Trying to choose between Toolset vs ACF (Advanced Custom Fields) for your WordPress site? Or confused by how these tools actually help you get more from WordPress?
In this comparison, we’ll explain how both Toolset and ACF help you build better WordPress sites. Then, we’ll dig into each plugin to help you choose the right tool for your needs because, while there is some overlap, each plugin has a slightly different focus.
Let’s get started!
1. Quick Intro to Custom Post Types and Custom Fields
If you’re not familiar with the importance of custom post types and custom fields in WordPress, we need to start with a quick explainer to get you up to speed before we dig into Toolset and ACF.
In a nutshell, custom post types and custom fields help you work with custom content on WordPress sites.
By default, WordPress comes with two types of content – posts (blog posts) and pages (static pages).
Custom post types let you extend that to add your own types of content. For example, if you have an eCommerce store, you could add a product post type to house the products that you want to sell. Or, if you have a job listing site, you could add a job listing post type to house each job.
Then, custom fields let you add fields to any post type to collect additional information. For example, if you have a product post type, you could add custom fields to collect each product’s price, dimensions, stock status, SKU, etc.
If you have a job listing post type, you could add custom fields to collect a salary range, required years of experience, etc.
Custom Post Types and Custom Fields Unlock WordPress
In a nutshell, custom post types and custom fields are important because they unlock the full power of WordPress as a content management system.
Once you master these concepts, you’ll be able to use WordPress to build eCommerce stores, directory sites, classified listings, online courses, membership sites, and more.
Toolset and ACF are both tools that help make it easier for you to work with custom content on WordPress, which is why we’re comparing them for you.
2. Toolset vs ACF: Which Is Right for You?
Now, let’s get into some of the nuts-and-bolts comparisons between Toolset and ACF.
We’re going to cover the feature-sets and user interface so that you can get a good understanding of how the two compare when you’re actually using them.
3. Features: Toolset is More Complete, ACF is just Back-End
In terms of features, Toolset and ACF both help you work with custom content, but they have different emphases.
Toolset is designed to be a complete solution for custom content. It helps you create both custom post types and custom fields. But then it also helps you use that custom content on the front-end of your site without needing any code.
For example, you can easily create custom layouts and queries on the front-end that include your custom field information. (WP Mayor readers can get an exclusive 20% discount when they purchase Toolset)
ACF, on the other hand, focuses specifically on custom fields (hence the name). It’s also focused on just the back-end – if you want to display your custom fields on the front-end, you need to use PHP (or a plugin like Elementor Pro, which we’ll detail later).
Let’s dig a little deeper…
Toolset consists of different components. Each component is a different plugin and you can combine them according to your needs:
- Types – helps you create custom post types, custom fields, and custom taxonomies. This is the module that has the most overlap with ACF because it’s what controls custom fields.
- Blocks – lets you display custom content on the front-end using the block editor. You can also create custom queries, design loops, and more. This is one of the biggest differentiators between Toolset vs ACF as it makes it easy to handle displaying custom content (something that ACF doesn’t do).
- Forms – lets you create front-end forms that feed into your custom post types/custom fields.
- Access – lets you use WordPress user roles to restrict access to custom content on both the front-end and back-end.
- Maps – lets you display any custom content as maps markers on Google or Azure maps.
With Toolset Types, Toolset also includes advanced field types like relationship fields and repeater fields.
In one sentence, I would say that Toolset’s core value proposition is:
Toolset makes it possible for anyone to build custom content sites without needing code.
ACF is only focused on custom fields, which makes it more limited than Toolset in terms of what you can use it for. Additionally, ACF is more targeted specifically at developers – it assumes that you have some knowledge of PHP to work with custom fields on the front-end.
However, by limiting its focus in this way, ACF is able to do custom fields really well. It comes with over 30 different field types in the free plugin, as well as advanced tools like repeater fields, flexible content fields (which lets you define groups of sub-fields), gallery fields, and more.
You can also use ACF for more than just custom front-end content. For example, if you’re a developer, you can use ACF to easily create back-end options pages for your site, theme, or plugin.
Another nice feature is that it’s extensible and has a vibrant marketplace of third-party extensions. For example, if you head to Awesome ACF, you’ll find over 170 third-party extensions for ACF. Toolset doesn’t have this type of third-party marketplace, so you’ll be mainly limited to features in the core product (but the core product of Toolset also gives you a lot more features).
In one sentence, I would say that ACF’s core value proposition is:
ACF gives developers complete control over WordPress custom fields.
4. Interface: Pretty Much On Par
Both Toolset and ACF have well-designed interfaces. In general, there’s “more” going on in Toolset’s interface than ACF because Toolset has more features.
To give you an idea of how they compare, I’ll show you how to create custom fields in both plugins. This is pretty much the entire ACF interface, while it’s just a part of Toolset’s interface.
The main Toolset dashboard gives you an overview of all the content types on your site, including those created by other plugins:
This lets you quickly create post types, custom fields, templates, and more. For example, you could click to quickly add custom fields to a certain post type.
This would open up a selector of all the available field types:
Once you choose the field type, you can configure it in the interface, including conditional logic:
You can then repeat the process to add more fields to this group of fields. You can also edit a group’s settings to display it in additional locations:
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you a quick look at Toolset Blocks.
With Toolset Blocks, you can create the designs for all of your custom content using the block editor:
It’s hard to give this feature justice in just a short paragraph and a single screenshot. But suffice it to say, this is a really powerful feature. You can design templates, archives, custom query views, and more – all using the native block editor. Check out our intro to Toolset Blocks to learn how it works – you can also see some details in our post on using Toolset Blocks for galleries/sliders.
