WordPress Themes

7 Best WordPress Starter Themes And Frameworks For New WP Developers

If you find the best WordPress starter theme for you, you can jump way way ahead in the learning curve of WP development. When getting into WordPress development with little or no dev experience beforehand, everything can seem a little overwhelming. The right theme or framework helps solve that problem.

If you want a head start on theme development, using a starter theme can be a good way to go early. Not only will you get a lot of basic code out of the way that would take many hours to set up as a beginner, you also have access to a clean theme that can show you exactly how you could go about building your own from scratch.

(If you are a complete beginner, you might have questions about some of the terms/technologies mentioned in this post, so I’ve included a section at the bottom of this post that explains what they are.)

01. Underscores (_s)

Underscores is the starter theme developed and maintained by the folks at Automattic. It is designed to be a clean starting point for theme development, and aims to give developers a 1000 hour head start.

Features:

  • Lightweight
  • Actively Maintained
  • Easy To Understand Well Commended HTML/CSS
  • Custom Header
  • Dropdown menu on phones/tables
  • 2 CSS layouts (left/right sidebar)

Underscores is not the most feature heavy starter theme, because it doesn’t try to. The goal is to be a blank slate that speeds along the development of your specific theme, and it does that perfectly well.

Get underscores here.

02. Sage

Sage, formerly known as roots, is a a more feature heavy starter theme, that focuses on offering a few different capabilities from the get go. It ships with Gulp/Bower supporting a ‘modern development workflow’.

What this means is that you can quickly compile Sass and into normal CSS, and test compatibility across multiple as you make changes.

This means that you are able to spot any possible bugs or mistakes as you make them, instead of writing a ton of code, then compiling and testing later, only to struggle finding out what breaks your site when everything is put together the way it will be when it goes live. (With the CSS compiled and JS minified into single file etc.)

It also comes with theme wrappers, Sage’s way of doing template pathing all in one file.

Features:

  • Bootstrap
  • Sass
  • Gulp
  • Bower
  • Active community

These features come together and basically force you to get familiar with a few staples of front-end development. This can be great for people that are familiar with WordPress development fundamentals, that love challenges, but not ideal for complete beginners.

The roots team themselves admit that ‘Sage should not be your first WordPress theme‘.

If you’re ready to get started with Sage, there’s even a roots community that includes many people that develop with it.

Get Sage here.

03. JointsWP

JointsWP is another starter theme based on the Foundation framework. It has many of the same features as foundationpress, but it’s base design is different.

If you’re unfamiliar with Sass and don’t want to add another challenge to your learning process, you can choose to download the theme with only normal CSS.

Features:

  • Translation support
  • Actively maintained
  • Foundation
  • Sass
  • Gulp
  • Bower

Get JointsWP here.

04. Bones

Is a bare bones (no pun intended) starter theme that is perfect for a starting developer. The well documented CSS makes it easy for beginners to go in and make significant changes to mold the theme into their own design.

It also comes with all the page templates you would want.
Features:

  • Responsive out of the box
  • Sass
  • Custom Post Types included
  • Well Documented

Bones is a great choice if you’re a beginner to WordPress, but already know some CSS/HTML and can’t wait to get your hands dirty.

Get Bones here.

05. HTML5 Blank

HTML5 Blank is a complete blank slate starter theme with 0 unnecessary styled elements. It’s completely focused on simplicity and speed.

Features:

  • Completely blank slate
  • Simplistic
  • Fast

HTML5 Blank is a good choice for you if you are already adept at CSS, and want complete control over every single element, and you want absolute 0 wasted lines of code in your site.

Get HTML5 here.

Frameworks

Frameworks are different from starter themes in that you’re not meant to change the core files and make it into your own theme, you’re meant to build child themes that makes use of the functionality and styles of the framework.

For example, if you only need/want to work with the CSS of a theme, a child theme is the right way to go. But child themes can go much further than that. You can have your own custom page templates, your own header/footer files, etc, that will override the files of the parent theme.

Read more about how to work with child themes here.

