant Themes, you can rest assured that the theme will see updates when it’s needed.
It’s an amazing theme that would be perfect for a “content first” type of blog.
The Arcade Basic theme just seemed to pretty to not be included.
The unique font with a fullwidth picture background, along with a simply great design is what really won me over. Arcade Basic is free, however, it’s functions are still a bit limited.
You can try this basic version out and if you fall in love with it, then you have the option to upgrade to the premium version.
Snaps is a portfolio style theme by WordPress theme shop, Graph Paper Press. For a free theme, this one certainly comes out ready to strut its stuff.
Besides being a fully responsive theme, Snaps comes with a whole array of customization options along with free lifetime updates.
Though it is a theme that would seem best for a photographer or graphic designer, the theme comes with 7 post formats that can each be made to look rather unique. Therefore, the theme can really work for any blogging project that you had in mind.
Though not a premium shop per say, I still really like FabThemes because of their motto: Free to use; no junk code.
It’s reassuring when a theme shop puts it all out there like that. Thier Rivera theme could easily be defined as a multipurpose theme. Are you a blogger? photographer? small business? Well, it could work for any and all those purposes.
The theme’s features allow you to set up a custom homepage packed with 3 customizable widgets and a fullwidth (and responsive) jQuery picture slider; it also has a portfolio layout – just in case you were wondering.
With nearly 245,000 downloads and a five star rating, this theme warranted some attention. The Hueman theme is one of the more unique Blogging/Magazine style themes in the WordPress Directory. There is just something about the mixture of bright colors and fresh layout that really makes this theme stands out.
Not only is it nice on the eyes, but the features within the theme are both long and impressive: responsive layout, multiple sidebar layout options, 4 footer widgets, localisation support, easy logo upload and much more!
With as well at this theme has been doing, I’m sure that the author is going to provide a premium version of the theme in the near future in order to financially handle the support that undoubtably comes with such a popular theme.
In the mean time, this is a pretty amazing free theme that deserved the mention.
Moesia is probably one of the best free themes of 2014 that I’ve seen so far. It not only takes into consideration this year’s fads – parallax scrolling and bold font – but it has a ton of options and power packed inside.
You can use what they call, Blocks, to build your custom homepage; the WordPress Customizer lets you change colors, and it’s 100% translation ready. All and all, it’s a pretty sexy theme. Two thumbs up!
Starter is an aesthetically pleasing one-page WordPress theme by theme shop, ThemeUm.
It has the beautiful parallax scrolling effect, Google fonts, and a stunning portfolio layout that is sure to grab some serious attention. This would be perfect for a small business or a freelancer looking to display their work in a way that stood out above the crowd.
WooCommerce has quickly risen in the ranks as the most popular free e-commerce plugin for WordPress users. The SoCute theme offers a great option for people on a budget who want to start an online store without the added cost of buying a theme just yet.
The nice thing about the SoCute WooCommerce theme is that even though you have the option to buy the premium version, you can first try the free version to see if it’s worth the money. The free version of the SoCute theme, though limited, still comes with documentation to help you navigate the theme.
With a full-screen photo background, Lensa puts your photography in center stage.
You can tell that the teams at Colorlab put a lot of thought into making this theme appeal to photographers.
No matter what your screen size is, your photos will resize to look great. And even though it is a great theme for photographers, the theme has a nice and clean blog layout along with other features like localization, cross-browser compatibility, and custom short codes to make it a nice blogging theme in general.
Want to upload your pictures from Flikr, Picasa or Instagram? No problem! Use their API keys to easily integrate your photos from those other places. Oh, and did I mention that you the theme is WooCommerece and Jigoshop compatible? This is all rather impressive for a free theme.
WPExplorer has a long track record of producing both great content on their blog, and amazing free themes. Their free theme, Thoughts, is one of my favorite.
It is a very simple WordPress theme for sharing, well… your thoughts! Though it has no widgetized areas or sidebars, the theme is responsive and supports 7 post formats: standard, gallery, audio, video, quote, link and image.
Overall, the theme is clean with bold font and colors to really make things stand out.
There is something so beautiful about simplicity, and the December theme is a great example of just that.
The layout is perfect for a simple but engaging blog. The featured image for the blog post along with the border to set off the sidebar adds some dimension that would leave it feeling bare if you didn’t have them there.
The theme has an obvious feminine appeal, but a small snippet of CSS could change the color scheme to whatever you’d like it to be. This theme has all the basic stuff to get you started with nice blog.
Though a relatively new theme shop, WooThemes really came out with a bang. Not only are they the creators of the greatly loved plugin, WooCommerce, but they also have some pretty great free themes available for the world to use.