ACF also works by creating “Field Groups”. One field group is a single collection of custom fields that you want to display anywhere on your site.
When you create a field group, you can first add all the custom fields that you want to include in that group. For each field, you’ll be able to configure its type and other settings, including conditional logic:
Once you’ve added the fields, you can use Location Rules to control where to display the fields in this group. You can mix and match different rules as needed:
Then, your fields will appear at that location in the back-end WordPress dashboard.
To actually display content from your fields on the front-end of your site, you’ll need to use PHP or pair ACF with a plugin like Elementor Pro (more on that later).
Additionally, if you wanted to add custom fields to a custom post type, you’d first need to create a custom post type with a separate plugin like Custom Post Type UI. This is different from Toolset, which already includes this feature in the core plugin.
3. Pricing is Similar, but ACF has a Free Version
First off, there’s one big difference when it comes to Toolset vs ACF pricing:
ACF has a free version at WordPress.org whereas Toolset only comes in a premium version.
Beyond that, the premium version of ACF is priced quite similarly to Toolset. Here are the prices – note that there are some feature differences between the Toolset plans whereas the only difference with ACF is the site limits:
|Tier 1||$69 for 1 site||$49 for 1 site|
|Tier 2||$149 for 3 sites||$149 for 10 sites|
|Tier 3||$299 for unlimited sites||$249 for unlimited sites|
In terms of premium versions, I would say Toolset offers better “value” because it has similar pricing but does a lot more than ACF. That is, for roughly the same price, Toolset gives you not only custom fields, but also Toolset Blocks, form builders, query builders, custom post types, Maps integrations, and more.
Elementor Pro Makes It Easy to Display Both
Above, you learned that Toolset includes features to help you display custom content on the front-end of your site while ACF mainly requires you to work with code.
However, for a simpler way to create designs for custom content, both plugins also integrate with Elementor Pro.
You can use Elementor Pro to:
- Create templates for custom post types (in the case of Toolset).
- Include dynamic content from custom fields in your designs (works with both plugins).
To display custom fields from either Toolset or ACF, you can use Elementor Pro’s Dynamic Content feature. There, you’ll see an option to insert content from either ACF or Toolset, depending on which one you’re using:
Once you select the tool, you’ll get another option to choose the specific custom field that you want to use:
Elementor Pro will then dynamically populate the widget based on the content from the custom field.
This isn’t just for text, either. You can also dynamically include numbers, images, videos, and more. For example, you could use the number from a custom field to populate a star rating widget:
However, Elementor Pro doesn’t let you control “the loop”, whereas Toolset Blocks does. This is why I think there’s still a lot of value to Toolset Blocks even if you plan to use Elementor Pro’s dynamic content feature.
When & Where To Use Toolset or ACF
Whether you choose Toolset or ACF really just comes down to your needs, use case, and budget.
They’re both excellent tools for working with custom content on WordPress, so there’s no danger of picking a “bad” tool.
However, as I mentioned earlier, they’re doing slightly different things and solving slightly different problems.
ACF is only for custom fields and it’s marketed more towards developers. It does custom fields really well, but it doesn’t do anything else. It’s also not just for front-end content. For example, developers can use it to create custom admin options pages.
Toolset, on the other hand, is more a full-featured tool for working with custom content on WordPress. Yes, it does custom fields and custom post types, but it also helps you display that content on the front-end of your site, create forms to add new content, restrict access to custom content, and lots more.
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For those reasons, I would recommend that you:
- Use ACF if you’re a developer looking to integrate custom fields into a project (like your theme or plugin) or if you’re an end-user in simpler scenarios where you just need to add some basic custom fields and maybe display them with Elementor Pro.
- Use Toolset if you’re building custom content websites (e.g. classified sites, directory sites, etc.) because you’ll benefit from the extra power when it comes to things like forms, query builders, and more. It’s also less developer-focused – it’s totally possible to use Toolset without ever writing code.
Toolset is the more robust option and lets you build entire custom content websites with WordPress, including custom fields, custom post types, displays, forms, restricted content access, and more. ACF, on the other hand, offers only custom fields but it does them very well. It’s very much targeted at developers and those who are familiar with how custom fields work. We use both depending on the project’s complexity, but if you want something more powerful, go with Toolset.
Some ACF users find rather late in the project that ACF repeater are SUPER SLOW.
Even for a table (repeater) that has about 40 lines (or more) with 20 columns (or more).
This is a known issue with ACF (since 2012 or so), that one finds after digging in ACF forums.
How ToolSet compares?
Are there performace issues as well.
Don’s comment was in error. ACF is not from On The Go Systems; it’s from Delicious Brains Inc.
We’re using Toolset and recommend it even though it’s not as popular. It’s kind of a hidden gem.
More comparison notes here, although note that this is from On The Go themselves.
thanks so much for that.
very helpful (although i am stil unsure which one :-))
ACF is by Onthego
but i see in my plugins ‘Toolset Types’ also by Onthego
what is that?
and how does it fit in?
Do you need Elementor Pro as well to create a directory or classified for business listing using Toolset? Or can I just useToolset?
Nice explanation of ACF & Toolset 🙂
No need to use Elementor Pro to display Toolset’s content. Toolset has everything to both set-up and display content. You’ll need Elementor Pro to display content from ACF (unless you want to code PHP templates).