Last updated: 8:54 pm Eastern Time on July 30, 2012
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?


  • “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 Wimbledon, London, UK Clay Center, KS Charlotte- sville, VA
Theme version 2.2.5 1.8.5 1.8.2 Canvas 5.0.6 3.2.4 1.5.1 Flexible 1.1 (all have same/similar ePanel settings)
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 20 moderators 22 6
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
Pricing $97 + $14/mo or $197 + $19/moChild Themes $87 or $164 $59.95 for base theme or $349.95 for all themes – 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 $174Child Themes $77, $127, or $197 $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.
Free child theme(s) Y Y Y N/A Child Theme starter N/A, but accepts skins/stylesheets per theme
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
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 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 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
Child theme store Y Y Some themes have a WooCommerce child theme Y Skins and Child Themes
Plugin store YBecome a Developer Y Blocks Y Y

Feature Comparison

Theme name PageLines Thesis Genesis WooThemes Headway Themes Catalyst Theme Elegant Themes
Auto-updater Y Planned 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 Y
Sample Child Theme provided Y Child Themes or Skins (custom style sheets within main theme) Y Third Party one available for sale 2: One is free for all. One is free for Developers
Ability to restrict theme options to a specific WP user Y Y
bbPress-capable Y Y See BuddyPress row Forum posts hint probably yes with minor CSS tweaks.
BuddyPress-capable Y No, but WishList Member is $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. No, but it’s on their radar. 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
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
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 Yes, for Dynamik Child Theme options 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’ 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 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).

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.

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


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 its difficulty integrating with popular plugins (similar to Thesis’ issues), including but not limited to BuddyPress, although its expected to be more compatible after an expected BuddyPress plugin update.

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. I’m just warning you that you should thoroughly test plugins before putting into production (always a good practice). The support seems great, and the theme has a healthy set of options (update: I didn’t 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 the 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 integrations were stronger and 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, unconcerned with third-party plugin integrations.

  • Overall Value Rating: B
  • 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


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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