You are probably here because you are a need a solid theme base for your website or you are a developer looking for a light weight WordPress theme for development and customization.
In our first ever list / collection post feature a collection of free and commercial WordPress theme frameworks and starter themes suitable for a variety of users.
What is a WordPress theme framework?
The WordPress codex defines it as “a set of standards for theme developers to use in creating their own themes”. A WordPress theme framework in layman’s term, is the structure or skeleton, on which WordPress themes are based upon.
Often theme frameworks comes as a starter or parent theme where the core functions reside and a child theme, where the front-end customization can be done.
Benefits of a WordPress theme framework
Theme frameworks offer developers and designers a head start in theme design and development. Offering traits and features such as lean code base, SEO friendly code and security. In some cases, additional, but optional functions are available as plugins. This keeps the core code base lean. And you can install and activate the functions you need.
For end-users a using a common theme framework means that you have the option to switch between child themes without losing your theme options.
Beginner / Designer Friendly WordPress Frameworks
“There’s a plugin for everything”
Elementor Pro (Premium)
New entry into this list is Elementor Pro. Our new favorite Theme Builder. Since 2018, we upgraded to Elementor Pro. And have since built sites in record speed. Goodbye PHP!
A review on Elementor Pro is coming soon but here’s a list of features we love.
- Popup Builder! New
- Inline and Absolute Positioning New
- Header / Footer Builder
- Posts and Portfolio list with custom Query.
- Template Library
- Archive Builder
- Form Builder
- 404 / Search / Custom post Type page Builder
- WooCommerce Builder
Well basically, you could build a whole site with Elementor Pro. That being said, it does a few short comings. But for the most part, its pretty great for building full featured websites.
Price: $49/year, Personal plan for 1 Site, $99/ year Business Plan for 3 Sites or $199/year for unlimited sites.
Scope: 1 Year Unlimited Updates, Support
Genesis Framework (Premium)
Genesis by StudioPress, is the most widely used WordPress Theme Framework in the market because it features a lean, clean and secure and SEO friendly code base. We listed Genesis under the beginners section because you can buy ready to deploy Genesis Child themes from StudioPress or from a 3rd Party Theme shop, like Zigzagpress or Creative Market.
Genesis framework is the framework of choice for most developers. And being so widely used, it is a must have for developers. Check out the Genesis Showcase for some design inspiration and possibilities.
Price: $59.95, One time purchase
Scope: Unlimited Updates, Support & Sites
Divi by Elegant Themes is also hugely popular in the WordPress community. For beginner users, you have the option of using pre-made layouts right out of the box like any other multi-purpose theme.
Divi is a WordPress theme integrated with the powerful the Divi builder, a page builder that allows you to create and edit pages from the front-end. Perfect for visual designers because little or no coding is required. Check out a showcase of websites based on Divi.
Fancy a pre-made design instead? The WordPress developer community is thriving and are constantly creating beautiful 3rd party Divi child themes. Check out some of the Best Divi Child Theme shops.
To get the best deal, be sure to check out our regularly updated post on Elegant Themes Discount Coupon.
Price: $89, Yearly or $249, one time payment for lifetime access
Scope: Unlimited Sites
The free version of Astra has also limited access to pre-built starter sites layouts. Whereas the premium version, Astra Pro Addon, gives you the ability to for further theme customization.
And for complete access to the sites library, you’ll need an Agency licence. An Agency license also comes with a variety of useful plugins such as Convert Pro, All-in-one Schema Pro, Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder, WP Portfolio, Ultimate Addons for Elementor and all future plugins. Perfect for Developers and Agencies.
Price: Free – $249 (for add-ons, yearly), Free – $699 (for lifetime licences)
Scope: Unlimited sites
With 354,852 downloads, OceanWP is the fastest growing theme for WordPress. It’s the favorite choice of thousands of developers and hobby-users. Similar to it’s peers, GeneratePress and Astra, OceanWP is lightweight, free and designed to work with the best page builders in the market (Divi Builder, WPBakery Page Builder, Elementor and Beaver Builder.
Price: Free – $129 (for add-ons, yearly), Free – $519 (for lifetime licences)
Scope: Unlimited sites
GeneratePress Theme is a popular free lightweight (less than 1MB zipped) WordPress theme. Its premium version offers a variety of add-ons allowing options such as Typography, Sections, Menus and Hooks. For beginners and novices, there are some quality free child themes to start with. And for developers and designers, GeneratePress is a solid base to start from.
Importable demo sites based on Elementor and Beaver builder are also available in GP Premium to help you further enhance your website layout.
Price: Free – $39.95 (for add-ons, yearly)
Scope: Unlimited sites
Beaver Builder Theme + Beaver Themer (Premium)
Beaver builder is a powerful WordPress Page Builder that is free to use from the WordPress plugin repository. Many themes commercial or free utilizes or extends Beaver Builder to style pages. The Beaver Builder Premium Standard Version gives access to a variety of pre-designed modules and templates to create beautiful websites.
The Pro version provides the you with the The Beaver Builder Theme, a framework where you can build a full website including changing your header and footers. Based on WordPress Customizer, there is no extra bloat for including an options framework.
With the additional Beaver Themer Plugin, you can even design your archive, 404, archive and even custom post type pages. Set rules on what appears where and build template parts – small repeatable parts that can be used on multiple pages of your site.
