WordPress Theme Debate: What to Choose Between Free vs Premium


All the WordPress developers currently hogging every single available spot (almost) on Envato’s Power Elite Authors Wall of Fame are there because they’ve made millions in sales of their plugins and themes. So yes, Premium WordPress Themes are a big deal.

But when there are perfectly nice free themes available, it seems wasteful to go ahead and pay for it.

This post looks at both contestants from various perspectives and helps you decide how to go about selecting a theme for your WordPress website.

Premium Themes

This is just one of the ways to earn honest money from an open-source project nowadays. There are various sources you can try: ThemeForest, iThemes, StudioPress, Commercial sources listed in WordPress Theme Repository, etc…

Here’s why they can be worth a pretty penny:


  • Support: You are often asked to go premium for a WordPress theme/plugin simply to avail professional, instantaneous technical support. While WordPress community is great, there are some things that are probably unique to your situation. You have a much easier time running everything when you have reliable professional grade support
  • Consistent Updates: Authors of premium WordPress themes literally earn their bread and butter from them. The products (themes) aren’t going to be left in a corner gathering dust. New features, fixes, and patches are added to the theme consistently so users can get full value for money.
  • Unique Features: Many micro-niche themes (like JobListing) are premium because they have custom functionalities created by the developer, unique to the theme. Similarly, most top selling themes come with drag-and-drop page builders and hundreds of UI elements to let you tinker with the appearance easily.


  • Unofficial: None of the commercial themes are whetted by the official theme review team of WordPress. Granted the team is a ragtag bunch of crazy-awesome WordPress contributors selected on volunteer basis, but they ensure that the themes follow WordPress guidelines. None of the professional marketplaces are as strict in their reviews (not even Envato).
  • Copying in the name of Competition: A momentary glance at the premium themes’ marketplace will reveal that most premium themes are highly competitively priced, and the designs don’t even differ all that much once you get past the flashy demo content.
  • Same features: An extension of previous point. Most premium themes will come with revolution sliders, visual composer, and hundreds of design options. It becomes stale after a while, especially when you are a “form over function” type of person.
  • Overkill: For a WordPress blogger by hobby, paying up to $50 just to change how the blog looksmight be unnecessary.

Free Themes

Free themes are developed and distributed by themes authors when they’re experimenting, building a portfolio, side-projects, brushing up old skills or acquiring new one, or a combination of all those reasons.


  • Best things in life are free. I don’t think that needs explanation.
  • Healthy Support: While somewhat unreliable, authors of free themes do have support forums to respond to users’ queries if they ask calmly and politely (“UR THEEM BROK MY WEBSI8 DO NOT TRY!” is not polite). Remember, the developer is also trying to get better. By bringing issues to his/her notice, you’re making it a win-win situation.
  • Properly Whetted by WordPress: The Theme Review Team goes through the submissions like hounds prowling for prey. Only the best progress to be featured on WordPres.org repository. I can’t say the same about free themes from untrusted sources.
  • Licensed for all: Free themes are licensed under GPL V.2 which means you are free to work with the code. Just as a common etiquette, give some credit to the original author.


  • Unreliable support As mentioned above.
  • Updated at developer’s leisure because, again, the theme’s likely a side project and they may not have too much time to work in new features.
  • Unsafe from other sources There are pirated versions of premium themes, which are technically free, but full of phishing and malware. NEVER DOWNLOAD THESE.

How To Pick The Winner

Here’s how to evaluate your requirements and pick the winning side:

  • Features needed: Look beyond how pretty a theme is (appearance is childishly easy to change, trust me) and check the feature list. Is it translation ready? WooCommerce compatible? Does it have its own social sharing icons? Custom Page templates and post types?
  • Time: Premium themes with “One-click install” feature are easier to setup and get a hang of. If you don’t have much time to look up code snippets, play with child themes, et al, go with premium themes and save yourself the hassle.
  • Available Programming skills: Do you have developers or a custom WordPress development company who can simply edit the theme to your specifications? If yes, go for a free theme that has necessary features and leave the “looks” to them.
  • Thorough checking of reviews/testimonials: You can find out a lot about the quality of a theme from the reviews left by users. Don’t be dazzled by 5 stars or disappointed by a 3. Open the reviews and read them one-by-one.


Both types of themes can pull their own weight when used in the right context. So many popular blogs use the Twenty Fifteen theme it’s amazing, and one of the top-rated, best selling themes on Envato (‘X’) is used by hundreds of thousands of people in various stages of customizations.

The point is to know which end of the spectrum you favor (self-made or ready-to-go), and where your priorities lie (cost, IT skill, constant support, etc.).

Author Bio

: Lucy Barret is a well known blogger. She loves to write articles on web development and WordPress. She is also a WordPress developer and works for an HTML to WordPress Company, HireWPGeeks. You can easily get in touch with her for any queries about web development.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *