Top 10 WordPress Portfolio Themes: 2016 Comparison
I mostly do custom design work and using standard WordPress themes is kind of a no-no in my world.
However, recently a friend wanted some help selecting some portfolio themes for her work.
She didn't want me to spend time on a custom theme for her but needed some pointers and suggestions to pick a good one. This little bit of research led me to realize that there would be many others who might be in the same position, so I decided to expand that process and do a comparison for all you creative individuals.
When I did a search for the term "WordPress portfolio themes," almost all the results were the same. I found lists of the "best" portfolio themes, sure, ranging from 5 to 90 but few were more than a list of the themes they either sell or got from some other list without any real justification or criteria for being the "best". I don't do that!
How can there be 90 best WordPress Portfolio Themes?
But they need to be compared like apples to apples, not fruit salad. I have filtered out the not-so-good portfolio themes from criteria that I have absorbed from helping artists, designers, and creative business persons install and setup their WordPress sites.
Here are my criteria for comparing free portfolio WordPress themes.
There can't be that many best themes! However, there can be TOP themes out of whatever number you like. But they need to be compared like apples to apples, not fruit salad.
I have filtered out the not-so-good portfolio themes from criteria that I have absorbed from helping artists, designers, and creative business persons install and setup their WordPress sites.
Here are my criteria for comparing free portfolio WordPress themes.
This is a given for all of the latest WordPress themes. Responsive themes aren't always perfect on mobile devices. Mobile-ready usually means it can detect that it is a mobile device and re-formats for that device.
WordPress is not known for blazing loading speed, but still, Google likes blog-type sites, meaning WordPress is a plus. Portfolios are generally graphic in nature and require sharp detailed images. This leads to large image files and slower load times. There are some image optimization plugins that help, but a good clean image-centric code is a good base to work from.
It is hard to give this a rating because everyone has their own tastes. However, the minimalist style is the trend these days, so this category will be for allowing multiple designs or templates to choose from.
I wanted to keep things less complicated for the average WordPress user, but with portfolios individualization is a must. Theme colors, font styles, content element types are what most customizations are limited to.
Page Layout Options
This is related to customization features, being able to change to the different trending page styles of the day, like, grid, blog-style etc., without having to find a new theme to replace it with, can make a theme outdated fast. Instant layout templates or interactive (drag & drop) pages can make updating fun and quick.
In the interest of cost vs value, I will only be looking at free portfolio themes. I will indicate if there are paid upgrades, but only the best value made the list. (I have another post about the best paid WordPress themes.)
My Choice for "The Top 10 Free Portfolio Themes for WordPress in 2016"
This list is in order of the number of "active installs," meaning they are still being used. I selected these themes from both the WordPress.org theme directory and the open web. They also range from business portfolio style to artsy-expressive style, and some multi-purpose ones.
#1 - Zerif Lite Theme | Active Installs = 100,000+ | Developer - Themeisle
- WooCommerce Ready - Add the free plugin and you have a store/cart ready to go
- Parallax Effect - scroll the content while the background stays put
- Live Customizer - integrated with this newish WP feature
- Video Tutorials - lots of help to get you up and running
- Translation & Right to Left text display ready - no plugin needed
- Custom Backgrounds - comes with a free MyStock.photos library
- Responsive - responsive to all screen sizes and mobile optimized
- Speed Optimized - experienced coders do it for speed
- Multi - Menus - includes the popular MAX Mega Menu plugin
- Drag & Drop Content Builder - build pages to your liking, with Custom Content Blocks and SiteOrigin Page Builder
- 1-Minute setup and Sample content
Mini Theme Tour: Zerif Lite
#2 - Fukasawa Theme | Active Installs = 10,000+ | Developer - Anders Norén
- Minimalistic Layout - uses a nice Masonry style
- Post Format Support- allows for slideshows above post with images and video
- Responsive - optimized for all screen sizes for 3.5-inch phone to 27-inch monitor
- Retina Ready - images will display sharp and crisp on all retina type screens
- Customization - change color accents logos and sidebar widgets
- Jetpack Support - jetpack is a plugin bundle usually installed with the latest WP version. It has tons of usable features
- Parallax - included
Mini Theme Tour: Fukasawa
#3 - GK Portfolio| Active Installs = 9,000+ | Developer - GavickPro
- Image Focused Design - simple and clean to show off your portfolio
- Speedy - lightweight for fast loading
- Topography - clean layout doesn't overwhelm your images
- Responsive - works with all devices and screen sizes
- Social Media - icons and buttons for easy sharing
- Customizer - integrated with WP Theme Customizer so you can add your own colors plus allows for on/off of "reveal" animations
- Fonts - Google font readyMulti-lingual ready
Mini Theme Tour: GK Portfolio
#4 - Oria | Active Installs = 8,000+ | Developer - Themeisle
- Minimalist Design - masonry blogging style
- Post Slider - filmstrip type
- Speed - built for fast loading
- Customization - colors, background image
- Social Menu - links to your web 2.0
- Parallax - included
- Google fonts ready - just pick what you like and add them
- Contact Form - built in and easy to use
Mini Theme Tour: Oria
#5 - Hitchcock | Active Installs = 7,000+ | Developer - Anders Norén
- Design - clean and elegant 3 column grid layout for homepage and single column post page keeps distractions to a minimum
- Responsive - desktop background scales down to all screen sizes and devices
- Retina Ready - sharp and clean for all retina screens
- Customization - logo, background images, and accent colors easily changed
- Gallery Support - allow for full 1040px width slideshows at the top of your blog posts
- Jetpack Integration - utilizes "Infinite" scroll, which allows for a fixed number of posts on page, then click the button at the bottom and more posts are added without switching windows
- Plus- Social icon menus, editor style, and translation ready
Mini Theme Tour: Hitchcock
#6 - Portfolio Gallery | Active Installs = 4,000+ | Developer - Web-Dorado
- Customization - long list of custom homepage layout options, plus unlimited colors
- Localization - includes 47 language translations
- Speed - clean code means fast loading and higher security
- Tutorials - comes with a complete guide for step by step installation & use
- Page Templates - plenty to choose from including customization for individuality
- Shortcodes - built in codes for adding styled elements like buttons, columns, content boxes etc.
