Best WordPress Drag and Drop Builders

With such a huge user base, WordPress is the world's most popular CMS. It is also the easiest to use, so it follows that there are many people using it who have little idea of coding and are more business or design oriented. The challenge is thus to create functionality for this non-technical user base that will enable them to create a theme/design/template based on their ideas, without touching any code.
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With such a huge user base, WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS.

It is also the easiest to use, so it follows that there are many people using it who have little idea of coding and are more business or design oriented.

The challenge is thus to create functionality for this non-technical user base that will enable them to create a theme/design/template based on their ideas, without touching any code.

Now that’s really tough, especially when you consider that these users might be using WordPress to create any kind of website, for example:

  • Blogs
  • Brochure sites
  • News magazine style sites
  • E-commerce sites
  • Portfolios
  • Corporate sites

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Drag and Drop Theme Building

This great challenge has not deterred a number of developers to attempt to bring to market the perfect theme builder that could help users create their own WordPress theme with no coding skills. Since no coding should be required, the simplest interface is the drag and drop interface, coupled with a number of options to user can select to achieve the end result.

So lets examine some of the most successful drag and drop theme builders out there.

Startup Framework

Startup-FrameworkThe Startup Framework by Designmodo is a theme unlike any other. It utilises a drag and drop style builder for every part of your site. Just select the blocks you want from the over 100 on offer and move them around on your canvas until you like what you see. No coding skills required, yet the result will look as professional as can be.

It works a bit differently to other themes in that, once activated, all the components of your WordPress site (header, sidebars, widget areas) become a blank canvas. On this canvas you can drag and drop any of the 100 full-width blocks to create any design you want.

These hundred blocks are split into 7 categories including header, contents, projects and more. Each one can be placed accordingly to create the different pages, customising and editing each image and text to your needs.

Editing can either be done using the inline editor or by switching to the HTML and CSS code view. It all depends on the changes you want to make and how deep you want to delve into the details of the theme’s looks.

Startup-Framework-pricing

The pricing plans on offer are three; a one website license costing $149, a three website license costing $249 and a five website license costing $349. All options include one year of updates and email support.

Request a Demo to get a better feel for what you’ll be getting before you commit to purchasing.

Get Startup Framework

Headway

Headway themes

Headway probably has the easiest user interface of all the drag and drop builders we’ve looked at.

With Headway, you start out with the grid, and you start drawing on it. You simply draw out the blocks and then select which one to display.

Headway Blocks remove the limitations of traditional web site design and layout even more. With 8 standard Block types to pick from and a slew of 3rd party Blocks, Headway gives you the tools you need to build your site to meet your’s and your audiences’ needs. From header, navigation, content to a footer. With the exclusive Block System, just draw in your Blocks where you want.

And let’s not forget about the Custom Code Block which gives you the ability to use plain text, HTML, JavaScript, PHP and WordPress Shortcodes without having to guess where to put it. Just place your code in the Custom Code Block, Save and you can see it transform right on your screen.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXiUyPX8yxw[/youtube]

You also have a layout selector within Headway. With the Headway Layout Selector, you can create unique, specific page layouts for each and every class of pages or even for individual pages. Headway lifts the barriers you have with other themes and frameworks and gives you the ability to have the site you want, right down to the individual pages or posts.

Want a different layout for your home page, about page or any other page? You can do that with the Layout Selector. Want the main blog page to be different than the single post page, no problem with the Headway Layout Selector.

In a nutshell, you can edit all single item pages or you can edit a specific page or even a specific blog post.

Once you’ve got your Blocks laid out, you can use the Headway design editor to set the visual appearance of your blocks and other elements. The totally redesigned Visual Editor makes it possible to drill down to any element on the page to style it a number of ways:

  • Fonts
  • Text, border and background colors
  • Rounded corners
  • Border styles
  • Background images
  • Line height and letter spacing
  • Text and box shadows
  • Styles for various states of hyperlinks (hover, clicked on, etc.)

Headway pricing

The pricing for Headway theme builder is $87 for the base option and $174 for the developer option.

With the developer option you get the ability to use the builder on your client sites, and also get support for your client sites. With the base option, you are restricted in usage and support to the websites you or your business own.

The developer option also includes 4 Headway extend credits ($116 value) to be redeemed on official themes and blocks from Headway Themes.

Both the base and developer options give you one year access to support, updates and documentation. The developer option of the Headway drag and drop theme builder gives you early access to beta versions.

Get Headway drag and drop theme builder

PageLines DMS

PageLines Drag Drop CMS Framework for WordPress

PageLines is responsive out of the box, the latest version in fact includes Twitter’s Bootstrap, so you know you’ve got an excellent framework to build upon.

