When it comes to choosing a theme for your WordPress website, you have two options: a pre-made theme or a custom theme.
But what is the difference between pre-made themes and custom themes? And which option is best for you?
In this post, I’ll explain what the difference is between pre-made themes and custom themes, and I’ll talk you through the pros and cons of each.
What is a pre-made theme?
A pre-made WordPress theme is a theme that has already been built and it is ready to install on your website.
Pre-made themes are built to be used on multiple websites and usually include functionality that allows you to customise the design to your needs. This includes changing colours, fonts, adding your own logos and branding, and in some case, customising the layout.
Pros of pre-made themes
A lower investment
The main reason why people choose to use pre-made themes is because of the price. Although the cost of pre-made themes varies massively (£ to £££), pre-made themes do tend to be a lot cheaper than custom themes.
Some pre-made themes have a one-off fee while others you pay a monthly or annual subscription fee for. This subscription fee will usually include things like additional support or future updates.
There are also many free pre-made themes available to use, but free themes often have less customisation options than paid pre-made themes. Which brings us nicely on to the next point…
Easier for you to customise
A well-built custom theme will come with lots of functionality that makes it easy to customise things like colours, fonts, logos and even layouts.
Pre-made themes often make use of the WordPress customiser; a user friendly interface that allows you to customise certain elements of your website’s design and preview the changes in real time.
Some pre-made themes also comes with built in page builder functionality which gives you even more flexibility over the way your website and it’s pages looks.
You may also find having a pre-made theme beneficial if you are planning on making a lot of tweaks and changes to your theme overtime. If you’re using a custom theme and you want to make changes to your design later down the line then you’re going to have to pay a designer and/or a developer to do this for you.
Quicker to get up and running
If you want to get a website up and running as quickly as possible, then a pre-made theme is definitely going to be your best option.
Depending on the complexity, custom themes can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to build. And most decent web designers and developers will be booked out a few months in advance.
The beauty of pre-made themes is that you can download and install them as soon as you have purchased them, so there’s no waiting around for anyone else.
Access to updates
Most quality pre-made themes will come with automatic updates, whether they’re free or you have to pay an additional subscription fee to access them.
WordPress is constantly changing and it’s important that your theme is compatible with future updates to the system. Automatic updates allow theme developers to easily roll out any updates that are required to ensure that your theme is compatible. And it also makes life easier for you as you can update your theme with just a few clicks.
I’d advise checking to see if a theme includes free or paid automatic updates before you invest in it, especially if you are planning on using it for a long time and want to ensure that it is compatible with future updates to WordPress.
Cons of pre-made themes
Excess functionality and code
I just mentioned that a pro of pre-made themes is that they are easy to customise, however, this is also one of the major downsides of pre-made themes.
Because pre-made themes are built to be used by many different people they tend to include a lot of code and functionality so that they can be as flexible and customisable as possible.
This can result in bulky themes that take up lots of space on your hosting account, and that can have an impact on the performance of your website.
Not as unique
Pre-made themes can and will be used by many people on many different websites. That means you’re likely to see someone else using the same theme as you.
This is why it’s important to choose a pre-made theme that comes with lots of customisation options, so at least you can make yours look a little different to the default version of the theme.
Another downside to pre-made themes is that there is no guarantee that the theme you purchase will be compatible with all the plugins you want to use.
It’s estimated that there are over 50,000 plugins available to use on WordPress websites. This means its virtually impossible for theme developers to test the compatibility of every single plugin with their themes.
The only way you’re going to guarantee that all of the plugins you want to use are compatible with your WordPress theme is to go down the custom theme route. This is because your designer or developer will take your requirements into consideration when designing and building your theme.
While most decent theme sellers will offer some level of support, you probably won’t receive as much support as you would from a designer or developer creating a custom theme for you.
While designers and developers who create custom themes work with just one or two clients at a time, pre-made theme sellers will have many customers to deal with at once, so you might not get a response straight away.
I always recommend doing your research about the level of support the theme seller is willing to provide before you invest in a theme. If you can’t find an email address on their website, you’re probably not going to find it easy to get in touch with them!
What is a custom theme?
A custom WordPress theme is a theme that has been designed and built specifically for one website.
Often, the creation of a custom theme will involve both a web designer (who will design the website) and a web developer (who will bring those designs to life).
