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Custom WordPress Themes vs Prebuilt Themes

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.” George Bernard Shaw

First let’s clear up the terminology. Any website built on the WordPress framework is, by definition, a theme. There are two kinds of themes: prebuilt and custom. Prebuilt themes are purchased from a theme developer and modified to suit a particular user’s preferences. Custom themes (or custom designs) are built specifically for one website.


Made to Measure or off the rack?

Using a prebuilt theme is like buying a suit off the rack and having it altered to fit. You have limited choices of colours, fabrics, and styles, but can probably find something that does the job for you, and the alterations can make it fit reasonably well.

A custom theme is like a made-to-measure suit. You can choose any colour and fabric from anywhere in the world. You can also choose any style, or even design your own. Then it’s tailored to your exact measurements and will fit you like a glove. When you first try it on, you’ll say, “Yep, that’s me!” because it is you or, more accurately, it’s a reflection of your personal brand.

wordpress themes and Tailors

Just as a custom suit is created by an experienced craftsman, a custom theme is created by an educated, experienced graphic designer. Graphic designers get to know the brand of a business and translate it into an appealing design that reflects that brand.

There is no real requirement for someone who customizes a prebuilt theme to have any graphic design skills. All they need to do is make modifications to the basic theme, something anyone with decent knowledge of WordPress can do.

Therein lies the major difference between a prebuilt theme and a custom design. You make a prebuilt theme work for you as best as possible, while a custom design is a true reflection of your brand.

Of course we’re partial to custom designs, because that’s all we do and we think everyone deserves one!

wordpress theme costs

Next on the list is cost and, for many business owners, it’s a big factor. Prebuilt themes are very inexpensive, anywhere from free up to about $100, plus a developer’s time to customize it. The total cost for a capable developer is probably only a few thousand dollars. Custom themes, including design and development, require a larger investment.

Other Factors to consider

  • Prebuilt themes need to provide a lot of different functionality to allow a variety of different users to do their own customizations. Therefore, there’s a lot more code (programming) than necessary, and most users will never use many of the available feature. Coding for custom designs isn’t bloated because it’s tailored to the specific functionality required.
  • Using a prebuilt theme can save you time. Customization can be done in days. Custom designs take many weeks because a great deal of investigation and planning must be done beforehand.
  • If you need some extra functionality or design tweak down the road, they may not be available with a prebuilt theme. With a custom design and an experienced developer, just about anything is possible.
  • Not all prebuilt themes are created equally, so you have to do your homework and check ratings and reviews before choosing one. Many are built by professional firms that consistently update the theme and provide excellent support, but others may be less than ideal. If the theme isn’t compatible with WordPress updates, it can “break” your site, and you’ll have to figure out who can fix it.

the Bottom Line

There are many excellent prebuilt themes on the market and, with proper research, you can find one that may serve your needs. But if you really care about your business’s brand, there’s really no substitute for a completely custom design.

In our opinion, there are only two reasons not to choose a custom theme: you simply can’t afford it, or you don’t share our views about the value of your brand.

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