Comprehensive Review of 7 of the Most Popular WordPress Premium Theme Frameworks

Last updated: 9:45 am Eastern Time on December 12, 2012

(Also see Round 2)
PageLines, Thesis, Genesis, Headway Themes, Catalyst Theme, Elegant Themes, WooThemes

About this Theme Review

When looking for a theme framework, I want to make sure it can handle any project that comes my way. I want to know my chosen theme framework inside and out. I don’t want to have to pick Genesis for this, Elegant Themes for that, and PageLines when “X”. I want to know it will work with MultiSite and popular plugins. I want page loading optimized, the ability to choose responsive or not, and a solid support channel for when I need help or want to flesh out some ideas.

Following is a feature-by-feature comparison of 7 popular premium theme frameworks. I am not including any free theme frameworks because their feature comparison would be lacking or, most importantly, there wouldn’t be paid, dedicated long-term support.

At the end of this post are my summaries, with grades for each framework in a few key areas:

  • Overall Value — Was the product and support bundle worth the price? If money is no object, is it flexible enough for me to commit to using this one framework for the rest of my mid-term (2-5 years) WordPress days?
  • Customizability/Options — Can I do whatever I might want to do, with this theme as the backbone of all my site-customization endeavors? Does it have enough, and the right, options for me to value the framework as a strong design foundation to build all sites on?
  • User Experience — How easy and intuitive are the framework options? How available and in-touch does the support team seem to be? If my non-WP-savvy client sees the theme options, would they be too confused to understand how to do the mini-customizations they may want to do?

Legend:

  • “Y” means Yes
  • “-” means No (used in place of “N” for readability’s sake)
  • Blank means I didn’t have enough reliable information to say Yes or No.
  • When reasonable, I provided a link. Some links may be restricted to logged-in users and, therefore, may ask you to login. The link was still included for current theme owners and for documentation’s sake.

General Theme Information

Theme name PageLines Thesis Genesis WooThemes Headway Themes Catalyst Theme Elegant Themes
Company location San Francisco, CA Austin, TX Denver, CO Cape Town, South Africa Clay Center, KS Charlotte- sville, VA San Francisco, CA
Theme version 2.2.5 1.8.5 1.8.2 Canvas 5.0.6 3.2.4 1.5.1 Flexible 1.1
Able to use for client sites Dev. licenses only Dev. licenses only Y Y Y Y Themes, yes. PSDs, no.
List of pros Y Y Y Y Referenced in each Showcase site
Affiliate program Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Approximate # of current customers 46,307 78,000+ 255,717 Undisclosed 133,552
Approximate # of Staff 6 staff, 20 forum moderators 22 6 4, plus moderators
Blog Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Demo front-end FrameworkSectionsForums Y Y See wp-admin demo link Y Y
Demo wp-admin Y Walk through video Y Y Screen shots
Pricing $97 + $14/mo or $197 + $19/mo (non monthly option is also available, higher initial price and do not get PageLines’ Child Themes, Plugins, or Live Chat Support) $87 or $164 $59.95 for base theme or $349.95 for all StudioPress’ Child Themes $70 for 2, $150 for 3, or $100-200 for 1 App Theme, or subscribe for all themes at $125 + $20/mo (standard) or $200 + $25/mo (developer) $87 or $174 $127 (used to be $77, $127, or $197 for separate versions) $39 or $89
Return Policy, Discount Codes 30-Day Money Back “Ensured Happiness” guarantee 30-day money back guar. 30-Day money back guarantee. No initial purchase discounts. Child theme and other discounts available only to subscribers. No refunds. Promotions No refunds. 30-Day Money Back guarantee. No coupon codes. 30-Day Money Back “no-questions-asked” guarantee. No discounts. All sites that display discounts are affiliate marketing scams.
Child theme store Y Y Some themes have a WooCommerce child theme Y Skins and Child Themes
Free child theme(s) Y Y Y 4 included in Dev. price Dynamik is included N/A, but accepts skins/ stylesheets per theme
Sample Child Theme provided Y Child Themes or Skins (custom style sheets within main theme) Y Y, or a third party one is available for sale 2: One is free for all. One is free for Dev.
Plugin store YBecome a Developer Y Blocks Y Y
Facebook Page Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Twitter Account @PageLines @diy themes @Studio Press @woo themes @headway themes @catalyst theme@EricHamm @elegant themes
Showcase of sites Y Y Y Y Y Y “Customization Showcase” in the forum
Support/Update Time Period w/o Renewal Lifetime for minor releases (i.e. Lifetime for 2.x, not 3.x) Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime 1 year (discounted renewal fee) Lifetime Annual fee
T&C Terms of Service Terms of Service Terms & Conditions Terms of Service Terms of Service Terms and Conditions

Theme Support Details

Theme name PageLines Thesis Genesis WooThemes Headway Themes Catalyst Theme Elegant Themes
Live Chat support One of the PageLines Live (additional fee) benefits
Email Support Y Y
Forum Support Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Forum Rules/Terms Y Y Y Y Y
Forum private messaging feature Y Y Y Y Y Y
Forum access only for current subscribers? Guests can view content but not post Y Y Separate Public and Member forums Y Guests can view topic titles, not content. There are forum topics restricted to higher-level license holders. Y
Newsletter with tips Y Y Y Y Y
Community Tutorials Y Y Y
User/Starter/TOC Guide Y Y Y Y Y Included in Written Tutorials link
Written Tutorials Theming Center TutorialsArticles Y TutorialsWooCodex Headway Codex 250-page PDF & Feature of the Week blog category Y
SEO Tutorials Y Settings page walk-through List of SEO options and their meanings Highlights of some Catalyst Theme SEO options Walk-through video of SEO ePanel options
Videos Video TutorialsDeveloper Training Y Y Y Y Y & Y Included in Written Tutorials link
Action Map / CSS Map List of HooksAction Map pluginDeveloper Docs Visual Markup GuideFilter ReferenceHook ReferenceSimple Hooks plugin Canvas HookfilterCanvas Hooked Filtered Functions CSS Map Y
Demo site content provided Y Y Y
Downloadable web elements/graphics/PSD Y layered PSDs with Developer purchase PSDs
Responsive tester tool Y

Feature Comparison

Theme name PageLines Thesis Genesis WooThemes Headway Themes Catalyst Theme Elegant Themes
Auto-updater Y Planned Y Y Y Y Notification messages, but no auto-updater (linked to by a Forum Staff Member)
Beta updates Optional for Dev. Optional for Dev. Y Optional for Dev.
Color palette reference gallery Y
Pre-made color palette/style alternatives Y, in some child themes Y Y
Ability to restrict theme options to a specific WP user No, but can restrict to user level for Page / Post settings and separate setting for theme- specific CPTs’ settings Y Y
bbPress-capable Y Y See BuddyPress row Y (since Aug 23, 2012) Forum posts hint probably yes with minor CSS tweaks.
BuddyPress-capable Y No, but WishList Member is Yes, with manual modifications, or a $49.95 plugin Canvas used to be (see comments). A third-party add-on is available to make it bbPress- and BuddyPress- compatible. Soon there will be a paid Block. Y (since Aug 23, 2012) Y
MultiSite-capable Requires Dev. Edition Y Y Y Y Y Y
Shortcodes Y Y Y Y, as WP widgets Y, even w/o their themes, and another example
Sliders Y Y Y paid Blocks Y Y, via short codes
Tabs, accordions, etc. Y, via short codes tabbed widget tabbed widget paid Blocks Y, via short codes
Theme layout/column options Y Y Y Y Y Y, see Short codes link
Threaded comments Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Widget-ready Y Y Y Y, can use WP widgets or override specified WP widgets with theme- specific sidebar/ widget settings Y Y Y
CSS Pre-Processor LESS LESS
Twitter Bootstrap Y option to add a Bootstrap plugin
Drag-and-Drop layout options per page template or per page / post Y No, but able to change column layout per page / post No, but able to change column layout per page / post Y No, but able to change column layout per page / post – also a front-end CSS builder Y, even w/o their themes
Footer display/layout customizations Y Y Y Y Y, via Builder plugin (free for Developer members)
Custom header/logo image(s) Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Favicon Y Y Y Y Y Y
Apple touch icon Y
Background color/image settings Y Y Y Y Y
Featured image settings/customizations Y, but replaces WP featured image with its own solution Y Y Y Y, via custom fields settings
Fonts/Typography Y Y Y Y Y
Menu/Nav settings Y Y Y Y Y Y
Login page customizations Y Y
404 Page customizations Y via third- party plugin Y Y
Translation-ready Translation Center Y Y Y Y Y Y, per theme
e-commerce-ready Jigoshop Woo Commerce Jigoshop Woo Commerce and Jigoshop Several e-commerce themes are provided. Not Woo Commerce-ready
Responsive fixed width, pixel-responsive, or percent-responsive Y, as a skin – by default includes “Page” or “Full-width” framework option some some Optional Y Some themes are. Short code columns will be soon
Responsive sliders Y Y paid Blocks extension Y Y
SEO customizations Y Y Y Y Y, with option to disable Y
Import/export functionality .dat .dat .json .json Coming soon .dat, with Restore Points
Online storage of customizations/exported settings Y
Community theme settings sharing
Settings reset button Y Y Y Y Y Y

Theme-Specific Commentary

PageLines Framework

PageLines excels in the areas of support, add-ons, user-experience, features, and customizability. However, it’s the most expensive theme framework in terms of initial investment. The Live Chat support is a distinguishing feature, but the monthly price is steep until you consider the comparable price of buying all the plugins that come with the PageLines Plus membership plan.

