Should I use a free Drupal theme?

There are some crucial points to note when considering whether to employ the use of a prepackaged free Drupal theme on your website, as opposed to building a theme from scratch yourself.

There is a wide selection of themes available online for Drupal. Many of them are high-resolution, responsive themes which utilize progressive enhancement to deliver a great experience to your audience.

There is a major differentiating factor though, and that’s between free and paid Drupal themes.

Free themes can be really useful in helping beginners get to know Drupal and develop a good understanding of how theming in Drupal works. There are indeed quite a few free themes available for Drupal, contributed by the community, often known as contrib themes. As with most things at a zero dollar price tag, free themes do come with their fair share of drawbacks.

Unfortunately, a lot of free Drupal themes are heavily dated by today’s standards, and as such don’t follow best practice guidelines for current valid HTML and CSS. Often, these themes will have been built many years ago, although some are still updated from time to time.

There are some crucial points to note when considering whether to employ the use of a prepackaged free Drupal theme on your website, as opposed to using a premium theme, or building a theme from scratch yourself.

Support, or lack thereof, can be a challenge when dealing with free website themes.

Not all developers of free Drupal themes maintain frequent updates or provide good ongoing support.

A large contributing factor to this is the fact that the themes are released free of charge, and often by independent theme developers or small voluntary teams, meaning that there isn’t necessarily an obligation for them to provide ongoing support of a certain standard.

In such a situation, you may be left to seek voluntary support from members of the community. For seasoned Drupal developers this may not pose a problem, but if you are not fluent in Drupal theming, front-end languages, PHP, and Twig, extending or modifying the theme can become a challenge, especially if you are pressed for time.

Another common challenge with free Drupal themes is their often-dated front-end designs. User experience plays a huge part in user’s navigation of the web today, and while responsive, mobile-ready sites are pretty much today’s standard, modern design and an attractive browsing experience aren’t necessarily guaranteed by the standards of most free Drupal themes.

This is made particularly present by the strong, and often sole focus on back-end code.

While this is great (that developers are focusing so much on the stability of the theme's backend), front-end design plays arguably the most important part in the end user’s experience of your website. Dated design not only applies to the graphical elements of a theme, but also the inclusion (or lack) of up-to-date third-party plugins, such as UX-based jQuery libraries.

Since your website is a business investment, we advise not to skimp by using a freely available Drupal theme over a premium one. All points considered, it may quite simply not be worth it.