Pagelines is also very popular among developers as it is very well-built at a code level and can easily be extended. The latest version, PageLines DMS, is quite revolutionary.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNYiWNLtk5A[/youtube]

PageLines has introduced the first-ever extension marketplace for websites. This means you’ll be able to buy and sell almost any functionality you need for your site packaged as an extension from PageLines directly.

Plans and Pricing Professional and Developer Editions

Pricing for PageLines is $8/mo for the Personal edition, $16/mo for the Business edition, and $24/mo for the Developer edition.

We have a full PageLines DMS review if you’d like to learn more about how this product works.

Get PageLines DMS

iThemes Builder

Builder 4

iThemes has been around since 2008 and we’ll be here to innovate and grow with your business. The latest version of iThemes’ flagship product Builder, version 4, has recently been released.

Builder 4.0 uses responsive design, so your site will respond to different screen sizes like phones and tablets. Our newly-updated Foundation Series themes are now fully-responsive, and pave the way for future mobile responsive theme designs.

iThemes builder functionality revolves around the layout editor, child themes, the style manager and blocks.

The power of Builder starts in the layout editor. Choose from the building blocks of a great web site by inserting modules: header, images, navigation, content area (with or without sidebars), widget bars, HTML areas, and a footer. Complete flexibility without code.

Child themes provide structure, typography, and a range of color palettes to get you started. You’re sure to find an option for every project. Or create your own. And they’re all included when you buy the Builder Developer Pack.

Not a coder? WebDesign.com can help with that. But if you want to change the background, try a different font, or match the theme to the colors of your brand, Builder’s Style Manager plugin can help you do it fast and without touching the code.

Blocks are special functionality add-ons for specific content types. Restaurant Block lets you make a menu of food items and add locations and directions to your site. Events Block lets you create events and calendars. And there are more blocks coming soon!

ithemes builder pricing

Pricing for iThemes Builder is three-tired. The Foundation Pack is available for $80 and gives you the bare necessities, including 5 Foundation themes, which are all mobile responsive.

The developer pack is probably the best deal, you get the core theme with 1 year of support and updates. You also get the useful LoopBuddy plugin and all the 60 Builder child themes. All this for $197.

If you go for the All Access Pass you get access to the 80 iThemes classic themes.

Get iThemes Builder

Elegant Themes Builder

Elegant Themes is one of the most popular theme shops around. However what most people don’t know is that Elegant Themes also offers a number of premium WordPress plugins for sale.

The Elegant Themes Builder is a plugin that provides some incredible tools for structuring the content on your page. The plugin creates a visual drag-and-drop canvas where you can add, arrange and re-size advanced elements on your page. This builder appears below the normal text editor when you create a post or page, creating a unique canvas for each. The builder allows to you quickly create columns, sliders, tabs, buttons, toggles, boxes and so much more.

Drag and Drop Builder Plugin For WordPress

The Elegant Themes Builder plugin has its origins in the Landing Page Builder that is found in the ElegantThemes Convertible theme. Since the Convertible theme is limited to landing page themes, they implemented the builder as a separate plugin, which allows us to use it with any theme.

To check out how things work with the Elegant Themes builder, there is an excellent demonstration video available on the ElegantThemes’ website. It previews a great deal of the possibilities of the Elegant Page Builder.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK_r1kkOr1A[/youtube]

Since Elegant Themes operates a theme club, they offer memberships to the club rather than the ability to purchase individual themes or plugins. However, for just $89 you get access to all themes, plugins and PSD files, which is a steal if you ask me.

The one thing I really like about the Elegant Themes Builder is that I can install it on any theme I wish, and thus I’m not locked in to any one provider.

Get Elegant Themes Builder

Themify Builder

themify builder

The Themify drag & drop Builder for WordPress helps you build any page layouts with a live, frontend preview. Layouts are completely responsive, and what you see is what you get. It works on desktop, tablet, and mobile. Themify Builder comes with any Themify theme, or purchase the plugin to use it with any WordPress theme!

Get Themify Builder

Visual Composer for WordPress

WordPress Visual Composer for WordPress CodeCanyon

This is another plugin (not a theme) that allows you to create complex layouts within minutes. It’s a really excellent solution and costs only $25 from CodeCanyon. Theme developers can also bundle it with their own themes, giving them an edge over competition. It’s been downloaded close to 7000 times making it one of the most popular plugins on CodeCanyon.