PageLines’ most recent update, version 2.2.x, has received significant praise for being based on Twitter Bootstrap. As a result, it provides a familiar foundation for design and layout customizations while providing maximum performance and customizability because of using a CSS pre-processor (LESS CSS in this case). These features alone are enough for some people to look no further.

Lacking from PageLines are SEO settings; however, this is able to be handled by a few plugins, both of the free and paid varieties, from third-party providers (i.e. not in their Store). To be an all-around as-perfect-as-you-can-get theme, I’d suggest adding support for featured images management/layout, WooCommerce, providing pre-made color palette/style options, and providing role/user-specific permissions controls.

Recommended for: Designers and developers looking for a rock-solid starting framework or looking to become a store developer. Or anyone looking for a highly customizable, future-proof framework.

  • Overall Value Rating: A
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: A

Thesis

Thesis’ primary focus is SEO. Some WordPress users think that if you don’t have nitty-gritty control for SEO optimization, your theme’s not worth the paper it’s printed on (paper… ha ha). If you have this point of view and believe a theme (not a plugin) is the right way to implement SEO settings, you would be in good company with the Thesis folk.

Thesis also provides quite a few design and layout options. I think it has the best control over featured images and their layout, but the WordPress Featured Image functionality isn’t used; Thesis has its own thumbnail management metabox. I don’t like how Thesis seems to do its own thing when WordPress functionality could be used instead (e.g. featured image management). Also, it seems to be light on the integration-compatibilities.

Recommended for: Anyone nuts about SEO, looking to connect with others like them, not concerned about integrations. Everything comes second to SEO, by a long shot.

  • Overall Value Rating: B
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: A

Genesis

Genesis is also an SEO-focused framework, but it has a strong developer community of child themes and plugins, even in the WordPress Plugin Directory. I’d give Thesis the upper-hand for SEO-nitty-gritty settings, but overall theme functionality goes to Genesis, especially considering all the design options and plugin integrations that can be found around the web.

However, I was surprised by the minimal customization features found in the Genesis theme (not a child theme). I like the ability to change the layout per post, but other than that it wasn’t as exciting as I thought this framework would have been, based on how often I hear about it. It’s not necessarily lacking, but it’s not feature-rich in comparison to the other frameworks (granted, I did not test any child themes, which can add significant additional functionality).

Update: Someone from Genesis commented below that Genesis is never intended to be used without a child theme, either from them or custom-made. I tested the Lifestyle child theme, which provided some pre-made color options (always nice), and the Prose child theme, which is more of a blank canvas with all the css wp-admin options (colors, font options, and more). After testing these two child themes, I would suggest owning them all (the theme pack) to benefit from having the Genesis framework in a design that’s mostly done for you upon activating.

Recommended for: Designers and developers looking for a starting framework or looking to become a store developer. Or anyone looking for a theme framework with a large, strong community.

WooThemes

Overall, WooThemes sure seems to have their act together. Their theme options were refined and comprehensive. Of course, being the creator of WooCommerce, they have many integrations, which require a paid child theme per theme (usually $20). If you use WooCommerce, I don’t think there’s any reason not to use a WooThemes theme. You’ll have sufficient customization options and be part of a vibrant community.

I was surprised that there doesn’t seem to be a default options panel among the different themes. At least, it doesn’t have the same feel and organization from theme settings to theme settings. WooThemes informed me the Canvas theme was the most like a true framework (i.e. a lot of options). I would agree that Canvas’ options were many, but, personally, I’d like to see WooThemes have a consistent set of features (i.e. framework) with additional options per theme (i.e. like child themes). Elegant Themes does a better job of this, in my opinion.

Recommended for: Anyone looking for pre-made theme designs with extensive options, especially if looking for an “app theme” or if using WooCommerce.

  • Overall Value Rating: A
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: A

Headway Themes

Headway Themes provides a true drag-and-drop editor, based on an adjustable grid layout. You can start with a default layout of header area, navigation area, content and sidebar area, and footer area, but I found myself lost in the settings. It just wasn’t that intuitive. I felt like I was messing things up instead of making progress. I can definitely tell there was plenty more room to maximize the settings and customize layout to the n-th degree.

Recommended for: Anyone looking to customize every square inch of their design, all via a drag-and-drop editor. The right theme choice if you understand but cannot or do not want to hand-code CSS layouts and are very picky about every layout element, even per post/page.

  • Overall Value Rating: B
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: C

Catalyst Theme

Catalyst is an options-rich framework, enhanced by its affordable Marketplace extensions. My single greatest reason to not recommend this framework is because of lacking BuddyPress support, although it’s expected to be more compatible after an upcoming BuddyPress plugin update. (BuddyPress has since been added to Catalyst!)

If you’re not concerned about BuddyPress, or if you’re fine using a different theme if and when you’d ever need BuddyPress integration, then I’d welcome you to consider Catalyst Theme. It’s affordable; the support seems great; and the theme has a healthy set of options (update: I didn’t originally realize there was a super-useful front-end CSS builder). I can tell the team works hard to please all the users, but it reminds me of the Thesis theme (theme settings area is clunky) without Thesis’ popularity/community (a factor in rating Thesis’ Overall Value as a B instead of a C — since I’m not an SEO-theme junkie). I think if the settings were more intuitive (see link above for video of front-end CSS builder; it’s quite intuitive), I’d bump up my Overall Value rating for Catalyst Theme.

Recommended for: Anyone interested in picking a framework with a lot of options, interested in never paying for future updates.

  • Overall Value Rating: A (changed from B to A since they’ve added support for BuddyPress)
  • Customizability/Options Rating: A
  • User Experience Rating: B

Elegant Themes

Elegant Themes wins the prize for price-per-theme. The Elegant Themes inventory is extensive (75 themes at the time of this writing), all of which are both pretty and useful. They provide “app themes”, launch countdown, e-commerce, and industry-specific themes. If you would rather have pre-made themes for a variety of possible uses than have a strong framework to start your own customizations on top of, Elegant Themes is an excellent choice.

Although their ePanel is nearly-consistent throughout all the themes (how I wish WooThemes’ settings were), the options are few in comparison. However, the value of the plugins is tremendous. They can be used with any theme (not just Elegant Themes themes) and provide a lot of beneficial functionality. I tried several different themes, finding some of the ePanel options confusing, and I had difficulty understanding where the theme-specific options were hiding. Their theme demos looked great, but I had trouble figuring out how to get my site setup just right, like their demos seemed to be.

Recommended for: Anyone looking for pre-made theme designs with not-too-many options, especially if looking for an “app theme” or if you cannot make up your mind which pre-made theme(s) you want.

  • Overall Value Rating: A
  • Customizability/Options Rating: B
  • User Experience Rating: B

Conclusion

As an individual, I have a certain level of expectations and familiarities that may influence me toward appreciating certain settings and not others. These and other preferences of mine may lead me to choose a framework that someone else with the same pre-purchase information and expected use cases may not choose.

I tried to be unbiased, open-minded, and thorough. The themes are listed in random column order, and the feature-list is nearly comprehensive. If one of the features or designs is a decision-point for you, this extensive theme framework comparison effort has been worth it. I spent a lot of time giving each theme a full click-through and researching each compared item for accuracy.

Please share your thoughts, past experiences, points of decision in picking a framework, or expectations of how each company will fare in the future. Ultimately, we vote with our dollars, but adding your discussion point in the comments below will surely help others vote more intelligently.

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119 Responses

    Elliot Taylor

    Correction: WooThemes Canvas does not have Buddypress Child Theme any more. It has been discontinued. Labzip do provide a paid child theme – but this is not from Woo.

      Dallas McMillan

      This is a great comparison. It’s really useful because these theme frameworks rarely give you an accurate independent perspective of what to expect when you start using them.
      I’m a devoted Genesis user and I’ll make a few comments addressing Genesis.
      I’ve been pretty surprised how tricky it is to modify Genesis themes for the average (non-coder) user. I feel Genesis is really a developer’s or enthusiasts framework, rather than for the average Joe. For example, many of the themes don’t support WordPress custom header or background functions. Studiopress gives instructions how to simply add this in your functions.php file but that can be a great way to break your site if you don’t know what you are doing. Nothing that can’t be fixed with FTP, but you get my point: its not a point and click and drag type of theme.
      This is changing in some child themes etc.
      Now as a designer/developer this suits me, but your average person who has heard how easy it is to create a site with WordPress is going to be pretty surprised at the amount of technical nitty gritty required to acheive some pretty modest things with Genesis.

      Having said that, Genesis’ featured post functionality gets you off to a great start, and the wide range of excellent free plugins for sliders, layout, etc let you acheive a LOT with minimal coding. I feel you really need to know the framework pretty well before you can get the most out of it though.

      Once you do, it’s very powerful, and if you design for clients you can create a truly unique but stable child theme and they aren’t going to say “Wow, he just charged be two grand to do five minutes of drag and drop” which can be a risk with some themes.

