Premium WordPress Theme or Custom Design: Which To Choose?

Premium WordPress Theme

You are about to launch a website or you want to give your current website a new face; make it all shiny and sparkly and using current design standards. You are faced with some choices: 1) A free WordPress theme found in the WordPress repository; 2) A premium (paid) WordPress theme; or 3) Hire someone to design and develop a theme from scratch. You may have already eliminated the free theme because you’re already using one and it is limited. So the question becomes: Premium WordPress theme or custom design? The answer depends on a lot of variables. Security should always play a factor in your decision.

ATAK Interactive has a great primer on the pros and cons of custom theme development. From a developer’s point of view, we’re going to expand on this post, so you should read it before continuing.


The first thing that always comes to mind is, how much money will this cost me? When considering money, you need to keep in mind that time equals money. Sure, you can get premium WordPress themes for less than $60.00 on ThemeForest and Elegant Themes, and over $100 in WordPress’ premium repository, and you may think you’re getting a bargain.

However, you are looking at a minimum of 15 to 20 hours to get your new theme set up and running. More if the theme you purchased uses something like Visual Composer and you have no idea how to use it.

When changing any theme, there is always a period of learning how the theme works before you can even begin to do all the customization.

How much is this time worth to you?

Technical Knowledge

Premium WordPress themes always look so pretty. You think they will work and look as the demo does, right out of the box. They never do. You always have to spend a good amount of time setting things up to make it look like the demo. Then, there may be design elements you want changed and these design elements are things that can’t be changed in the theme’s options. It’s time to break out your CSS skills because you want your contact form’s buttons to look the same as the button shortcode used in the theme.

Skookum Monkey has yet to work with a premium theme that doesn’t require we write extra CSS.

Do you know the technical stuff to set up the theme? Do you know CSS? Are you willing to take the time to learn (which increased your time-equals-money budget)? Are you prepared to live with inconsistent design elements or do you have the budget to pay for someone to write the custom CSS for you?

Security Issues

For us, this is the biggest thing to consider. You must have the ability to update WordPress and plugins as soon as updates are available if you want to keep your site secure. The Panama Papers was the result of failure to keep plugins up-to-date.

Currently, we are working with a client who has decided to use a premium WordPress theme. WordPress 4.5 was released this week. After updating to WordPress 4.5 the theme stopped working. Why the theme stopped working is a little convoluted, but we need to explain why and why this is important.

A lot of ThemeForest themes come pre-packaged with plugins you can purchase separately in the Envato Market. The most common plugins that come included with ThemeForest themes are: Essential Grid, Slider Revolution, and Visual Composer.

A few days ago, Visual Composer was updated in preparation for the release of WordPress 4.5. In the client’s dashboard is an update notice. However, because the plugin came packaged with the theme, we have to wait on the theme’s developer to update the theme with the latest version of Visual Composer or we can update Visual Composer now, for a fee:

Visual Composer fee

Or, WordPress has to be rolled back to the previous version, leaving it vulnerable to attack.

This is an extra cost to the client, one they were hoping to avoid by going with a premium WordPress theme.

Sites, themes, and plugins that are not updated and secure is another cost you need to factor. This will become the most expensive cost if your website falls prey to the many hacks currently occurring and you have to pay to rebuild everything from scratch.

Then, the Answer is a Custom Design and not a Premium WordPress Theme?

Not necessarily. The above three factors still come into play. Can you afford the development costs and the extra few weeks it will take to get your finished theme? Will the theme developer help you learn the technical aspects that you’ll need to know in order to use your custom design? Will the theme developer support the theme and provide updates as the WordPress base is updated, so you’re never left with a security vulnerability?

At Skookum Monkey, the answers to the above three questions are: Yes, yes, and yes.

Also, as a general rule, our custom designs are only a few hundred dollars more than if you paid for us to setup your premium theme for you. That few hundred dollars saves your time-equals-money budget, it saves your technical budget when you have to pay for things like custom CSS in order to get your theme just right, and it saves on your security budget. We think spending that extra few hundred dollars is worth it in order to save in those other areas.

Let us take all of these worries away. Hire us to build the perfect theme that will save you time and give you peace of mind.

Note: Our hourly rate for premium WordPress theme customization and setup is increasing on April 15, 2016.

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