The WordPress community developed thanks in part to a love of the platform’s amazing customizability. And though a high level of customizability is generally considered as a positive, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be an overwhelming notion. For those new to WordPress, one of the most pressing questions has to do with the difference between using themes for WordPress, free vs paid.

Here’s the thing:

For many just getting started with WordPress, the thought process around using WordPress free vs paid (at least as far as themes are concerned) probably revolves around the fact that if there’s a free option that works perfectly, why would anyone shell out money for a premium option? This mentality falls in line with general startup advice suggesting that people wanting to start a new blog or website keep costs low so as not to have excuses getting in the way of launch.

Certainly, this advice makes sense, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect strategic long-term thinking. There are many advantages associated with investing in premium WordPress themes. Certainly, there wouldn’t be a market for them if there wasn’t already a lot of people willing to purchase and use them.

Many questions still remain:

Luckily, you’ll find the answers to all of these questions and more below. Before we take a take a look at the key differences between free and paid themes, remember that you can use our theme detector tool to identify the theme of any WordPress site – this is very useful if you come across a site you like and want to find out what theme it uses!

Free WordPress Themes

It’s quite easy to find free WordPress themes – you can take a look at our guide on the best WordPress themes here – after installing a new instance of WordPress on your web host of choice. You’ll find options in the WordPress official theme directory by navigating to Appearance > Themes > Add New Theme from the WordPress dashboard (here’s our guide on how to install a WordPress theme).

Note that this certainly isn’t the only place to find free WordPress themes—there are also thousands of other free theme options available on the internet (more on that later).

wordpress free vs paid themes theme directory

That said, the real advantage of choosing a theme from the WordPress theme directory is that they are officially approved, meaning that any theme submitted to the official theme directory is subject to strict review.

The theme review process starts with an automated WordPress plugin that scrutinizes the theme against WordPress’s strict coding standards. If it is approved, the submitted theme will be manually reviewed by WordPress theme developers. It’s only after these two steps have been passed with flying colors that a theme becomes available to the public on the official theme directory. 

Free WordPress Themes: Pros of Use

Why would someone choose to use a free WordPress theme? The reasons are numerous:

Twenty Seventeen theme
Twenty Seventeen theme

Twenty Twenty is the latest in a series of free themes offered directly from the developers behind WordPress. Check out this developer’s introduction to the Twenty Twenty theme.

Free WordPress Themes: Cons

Since there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there are quite a few holdups to consider when it comes to using a free WordPress theme:

free WordPress theme
free WordPress theme

CyberChimps is a business theme with over 1 million downloads and 80,000+ active installs.

Why Companies Create Free WordPress Themes

WordPress themes are certainly not easy to make, so why do some people offer them for free?

One situation might be that the free themes are for an individual or company’s work portfolio. Others create free themes to improve their craft and to improve their experience with the WordPress platform.

Others create free WordPress themes to get their name out, to advertise something, or to increase brand exposure. Free themes incorporate the use of links in the footer, connecting the theme’s instance to the original developer’s website. Everyone that downloads the theme and uses it exposes their audience to this link, driving more traffic to the developer’s website (and creating backlinks for SEO).

Sharing fame
Sharing fame

Though not technically in the footer (the common web design heuristic), developer Jack Harris shares in a part of Case Neistat’s fame by creating an association between the Youtuber and himself.

Another reason people develop WordPress themes for free is the possibility of upselling. A WordPress theme freemium model involves a developer offering a free theme so that the user can try it out, but offers somewhat limited functionality so that people that need more have to purchase the premium version of the same theme. It’s actually a great risk-free way to sell the premium version of the theme because it provides users with the ability to test it out before fully committing to a purchase.

Though you never want to believe the worst in people, another reason that people develop free themes is so that they can use them as an opportunity to get their malicious codes onto other people’s websites.

How to Locate Your Perfect High-Functioning Free WordPress Theme

Before a free theme enters the WordPress repository, it has been comprehensively checked for a number of issues, namely:

For the free themes you find outside of the WordPress repository, there’s a greater risk for malicious code than if you were to just buy a premium theme. Here are some ways to check if your free theme may be too good to be true:


VirusTool is just one tool you can employ to scan a free WordPress theme for issues.

When to Use a Free WordPress Theme versus a Premium WordPress Theme

Theme selection is about more than just picking an option that “looks good”; it’s also about choosing something that works well for your content and website goals.

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Put simply, use a free WordPress theme if you:

Alternatively, use a premium WordPress theme if you:

Many of the premium themes and plugins are available online for free. But we highly recommend you not to use products from these sources. Here are the top reasons: Why You Should Stop Using Nulled WordPress Plugins and Themes

To help make the decision easier, you must first define what your website is about. If you’re looking for specific functionality a la photography website, food blog, or ecommerce site, you’ll need to choose a WordPress theme that will work for this given purchase. Know that the more advanced your website gets in terms of desired functionality, the more complex it will be to run and manage. Using a free WordPress theme will make this hard to do well.

What You Get with a Premium WordPress Theme

Just as with premium hosting, you should think of premium WordPress themes in terms of an investment for your business. After all, there’s a reason why premium themes have premium prices—they also offer premium features!

Think of a premium WordPress theme like a good boyfriend/girlfriend/partner.

When you find the perfect option, you not only have access to a fully functional theme—you also get support, frequent updates, more freedom (in terms of customization options), and security (less threat of viruses and third parties). Best of all, a premium WordPress theme stands out as being much more unique than a free WordPress theme could ever be.

Here are some defining elements to look for in a premium WordPress theme:

Would you like to know what are the best selling themes? Take a look at this detailed post by WPNewsify where they asked the 28 leading companies about the most popular themes.

Top 18 Best Sources for Premium Themes

Not sure where to start your search for the perfect premium WordPress theme? The following theme providers are all Kinsta-approved:


WordPress Free vs Paid Themes

A free or premium WordPress theme has its advantages and disadvantages, but choosing which one to install ultimately depends on your website’s needs and the website owner’s budget and aesthetic preferences. Know that it’s completely OK to start with a free WordPress theme and upgrade down the road as the need arises. It’s your world, we’re just living in it.

What questions do you still have about WordPress free vs paid themes? Tweet @Kinsta, and we’ll help you make a decision!

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