      The main reason I’m so excited about Genesis is they have taken a leadership position with responsive design and I think this is a great tool for developers and helps me offer extra value to my clients.

        mylocalcause

        Dallas, I’m really glad you benefited from it. For how popular Genesis is (i.e. how many people I hear use it), I was surprised by the feature set. However, it’s really bolstered by the users/third parties because there are many extensions for it. All of them have potential to create professional, customized sites, and they all have their learning curves. Thanks for your comment.

    Matt Gross

    Hey Clifford!

    First, thank you for the many kind words about Thesis! I just wanted to fill in a few blanks for you.

    The DIYthemes twitter account is @diythemes. The showcase is http://diythemes.com/showcase. The support period is lifetime. The forum has private messaging and is only for subscribers. The child theme link you show is a completely real child theme. A skin is something different :)

    I think that covers it!

    Travis Smith

    Hello Clifford,

    You have also missed a couple of Genesis modifications:
    1. Genesis does have community tutorials: http://www.studiopress.com/tutorials/community
    2. Like the columns, Genesis also has Footer display/layout customizations via widgeted areas.
    3. Genesis also has a default favicon (with a plugin/hook to change this easily).
    4. Genesis also have Menu/Nav settings (as well as vintage options from Pre-Genesis 1.8 in plugins)

    Also, as you briefly stated, there are over 60+ plugins for Genesis specifically that extend Genesis to cover these other options (Background color/image settings, Fonts/Typography, etc.). See http://wpsmith.net/genesis-plugins/ for a list of all of them on one page.

    Thanks,

    Travis

      mylocalcause

      Travis, thank you for helping to make this review more accurate.
      1. I added the Community Tutorials link.
      2. I re-activated Genesis, went to the Widgets, and only saw “Header Right”, “Primary Sidebar”, and “Secondary Sidebar” widget areas. What widgetized footer areas are you referring to?
      3. Other than using a third-party plugin or manually creating/uploading (via FTP) your own favicon.ico file (both options described here – linked to from community tutorials page), how is the favicon feature included in Genesis? If you upload via Media Gallery or FTP and use a hook in functions.php, please provide that information.
      4. I changed the menu/nav settings feature from “blank” to “Y”. There are 2 menu areas (Primary and Secondary), with the option to enable Fancy Dropdowns and Extras on Right Side (today’s date, RSS feed link, Search form, or Twitter link).

      When possible, please provide a link or screenshot for each.

      I love your list of plugins, an excellent resource. As a result, I added the 404 Page information for Genesis too.

      As stated in the post, Genesis has a strong community and the most third-party plugins (a reflection of the community).

      Thank you.

    reidable

    Wow.. The only one in the list I do not own is Thesis. Although I have worked on it a little bit for a handed off client. I can’t really comment much on it.

    I gave up on Pagelines after the whole.. 2x to 3x thing, and their whole pricing.. The whole thing seemed a little crazy to me.. although they are out to make money right, I just know they ticked off a bunch of people.

    I probably use Catalyst the most when making a new site from scratch for a basic pamphlet style site. I swear they have the most information on “how to’s” out there. Video’s, posts and then there is the forums, plus the ability to edit css live on the front end of the site is awesome.

    If i need something a little more “compatible” I jump on Genesis right away and use some of the plugin’s for fast compatibility. I like this theme. Their tutorials are a little more vague, as is the answers in the forums. This is not for a newbie as much as Catalyst would be.

    The Catalyst folks have put out a Dynamik theme for Gensis though.. so that’s worth looking into.

    Another one I own, which I have found absolutely awesome this last little bit are the MySiteMyWay Themes. – I don’t work for them..

    There Features: http://mysitemyway.com/features/features-overview/
    responsive
    child themes
    they have a document wiki on how to’s for various stuff
    support forum
    skins and skin creator
    60+ Cufon fonts
    built in shortcodes
    specific pages like a landing page and a featured area page that changes the layout etc.
    Jigoshop Child theme that works with all theme’s.
    Custom Sidebars
    Multiple icon styles for social plus ability to add more.
    Custom Widgets
    Form Creator
    Image Resizing

    Lots more..

    They are just as good as Woo or Elegant for sure. Woo Theme’s on it’s own I suppose.. maybe not with WooCommerce thrown into the mix.

    I was always a little skeptical of them, I can’t really explain why.. other than I hadn’t really heard of them.

    Their support forum is good, fast response, and they have a decent number of different type theme’s that are easy to customize. Very happy with them.

    They do use the same framework for all their theme’s as well, but there is no notification when an update is out.

    It works with other plugin’s like event’s calendar pro for example.

    They have Child Theme’s for BuddyPress: http://mysitemyway.com/buddypress-child-themes/

    I think it would meet all your requirements you mentioned at the start of your post, I understand you can’t include all of them.. Just wanted to mention them is all. As I said.. I’m pretty impressed so far. They are also responsible for the Awake theme on Themeforest, and for inFocus which sold 10103 times.

    Good article by the way, I hope it helps people who haven’t had the opportunity to try them all to make an informed decision.

      mylocalcause

      Christopher, I’m glad to receive your comment. I have loved all the stuff MySiteMyWay did before they got into WordPress themes — they’ve got great (free) icons and a bunch more stuff. I just never tried their WordPress stuff before. I’m glad to hear (and should have known) that they did “it” right. I’ll refresh myself of their products in the future. Another framework to consider, one I’ve been meaning to test “someday”, is Dev4Press’ xScape. That guy makes great (but expensive) plugins, and I’m curious what he does in his theme framework.

      I don’t know of any reasons to be concerned with WooThemes, and I’m glad to hear a more experienced Catalyst user stick up for their product. I can definitely tell they work hard to provide users with a good experience. However, I’m unfamiliar with the front-end CSS editor you mentioned (or maybe I’m not thinking of it in the same way).

      Regarding PageLines, their 1.x to 2.x was a significant framework change (much for the better). 2.0 to 2.5 (Bootstrap version) has been an excellent upgrade. I imagine by the time they get to 3.x, I’ll be impressed enough with the features to keep considering them a valid option, especially if using for client sites (i.e. getting paid puts the focus on features moreso than just price).

      For all the theme frameworks, I wish them all great success because it helps the WordPress community, plus, I prefer using premium extensions.

      oscar_gonzalez

      I wish you would have included Atahualpa. While free, it has better support than all 7 of these, faster, more caring and often more helpful. You have the option of using the free forum support or get premium support with a yearly donation comparable to the price of a full theme as listed above.

      Other than that, your review and breakdown is superb. Great job and thanks for sharing, extremely useful.

        mylocalcause

        Oscar, thanks for bringing up the Atahualpa theme as a contender. I wouldn’t say any of these themes have better or worse support. Ideally, the theme would be designed so perfectly and be so flexible that it doesn’t need much support — obviously, that’ll never happen because people will miss features (like I did several times) and need to be pointed in the right directions. As stated in the post, I was only comparing premium theme frameworks. Thanks for your kind words and, yes, it took a while but was good to get a checklist of features to compare. I hope it helps a lot of people.

    Michael Davis

    I’m surprised this article gives such a low rating to Catalyst on User Experience. The user experience is one of Catalyst’s greatest “surprise” features. Novice users have hundreds of styling options to choose from while advanced users can go straight to the front-end CSS builder that wasn’t even mentioned.

    For everyone who is somewhere in between Novice and Advanced you can use Catalyst at the level best suited for your skills. Some of the other frameworks mentioned only cater to those at the highest or lowest skill levels without the ability to adapt that makes Catalyst so awesome.

    I’ve used Catalyst since it was released a year and a half ago to build client sites and have never seen the “difficulty integrating with popular plugins” sited for not recommending it. BuddyPress I get, but BuddyPress has issues with many themes and frameworks. For a while there was a lack of shopping cart plugins that worked well with any framework but that seems to be changing lately too. Other than that, I don’t get what popular plugins it doesn’t work with.

    Your article implies that it has serious deficiencies related to plugins and I doubt you will find anyone who actually uses Catalyst to agree with that statement.

    Thanks for taking the time to build such a comprehensive chart, however. I can imagine this took a lot of work.

      mylocalcause

      Michael, I was provided a video tutorial for the front-end CSS builder — definitely a nice feature. It is similar to Headway Themes’ theme designer feature, but more user-friendly, although without as many theme-specific options.

      After a few Catalyst users have “shown me the Catalyst light”, I realize I didn’t notice some of its defining features. I agree the front-end CSS builder is a valuable tool, but my not realizing such a great feature was there feels to me like a user experience issue. Obviously, with any theme/framework that an individual has used before, you’ll be very familiar with all of its features and go right to the settings you want to tweak. With this comparison coming from a high-level view — aimed at helping someone realize the similarities and differences — I do believe the new user “where do I start” question is a good measure of user experience. Granted, I’m not perfect. :-)

      Regarding integrations, if a premium theme framework doesn’t have a default or third-party “plug-and-play” way to support BuddyPress, it’s just not a theme for me. Personally, if I’m looking to buy — commit to — a single framework for all my current and potential sites, I wouldn’t want one that doesn’t have BuddyPress. That’s just me. Plus, I read in the forums about others’ plugin conflicts and that gave me the impression that the theme was not as compatible as I would expect it to be. Props for WooCommerce and Jigoshop, and for recognizing that BuddyPress-compatibility is something on the to-do list.

