WordPress Theme vs Theme Builder: What Are the Differences?

Updated: October 15, 2021

Being an open and popular CMS, WordPress has a relatively more rapid development compared to other similar tools. One of the recent trends in the WordPress industry is theme builder, which comes as a solution for those who want to create a completely unique, customized WordPress-based site yet have no adequate PHP and CSS skills to create a theme.

You might be wondering, what is a theme builder? Does it different to a WordPress theme.

First thing first. You still need a theme on your WordPress site as it is a required component of the WordPress system. But with a theme builder, you can use any theme to add certain features or apply certain stylings. Even if the features or styling options are not offered by the theme you use. For example. The Hello theme provides no sidebar on the single post template. With a theme builder, you can create a custom single post template and add the sidebar yourself. Or, if you want to add a mega menu to your header, for instance, you can also do so.

Both a WordPress theme and WordPress theme builder allow you to customize every part of your website — header, footer, single post template – and so on. The difference is in the customization process itself, as well as the medium. In a WordPress theme, you can make the customization process via the WordPress theme customizer (Appearance -> Customize), in which the available customization options depend on the theme you use. While in a theme builder, the customization process is done via a visual editor of the associated theme builder. You are likely to have more customization options (technically limitless if you have CSS knowledge) with a theme builder.

WordPress Theme vs Theme Builder. A Crucial Thing to Note

Every WordPress website needs a theme. As mentioned earlier above, theme is a required component of the WordPress system. In the WordPress system, a theme plays a role to govern the layout of your website parts. The layout of the parts of your website — header, footer, single post template, 404 page, and so on — is defined by the template files of the associated theme. Some examples of the template files are:

  • header.php. To control the layout of the site header
  • footer.php. To control the layout of the site footer
  • single.php. To control the layout of the single posts
  • search.php To control the layout of the search page results
  • 404.php To control the layout of 404 error page
  • archive.php To control the layout of the archive pages (tags and categories)
  • And so on

A theme builder allows you to create custom templates — using a visual editor — to replace the default templates of the theme you use. For instance, when you create a custom header template, the custom header template you created will replace the default header template of your theme so that the layout of your header on your website is defined by the custom header template instead of the default header template.

The process of custom template creation itself is done via a visual editor. In other words, you don’t need programming skills. That is why we have been saying a couple of times that a theme builder is a perfect solution for those who want to be a professional web developer yet have no adequate programming skills. The following is an example of the editor interface of Elementor (one of the WordPress theme builder plugins) where you can create custom templates.

WordPress Theme vs Theme Builder: The Ability to Work with Custom Fields

We said that you can be a professional web developer even if you have no programming skills. That’s true. Completely true. But you need to understand how WordPress custom fields work as well as how to create ones.

A custom field is an additional field to store additional information about your content. For instance, if you want to create a bike rental website, you might want to add additional information like rental cost, bike type, drop location, and so on. You can then use the information according to your needs. For instance, you can create a page where your users can sort the bikes by price or type. It is just an example. The implementation of custom fields can be way more complex than that. If you have ever used WooCommerce, it’s the perfect example of how custom fields are implemented. The fact is, most WordPress developers make use of the custom fields to develop plugins.

When creating a custom template (or page) using a theme builder plugin, you can add custom fields according to your needs. Elementor, Brizy, and Divi Builder are examples of the theme builder plugins that support custom fields. It takes no programming knowledge to create custom fields. You can use plugins like JetEngine (Elementor only), Pods, and Advanced Custom Fields. You can read our articles below to learn more about:

Unlike a theme builder, most WordPress themes offer no capability to add custom fields. In fact, hardly any WordPress theme offers such a feature.

The Advantages of a WordPress Theme Builder

Visual Editor

A theme builder plugin comes with a visual editor which you can use to create the custom templates. Everything is drag and drop. No need to deal with any single line of code. If you want to add a certain element, say the navigation menu, you can simply add it to the canvas area. You can then style up the element to your liking according to your design concept. You can customize nearly everything you can expect. From color, typography, sizing, and so on.

In a WordPress theme, customization options tend to limit. You can only make the customization according to the customization options offered by the theme you use. Plus, in most themes, you can’t add elements like a button, form, or even social media icons.

You Can Minimize the Use of Plugins

WordPress plugins allow you to add certain features and functionalities that are not available on WordPress by default. Even so, installing too many plugins is not recommended as it can make your site runs slower. Most theme builders come with elements like form, map, slider, and so on so that you don’t need to install a new plugin to add those elements. The ability to add custom fields is another reason why you don’t need to install unnecessary plugins. You can simply create custom fields according to your need and purpose.

Some theme builder plugins, including Elementor and Brizy, even come with a popup builder to allow you to create beautiful popups on your site. With a little creativity, you can use the popup builder to create a full-screen and off-canvas menu so that you don’t to — again — install unnecessary plugins only to create a full-screen or off-canvas menu.

