Choosing a New WordPress Theme: Custom Design vs. Premium

One of the great features of WordPress is that the content (data) and presentation (look and feel) are separated, making it relatively easy to change the ‘skin’ of your website without making any changes to the content you already have in place.  While all of the content for your site is stored in the WordPress database, the part of your WordPress website that controls the look and feel is called the theme.

Custom Design or Pre-made

For your WordPress theme you’ve always had two choices: custom design or a pre-made theme.  WordPress has always had a selection of pre-made themes available for free or low cost created and maintained by the developer community.  Initially, these were very basic and your choices were few, resulting in a ‘cookie cutter’ experience for your users with limited ability to customize the appearance of the site.  It was a good option if you were on a very tight budget as you wouldn’t have to pay for the design and development of a custom theme, but you’d be getting a rather ‘blah’ product as a result.

Times Have Changed: Premium WordPress Themes

premium-theme-shanikoholstersIn recent years, the number of pre-made WordPress themes has exploded, as has the quality and customization features of these themes.  Nowadays, you can browse dozens of huge WordPress theme repositories that feature thousands of premium themes for purchase, typically for less that $100.  These themes are grouped into categories as diverse as ‘business’ and ‘ecommerce’ but also as specific as ‘Italian restaurant’ and ‘yoga’.  There are also smaller boutique theme vendors who specialize in a specific type of theme, such as scrolling parallax themes, or themes for nonprofits.  Though each vendor and theme varies, in general they are coded to high standards, responsive, flexible, and look fantastic.  Also, since there are so many themes now available and they are highly customizable, it’s much less likely you’ll have someone come to your site and say “I’ve been here before, haven’t I?” as would often be the case in the past when there were only a handful of pre-made themes to choose from.  Also, further modifications to the theme can always be done by a talented development team, although depending on how flexible the ‘bones’ of the theme are, this can often be time consuming.

Premium Theme Advantages

  • Cost savings vs. designing and building a custom theme.
  • Many thousands of choices in various categories.
  • Typically well built, modern, and supported.
  • Customization options available, including color, font, layout, sidebars, etc.
  • Further customization beyond settings can be made by a skilled development team.

Premium Theme Disadvantages

  • Limited customization options out of the box, and depending on how rigid the ‘bones’ of the theme are, it may be time consuming to make further modifications through the code.
  • Not all themes are created equal – sometimes a theme that looks good in the demo, turns out to be less flexible and well built in real life.
  • If the theme author stops maintaining it, compatibility or security issues could come up over time.
  • Other websites will be using the same theme, giving your site less of a truly unique look.
  • Foregoing the design process makes it more difficult to identify your specific business needs and how to use your website to accomplish your goals.

Premium Theme Repositories

Here is just a sampling of some of the WordPress theme repositories and vendors we’ve worked with.

Custom WordPress Theme

custom-theme-design-maximummedicalsolutionsIf it’s important that your site has a completely unique look and feel, and you have specialized functional or presentational needs, a custom theme will always be your best option.  There is no substitute for spending time with a professional design and marketing expert to meet your unique needs.  A good designer will work with you to understand your business needs and branding, and turn that into a visual design with specific calls to action and functionality to engage your customers and improve your bottom line.  Once the design phase is done, a talented development team will build your custom theme to bring the design to life as a fully custom website, with all the flexibility that WordPress is known for.

Custom Theme Advantages

  • You will be getting exactly what you want with no compromises.
  • Spending time in the design process helps identify your specific business needs and how to use your website to meet your goals.
  • If built on a well supported platform or parent theme, your theme will be easy to maintain and stay up to date with the latest WordPress updates.
  • Future customization or changes to the theme can be done at any time.
  • You’ll have a 100% unique website.

Custom Theme Disadvantages

  • Higher cost vs. using a premium theme.
  • If poorly built and/or not maintained by the developer, compatibility or security issues could arise.


So which option should you choose for your new or outdated website?  It’s a personal choice that comes down to both budget and business needs, but the good news is that once you have a WordPress site, you can always choose to change your theme without affecting your content.

As the product offerings have improved, we have been building more websites for budget limited clients using premium themes than in the past.  Still, there is never any substitute for a fully custom solution, and we have a talented design team to help you identify and apply your unique business needs to your website.  Drop us a line using the form to the right, and we’ll be happy to meet with you to discuss the pros and cons of each option, and help determine which is the best fit for your organization.

Work With Us

We've been building websites for over twenty years, and have learned a thing or two about how to make web projects go smoothly.