Though the Mystile theme can come off looking a little bland, the theme actually has a lot to offer – especially if you view it as a framework theme. The homepage is customizable with the ability to add a custom header image, display featured products and show your latest blog posts.
Not only does the theme give you all the features that come from the WooCommerce plugin (product pages, shopping cart, checkout page, Ect.), but the theme also supports multiple page templates: standard, fullwidth, archives, contact page, sitemap, tags, timeline, and image gallery.
Themes Kingdom produces some of my favorite free themes in the WordPress market, including this one – the Widely theme. Its power is in its minimalistic design, coupled with its clean portfolio page template.
The Widely theme allows you to set a nice featured image that is displayed at the top of every post and supports video post formats as well. If you’re looking for something clean and minimal in design, then this is a great place to start.
The DW Timeline theme is both stunning and unique when it comes to looks and layout. The theme has a visually pleasing header image and a timeline type of layout the reflects the Facebook timeline that many have come to know and love.
The backend theme options make it easy to upload a logo, change font, background image, and colors too. No coding needed there. The theme also offers you some nice flexibility by with 6 different post formats: standard, gallery, video, quote, status and audio.
DW Timeline is certainly a refreshing take in the WordPress theme world.
As I mentioned before, the Themes Kingdom theme shop create some of my favorite free WordPress themes around. The Danko charity theme was another theme from them that just had to be put on the list.
Danko is already integrated with the Paypal Gateway to make taking donations to your cause or non-profit organization as simple as a few mouse-clicks. However, the theme offers more features that are sure to be important any charity site.
It has a clean block style blog layout to keep readers up-to-date with things, is cross-browser compatible to insure your site can be viewed on the most popular browsers, and it has custom widgets to insert in your sidebar that allow you to show a Twitter stream or recent posts.
The Multi Web Design theme by Crocoblock is probably one of the most powerful free themes that I’ve ever seen. The theme is a child theme for the ever popular Cherry Framework (also free) which means that it’s one step a head of the game in terms of WordPress best practices.
It is a fully responsive theme, supports 6 post format types, has over 80 shortcodes, and is WooCommerce and Jigoshop ready. Its other powerful features include easy customization options (font, unlimited color options, logo and favicon upload, Etc.), it’s SEO ready, and fully supports the WPML Multilingual plugin for language translation.
Not sure it is what you’re looking for? Well, thankfully it’s free, so why not give it a test drive?
The Flozo theme manages to bring together bright colors, bold font, and textured backgrounds to create a business theme that really pops.
The boxed slider and portfolio layout on the homepage would make it easy to display your work and blog posts. The backend of the theme is pretty simple, but the design is precise and appealing. Though a boxed layout theme, Flozo still has a that little something to catch your eye.
Staying on the topic of bold font and colors, the Solon theme from aThemes definitely deserved a spot on our list.
Solon takes your average blogging theme layout and spices it up a bit with a bright splash of color in the header and a contrasting color for the sidebar to help create some depth and pizazz to the look and feel of the theme.
It has a built in featured post slider and CSS animations that reacts to your mouse with you hover over it. Also, each blog post allows you to add a featured image that will display over the post title in the blog to help make things pop. All and all, it’s a pretty slick looking theme, and free ain’t bad!
The Sparkling theme by Colorlib is about as close to a perfect free blogging theme as you can get. The team at Colorlib definitely took the idea of a freemium theme to the max with this one. In fact, there are so many powerful features with this theme, that it was hard for me to really narrow in on the best that it had to offer.
The theme is both responsive and retina ready to make sure that the theme is entirely pixel-perfect, and the flat design is sure to appeal to just about everyone. The theme options allow for easy changes to font and colors so that you can really make the theme your own with little to no coding knowledge. And even though the theme is free, they still offer some pretty great support to help you along the way.
Freemium all the way baby!
You made it! The final theme in our top 20 pick. Whoop-whoop!
To round out our list, I wanted to feature the Meet GavernWP theme from GavicPro. Meet GavernWP is designed on the rather impressive GavernWP Framework and is full of features that anyone and everyone can take advantage of. This may look like a blank slate, but from a designers stand point, this type of theme is a dream.
Simple code tweaks can turn this theme into just about any type of theme out there, but you can get a lot out of this theme without any coding knowledge. The theme comes with 7 templates, (archive, contact, full width, gallery, latest posts, login, and tag cloud), along with 5 post formats (aside, quote, link, video, and image.) Pretty nifty, right?
Well, that about wraps it up! Any thoughts on the themes? any particular post that you’d like to see up on the blog next? Be sure to leave a comment below!
Article thumbnail image by Author venimo / shutterstock.com