06. Genesis

A long time staple of the WordPress general user, and more importantly, developer community, Genesis is a premium framework made for working with child themes.

It has a big community of developers working with it, which means that not only are there lots of people you can connect with and learn from, and lots of tutorials available online, there are also a ton of genesis specific plugins.

Features:

  • Responsive out of the box
  • Schema.Org micro data
  • Easily customizable
  • Different layout options
  • Lots of specific functionality plugins
  • Active community
  • Actively maintained

If you’re looking to work with a trusted framework (that prospective clients might even request in the future), genesis is the choice for you.

While Genesis is not free, there is no developer option, the basic price (59.99$) includes unlimited domains, even if you’re developing sites for clients.

Get Genesis here.

08. Hybrid Core

Hybrid core is an open source framework, made for designers/developers that like to maintain complete control of the design of their site, while offering them a lot of useful out-of-the-box functionality.

It has an active community of developers that work with it as well, making it easy to get help.
Features:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Custom Gallery
  • Schema.Org Microdata
  • Support for multiple theme layouts
  • Active Community

If you like complete control of the design of your site, you want to join an active community of developers, and get a head start on any new theme you want to develop, all for free, then theme hybrid is the choice for you.

The framework itself is completely free, but if you want premium support on developing with the framework, you need to join the ‘club’ for as little as 35$/year.

Get Hybrid Core here.

Terms/Technology Explained

If there were some terms/technology mentioned in the post above that you did not understand, refer here for answers.

Sass

Sass is an extension of tradional CSS that adds extra functionality to it. The sass files will be compiled into normal CSS, so it is supported by all browsers. In it you can use things like functions, variables and mixins, things that are not available in CSS, but are very useful for development.

You can also create separate files for styling separate sections/page templates. This makes your CSS a lot easier to stay on top of, without it affecting performance. (Because you compile it into one CSS file.)

You can read about sass basics here.

Gulp

Gulp is a task runner, a system that helps you automate tasks like compiling Sass into CSS, minify JS files, refresh browser windows upon changes and even automatically optimize images.

To install gulp you need to have NodeJS installed.

npm

npm is node.js’s package manager. It makes adding JS or CSS libraries super easy and super fast for example.

To install npm you need to have NodeJS installed.

Element

An element is basically a part of a HTML webpage. If you look at the source code for this page, you will see elements like <header> <article> and <aside>, these house the header, blog posts and widgets respectively. These elements are then styled(designed) with CSS.

Bower

Bower is a package manager, which does more or less the same things as npm.

To install Bower you need to have NodeJS installed.

Schema.org Microdata

Schema.org Microdata is basically a way to give search engines like google extra information about a piece of content to display in their results. For example, you can add a google maps location and reviews for your business page to show up with your results, or prices for items if you are running a shop.

What Is THE Best WordPress Starter Theme?

There is no one theme that is universally the best choice for everyone. There are a lot of great starter themes and frameworks out there, but these stand out from the pack in many ways. If you’ve picked a starter theme or framework to work with, please let us know in the comments. We would also love to hear about your progress as a WP developer as you go along.

Ragnar

Ragnar is a WordPress enthusiast, aspiring developer, and freelance writer. When he's not staring at his laptop, you could find him teaching English to rowdy kids, or practicing his not-great martial arts skills.

View Comments

  • Hi ! Nice list :) I'm a big fan of starter themes for my wordpress projects and after testing a lot's of them, I finally made my own, I would be happy to have your feedbacks about it :) http://www.monsieurpress.com/, it's a minimal & lightweight starter theme for gulp & sass lovers.

  • I have used Underscore, Bones and HTML5Blank. Underscore is one of he best starter theme, i recently used Underscores classic theme to create a simple two column theme and it was very easy.
    I have never used any framework.

  • Hi!
    I used the Bones and its very good choice... Fast, elastics ... but not too modern view

  • I've used both FoundationPress and JointsWP. I personally use JointsWP more, but I can vouch to both of them being absolutely excellent. Especially if you're used to using Foundation as your responsive framework of choice.