        Michael Davis

        Hey Clifford,

        I commend you just for taking on this project. I would have gotten to about the third framework and gone running back to the one I know and love best! It’s great how responsive you have been to everyone’s comments!

          mylocalcause

          It took longer than I thought it would. The hardest part was coming up with and organizing a template for comparing them. I went through a similar mental process (didn’t write it all down like this) several months ago and, although client projects could pay for any of these for me, I didn’t want to have the situation where I was learning a new theme’s options or framework for each new client/project. To be honest, it was partly a stab in the dark and if the one I picked was just terrible, I’d get the refund or just eat it and pick a different one.

          Designers, Hackers, Developers, and teams will all be looking for different features. I know there’s more to be compared, but if you can’t narrow it down to 1 or 2 from the tables (and links) above, you’re pickier than I am, and I’m picky, lol. If this comparison was 3-12 months in the future, I would have a spot for Retina Display support, for example.

          If you have any tips for comparison, feel free to share.

    Eric Hamm

    Hey Clifford,

    Great overall framework review and I’m sure it’s something that will be useful to many out there.

    Just a few things regarding Catalyst that need to be tweaked:

    -Catalyst is very much BBPress compatible:

    …from our forum…
    http://catalysttheme.com/forum/showthread.php?5737-BBPress-and-Catalyst&p=29341&viewfull=1#post29341

    …from a 3rd party blog…
    http://blogigs.com/is-bbpress-compatible-with-the-catalyst-theme/

    -Catalyst does allow you to add your own custom Favicon.

    -You mentioned “Basik” as the Child Theme that is free to all Catalyst users, but it’s actually Dynamik, the Catalyst Child Theme with all the design options, is the one that’s included with Catalyst and free to all users. Basik is, in fact, free to Personal and Developer Edition members, but Dynamik is the one that’s included with the Framework.

    Again, great job on this and I know this took quite a bit of work to put together, so hats off for that. :)

    Eric

      mylocalcause

      Eric, thanks for stopping by. I have changed the bbPress column above. Also, I did use both Basik and Dynamik. Doing a “find on page” search in my browser, I didn’t see any mention of ‘Basik’ in my post. The only mention of ‘Dynamik’ in my post was the last compared item, “Settings reset button”, which I saw for ‘Dynamik’ options but not the parent theme’s options. Looking through the theme again, I now see a ‘[Core Options Reset]’ link at the bottom-right. So I updated that to a simple, “Yes”.

      Regarding the favicon support: In my opinion, if I have to upload the favicon image via FTP, I don’t really count that as any different than if I just upload favicon.ico to my site’s root folder (where browsers automatically pick it up anyway). So I guess I’d rate that as 50% “Yes” because of supporting other image formats (no one likes .ico files — stupid that Photoshop doesn’t even save into that format). I provided that link and changed it to ‘Y’.

      By the way, I LOVE the idea of your ‘Restore Points’ for settings. I think that’s the sort of feature that all these themes should implement. Another great thing is the option to disable SEO settings, in case I want to use a plugin instead.

      I also edited my commentary about third-party plugin support to specifically non-BuddyPress.

      Since I have needed to make the most corrections to Catalyst, what is your take on my “Recommended for” commentary in the post?

        mylocalcause

        Update: I found the link to Basik and made it more clear in the comparison fields. Basik is a ‘sample’ child theme (to get you started making your own). Dynamik is the child theme included with all purchases. In my comment above, I said I used ‘Basik’, but I was actually referring to ‘Core’/Parent Theme options (i.e. Catalyst options without Dynamik).

        Michael Davis

        Catalyst has a built in image upload manager so you don’t need to FTP any images outside Catalyst, including favicon, which can be in any format, not just .ico. :)

            Eric Hamm

            Looks good Clifford! I appreciate the tweaks you’ve made and your clear desire to make this blog post as accurate as possible for future visitors looking for a solid WP framework comparison piece.

            Regarding the Favicon support, you are correct that the .ico images have to be FTP’d because they cause issues with our built-in Image Uploader. So I totally understand your 50% statement.

            Regarding your “Recommended for” question, that’s totally up to you since it’s your review. The only thing I would point out is that you’re very vague with statements like:

            “Anyone interested in picking a framework with a lot of options”

            That doesn’t tell the reader much since the above could both mean “…with a lot of crappy options…” and “…with a lot of useful options…”

            Catalyst isn’t just a bunch of random toggles and switches thrown into an admin panel, but is instead packed with very mindfully placed options that work extremely well together, offering the end-user the kind of control that is usually only available to professional web designers and hard core coders.

            But that’s just how I would word it. ;)

            Either way, I appreciate your positive feedback and flexibility. :)

            Eric

            Michael Davis

            Hey Clifford,

            I didn’t realize there are situations when you must FTP the favicon.ico file. I guess I hadn’t been concerned enough about IE (Please go away!) :)

      mylocalcause

      Christina and Bob, I started with PageLines, Genesis, and Thesis in mind. I think Genesis and Thesis have the most “mind share”. A random reader asked WPMU.org to review/talk about PageLines 2.5 (PL recently converted to being based on Twitter Bootstrap and the reader thought that it was awesome). Then I remembered considering Catalyst in the past for my own use and knew it was definitely a framework. Then I figured I couldn’t do a review without including WooThemes and Elegant Themes because they are so popular. I did think about including iThemes’ Builder but just didn’t get around to it. That’s why the title of the post is “7 of the most popular” instead of “THE 7 most popular” — because who really knows which are THE most popular? As it was, I could barely fit in these 8 columns onto WPMU.org’s content area; that’s why some Twitter handles and words are spaced or hyphenated (to make the columns thinner).

      As soon as I started on it, I imagined there would be a “Part 2”, for which I would include iThemes’ Builder. To be honest, they didn’t ever come up in my searches for theme frameworks on Google. I will reach out to them if/when I do Part 2 for this, with a new set of 4-7 frameworks to compare.

      Are there any others you’d like to see included?

      Thanks!

        Christina Hills

        Clifford,

        Thanks for your reply. Yes I spoke to a few developers who were also surprised that iThemes Builder was not in the list.

        I look forward to a a part2!

        :) Christina

          webfocus

          I’m one other who would love to see Builder covered as it has become my go to framework. I own 4 others you reviewed here and I’m just sorry I didn’t discover Builder sooner.

          Not all frameworks are well suited to everyone and “mind share” to me is a minor consideration other than how it might correlate to the size of the company and their ability to giv good support.

          Quality, flexibility and how well a framework plays with the WordPress ecosystem’s best practices are far more important criteria to me. In that respect, Builder truly shines.

          Further, a framework that appeals to a new or casual WP user or a non-coder may not look as good to a seasoned Web designer/developer who is not afraid of coding. Drag and Drop is cool but it can limit the flexibility of the framework in a lot of ways (in my experience). I much prefer directly editing template files in a child theme than using hooks to fine tune a layout so Builder and WooThemes Canvas (or the Woo framework) have a definite edge over the 3 other frameworks I own for me now. Yet both have great hooks and filters systems too.

          When I started with WordPress, my knowledge of PHP was limited at best and my knowledge of WordPress itself was nil. So that affected my early framework choices. Now what I want is complete flexibility and that’s exactly what Builder gives me.

          Anyway, great article and can’t wait to see part 2!

            Clifford P

            Stéphane, thank you for chiming in. iThemes Builder is definitely on the list for part 2. iThemes does good stuff, so I’d expect Builder to get good marks. Regarding hooks and filters, that’s what the Action Map / CSS Map is for — one of the comparison items in my list above. Other than Builder and the ones mentioned here, have you tried any others that you think should be included in Part 2?

        Dean Brady

        Oh, so now I’m just a random reader… :-) Great article Clifford. I actually have used iThemes Builder and all the others and find there are things I like about each. I struggled trying to find the right match of features, flexibility, ease of use and strong developer community which is what finally landed me with PageLines. There are still some features I like better in other frameworks but for me, PageLines is the best fit.

        While not a framework, I’d love to see a similar article about all the new “builder” plugins that are springing up. Some of these are part of frameworks like Headway and others are just plugins like Impact, Ether Content Builder, Visual Composer, Builder (from Elegant themes) and others. For non developers, these types of tools are offering tremendous capability for the average user. Hopefully these types of features will be added into some of the frameworks.

          mylocalcause

          Dean, I hadn’t heard of Ultimatum prior to AppSumo (that’s what AppSumo is for, right!). I haven’t tried it, but it was on my list to consider for Part 2.

          I agree that builder plugins are a great iteration of WordPress theming. Thanks for sharing your favorites. I hadn’t heard of some of those.

    Melvis E. León L.

