WordPress starter themes and frameworks differ from one another, but they both speed up the development process of building new themes and websites. They’re hallmarks of WordPress’ open-source nature, giving developers head starts in creating new products.
They make it easier for novice developers to learn how to develop themes, and they make it quicker for experienced developers to develop new themes and frameworks. Some frameworks even make designing and building websites easier for inexperienced users.
What are Starter Themes?
Starter themes are as basic as you can get in terms of theme development, aside from starting from scratch. They typically come with WordPress core files and functions, such as template tags, hooks, filters and more. They may even include a bit of HTML and CSS, but not much else.
Using starter themes comes with a number of different benefits. Experienced developers can save time by having these basic yet necessary bits and pieces already prepared for them. They can also help experienced developers who are inexperienced with WordPress codex develop their first WordPress projects.
There are downsides to using starter themes, however. They aren’t “real” themes, so updating them with a simple click of a button is not an option. You’ll be required to keep the code and files up to date manually, which may be a hassle for some. They’re also not the best options for inexperienced users as extensive coding knowledge is required to create finished products with them.
In short, starter themes should be used by experienced and aspiring developers who want to create complete themes or theme frameworks.
What are Theme Frameworks?
Theme frameworks extend the functionality of starter themes well enough for a larger pool of users to use them to create finished websites. They’re typically shipped with the hard code all finished. All users need to do style them.
Theme frameworks come in a variety of different forms. Some are parent themes you can purchase or create child themes for. Some are completed parent themes you can style by importing “demo content” and tweaking a few settings in the live customizer or built-in framework interface. Others come with a page builder plugin anyone can use to design and build their very own website.
They don’t allow you to be as creative as you could be if you hard coded everything yourself, but they do make it much easier to build completed websites. This makes easier for inexperienced users to use WordPress to build their own websites. It can also make professional developers more productive, and the page building plugins make it possible for developers to hand off certain responsibilities to their clients, such as changing the homepage of an eCommerce site to suit a sale or product launch.
In short, theme frameworks work best when you need to build a website and don’t want to spend time coding everything yourself or don’t have the necessary skills to do so.
Underscores, or _s, is one of the most popular starter themes available for WordPress. It was developed by the team at Automattic. It’s a bare bones starter theme, only featuring a few minimalist templates and CSS layouts.
Sage is another popular starter theme for WordPress. It’s a direct competitor to Underscores. It uses a similar minimalist approach and adds a theme wrapper for base formats to ensure you don’t need to write the same template over and over again.
Gantry is a powerful theme framework capable of producing a variety of different themes, including themes that give developers the ability to offer flexibility and ease-of-use to end users.
Beans is another powerful theme framework that’s responsive, SEO-friendly and innovative. It comes with an extensive frontend library called UIkit. It’s streamlined to ensure pages only load what’s needed.
UnderStrap is a theme framework a few steps above the Underscores starter theme. It uses Underscores as a foundation and adds the Bootstrap 4 Grid framework to simplify the process of designing and creating CSS styles. It’s also a child-ready parent theme.
FoundationPress is a hybrid starter theme built on the powerful, mobile-first framework Foundation 6. Foundation is a frontend framework. Because of this, the theme comes with a number of different tools you can use to build a final product but is not capable of being a final product on its own.
JointsWP is another starter theme built with the Foundation 6 framework. It comes in two different versions you can use to build your own theme using Sass or CSS. The choice is yours.
Components is another starter theme that uses Underscores but takes it a few steps further. It allows you to generate one of six starter themes, including themes for such niche-specific sites as portfolios, businesses and magazines.
Genesis is one of the most popular theme frameworks available for WordPress. Many developers have made dedicated child themes designed to be fully compatible with the framework. You can even extend its functionality with the Dynamik Website Builder.
Thesis is another popular WordPress framework. It uses a drag-and-drop builder you can use to build your own custom skins, and you can even import pre-made skins for quick and easy site building.
Unyson is another theme framework that uses a drag-and-drop page builder on the frontend. This gives developers the ability to offer this feature to end users. It also comes with built-in extensions and a number of different options in the customizer.
TemplateToaster is a theme framework compatible with a number of different content management systems. It works in the backend of WordPress, allowing you to control headers, footers, content, sidebars, colors and more.
ZOOM Framework is another theme framework that works in the backend of WordPress. It allows you to import demo content, and it’s compatible with a number of different themes offered by WPZOOM.
Canvas is a theme framework designed by WooThemes for WooCommerce. It’s child-theme friendly and allows you to customize a variety of different options, including fonts, layouts, portfolios, custom widgets and more.
Headway Themes is a theme framework that comes with a drag-and-drop layout builder you can use to design your very own themes. Templates can be loaded in an instant, and changes can be made quickly.
Divi is a theme powered by a drag-and-drop page builder plugin called the Divi Builder. It’s one of those frameworks any user can use as it comes with pre-made content you can import and a drag-and-drop/”click-and-type” interface.
Avada is another theme framework powered by a page builder plugin. This one’s called the Fusion Builder, a live drag-and-drop editor you can use on the frontend of your website. This theme also comes with over 50 demos you can import to speed up the development process.
PageLines is a theme framework that simplifies the development process for WordPress. You design your site with a drag-and-drop layout builder and edit it with simple point-and-click operations.
The Beaver Builder framework is a theme powered by the built-in Beaver Builder page builder. It allows you to drag-and-drop different modules throughout your design and edit them with a few simple clicks.
X Theme is a theme framework powered by a built-in page builder plugin called Cornerstone. This allows you to build any type of website using the frontend, drag-and-drop layout builder. You can even import pre-made content from the developer’s large pool of available demos.
Themify offers the Themify Builder, a drag-and-drop page builder plugin you can use to design and build your very own websites. It comes with a number of different pre-defined layouts. You can even use Themify’s Ultra theme designed to be compatible with the Themify Builder.
Deciding where to start in the development process can be intimidating, but making the decision is much easier when you take your skills, deadline and requirements into consideration. For instance, if you’re experienced in web design and would like to design your first theme or theme framework, you’re better off picking one of the WordPress starter themes, such as Underscores or Sage.
You should also pick a starter theme if you need to use WordPress to build a custom website that doesn’t use features easily found in ready-to-use themes, such as a content-heavy site that uses progress bars on articles or a website that’s highly interactive.
If you’re on a strict deadline and have no need for unique features, you’re better off going with a theme framework, such as Genesis, Thesis, Gantry or Beans. If you’re not experienced in web design or will be required to hand over a few site management responsibilities to an inexperienced client, you’ll find the powerful page building features of Divi, Beaver Builder and Avada quite useful.
What’s in your developer’s toolkit? Did we miss any of your favorite starter themes or frameworks? Let us know in the comments below!
You should also check out Jump Start. As far as the theme framework concept goes, it has a unique feature called “theme bases” that allows the developer to pick how much they want to do through end-user options and how much through child theme customization. Since most website builders out there fall somewhere in the wide spectrum of developer noobie to developer pro, this gives a cool way to build knowledge and ease your way into full-blown child theme code customization over time. http://wpjumpstart.com
Please also try WP Bootstrap Starter http://wordpress.org/themes/wp-bootstrap-starter/
Your should also try Air which is lightweight and based on _s: https://github.com/digitoimistodude/air
I think some items on the list are not true theme framework such as Avada, Divi or Beaver Builder. They’re already a completed products and target to end-users.
Bootstrap to the core and has drag/drop builder. Earlier versions allowed you to code up your own components in HTML/CSS (similar to Unyson) for instant access in the builder but later versions seem to have stopped this.