Download Visual Composer for WordPress

Frontend Builder

Frontend Builder

With its intuitive frontend and backend options it is very easy to create a unique web page. The drag & drop system make this plugin an easy-to-use solution for all users regardless of their skill level as designers or developers. On the other hand developers will find this plugin useful because they can assign this plugin to their templates with their own shortcodes and enable their potential users to design their own web pages using template’s elements.

Download Frontend Builder

Instabuilder

InstaBuilder Mobile Ready Landing Pages in Minutes

This is another builder which is however focused more on internet marketers, and as such packs in some specific features targeted to this audience. You will therefore find in-built split testing capabilities, ready-made templates (for squeeze pages, landing pages) etc. Definitely go and check this one out.

Download Instabuilder

Ether Content Builder

Ether content builder

Ether Content Builder WordPress Plugin is a powerful tool for building custom content pages aided with an innovative visual composer. It comes equipped with many commonly used widgets that can be laid out via interactive drag&drop interface. Ether Builder can use 3rd party widgets as well as custom crafted ones. Ether Builder is actively developed by Por Design and gets regular updates and bug fixes. No coding knowledge is required and it’s a must have brag for any serious content publisher that works with WordPress.

Download Ether Content Builder for WordPress

Have you used any drag and drop theme builders? What is your opinion about them? Would you rather use a bare-bones theme and code the rest yourself than use the drag and drop approach?

Lets not forget that apart from these drag and drop WordPress website builders, we have other packages that offer point and click options, which you might prefer. For example, the Dynamik Website Builder is an excellent accompaniment to Genesis, while Toolset is probably the best tool to build complex websites without coding.

As you can see, there are lots of options to choose from, and sometimes it might be downright difficult to make a choice. Remember that buying one of these builders is a long term investment, so think well before committing yourself, and if necessary buy 2 or 3 of them and test them out before deciding. A small upfront investment will be worthwhile in the long run, and is much better than having regrets 1 or 2 years down the line because you hadn’t tried out another builder before making your final decision.

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Jean Galea
Jean Galea
Jean Galea is a WordPress developer, entrepreneur and padel player. He is the founder of WP Mayor, the plugins WP RSS Aggregator and EDD Bookings, as well as the Mastermind.fm podcast. His personal blog can be found at jeangalea.com.

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Table of Contents

55 Responses

  1. There is another wordpress page builder called “aqua page builder”, its not the best page builder BUT its free and I use it for some of my wordpress themes.

    1. If you want free drag and drop themes, check the free themes at http://themify.me. They just released a new frontend Drag and Drop. You can edit and build content with live preview on the frontend.

      1. Thanks for the link. Themify is indeed very good. The best user interface of all in my opinion.

  2. I’ve used iThemes Builder, Headway and ElegantThemes Builder, and have settled on Visual Composer. My most recent choice as a developer is to use Visual Composer with the Genesis framework, although I have used it with child versions of several ElegantThemes themes in the past.

    For example, the home page of this Genesis WIP site is set up completely with Visual Composer with custom styling.

    1. That’s an interesting combination especially for those who would love to try Genesis but feel daunted by the fact that it doesn’t come with a builder in-built. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Simply amazing collection. Glad you haven’t added thesis 2.0 ” drag and drop ” theme. Personally I wish Genesis would also introduce drag and drop functionality to their framework. It would be really great for all 80,000 plus users.

    Thanks for this post.

    1. I doubt Genesis will ever introduce drag and drop, the guys at StudioPress have taken a different direction. However you can still use the Dynamik theme for Genesis which gives you point and click functionality, as well as the Visual Composer or Ether Content Builder plugins.

  4. I have had Headway since early on, however, I really started using it in June of last year when they went 3.0 version. I now use it on everything I do. It is truly awesome.

  5. I was hoping to find some info about the number of queries executed on the database for each, or at least some, of the block elements of those plugins. I had a very bad experience in the near past when I customized a premium theme that had build in page builder.

  6. Can use any of these drag and drop builders to build themes ready to sell in themeforest or mojothemes?

  7. PageLines seems like the best one, and they have a marketplace where you can build and sell your themes if thats the business you want to do. Theres also a builder called Lubith, which allows you to download your built theme as a fully installable wordpress .zip file, which you can then sell on various sites, including themeforest.net

  8. I have a print background so my biggest concern is which of the above, if any, are most similar to InDesign or Quark?

  9. Content Builder is a WordPress Plugin which lets you feel free to create any page layout that you can imagine, and it is simple as drag & drop. Plugin will improve your website functionality and save your time with content managing.

  10. What about ThemeFrame? I want to design my own themes for my clients, and also sell the themes on ThemeForest and elsewhere. Any comments on ThemeFrame? Any experience with it?

