There are thousands of WordPress themes. Some are pretty, some are standards-compliant, and some are as versatile as a Swiss army knife. In 2005, when I made my first WordPress site, I looked for a theme with a certain look, color scheme, or layout, with less regard for customization options and upgrade issues. Now, I know better.

The most important things to look for in a theme are standards-compliance, reliability, security, and flexibility.

The best themes may be a bit on the plain side, but they are easy to transform with custom header images and color schemes, layout options, and features that facilitate painless upgrades to newer versions. The basic CSS style sheet should be efficient and not overly fussy. Check the DOCTYPE used in the theme, and how the theme designer specifies fonts. Themes that use XHTML or HTML5 are preferable to those without a DOCTYPE or an obsolete one. If the style sheet specifies font-sizes in points (such as 12pt), a unit applicable only to print media, it would be wise to consider another theme.

Disclosure: Some of the links to themes in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

There are many excellent themes out there, and one that’s right for your website. Every new project requires its own look, so I’ve tried a lot of themes and feel that a custom banner and colors help create a unique ambiance. Here are some themes I’m currently using:

Genesis Framework – StudioPress Themes

StudioPress Premium WordPress ThemesA theme framework lets you create or use a "child theme" based on a foundation theme that includes all the required and repetitive WordPress code. A framework simplifies maintenance and promotes creativity because all the customizations are safely contained within the child theme. I looked at several theme frameworks, and decided to go with the Genesis Framework and StudioPress Themes for WordPress. No regrets. I am very pleased with Genesis, bought a license for all StudioPress Themes, and expect to use it for a long time. Its coding is solid, standards-compliant, secure, and efficient. The user forum is well-organized, offers tutorials for every Genesis theme, and has an active community.

To use StudioPress themes with the Genesis framework, you install both the framework and chosen child theme in your WordPress blog Themes admin panel. Then select options for background, logo image, menus, widgets, or other features in the Options panel. All StudioPress themes have custom widgets that can add featured posts, subscription links, sliders, tabbed areas, and other goodies to the layout.

StudioPress Genesis Child Theme MarketplaceThe StudioPress community includes talented designer/developers who build child themes based on the Genesis framework. Some of their child themes may be seen and purchased in the StudioPress Genesis Child Theme Marketplace. All of the themes are top-notch quality and can be further customized for your sites or client projects. Elle is a very popular theme. Driskill offers built-in resizing for mobile devices without a companion theme or plugin. Nice!

Other popular frameworks include Canvas, Carrington, Elemental, Hybrid, Thematic, Thesis, and Woo Themes. These lists of frameworks are short and very informative:

Elegant Themes

Elegant Themes are gorgeous. They are the creative work of a very talented and prolific designer, Nick Roach. His themes have options that other themes do not. I’ve recently started using these themes and am just finishing up a site with InReview, a product review theme that’s optimized for author and user ratings, with a great Featured Products slider. His themes are available as a subscription for $39 per year, which lets you use any of them as often as you like on your own sites. This is a very, very good deal! A developer license is available. Elegant Themes organize options in an easy to use ePanel, so that you don’t have to disturb the code to configure navigation, layout, colors, or SEO options. The latest themes have some beautiful color options and background texture overlays. These themes are impressive!

Storefront Themes

Storefront Themes - Premium WP-e-Commerce ThemesIf you are using the WP e-Commerce plugin with WordPress, you just can’t go wrong with one of the Storefront Themes, which are specifically designed to integrate closely with the plugin. Storefront Themes are beautiful, and make the plugin pages look more polished. They even extend the functionality of the plugin with special widgets, such as a homepage slider for featured products. The designs are meticulously thought out and use some nice jQuery enhancements. The latest Storefront Theme versions support version 3.8 of the WP e-Commerce plugin, and include some very nifty features.

Socrates

If you are an Internet marketer, Socrates has a lot of built-in help for creating a marketing site. It offers a large number of header images and options, many widgetized areas for ads and social networking icons, and a variety of page templates for special purposes. It’s a solid choice for niche-market and affiliate websites, and can be configured to to look great without a lot of effort. This premium theme is well supported by the developer and user forum.