- Plugins - this theme comes with preloaded free plugins from making , forms, calendars, even a catalog, plus more
Mini Theme Tour: Portfolio Gallery
#7 - Morphology Lite | Active Installs = 900+ | Developer - Shaped Pixels
- Responsive - all screens, all mobile devices
- Blog Layouts - 4 different styles
- Post Layouts - 3 single full post
- Post Types - 2 formats
- Customization - uses WP Customizer, backgrounds, unlimited theme colors, on/off pages elements
- Menus - 3 position available
- Page Templates - comes with 4 pre-made templates
- Social Menu - comes with auto icons
- Error Page - create a custom one to your liking
- Languages - Right to left Compatible
- SEO - Schema.org built in to make Google happy
- Jetpack Compatible - yes
- Support & Tutorials - just the basics
Mini Theme Tour: Morphology Lite
#8 - Fabulous Fluid | Active Installs = 800+ | Developer - Catch Themes
- Theme Options - allows for on/off toggle of features, modify layouts, color changes, fonts, logos, background image, custom CSS styling, and adding social links all in one place
- Responsive Design - fits all screen sizes and mobile devices
- Page Slider - highlight special page in a slider style format with plenty of controls
- Features Page Content - has a grid style featured page option or columns too
- Excerpt Length - can change "Read More Text" and length of excerpt
- Pagination - can change from "old/newer post" to numeric or infinite scroll
Mini Theme Tour: Fabulous Fluid
#9 - Oren | Active Installs = 500+ | Developer - Themeora
- Responsive - works on all devices and screen sizes
- Customization - uses WP Customer - limited options
- Speed - bare bones options means lightning speed
- Jetpack Support - integrated with jetpack for tiled galleries
Mini Theme Tour: Oren
#10 - Artwork lite | Active Installs = 300+ | Developer - MotoPress
- Responsive - all screen sizes and devices will work
- Customization - uses WP Customizer, unlimited colors
- Post Formats - support for the various post types
- WooCommerce Ready - add the plugin and open your own personal art gallery
- Plugins Required - yes requires Artwork Theme Engine plugin (free)
Mini Theme Tour: Artwork
My choices for free WordPress portfolio themes were driven by the type of portfolio (business, artist, studio, and artist/business person), features included and the visual coolness factor. I also used the number of users as a factor, but not all "best seller/most popular" themes were included. Some are newer or less well known so haven't yet hit the big number of users.
I arranged them by the number of active installs for
Portfolio Style and Personal Tastes
Each theme could be used for any kind of portfolio, but some are better suited for full-fledged businesses and others for the small artist or personal showcase. I'm not going to be a taste-master so please pick what works best for your needs.
The number of users is important, but is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, high numbers mean it works and is more secure in being around and supported longer. This means your site will be more like a lot of other sites.
The other end of the scale where the number of users is low you have a better chance of looking original instead of having the "rubber stamp" look,showing off your artistic nature. However, a lower number of users may mean support will wane and updates may begin to evaporate.
This problem is part of the "free themes" market, and it is a shame because often great ideas don't always get great marketing.
If you are a full-fledged business needing a new WordPress theme.
Show your portfolio with any of these themes -
If you're a smaller business or gallery then try one of these.
GK Portfolio, Oria, Hitchcock, Portfolio Gallery, or even Fabulous Fluid. These also have good upgrades when ready.
For the real solo artist or those who want to be a little different.
Then I suggest one of these themes: Fabulous Fluid, Morphology Lite, Oren, or Artwork Lite. Not all have paid upgrades but these are better suited for showcase-oriented style than for the "art store" feel.
I hope you have found this article and list of themes informative and entertaining.
I wish you luck in finding the best theme for your experience and taste.
Good luck in your passion.