Update – 4th September, 2012.
This article was originally written in March 2009 – an age ago in Internet terms.
Since then I’ve come to realise that many themes you find online, i.e. not in the WordPress repository, contain hidden code. Often this code contains links to completely irrelevant sites but it can, of course, contain malware.
Therefore, please take great care when searching for themes online.
My advice would be to start from the baseline that any free theme that’s not in the WordPress repository contains stuff in the footer that you don’t want to go anywhere near.
If your research proves otherwise that’s great – but that’s where I’d start from.
Moral of the story? Get your free themes from the WordPress repository or buy a premium theme from one of the well established premium theme developers.
Original article starts here:
I often see questions from people asking for the best free WordPress themes, or the best premium WordPress themes.
Clearly ‘best’ is dependent on the target market of your blog, its content and the image you want to portray.
For some, a Hello Kitty theme would hit all the right buttons. But that wouldn’t be me
So rather than try to suggest the best WordPress themes, I’ve listed here some places where, in total, you can find thousands of them – both free and premium.
And I do mean thousands.
So with all the free themes that are available, why would you want to pay money for a Premium theme?
Well, here’s what you generally (deliberately emphasized) get with a premium theme that you won’t get with a free one:
- A control panel (sometimes up to 5 screens) to enable full customization of the look and feel of your blog without needing to touch the code.
- Full support in case of problems
- Upgrades and updates – to cope with security issues and keep pace with new WordPress functionality
- Better coding – cleaner and more stable, resulting in smoother integration with plugins and smoother upgrades of WordPress
- Easy SEO control – blog wide, and post by post.
Most premium themes come with 2 pricing options:
- Personal or Single User, which enables you to use the theme on one installation only
- Developer or Multi-user, which enables you to use it on as many sites as you like.
Be sure to read the T’s & C’s carefully as some will specify that you can only use them on domains owned by you.
This is important if you provide WordPress installation and maintenance services for a fee, because you may not be able to use these themes on your clients’ sites.
The better Premium themes will enable you to create completely different appearances for your blogs, all from the same platform.
So if you buy the Developer’s option, and it’s a good theme, you would be able to put up different blogs focusing on different target markets, covering completely different subjects, and create the appropriate appearance for each – all using the same theme.
This includes the number of columns (or sidebars), font styles and sizes, colour schemes, header images and so on.
Turning to free themes: there are thousands of these available but, to be sure, some of them are pretty shoddily coded.
This opens you up to security risks (some have been known to contain spam links in the code), instability with plugins and problems with WordPress upgrades.
So if you’re going for a free theme, be sure to get it from a reputable site – because there are some good ones out there.
I’ve set out below some sites where you can find themes for WordPress, split into Premium and Free.
Please understand that I have not tested each (or any) of these themes..! You need to do your own due diligence on them.
But I have tried to find reputable sites for both, and I hope it’s a useful list.
An aggregation of themes from different authors/developers. From $25 up for single use options. This site includes Premium themes, Magazine themes, Business & CMS themes and Video themes.
Themes by Woo themes. A reasonable selection, including 2 or 3 column, magazine style and ‘business’ themes. All seem to be priced at $70/$150 (Personal/Developer)
There’s a free version of this theme, with no control panel and 3 colour options instead of 7. Prices for the paid themes start at $49 for the Personal option.
Reviews of a wide range of premium themes from different authors with prices starting from $49 (Personal option)
Their catch line is “Listing only the Best Premium Themes for WordPress from Around”. They certainly have a huge number of premium themes which they’ve reviewed here along with links to the original author sites.
Another huge range of themes with prices starting from $45 for the Personal option.
A very nice, highly and easily customisable theme specifically designed for setting up affiliate marketing sites and landing pages. Support tutorials and support forum. From $97 for single user. $147 for the multi user version is good value.
The free themes available on the WordPress.org site. 650 of them. Unfortunately the search function on these pages is completely useless. I don’t know why they even bother to put a search box up there. I did a search for ‘3 column themes’ and the #1 result was a 2 column theme called ‘Basic2Col’. Good, huh?
160 themes that claim to be fully standards compliant and 100% free for any type of use.
1400 free themes in a wide variety of styles. And I do mean wide..!
Smashing Magazine again – this time with free themes. 100 of them. These have been tested and reviewed by the SM people, so the quality and coding is probably pretty reliable.
Literally thousands of themes here, but there are a lot of boring ones amongst them.
OK – that’s it..!
Remember, again: please do your own due diligence, especially on the free themes!
Finally, the theme I’m using on this blog is Thesis. This one I can personally vouch for and recommend, and I’ve written a review of it here.