  11. I’m looking for a theme that will allow me to place images on a page feely without having to follow allignment rules. I’ve been trying several themes that look like they might work but when I install them they crash the site and give me a blank white screen, both the site and admin pages. I’m only able to go to WP 3.1 do to hosting server limitations, which could be some of the problem. Anyway, any suggestions?

  12. Hi Jean, in case you will update the comparison list of drag’n’drop site builders with WP, it would be cool if you take into consideration one of our themes at NexusThemes. Send me a msg on Twitter @barkgj and I will provide you with a free theme.

  13. For all the Dutch websesigners and users of WordPress: Let’s not forget we have a wondefull free drop-and-drag framework. I know a lot of duch people don’t know there are a lot of pre designed themes made by nexusthemes.nl
    Easy to use with front-end exiting.
    A lot of my customers use one of these themes and are able to maintain their website by tbemselves.

  14. I have used Headway 3.4.4, Pagelines ( not tried DMS though ) and Catalyst. I think headway is much better, but there are certain limitations with it like some of wordpress plugins not working properly but still Headway is the best Drag N Drap Frame work especially if you want to do psd to wordpress conversion. I really enjoyed this post. Thnx

  15. I’d like to adjust almost-perfect premium designs working around the ugly WordPress interface. Seems that all the here mentioned options are for building from scratch. Right?

    Is there an interface tool to just adjust existing themes or wouldn’t that be possible?

    PS Great post!

  16. I’ve tried most of these builders and have found several to be good solutions if you’re building a website for yourself or your own business. When it comes to building sites for clients, however, I’ve found that hiring a developer to do the job is the only way to avoid a whole bunch of headaches along the way. If you don’t know how to code, there are some challenges that are really tough to overcome when you’re building a solution for a client. Most of us who’ve tried end up buying just about every solution on the market before coming to that conclusion.

    1. Furthering my comments about Artisteer – I have not had any problems with creating a theme for clients. If there is a problem with **client expectations** it has to do with their not understanding that WP uses a highly structured webpage schema and it is very hard to violate that environment (coder or not) without a lot of fuss and high risk of not succeeding. My rule of thumb is: **do not include any functionality within the theme itself.** With 14,000+ plugins available often for free or for reasonable costs, always opt for functionality via plugins and that way you accomplish two things: 1) design is not affected by functionality and visa versa, and 2) all CMS facilities built into WP remain available without fussing with theme-specific ways to edit the page – which in my opinion are NOT worth the loss of using WP’s normal CMS editing facilities. Theme-specific editing means the client cannot us WP’s CMS built in editing and explain that to them…!!

      Also, you **really** have to keep in mind that having unlimited design control for desktop may not translate into responsiveness at all. So, the design looks great in desktop and turns into confusion in mobile. This is very true when attempting to use Adobe Photoshop “slices” of an image. They may work in desktop size and the slices wind up all over the place in mobile.

  17. I am really banging my head to go with Elegant Themes which has the Builder plugin or Themify which also has a Builder plugin. Both are a drag n drop style post/page editor that can be used on any WP theme. I plan to purchase the Developer plan for either one. Any input would be helpful?!?

  18. Hello, great article on this crucial topic for any WordPress theme customizer/developer 🙂 After having read all of the article I still wonder which is the one that is capable to take a freely available theme, edit only its home layout (editing the related admin pane settings too), and deliver it to a non-profit as .zip file? For example: take simplebright theme for doing something like this: http://i.imgur.com/PY147Li.png two content area where displaying two posts or article (depending from the admin panel settings). Bye the way, what about: themify “builder plugin* that is missing in your article? Thank you.

  19. Yes, I work with Artisteer regularly and have for several years. It is an excellent program for creating themes (I have only used it for WordPress, though.) It is a “designers” program and not a “coders” program. There is no opportunity to do any coding whatsoever. As I am a designer, that is A-Ok with me. Artisteer gives you design-control over every aspect of a WordPress page (you can create Html designs too but it is not really well suited for that but can get you off-and-running with Html designing, though.)

    I have found that CSS coders and theme creators via-coding are highly critical of Artisteer and offer up obtuse criticisms (“code is not efficient” – I know what those words mean, but, so what??? It works excellently and flawlessly so, so what?… assuming that that is true in the first place!) I never tweak CSS in WP themes because the CSS is very complex and easy to break (considering my non-coder-skills). I merely go back to my Artisteer design-file and tweak it there and then upload the new theme to replace the one needing tweaking and that is fine, works, and I avoid brain damage due to staring at code-text-in-an-editor.