    You have wrong info about Headway:

    1) Headway has 4 free child themes for Developer Licence using credits.
    2) Headway has email support.
    3) Headway use wordpress auto-update.
    4) In the Codex is a sample Child Theme free.
    5) Headway 3.0 use LESS.

      mylocalcause

      Melvis, thank you for your comment.
      1) When the only differences between the $87 and $174 are the 4 free child themes and access to beta updates, I wouldn’t consider them “free”; but that’s just me. I did update the post to make the distinction, however.
      2) Headway’s Support Policy page states, “Headway Themes provides the theme and framework support via the community support forums, knowledge base and tutorials. We will also provide support via our email ticket system when we direct you to submit a ticket. This may happen those times when we feel more individual attention to your issue may be required.”
      To me, that means ‘no’. Email support, to me, is that I can initiate a ticket/support request via email. They also state on that page that you can Tweet them, that they’re very active on Twitter.
      3) updated – changed from “blank” to “Y”
      4) I found the Headway Codex entry about ‘Child Themes 101’, at the bottom of which is a blank/empty child theme .zip file to download. They’ve provided the format but not an actual child theme (supplemental design/functionality). I updated the post to reflect the sample child theme. I made some other edits to the way child themes were referenced in the tables above, hopefully a more consistent comparison now.
      5) Although I searched and didn’t find any mention of LESS (a feature I figured they’d want to promote), I did look through the theme files and saw some .less files and other mentions of LESS (PHP and other files). I updated the post. Great catch. Thanks!

      Thank you.

    Org Spring

    to start, amazing round up post clifford. Over the past five or six years I’ve worked with all of these themes, but find myself coming back to thesis when it’s time for client sites. It’s just clean, and with very few lines of code you can add back standard WP functionality that might have been stripped in the framework, like featured images, post thumbnail options, etc.

    I’ve also found their developer community is second to none. There are some wicked smart people there, and their forums are unrivaled by any other framework. Some of their posts have literally hundreds of entries and solutions. In more than five years I have yet to run into a problem with thesis that wasn’t solved by the forum members in less than 48 hours – and for free. Some people even took the time time to rewrite my code when it wasn’t working.

    Not taking anything away from the other frameworks, but in my experience, Thesis and @diythemes are second to none.
    Great post.

    Neils Olesen

    Great comparison. As a developer always looking for ways to compare options for my clients, I appreciate the time and effort you put into this piece.

    Rebecca Diamond

    Hi Clifford,

    Thanks for including the Genesis framework in your review. I would like to clarify few points regarding Genesis.

    To begin with, Genesis isn’t intended to use without a child theme, under any circumstances. If you’ll use our contact form to send me your email address, I’d be glad to send you a sample of Lifestyle. I think you’ll only get the full experience of the framework when it’s used as it’s intended to be used.

    The StudioPress division of Copyblogger Media is overseen by 6 employees, as well as a great team of volunteer moderators and Community Leaders.

    Our pricing structure begins with $59.95 for Genesis + all of our free child themes. Additional child themes can be purchased a la carte for $24.95-$44.95, before the 25% repeat customer discount is applied. As you mentioned, we also offer a Pro Plus package for $349.95, which includes Genesis, and all current and future StudioPress child themes.

    We offer many tutorials available to the general public without any purchase. In addition to the ones featured here: http://www.studiopress.com/blog and here: http://www.studiopress.com/tutorials, you’ll find many community-contributed tutorials elsewhere. As Travis mentioned, we have some of those posted here: http://www.studiopress.com/tutorials/community. We are fortunate to have a vibrant and active community who are very generous about sharing their knowledge.

    Currently, 21 of our child themes include built-in alternative color schemes – you can view those here: http://www.studiopress.com/choose-theme. Our Prose child theme includes an expansive design settings screen for granular point/click control of your design. In addition many of our child themes include the use of Google fonts.

    Our themes are BuddyPress capable without the purchase of the plugin – however, GenesisConnect removes the need to make manual template changes to incorporate BuddyPress.

      mylocalcause

      Rebecca, thank you for the information. Going off the purchase page and clicking around through the framework within wp-admin, never was I informed that Genesis wasn’t supposed to be used without a child theme. That might be an issue to consider for UX. I don’t think I did the review incorrectly because the Genesis framework is what I was looking to compare, not the large variety of different options available via different child themes. FYI: I did send an email for the Lifestyle and Prose themes, assuming Prose is the most like a framework (like what WooThemes said of their Canvas theme).

      I updated the BuddyPress field, but could you please provide the link to the instructions for editing a theme for BuddyPress? If it’s too painful, I’d lean toward saying Genesis doesn’t do BuddyPress without the plugin. Although, it’s great you have a plugin. I don’t have anything wrong with charging for that, just trying to keep comparisons consistent.

      Please let me know if you think the number of staff/team is worded properly now.

      Thank you very much.

    JB Ablaza Macatulad

    Many thanks for this amazingly informative, detailed post. I’m a designer who’s been working with pre-made WP themes and tweaking them to suit my clients’ needs, but sometimes I can’t achieve the customization that I want which is why I’ve decided to invest in a framework. Based on your review and others I’ve read online, Catalyst appears to be the right one for my needs and skill level. Thanks again for making the decision easier.

      mylocalcause

      I’m very glad that you’ve been able to use this review exactly as it was intended. I spent a long time in the past trying to decide and there were too many features to consider to keep it all straight in my head. I’m glad my efforts paid off for you. Personally, I always wondered if the grass was greener so I was happy to get to test these popular frameworks. Among these, with this information at hand, I’d say the grass likely isn’t greener, just a different shade of green. I hope you enjoy Catalyst. I’m sure you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Don’t skimp on price. :-)

    kdetwieler

    I would agree with your review on the intutiveness for headway. I poured over reviews for drag and drop editors and found msyelf waivering between headway and pagelines. I have tried pagelines and found it to be pretty straight forward, but it just seemed to be missing something I couldn’t quite identify. Aftering reading on their site, watching the videos, etc…I bought headway, hoping I would not regret it as they don’t issue refunds.

    I spend some time initially very frustrated at wrapping my head around all the settings. With some determination and the wrapping of my brain around the whole concept I finally got comfortable.

    If you can get past that initial frustation period, I think you’ll finally find what you’re looking for like I did, complete flexibility and fast. One feature I really enjoy takes a page out of the CSS book. It’s mirroring your blocks. You want a header, code it. You want that same header on 10 pages, make your block and just set it to “mirror”, done.

    Support is good, I’ve found them to be fast and very knowledgeable. I believe the lifetime license is worth it. I haven’t taken much interest in child themes but the plugins I have. Chris Howards PizazzWP plugins are awesome, and there is a new plugin called the “Utility Plugin” that is very nice. It combines drag and drop with short codes and quick settings to really make headers, footers, toolbars, and menus super flexible and fast.

    When I first bought headway I thought I had made a mistake. But I stuck with it and found the product I had been looking for. You’re pretty much limited only by your imagination. There is no looking back for me now. If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them as best as I can.

    After all that maybe I should sign up for an affiliate account…

      mylocalcause

      Keith, thanks for sharing your experiences. When I looked at Headway Themes’ editor, I could tell a lot of work went into making it all happen. I would say Headway is a bit more of a “layout only” sort of drag-and-drop and PageLines is more of a blend between layout and functionality, having drag-and-drop modules (‘Sections’ as they call them) that have different functionality. It sounds like the Utility Plugin brings it closer to the PageLines options, but I imagine it’s still not the same if you’re looking for drag-and-drop bits of functionality instead of drag-and-drop mostly layout-only settings. Have you tried PageLines? See above for the wp-admin demo link. I’d be curious to get your feedback on PageLines since you’re familiar with Headway Themes.

        Douglas Castro

        Clifford, Great reading. Just curious, have you heard back from Keith Detwieler asking him to provide you feedback on Pagelines versus Headway. since he is familiar with Headway Themes. By the way what version of Headway does Keith Detwieler have. I am leaning back-and-forth between Pagelines and Headway. I like Headway’s method of placing “blocks” where ever on your static page. Plus Headway pricing and licensing is more favorable then Pagelines. Just worried, what Headway advertises does not work most or all of the time.

        Any feedback would be appreciated…

          mylocalcause

          Douglas, I haven’t received a reply from the initial commenter, Keith Detwieler. However, I wanted to make sure I don’t misinterpret your comment about Headway not working — are you saying they don’t work or are you asking if they work? I don’t think there was question of whether Headway ‘works’ or not (it is functional). I think there is just feedback that it’s not very intuitive when you first get started.

          Look above in the post and you’ll see the links for wp-admin demos; they both offer that. Try them out and see which you like better.

          My personal take on it is that PageLines has Sections, little bits of functionality, that you drag and drop around to make your page’s content appear. So you drag a text box, then a Hero section, then a Scroll Spy, then a Boxes section, etc. Then, per page, you insert the content within each page’s text box, Hero section, etc. If you want a different layout, you just create another template and apply that to your page — completely separate layout if you want. PageLines has more Store offerings, and you get quite a bit of functionality with the PageLines Plus monthly subscription (and a lower initial purchase price). Headway is very similar but my take on it is that it’s more for how your page is laid out, not so much modules/content areas as PageLines. You might also want to consider Catalyst’s front-end editor feature. It’s not drag-and-drop, but it is a non-coder-friendly way to customize.

          PageLines and Headway are very similar in their goals (drag-and-drop) but different in their implementation. The best thing you can do is try the demos and consider the benefits/add-ons you get with your purchase. I hope you find the right one and that it helps maximize your efficiency and features that you’re able to offer your clients.

          Feel free to reply with any comments, feedback, or your decision and reasons. Thanks for commenting!

            Douglas Castro

            Thank you Clifford for your reply. I notice Keith Detieler responded Aug 7th. That was the information I was looking for. Meaning what was Keith’s feedback after trying Pagelines and Headway. I only wish Keith mentioned the version of Pageline used. I did read Pagelines license are limited unless to select the development option ($197) where as Headway license is not limited. I hope I read that correctly.