Pros of custom themes
Completely custom to your needs
The main benefit of a custom theme is that it is completely tailor-made for you and your requirements. It will be built to incorporate your branding and the functionality you require and will look exactly like you envisioned it to.
You don’t need to waste hours and hours on Google trying to figure out how to make your pre-made theme look even slightly similar to the website you dreamed of in your head. A designer and developer will sort this out for you and deliver the perfect website for your needs.
No excess functionality and code
Because a custom theme is built specifically for you and your requirements, it will only have the functionality that you require and nothing unnecessary.
Custom themes tend to be a lot less bulky that pre-made themes are this can help massively with the performance of your website (SEO and speed), and it will save you space on your hosting account.
When you work with a designer and developer on the creation of a custom theme, the level of support you’ll receive will be much better than if you go down the pre-made theme route. This is because most of the time, designers and developers only work on one custom theme at a time, so you’re going to get their full attention while they work on your project.
Most decent designers and developers will also provide you with one-to-one training, whether that be in the form of a video tutorial, a live training over Zoom or written documentation, to show you exactly how to use your new website.
Access to knowledge and experience
As well as better support from your designer and/or developer, you’re also going to access to their knowledge and experience.
Setting up a website is one thing, but creating a website that helps you to achieve your goals, hit your targets, and that keeps people coming back for more is something that comes from years of experience. You aren’t going to get that from a pre-made theme!
Cons of custom themes
A higher investments
Custom themes are more of an investment than pre-made themes, and will typically set you back a few thousand pounds. But there’s a good reason for that higher price tag.
Creating a custom theme is a lot of work and it’s time-consuming. It involves research, design, development, integration with plugins, testing (on different devices, browsers, screen sizes) revision rounds, optimisation (for SEO and speed), installation, adding in content, training and ongoing support.
But at the end of it, you’ll end up with a high quality website that is completely tailor made for you and your business, that works well, that’s well optimised, and that will help you to achieve your goals.
While there designers and developers out there offering custom themes for just a few hundred pounds, I would advise that you proceed with caution! As a general rule of thumb, low prices mean low quality, and cutting corners always comes back to bite you. You tend to get what you pay for in the world of websites!
Not as easy to customise yourself once set up
Because custom themes are designed specifically for you and your business, incorporating your branding elements and integrating the functionality you require, you’ll probably find that you won’t have the option to easily change things like fonts, colours, logos and layouts later down the line.
Although most custom themes are developed to be easy for you to update the content of your website yourself, you’ll find that design elements are not so easy to update yourself as these are often “hard coded” into the theme.
If you do go down the custom theme route and in the future you decided you want to re-brand, for example, or you want to have more page layouts to use, you will have to pay a designer and/or a developer to sort this out for you.
Not always as custom as you think!
Nothing frustrates me more than seeing business owners spending thousands of pounds on a custom WordPress theme that isn’t actually a custom theme; it’s a pre-made theme that has been slightly tweaked to look a bit more custom.
Always, always do your research before investing in a custom theme and make sure that the designer/developer knows what they’re doing! For best results, I highly recommend hiring both a designer and a developer, or a designer who works with a developer. Of course, it’s more expensive to hire two people, rather than hiring one person who can do it all, but I promise you, the results will speak for themselves!
So which is best; pre-made or custom?
The truth is, I can’t answer this question for you! You’ll have to make that decision for yourself based on your situation and your requirements.
If you’re just starting out and you don’t have much money to set aside for your design then a pre-made theme will be the best option for you. As time goes on and your business evolves, you’ll be able to easily update your website, adding new content and switching up the design.
However, if you’re looking for something very unique and bespoke, and you have a higher budget, a custom theme would be the way forward.
Looking for a custom theme for your website?
If you’re looking for a high-quality, easy to customise WordPress theme for your website then be sure to check out Snug Designs!
Snug Designs is run by myself and my friend Cat who is the incredible designer behind Gatto. We create unique WordPress themes for your bold business, and we’ve just started selling Squarespace kits too!
…or maybe a developer to create a custom theme for you?
Developing custom WordPress themes is my area of expertise. I specialise in creating WordPress websites that look exactly like your mockups, that are easy to use, customise and update, and that are optimise for search engines and speed.
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