  • Some of the comments here are inducing more questions then answering problems. Though I am not having expertise on WordPress development, I believe for high volume traffic websites going with any theme frameworks might not be a best option. It might be good to start with to go live quickly but overtime you will feel to write your own custom theme.

    On my site stacktips.com, I have tried many different frameworks. Currently I am stuck at Redux Framework. It just serve the purpose but it comes with the cost. It makes too many DB queries, and lot many useless code blocks it has to go through before rendering a page.

    Hence, I am writing my own theme from scratch. Design the layouts you need, and place the templates required. I believe thats the way to go! Having said that, if your client is stuck at low budget, you have no choice but to use some frameworks.

  • Dear Dev I am using the underscores framework a lot. Also I have used a lot the Genesis Framework a lot, however lately I have created a very simple starter theme for my own business purposes,
    http://spectrumthemes.com/spectrum-starter/ .
    It is built on the UIkit framework and it is pretty fast and simple.

  • Over the last 6 months I have taken the leap from designing themes for clients using frameworks such as Studiopress to committing myself to becoming a front end developer, which means I am new to the community and the journey.

    The reason I decided to become a developer is because over time of doing a lot of independant projects I had to start putting more customization on the backend for my clients and began to fall in love with coding. However, as my eyes began to open to the amount of things I could build into the admin side, I began to imagine my current project of building a custom theme that came out of necessity.

    I can not even describe the excitement. I'm like a little kid in a candy store and the freedom of creativity endless potential is unbelievable (and overwhelming at times ).

    I keep finding new people in the community that really impress me such as yourself. This site I just found through my daily research and so far the articles written here are great.

    My question is, as a beginning developer, which one of these starter themes would be the best to begin with. I already have a good idea of some of the more common toolsets and plugins to use when developing and I have good understanding of the fundamentals .

    However, I really haven't read any articles about which theme is the better starter theme to go with as new developer, who also wants to learn along the way. More importantly, I want to learn the right way using best standard practices for wordpress development, code and markup. The last thing I want to do is develop bad habits.

    I know you basically sort of answered it in this article with your take on "Bones" but are there ones with modern design or even a list of starter themes and plugins specifically focused with the beginning developers in mind? Maybe this might be a good article to flush out. I certainly would read something like that.

    Since you already pointed Bones out to help you get a better idea of what I am going to be using this for, here are a few things to keep in mind when answering.

    1: My project and the end result will be a commercial theme I'll be selling within a specific industry.

    2: I will be customizing the admin side to be ready out of the box for the end users. The target audience I'm reaching for have very little experience in technology so I will be building the platform to be simple and very user friendly.

    3: The end result I want to achieve is to have a theme with lightweight clean and officiant code. I want to make sure it is fast. I also want it have base SEO built into it for better ranking because again the end users aren't going to ever focus on that.

    4: I want it to also be flexible enough for a more advanced user to customize it to there liking and so that not every theme will look the same.

    5: I want it to have a modern look, be mobile ready and built with a base code platform such as Foundations, Bootstrap or something similar because I intend this to be an ongoing endeavor. I will continue to maintain and build new functionality into the theme going into the future. Which means, I would rather not jump ship and rebuild the theme with an entirely new base structure. In short, something that can stand the test of time.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you can give me and again thanks for the great content.

    • Hey Dev,

      That was a long comment, so thank you for taking time to share your insights. We are a big fan of StudioPress and are currently using their Genesis theme on DesignBombs :).

      As for the theme recommendation, I'd suggest going with underscores for several reasons:

      1. It is light weight and includes all the necessary code & hooks, you will need to create your next awesome theme.

      2. The theme is created and maintained for folks who work at Automattic.

      3. Most developers & commercial theme shops use _s (or underscores).

      I hope that helps and glad to see you're so excited :). Don't hesitate to get in touch, if you have any more questions.

      Cheers,
      Dev

    • Perfect for people who want to use _s & bootstrap -- great work, HK :). I'll see if we can get your theme added in the next update.

    • Understrap and its child is where I start every new project now. It's incredible.

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