            Doug

            Clifford P

            Yes, you would need the PageLines Developer version to use the framework for client sites. However, Keith also pointed out that he wanted a pay-once-forever theme, not a subscription model like PageLines has. In terms of UX, the lower-level PageLines are the same as the Dev version. Not sure if that’s what you were asking about for PL.

        kdetwieler

        I have tried pagelines. Originally when I was looking this was the closest thing to what I wanted. They have a brilliant product. They do differ in their mode of implementation. I can’t speak too much of pagelines because I eventually abandoned my trial for headway.

        What I can say is that yes, headway is layout focused. I’m using the latest version 3.2.3. You literally draw your “block” on screen with your mouse. If it’s not in the place you want it you drag it where you want it.

        After that, you decide what block it is. Will it be a block of text, header, widget, footer? It can even be a custom piece of code. I find that really helpful as I like to add in custom buttons or bits of functionality.

        Headway also has the ability to use templates. This is a feature I really like as well. After the template is created I just apply it to whatever pages I want selectively. However I also have the option of modifying any page individually. It’s very flexible that way.

        In the end, the tipping point for me were two things. Flexibility (not that pagelines does not have it, just not the way I was looking for) and price.

        I’m really much more fond of the lifetime license if I’m going to make an investment. I thought the price was too high for pagelines. I figured after a coulpe of years headway would be paid for and I’d still be paying for pagelines. I don’t mind a subscription license per se, but I try to avoid them.

        I have used jigoshop with headway and I find that it works, but I’ve spend a lot of time contacting jigoship support. Their support is good. I’ve worked through any issues I’ve had with headway, and jigoshop.

        Sorry for the late response all.

          mylocalcause

          Keith, thanks for checking in and providing more feedback. PageLines 2.2.x is different than prior versions and PageLines Framework is way different than PageLines Platform (1.x). I’m not sure which version you used in the past, but it’s still modular, not layout style like Headway. I hope my post and all these comments help those WP shoppers have an easier time than we did in picking our primary framework. It’s not an easy decision.

    Richard

    To any owner of Catalyst it’s obvious you spent mere minutes trying to take in the concept so you could immediately start adding “facts” to your chart. I see the dev has jumped in and tried to politely correct a few of your more woeful errors. If your “review” of other themes is as poor, then this whole article is best ignored.

      mylocalcause

      Richard, I didn’t spend hours dissecting each theme. I activated them all, looked around through the wp-admin settings, played around with some of the more unique settings, searched through forum posts and instruction guides (I didn’t sign up for the 250+ page Catalyst guide because it was from a 3rd party and it felt like something I would receive sales-y/spammy emails from), and searched around the web for information.

      A staff member and/or user from each of the 7 theme reviews commented here or emailed me privately to make edits or confirm accuracy. At the time of your comment, this thing’s pretty much wrapped up in a pretty bow. I have already re-reviewed all these themes (including Catalyst) with fresh eyes and a finer-tooth comb for accuracy’s sake. To be honest, anyone could code their own theme without a framework, or one could do anything with any of these frameworks. The distinctions between them are their options, shortcuts, support, community, documentation, and extensions/stores, about which I think I provided sufficient enough and accurate information for anyone considering one of these options.

      I’m glad you’re a pleased Catalyst user, and I’m not offended by what you choose to ignore, in this post or elsewhere. If you think any of the information above is incorrect or have constructive feedback to share, please do.

        looking coder

        I am looking to provide a platform for WPMU users to create thier own themes without any coding knowledge or skills at all.

        Could anyone recommend a framework that might work best for that?

        I was looking at Catalyst / Pageline / Headway

        Any advise is appreciated

          mylocalcause

          Hi looking coder. I think the answer depends on how much customization your users would want. If they’d want to customize every inch of the site but don’t know any CSS, I’d say Headway or Catalyst has more of a visual editor. PageLines is more of drag-and-drop bits of functionality or modules (called Sections). However, layout for PageLines can also be layout-friendly if you use the grid (new in 2.2.x). I’d recommend demoing them yourself and see what you think your users would be most comfortable with.

            looking coder

            Hi,

            Most of the users will be novices, so it would need to be very much drag and drop based, however i notice not many of these support buddypress which is problematic.

            Does anyone know if pagelines is due for a upgrade from 2.x to 3.x anytime soon, it would be horrid to get something only to find it superseeded a few months in.

            Clifford P

            I know PageLines is always working to enhance/improve their products. I also know they are discreet with new launches until they feel they have something ready to sell and worth upgrading to. I don’t expect one will come in 1-3 months, even at the earliest, but I don’t work for PageLines. I’m just speculating that it’d be a while, from the knowledge I do have. To be honest, it’s sort of a moot point. If you buy the version 2.x now, you’ll likely get a discount off the 3.x full price, and if you like PageLines 2.x, you’ll surely love 3.x.

    Doug Greene

    This is one of the best comparisons I’ve seen of all these themes. It’s obvious you spent a lot of time doing the initial research – and also a fair bit of time dealing with all the follow-up comments.

    Though I can do some CSS, etc., I’m more of a “content guy”. I want a theme that is relatively easy to use and grasp right out of the box. I own and have tried Thesis, Genesis, Builder and Canvas. For me, Canvas is by far the best.

    As you alluded to, Thesis is sort of out there doing its own thing. I never could wrap my brain around Builder. Genesis, as you also noted, doesn’t seem to have nearly as much flexibility as the others unless you really dig in under the good. Plus, I found their tutorials to be seriously lacking.

    But Canvas … it seems to strike a nice balance of ease of use, great flexibility, and awesome support. And their tutorials are awesome. Anyway, thanks for doing this review; it’s really, really good.

    ~Doug

    scott_tuchman

    You really missed the boat by not including for review both Ultimatum and YOO themes. YOOtheme’s framework is rock solid, offers a tremendous amount of theme choices, is incredibly easy to use and their WidgetKit plugin is very versatile.

    If you want to start with a blank canvas and design pages the way you want without any restrictions on widget positions and have 100% control over every aspect of the CSS and build native responsive with the best developer forum support and did I mention that you can white label your theme, then Ultimatum blows Catalyst out of the water!

      Clifford P

      Hi Scott. Thanks for the kind words. ;-)

      Ultimatum and YOOtheme are in Round 2, coming soon. I just found out about YOOtheme’s Widget Kit and am really looking forward to getting to use it, with and without YOOtheme themes!

      Check back in a few days to a couple weeks for Round 2, organized in the same format.

    Krystal Knapp

    This is a very helpful overview Clifford. It would be interesting to look at the code of the different frameworks and the number of database queries a page makes out of the box. I use Thesis and it loads superfast, but I am not a designer or coder, just a journalist, so if I want to go beyond the basics (fonts, etc.) I need to hire a professional. The Woo framework looks like something I could have a lot more control over as a non-techie, but I hear it loads sore slowly because the user friendly interface and other things bulk it up. Not sure if this is truel or if Woo has stremlined things in recent months, for example with new version of Canvas. Thanks again.

      Clifford P

      Hi Krystal. I appreciate the compliments, and I can tell you that I ran each theme through a couple checks and nothing came up that was glaring. I installed all of them on the same WordPress single-site install on WPEngine’s hosting and didn’t really notice any slowness. There’s so much that goes into defining “fast vs slow” that I didn’t make mention of it because I didn’t notice it myself during testing. Obviously, if one was always taking 5 seconds to load and the others consistently took 1 second, I’d point out something was amiss with a consistent 5sec load. I hope this response helps. Let me know if it doesn’t.

    Patrick Smulders

    Clifford, thanks for the review/comparison you did on these 7 frameworks. For some 2 years I’m busy with premium themes and find myself shifting towards frameworks more and more. I’m not coding and I like graphical work the most, so I ended up with 3 of the ones you reviewed: Thesis (first one, and the only one I regret ever have bought), Catalyst and Headway. The last two mentioned I like a lot not only because of the functionality, but also because of no-nonsense license conditions and the active and sympathetic support and communities.

    By the way I don’t think you missed the boat with Ultimatum. I bought this some months ago with a discount an d very much like the THEME, also again because of the ambitious plans of the developer and the enthusiastic community. However it IS a theme and not a framework, despite child themes are being developed. If something is a framework as soon as there are child themes, then quite some very good Envato Themeforest candidates qualify for part 2 of your review. Sorry Scott and others.

    Though I don’t think you missed the boat on it, YOOtheme however is the big surprise for me. One early commenter mentioned it, I visited there website and I’m really impressed by the apparent quality and professionality of all they offer. I even took a license to try their products and I think you should review them next. They use a real framework, but is seems to be connected to their themes in a way that you cannot update the framework separately from the theme like with the other frameworks. Furthermore, if you think Headway and Catalyst are complex to learn, then be prepared for YOOtheme.

    One remark I would like to make about your Thesis ratings. You seem, as I do, to want to choose a framework as a professional tool on which you can base your projects for the coming 2-5 years. In my opinion then professional and RELIABLE release planning is important and to be very transparent about this. Having learned and read about the Thesis 2.0 hoax that’s going on by now for some 4 years already, feeling pity for the naive believers and the arrogance Christ Pearson treats them with, I think you should reconsider the high scores for Thesis.

    Looking very much forward for your part 2, and thanks also for al the good quality comments which were very helpfull.