You Can Use Different Templates for Different Site Parts

Most theme builder plugins — including Divi Builder and Elementor — support display conditions, allowing you to assign a certain custom template to specific parts of your website. For instance, you can create a custom header template and assign it to articles under specific categories. You can then create another custom header template for other parts of your website. You can have multiple header templates (as well as multiple footer templates) on a single website.

The concept of display condition also allows you to create different layouts for different content types by creating several custom templates.

The Advantages of a WordPress Theme

Although a theme builder offers more options to customize your website, a WordPress theme remains a great choice for certain reasons. Especially if you are the type of person who doesn’t like being offered too many options. A WordPress theme is also a better-suited for casual users who want their site to run more quickly without making too many customizations. You don’t need to learn new stuff. You can simply go to the theme customizer to add your site logo and some basic things.

Top 4 Theme Builder Plugins

1. Elementor Pro

Elementor is the best option to create a WordPress site in a visual way. The pro version comes with a theme builder feature to allow you to create a fully customized website even if you have no programming background. Its intuitive visual editor makes it possible. With the theme builder feature of Elementor Pro, you can create custom templates to replace the default templates of your theme. Elementor Pro allows you to create custom templates for the following parts:

  • Header
  • Footer
  • Single Post
  • Single Page
  • Archive Pages (Tags, Categories, Authors)
  • Search Results Page
  • 404 Page

If you have WooCommerce installed on your WordPress site, you can also create custom templates for single product page, product category, and shop page. In addition, you can also create custom templates for custom post types. The ability to add custom fields on a custom template is another compelling point. Plus, you have a popup builder which you can use to create a full-screen menu and off-canvas menu.

2. JetThemeCore

JetThemeCore is a theme builder plugin from Crocoblock. It depends on Elementor to works. In other words, you need to have Elementor installed on your WordPress site. You can use the free version of Elementor to use JetThemeCore. That being said, JetThemeCore is a great alternative to Elementor Pro Theme Builder if you enjoy the editing experience of Elementor but don’t want to upgrade to the pro version. JetThemeCore allows you to create custom templates for the following parts:

  • Header
  • Footer
  • Single Post
  • Single Page
  • Archive Pages (Tags, Categories, Authors)
  • Search Results Page
  • 404 Page

3. Divi Builder

Looking to create websites for clients? If yes, then Divi Builder is a great option. With a single license, you can download and install Divi Builder on unlimited projects. Also, there is an option to get it with a one-time purchase option so that you don’t need to spend yearly license fee. Divi Builder is available in two versions: a standalone plugin and the integral feature of the Divi and Extra theme. You can use the standalone version if you prefer to use Divi Builder on themes outside Divi and Extra. You can use Divi Builder to create custom templates for the following parts.

  • Header
  • Footer
  • Single Post
  • Single Page
  • Archive Pages (Tags, Categories, Authors)
  • Search Results Page
  • 404 Page

If you use WooCommerce, you can also use Divi Builder to create a custom template for the shop page, cart page, checkout page, and account page. Divi Builder also allows you to create custom templates for custom post types. Need to display the custom fields data to your custom templates? Divi Builder also makes it possible to do so.

4. Brizy Pro

Brizy is a lightweight page builder plugin that offers an intuitive editor. It is extremely easy to use. The pro version comes with a theme builder to allow to create a fully customized website with WordPress. The way Brizy theme builder works is a bit different from the three theme builders above. It doesn’t allow you to create custom templates for the footer and footer. Instead, it offers two dedicated blocks to create both custom header and footer. Custom templates can be created for the following parts:

  • Single Post
  • Single Page
  • Artive Pages (Tags and Categories, Authors)
  • Search Results Page
  • 404 Page

You can also create templates for WooCommerce parts as follows:

  • Single Product Page
  • Shop Page
  • Product Archive Pages (Product Categories and Tags)

Brizy also allows you to add custom fields to a custom template. Another advantage, it comes with a built-in mega menu builder so that you don’t need to install an additional plugin to create a mega menu on your custom header. Popup builder feature is also available to create more creative menu.

The Verdict

Theme builder is a great solution if you want to create a fully unique, customized website with WordPress. It’s especially a great solution if you want to create websites for clients. The ability to create custom templates via a visual editor allows you to become a professional web developer without needing to master PHP. The ability to add custom fields is another reason why a theme builder is a better option than a WordPress theme. If you are a casual user who just needs WordPress to create a simple blog with minimum customization, a WordPress theme is a better-suited option, though. A theme builder tends ideal to create a more complex website that needs further customizations.

If you want to have a full control over the layout and the styling of every single area of your website, you should go for a theme builder.

Original posted on: November 27, 2020

This page may contain affiliate links, which help support WP Pagebuilders.

One thought on “WordPress Theme vs Theme Builder: What Are the Differences?

  1. For the most part, in WordPress themes, customization options are limited. You can customize the theme you use according to the given rules. Also, in most themes, you can’t add elements like buttons, forms, or even social media icons. On the other hand, a theme builder plugin comes with a visual editor that you can use to create custom templates. Everything is drag and drop, it doesn’t need code. Themes that customers give to the theme creator are completely customizable. I enjoy reading this article.

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