WordPress Theme Builder. What Is It and How It Works?

Updated: February 8, 2021

The way people create a WordPress website has shifted in the past few years. Most WordPress users now prefer to use a theme builder instead of a theme due to limitless customizations they can make. Wait, what is a theme builder? What’s the difference with a theme?

One thing you need to know before we step further. Theme is a required component of the WordPress system. Meaning that you can’t create a WordPress site without a theme. A theme is a set of codes (PHP, JavaScript, and CSS) that control the appearance of a website. In other words, you need to have PHP, JavaScript, and CSS skills in order to be able to create a WordPress theme. But it was then. You can now create your own WordPress theme even if you have no coding skills. How come? That’s how a theme builder comes into play.

A theme builder allows you to create a WordPress theme using a visual editor, without writing any single line of code. All you need is a little sense of design. Theme builders is a new breakthrough in the WordPress ecosystem that allows those who don’t know programming languages (PHP and JavaScript in this case) to create a fully customized, unique WordPress-based site. By combining a theme builder with a custom field plugin like Advanced Custom Fields and Pods you can even create a complex professional website without coding at all.

How does a theme builder work?

As we mentioned above, a theme builder allows you to create a WordPress theme without coding. Theme builder itself is actually a feature of a page builder plugin. As you might have known, a page builder allows you to create beautiful pages on your WordPress site without dealing with CSS or HTML. It comes with a visual editor where everything is drag and drop. You just need to add the elements (image, text, button, and so on) to the canvas area and then make the settings accordingly. Most page builder plugins offer a live editing experience so that you can see every change you made in real-time.

Theme builder is some kind of extension of a page builder plugin, which allows you to create custom templates of your theme parts like the header, the footer, single post, search results page, and so on.

As we said in the opening section, a WordPress theme is a set of programming codes that control the appearance of a website. If you check the folder of a WordPress theme (or you can go to Appearance -> Theme Editor on your WordPress dashboard), you will find files like single.php, header.php, footer.php, sidebar.php, and so on. In the context of a WordPress theme, these files are called template files in which their function is to control the layout of the theme parts.

  • single.php: To control the layout of the single post (blog post).
  • header.php. To control the layout of the header.
  • footer.php: To control the layout of the footer.
  • sidebar.php: To control the layout of the sidebar.

A theme builder allows you to create a custom template to replace a certain default template of a theme. For instance, if you create a custom header template using a theme builder, the custom header you created will then replace the default header template (header.php) of your theme. If you need a real example, you can look around at this website. The header, footer, single post, search results page, and archive pages on this website were created using a theme builder.

In addition to setting the layout, a theme builder also allows you to set the appearance of a template. You can set the color, behavior, and add any element to your liking.

Another advantage of using a theme builder — other than limitless customization options — is that you can set where a custom template to be assigned to. For instance, you can set a custom header template to be applied to a certain page only instead of the entire website. That being said, you can have multiple headers on a single website.

Popular theme builders

1. Elementor

Elementor is the first word to come to mind when speaking about theme builder. It is by far the most popular page builder plugin with over 5 million active users. The pro version of Elementor comes with a theme builder feature that you can use to create custom templates to replace the default templates of your theme as we have covered above. The custom templates you can create with Elementor are:

  • Header
  • Footer
  • Single Post
  • Single Page
  • Archive Pages (Categories, Tags, Author)
  • Search results page
  • 404 error page

If you have a WooCommerce-powered e-commerce site, you can also create the custom single product page as well as the archive product page.

The theme builder feature of Elementor supports display conditions, meaning that you can assign a certain template to specific page(s), post(s), post under certain categories or tags, and so on. There are a lot of parameters you can choose from. Or, you can also create a global header and exclude it in specific areas. Elementor supports integration with popular custom field plugins like ACF, Pods, and Toolset, allowing you to add custom fields to a certain template. It also recognizes custom post types you created with plugins like CPT UI and Custom Post Types. You can, for instance, create a specific page that displays content under a certain custom post type. One of the advantages of using Elementor is that it has a well-established ecosystem. You can install Elementor add-ons to extend its functionality.

Elementor comes with features like popup builder, form builder, and motion effects to allow you to add creative elements to your custom templates. It can be used on any WordPress theme.

2. Divi Builder

Divi Builder is another feature-rich page builder just like Elementor. It is especially a great option for web agencies. The reason is that with only a single license, you can use Divi Builder on as many websites as you want. In other words, you don’t need to buy a new license for every new project you accept. Divi Builder was previously only available for Divi theme and Extra theme, but you can now use it on any WordPress theme. Another reason why Divi Builder is better-suited for agencies is that it offers a one-time purchase option so that you don’t need to pay a yearly subscription fee. Divi Builder also supports display conditions to allow you to assign a custom template to certain areas of your website. Here are the custom templates you can create with Divi Builder:

  • Header
  • Footer
  • Single Post
  • Single Page
  • Archive Pages (Categories, Tags, Author)
  • Search results page
  • 404 error page

If you have WooCommerce installed and activated, you can also create a custom single product page, custom archive product page, custom shop page, custom checkout page, and custom cart page.

Same as Elementor, Divi Builder also has a well-established ecosystem. Elegant Themes (the developer of Divi Builder) even offers an official marketplace where the Divi community can sell and buy Divi Builder extensions and templates.

3. Brizy

Brizy is a new player in the page builder plugin segment. At least when compared to Divi Builder and Elementor, which already have a more established ecosystem. Unlike Elementor and Divi Builder, Brizy has no menu on the WordPress dashboard that explicitly labelled “Theme Builder”. But it does allow you to create custom templates by going to Brizy -> Templates. The custom templates you can create with Brizy are:

  • Single post
  • Single page
  • 404 error page
  • Archive pages

If you have WooCommerce installed and activated, you can also create a custom single product page as well as a custom archive product page. For those templates, Brizy also supports display conditions.

The drawback of Brizy is that it doesn’t allow you to create a custom template for the footer and header. But you can still create a custom header and footer on your website. Brizy offers blocks dedicated to both header and footer. Unfortunately, Brizy doesn’t support display conditions for the header and footer. This forces you to edit every single page (and template) you want to add the custom header/footer to. To streamline your workflow, Brizy allows you to create a global header and footer. You can read this article to learn more about global blocks in Brizy.

One feature offered by Brizy that is not available in Divi Builder and Elementor is a built-in mega menu builder. Same as the two theme builders above, Brizy can also be used on any WordPress theme.

The bottom line

Theme builders have transformed the way people create websites with WordPress. You are no longer stuck to the customization options offered by your theme, which tend to limited. You really have limitless customization options. With a theme builder, you can use any theme, even the simplest theme like Hello, and customize every single part of your WordPress site yourself. This way, you can create a fully customized, unique website.

The fact that you can assign a custom template to specific areas of your website is another reason why using a theme builder is a smart choice. Theme builders can also be an answer for those who want to be a professional web developer with WordPress, yet have no adequate programming skills (or even have no programming skills at all). After understanding how theme builder works, you can then learn the concept of custom fields and custom post type and eventually, you will be able to create any type of website.

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