      Clifford P

      Patrick, thanks for your detailed comment. I will be including iThemes Builder, YOOtheme, and some others in Round 2, hopefully coming very soon.

      I agree that no-nonsense licensing is purchaser-friendly, but I understand why some don’t offer forever upgrades or other differences. The worst thing would be to commit to a theme/framework and then have it go belly-up or get abandoned, whether it cost $40 or $400.

      Regarding Thesis, I guess I should clarify the “high scores” for Thesis… The scores are in context or complementary to the commentary about each theme. Thesis, to me, seems limited and somewhat backwards (i.e. non-WP standards), but for those looking for a theme where you can customize all the things that Thesis lets you customize, it’s the right theme for them. Personally, it’s not ever going to be the right theme for me, which I think is fairly clear in the commentary about the theme. That doesn’t mean it’s not right for others.

      I admit that I was unpleasantly surprised by Thesis and Genesis, simply because they seem to have had the greatest mindshare for years, and, thus, I thought they would just blow my mind (i.e. high expectations). For one thing, I thought Genesis would have had more framework options (as opposed to child theme options). Again, this doesn’t mean it’s not right for someone else. I think any solid theme framework with a lot of child themes included (like Genesis’ Pro-Plus All Theme Package) is a great value.

      Let me know if you have anything else to share.

    Dean Brady

    Patrick,

    I agree with you on “what makes a framework”. There are quite a few very flexible themes on ThemeForest (and other sites) but I don’t consider them true frameworks in the same context as PageLines, Builder, Headway.

    If you haven’t looked at PageLines, I really suggest you do. Their new store and development community is taking off like crazy. They just launched at new free/hosted site you can check out – http://pagelines.me/

      Clifford P

      Hi Dean. Yes, the word “framework” is sort of loose when you consider popular theme “packages” (the right word?) like WooThemes, Elegant Themes, and others. Technically, thanks to the built-in WordPress Child Theme functionality, any theme can have a set of options by default (i.e. become “the framework”) and be built upon by implementing a Child Theme (caveat: themes like Thesis do their own thing instead but the end result is the same).

    Lisa E

    I’m a Headway user–a blogger (not a developer)–who’s looking to make a switch. I’d like something that’s similar to HW because I like to make the layout be whatever I want and to vary on certain pages. However, I also want something that’s a tiny bit easier to use. I don’t mind a little CSS, etc, but can’t deal with things like PHP. I want easy updates, too, and to not have to rebuild my site because there’s a new version every year.

    The bottom line is that whatever I switch to, I don’t want to have to spend hours or days watching tutorials/reading documentation. At the same time, I don’t want to have to spent a lot of money on a developer. Sure, I can pay for a few hours here and there, but I want to do most of the work myself.

    I’m currently looking at Pagelines and Woo’s Canvas. Any thoughts about these options for someone like myself?

      Patrick Smulders

      I guess you refer to the upgrade from HW2 to HW3 and that there’s till now no option to convert an existing HW2 site? I guess this can happen to every major upgrade with any framework when it’s not compatible with older themes anymore. It’s very unpleasant, like you would upgrade to Photoshop CS6 and not being able to open CS5 anymore. Anyway since I use HW3 already the framework is updated five times without forcing me to change anything.

      The only option very similar to HW is Pagelines, but I disliked the costs and the monthly payments. Canvas (I recently bought it too) is, however WooThemes most allround theme, far less visual and flexible in the layout of pages. So, I think, despite your present experience you still have maybe the one best suiting your wishes. Their are nice less known sellers at Themeforest who offer visual pagebuilder functions combined with childtheme possibilities. So maybe look at themes instead of frameworks, cause the line is very thin, even in this review.

        Clifford P

        Hi Patrick. (Have I seen your name somewhere before?)

        Headway is like nothing else in terms of layout options. PageLines has a grid layout module, but it’s not as intuitive as I’d ideally like (you have to insert div’s manually) and it’s for a module, not the whole site’s layout. Catalyst is similar to Headway in terms of having a front-end visual editor sort of thing.

        In terms of upgrading, my point of view is that there should be some “export -> import” option at the most painful (i.e. having the newest version of the theme take care of the conversion) and having the new version do the conversion automatically at the least painful (i.e. just click the Update button).

        Yes, the word “framework” is a thin line, as I commented on someone else’s post earlier today.

    Stevo

    Thanks for very interesting post, I thought i was set on going to use Genius as my first framework to start making childthemes, now im little lost after reading all the comments,
    basically I want lots of built in styling and layout options / shortcodes built in, but not to complex so i can start to build my new themes, but not so simple as Builder ?..

    Kathryn Powell

    Clifford, I want to thank you for the wonderful job you did in this comparison. I am a newby and started out looking for a theme instead of a framework, but after extensive research have decided on a framework for building my WP theme. I obviously don’t know everything about the frameworks you compared, but I sure learned a lot through my research and was leaning heavily toward Catalyst. E-commerce is a defining point between the frameworks, as well as cost, ease of use for a non-coder (though I am learning some of that, too), flexiblity, etc. The only way I saw to accurately compare was with a chart, as you did, but yours was definitely more informed and detailed. I am still leaning toward Catalyst and am rather excited now where I was previously apprehensive. So, again, thank you so much for the effort.

      Clifford P

      Super glad this detailed comparison helped you as much as it did!

      I think anyone could do anything with any of them. Each has their pros and cons, but having the main bullet points checked (responsive /optional, BuddyPress, MultiSite, etc.) is the starting point for me.

      Next, fire up those demos and see what you like. I especially appreciate a wp-admin backend demo and/or a refund period to try it out.

      Catalyst is one that is affordable and has great support (they pretty much all do).

      Let me know if you have any follow-up questions, Kathryn.

    Ryan Masterson

    Clifford, this is a great article. Thanks. Can I get your recommendation? We are an SEO agency that is now offering web design and development to our clients. We have many requests for simple websites requiring no complex features that we want to spin out fast. Which framework would you recommend for this?

    clearcloud digital

    Clifford –

    Bravo!! Great job and huge effort. Not sure why the one commenter hung up on catalyst chose to be so rude. But you handled him nicely. Class act.

    I’ll throw my vote into the ring for MySiteMyWay (MSMW) and its outstanding WordPress Framework. I’ve tried others and after awhile I find myself going back to MSMW rubbing my head wondering why I bothered — kinda like an unfaithful friend feeling guilty. I do hope you consider looking into its FrameWork and you’ll be impressed by its front end CSS kick-starter thru a skin metaphor. Very cool.

    I’ve also used Atahualpa and must say that as a free framework, it will run circles around some other others.

    As for Genesis and to a degree with Thesis, I find that I can spot a site built with those frameworks a mile away. I can only imagine that the vanilla flavor I taste or see when coming upon them is that the developers don’t have much design sense or that the SEO-enahnced framework compromises design for SEO functionality and blasé design- even with various pay-for-play children. As such, I wouldn’t touch either of theme with a massive pole of any size.

    I stumbled here because I’d heard good things about Catalyst and have been curious about Headway. Clearly, even with limitations you note, these are targeted for those with more concern for design, usability and flexibility. And the info here combined with the comments has been enlightening and useful and I thank you for the effort.

    BTW, hmmmm, which framework was used for the WPMU site? ;)

    Anders Swanson

    Absolutely stellar article. After months of research and reading reviews.. This is the first post I’ve found that truly delves into a fair and honest comparison of this groundbreaking type of webdesign. Clifford: I feel that it’s important and worthwhile that you took the time to do so, not just because I (and clearly others here) found it useful, but because WordPress – being an important step in the democratization of the ability to add content to the web that it is – has only one remaining limitation, IMO: the ability to bridge the gap between an innovative site concept (that anyone can have) and the skills it takes make the visual components of that vision a reality (which are far less accessible).

    A picture is worth a thousand words, they say – so for those who feel that design is important, someone like me (without really any programming knowledge, a “can-do” attitude and a limited or non-existent budget..) can spend years floating around and trying to find the “right theme” that does it. Just as there are thousands of possible paintings to be made on a given canvas, there ought to be thousands of approaches to web design (and results). The reality is that there aren’t. Especially on a platform that already makes adding content so easy for anyone. Some of it is, of course, the result of the inherent properties of the technologies involved (and it takes quite a bit of time for a noob to learn why that is..), and some of it seems like the result of a web developer’s guild guarding their secrets – but of course it isn’t. It’s just the inherent difficulties in creating a framework that is easily used – and it’s lack has meant leaving a large swath of innovative people unable to access that technology. A lot of designers and artists and “people with great ideas” are simply left off the boat. That used to include me.

    With that in mind…

    Even though it was rated somewhat lower than the others, this article helped me confirm my inclination to use Headway. Again, not because it was rated highest or because this article listed the ‘specs’ I was looking for, but rather because of some of the connotations of the honest assessment and being-considerate-of-the-limitations-of-the-post’s-author tone. After reading everything, and having already read the site info for most of the reviewed products, I came back to this quote about Headway from Clifford: “Recommended for: Anyone looking to customize every square inch of their design, all via a drag-and-drop editor. The right theme choice if you understand but cannot or do not want to hand-code CSS layouts and are very picky about every layout element, even per post/page.” That’s exactly what I found, once I got the hang of it – and I can only imagine it getting better.