However, using Beaver Themer with another 3rd party theme could be a little tricky, requiring a small change in code of your existing template. Currently, Beaver Themer is compatible with Beaver Builder Theme, Genesis, GeneratePress, Astra without any code changes.
Beaver Builder Pro: $199 (For Beaver Builder theme + premium modules)
Beaver Themer: $147
License Scope: 1 Year Updates / Support, Unlimited number of websites for all licenses
Jump Start Theme Framework (Premium)
Jump Start Theme framework by ThemeBlvd, is quite similar to Beaver Builder in a sense they provide users with free ready to go, pre-built layout modules and templates (Jump Start refers these as theme bases) for you to customize. To reduce bloated code, Jump Start comes with a variety of plugins like layout builder, portfolios and shortcodes. Jump Start effectively caters for users of all levels from beginners to professionals.
Read our Review on Jump Start Theme Framework.
Scope: 1 Year Updates / Support, Unlimited number of websites, operated and controlled by the license holder
“Copy and Paste that into functions.php”
Ultimatum Framework (Premium)
Ultimatum Theme Framework is a feature rich framework that allows you to build complete websites. It comes with a drag and drop theme builder, where you can build the skeleton of the website. Headers, body, sidebars and footer areas, you name it, its possible. An array of built-in functions like custom post types, different menu types, google font library and slideshows are available to aid your design process. And for Business Plan users, the ability to import/export Designs, so you can effectively build and design from the dashboard and directly deploy the design to your client’s installation.
Once the skeleton is setup, you can rely on familiar premium plugins such as Visual Composer, Slider Revolution to finish your design on individual pages. Learning curve on this one though, is quite steep but still manageable by the novice WordPress user.
<A more detailed post on Ultimatum will be on this site soon.>
Damage: $55 – $399
Scope: Depending of plan
Toolset (Free + Premium)
Toolset by OntheGoSystems, aptly named, is essentially a tool set of plugins that accomplishes specific tasks. Together, the plugins are able to build complete functional websites from scratch.
Like Toolset Types (Free) handles everything about custom post types, taxonomies and custom fields, Views handles displaying of loops and templates and Layouts handles theme skeleton. Note however, this is a no frills kinda plugin(s). You will have to create and style your own HTML and CSS. However, you can use their Starter theme or any Bootstap based theme for maximum efficiency for building complete sites.
Update. Toolset now comes with tight integration with Astra, OceanWP, Genesis and Divi
Read our post on Toolset in our Plugins Directory and Toolset tutorial
Price: $69, Yearly (single site), $149 Yearly (unlimited sites),
Intermediate to expert users
“too Much bloat”
Unyson Framework (Free)
Unyson Framework, by ThemeFuse is a free WordPress theme framework. Its quite like a plugin that is loaded with options. Novice users can actually be quite comfortable with this framework. It comes with a starter theme where you can re-style with CSS and install extensions like Mega menu, sliders and a visual page builder for a feature rich site.
Price: FreeUnyson Framework
Gantry Framework (Free)
The Gantry Framework by RocketTheme is plugin for Joomla, Grav (a CMS system) and WordPress. It comes as a plugin and with 2 starter themes to start development from. It comes with a Layout Manager which you can use to create your site grids. A novice user can get by using this framework as the starter theme has plenty of customization options.
The official website is a little sparse on the details so here’s a screenshot of the Hydrogen theme UI captured from a video in their documentation. For developers, there is a learning curve to this framework and getting used to their terminologies like Particles, Atom etc.
Price: FreeVisit Gantry Framework
Cherry Framework (Free)
Cherry Framework, by TemplateMonster is a free WordPress theme framework for developers to create their own custom theme. Cherry Framework is fully open source and is licensed under GPLv3. Template Monster also provides free and proprietary plugins for you to use. Plugins like Cherry Sidebars, which allows to create and manage your own dynamic sidebars and Cherry Projects (portfolio type plugin) are 2 useful examples.
Cherry Framework is has a modular structure, built with security in mind, has good documentation on its functions and methods and an active support forum. Cherry Framework can be utilized for plugin development as well. It is now in Version 5 (beta).
Scope: Open Source GPLv3 license
For the Pros
Beans Framework (Free)
Beans is a barebone, lightweight, powerful and extremely fast theme. Front-end is based on UIKit front-end. Like Genesis, it works as a parent (core) – child theme relationship. Its a promising framework with more users and developers adopting to this framework.
Price: FreeVisit Beans Framework
UnderStrap Framework (Free)
UnderStrap, the Bootstrap 4 + WordPress Theme Framework, combines underscores theme with the upcoming Bootstrap 4 front-end framework. 2 Years in the making, we think its a very promising project to watch. Currently, at version 0.60, features such as an options panel, Jetpack, WooCommerce and Translation ready.
Do check out the first ever UnderStrap Child Theme for sale at https://understrap.com/core-child-theme/
Price: FreeVisit UnderStrap Framework
Thank you for making this far and we hope that you enjoyed reading our first list post. As you can see, there are various theme frameworks catered for different users groups of users and the different ways and structure that frameworks are built.
Also if you are in the shopping for a WordPress theme or WordPress theme club, check out our comprehensive list of theme shops.