    It is not a drag-n-drop program but rather a menu-choice approach. It takes a while to get used to the extensive menu and remember where some things are… not always obvious and it takes regular use to remember stuff – but that is true of most programs anyway. It takes regular use to be fast with it and to know “where you are going” but that is true no matter how you get there.

    Artisteer is building into the theme creation process **functionality** too and I highly recommend that you **NOT** put any functionality into your theme – use Plugins instead and Plugins are quite better, more flexible, and enable you to change themes without screwing around with your functionality at all. Sliders are a case in point. I use plugins for sliders (www.wowslider.com is one I use a lot). Once **functionality** is built into the theme you get other problems down the road – as in: now the content of a WP page is no longer accessible using the WP Admin/Page/Editing process and that is not good at all.

    It includes a host of pre-built, pre-designed theme/ideas/templates which you can use or modify as you wish **or not**. Some criticize the program for these pre-designs saying that you get an unimaginative result. Well, that is not so. But, you can change anything at all and make their “starter” designs into whatever you wish. They have a bevy of GREAT designs that sure get you off and running. But, add to that that each part of a page has a “SUGGESTION” button where you can rotate through a wide variety of design ideas for that portion/piece of the page… just like that!!! I will say, though, that you really need a thorough knowledge of how webpages work to know where you are going with Artisteer and how to prepare images (sizes, and types) in Photoshop beforehand.

    And, you can always preview your work in the browser at any time to see what you are doing right from within the program (no need to stop, save, and then preview.)

    The recent versions of Artisteer now include ** page-specific-sidebars** where you create the sidebar’s contents as you normally would do in WordPress but then get the option to assign that set of sidebar options to whatever pages you want (one, some, a bunch… whatever.) Combine that with the Plugin **PAGE THEME** and you have total design control over the entire website. (“PAGE THEME” – search for it using that phrase, and you can assign a different theme per WP-Page – that is NOT “template”, it is **page themes** as many as you wish per website and as you can create/tweak your themes yourself using Artisteer then you open a door to having lots of design options.

    AND, they have very responsive tech support and really pay attention to your questions and problems if you have them. I am a huge fan of Artisteer and highly recommend it. Also, lots of Youtube videos on Artisteer but a lot of them are not so good at all… and watch out what version of Artisteer those videos are showing you.

  20. If a theme is created with Artisteer, can some of the other plugins mentioned then be used to arrange and add content? (I was thinking of Visual Composer).
    I am not a designer of any sort, just a small business owner on a very tight budget looking for the best solution to build and manage my own website without being tied to the likes of 1 & 1 etc.
    I am looking to add Yoast SEO plugins and then use Google Adwords as well so need something that will work well with these.
    Any (helpful) thoughts greatly appreciated.

  21. @My Previous Artisteer Comment: I have not come across any plugins that fail to get along with Artisteer created themes. There could be, but, I have not found one. Artisteer does have the option to add some functionality to the theme and I advise against using **any** functionality (whether it is Artisteer’s or some other theme provider – any theme that disables the normal WP add/edit facilities is not a good idea at all and most functionality contained within the theme does that… so beware. You can find plugins for almost everything you want anyway and they do not fight with normal WP editing. I have added lots of plugins covering all sorts of topics and they work fine with Artisteer created themes (not to say that there may not be some out there.)

    **MOST IMPORTANT** – Artisteer is fully **responsive** without your having to do anything at all and I like that a lot. Artisteer theme (has to be the recent version 4.2 though to provide that responsiveness, though) just includes that facility without further effort on your part (you can turn that off, though, but don’t know why you would.)

  22. I’ve been using several of the above frameworks, Ultimatum, Headway etc but I use them as a starter theme and then couple them with Live Composer (http://livecomposerplugin.com) the support from the developer is first class.

    With both Ultimatum and Headway and now Pressworks (not supported anymore) they allow me to remove both the header and footer elements from my file and create a whole theme structure just with Live composer in realtime in the frontend – loving it

  23. Hello, great post! Awesome options. I use Artisteer about 2 years now, & don´t have any problem with WP so far. I don´t add any plugin, only WP theme and that´s it. Works great and i can make some great themes as weel. Some months ago, i tried with Visual Composer and i like it very much to add some extra fields!!!!

  24. Very informative article. I found it very useful in researching WordPress theme builders. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

  25. I’ve been working with “TemplateToaster” for the last 2 years with no regret.
    From Parallax to Responsive, mobile friendly, this framework is the most customizable in the market.

    The support is amazing and you can deliver the web sites in the way your client wants in a short time. http://templatetoaster.com

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