    For anyone styling themselves as an artist, I would venture that the details do count. Always. In design, what else differentiates distinct concepts if not details? What would Photoshop be like if, for some weird reason, you “weren’t allowed” to draw in the bottom right hand corner. For someone making a website who isn’t a programmer, it seems just like those types of barriers pop up randomly. It’s taken me a while to understand that they aren’t random (but rather just a limitation of how software works – software simply isn’t human), but then something like headway comes along and suddenly those barriers seemingly disappear.

    I previously worked with a drag and drop style theme from themeforest, but it was suddenly unsupported due to the developer having personal issues. (not a scam – he was a great guy, he just couldn’t do it anymore). I was planning longterm, so I needed another option.

    I spent a month scouring for an alternative, realizing that I would probably need to pony up, invest a bit more and look a bit harder at the longevity of the developing team to find something sustainable. I’ve been playing with the Headway demo for about 5 days, and found that by about hour 3, I got the hang of it.

    Granted, I haven’t put it to the real test (or even bought it yet – I will after writing this comment) and have yet to find those limits (which must inevitably be in there), and I realize that there will always be some functionality for which I would likely need an actual programmer to solve.

    But, I basically rebuilt my entire (rather complicated) site in an evening on the demo and easily kept going making changes and adding and tweaking things that, using the last framework, I had always wanted to fix. Without issue or limit.

    So, while Headway might seem a bit daunting, and, while one still needs to hack their way through a little bit of CSS to get some things perfect (the democratization of the design side of Internet unfortunately being not quite complete in either of the above), I would recommend Headway simply for anyone with an artistic bent and a willingness to learn a tiny bit of how CSS works by trial and error. I, personally, give it an overall A+ for offering the chance to customize every little thing, see changes in real time, create a tree of replicable designs and create “instances” that help make each section unique while still working together. The ability to dig in and copy and paste and tweak things without getting lost is phenomenal.

    My two cents . . . for anyone with a similar set of needs who is stumbling upon this excellent contrast/comparison article and still trying to make a final decision. It may not be for everyone. And if I end up hating Headway for some reason, I promise to come back and explain why.

    Anyway,
    Keep up the great work, Mr.Paulick.

      Clifford P

      Anders, thanks for the detailed and candid comment. It sounds like Headway’s the right choice for you, and I expect it to serve you well long-term. It sounds like you’re reaping the benefits of using a theme framework! :-)

      Please post a link once your site is done (next week or next year), sharing your theme framework and your own two cents about using it.

    Jeff

    I’ve had Pagelines dev edition since pre 2.0, three websites live with it and have only been building websites for one year total. Currently my dislikes outnumber my likes so I’ll start with those:

    Dislikes:
    – Unless you know how to write hooks and know LESS (I don’t yet)any simple customizations outside of the provided sections are difficult to figure out.
    – Support forums are almost useless and find the developers on them to be rude. All they do is direct you to Firebug to figure anything out.
    – Framework documentation for “non-developers” is out dated, lacking and sometimes all together missing.
    – Plugin documentation and examples are almost non-existent.
    – PRICING: THIS REALLY BOTHERS ME (can you tell?). I PAID $397 a few months before they cut the price in half and offered no concessions for us first loyal buyers. (a year of pagelines plus would have been nice).

    Likes
    – The funtionality for individual pages and templates is endless. Now if i just had documention to figure it out.

    I guess I can’t complain because I was able to get some sites off the ground with relatively little experience however I just switched hosting and have numerous sites waiting to be built so Im looking at other framework, hence this article. :)

      Paal Joachim Romdahl

      Hey Jeff

      I use http://themify.me/. I like the framework. It is easy to use and the developers are active on the support forums.
      Hooks is a feature themify is working on implementing these days and I look forward to how they plan on doing this. The support forums at themify are just awesome! There are 4 developer guys who are active on the forums, doing a great job with it. The docs are pretty good. The starting price is 39$ and you get two themes. I have browsed other frameworks but keep on going back again to themify. Have a great day!

    argosmedia

    What a wonderful post! While most sites that claim to compare wordpress frameworks are merely pasted info and affiliate links, your review is actually a real review. Thanks for all the work you put in it, I really appreciate it.

    Reading all the info you posted, and the very useful comments as well, I am leaning towards trying out Catalyst. I already had bought MySiteMyWay a few days ago, but haven’t been able to give it a good try yet. I’m glad the comments of it are positive though. But Catalyst (which I already had my eyes on) seems to be a good quality choice as well.

    In my search for some good WP frameworks (I’m new to WP, being an avid WebsiteBaker user for many years) I also stumbled upon http://www.dottoro.com which looks very interesting as well. It has a skin editor that looks powerful, but I can’t find much info on creating and changing layouts and functions. I have to spend some more time with it to learn about this framework. Maybe you can add it to a review round 3 :-)

    And now I’m off to read round 2. Thanks again!

    Shovan Sargunam

    I have got paglines yesterday :) specially for its future proof and ablity to do advanced customisations as you mentioned.

    However, I am familar with foundation framework and want to get into Sass css. Would be great if they provide option to choose.

    Caroline Flexman

    Hi Clifford, thanks so much for compiling this fabulous resource and your next one as well. I’m a completely newbie at all of this and so it is fabulous to have this comparison, even if I don’t understand all the different features. I’m sitll in my research phase but thought you might like to know that the prices for Catalyst have changed… a one time fee of $127 for unlimited websites:
    http://catalysttheme.com/#catalyst-pricing
    I had pretty much decided to go with Catalyst Theme because I wanted to be able to start without know how to do all the different HTML and CSS coding… and then I discovered that they have just released a Dynamik Child Theme for Genesis as well… this is making my decision really hard… and I wondered if you had any ideas:
    http://dynamiktheme.com/introducing-the-dynamik-website-builder-for-the-genesis-framework/

    Also I’ve just been peeking into some of your plugins mentioned on this page… and was wondering will your e-Newsletter plugin and your Membership plugin work with the Dynamik Child Theme for either Catalyst or Genesis Frameworks.

    Thanks so much for any advice you can give me. I’m such a newbie, I don’t really understand all these different options of Frameworks, Child Themes and what Catalyst used to call their Dynamik Skins. As far as I can workout Dynamik is a child theme that also has lots of user friendly options that allow you to design your site without having to learn HTML and CSS coding.

    With best wishes, Caroline

      Clifford Paulick

      Thanks for the update. I edited the Catalyst price (the last update ever ;-)

      Personally, I haven’t tested Catalyst with all the WPMU DEV plugins, but WPMU DEV is committed to WordPress coding standards and will fix anything broken by WP. I assume Catalyst and other legit premium product providers are the same. So I’d say “yes” if I had to guess. But both are guaranteed in some way so hopefully you can accomplish your goals.

      I’m very glad it helped!

        matt_christenson

        Howdy! Incredible, indepth, and enlightening framework comparison! Exactly what I needed! I was leaning towards Catalyst and was already to go demo it….UPDATE (direct from the pricing link): “Catalyst Framework is no longer for sale. Catalyst Framework will be supported for years to come, but is no longer available to new members.
        Dynamik Website Builder (our Child Theme for the Genesis Framework) is essentially the next generation of Catalyst.” So…looks like you have to buy Genesis to get Catalyst. I guess this makes the “framework” obsolete since it is now just a child theme that sits on the Genesis framework. Again, thanks for all your hard work!

        Peace,
        Matt

    sunshine_locs

    Greetings,

    Thanks a million for doing the research for me.

    I am a total novice – never used WP. I have been looking all around, not being able to find exactly what I wanted. Contacted a few developers, but that was way too costly for what I want.

    Long story short, I am considering Headway Themes but am slightly confused. Hoping someone can help me here.

    What I am trying to figure out is which child themes can be used with Headway? I don’t see any on the website? Can any WP theme be used?

    And additionally……so let’s say I find a child theme I like, but want to make a few changes to the layout – can I do this with Headway?

    Thanks in advance for any feedback.

      Clifford Paulick

      Hi sunshine_locs. All of these frameworks are the theme. Some allow for child themes, and some allow for “skins” (in effect, their own way to accomplish child theming).

      Headway’s Extend page would list any child themes available for free or purchase, I’m sure (i.e. I don’t see any at this time). But you can see their Showcase for examples of what can be done with the framework.

      Please contact Headway directly with any follow-up questions, as I’m sure they’d be happy to help you figure out whether or not it’s going to be the right fit for you.

      Best to you in your theme framework search!

    agathabathingson

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    Tom

    I’ve been a web developer in Dreamweaver since 2003. And subbornly refused to use WordPress due to limitation of theme customization. That is until I tried Headway 3.6. OMG. It’s a web developers tool sent from heaven. I doubt I’ll ever use Dreamweaver again. And certainly removing my Ultimatum/Genesis/Dynamik Website builder themes. They’re mediocre compared to Headway. And I frankly don’t even see need for hyped up OptimizePress 2, when you can design a OP2 page in Headway in 10 minutes. By far, Headway is officially the best tools I’ve seen.

    And trust me, I’m one of those “know it all”, who has to use every framework under the sun, until I come to the final conclusion. With Headway, you can practically design every theme you’ve ever seen on the web, and a lot easier then with any other framework, including Dreamweaver (which is supposed to be the ultimate in WYSIWYG tools, but it’s obviously not any longer).

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