With all the time I spend on my sites, I feel like I know my themes, their nuances, and to some extent, their makers. I spent a lot of time finding the right theme for each site, and while each has its pros and cons, I’m more than satisfied with my choices. I always look for flexible, customisable themes; the more options the better — so long as they’re easy to use! Ultimately, the three free WordPress themes I use have proven themselves. Now I want to share some tried, tested, and true recommendations based on my own experiences of website building with the Atahualpa, Graphene, and Parabola themes.
Review of Atahualpa WordPress Theme by BytesForAll
Possibly one of the things that originally impressed me was that there’s a lot you can do with the header area in Atahualpa. I don’t use the majority of the available options, to be honest, but it can get fancy! There are rotating images, customisable overlay, and a logo area in addition to site title and description. With complete control over the position and layout of menu and custom widget areas, and even the design and layout of divider bars, Atahualpa lets you create a truly custom header area.
And at the end, in the footer to be exact, Atahualpa gives you a lot of the same options as for the header. It took me a while to figure out how to insert a footer menu, but now I love how it’s done (with simple tags).
Of course, everything in between is customisable too, from text and body to links, widgets, post excerpts, images, post info items, content areas, and sidebars. For example, it’s possible to hide the “Comments are disabled” text, which drives me nuts.
What else can you do with Atahualpa? Well, it has a lot of built-in SEO options, and menu options if you’re not using the WordPress menu options. There are some RSS settings, multi-post/archive page navigation settings, and options for comments, tables, forms, and more. And there’s a handy spot for html inserts, plus another for CSS inserts. Atahualpa has excellent Print CSS built right in, so no need to do anything with that.
Frankly, I think Atahualpa can be used by anyone but that someone comfortable with coding would be able to do much more with it. However, beginners shouldn’t be afraid to try because plenty of explanations and examples are provided directly within the various options sections.
I also think part of what makes Atahualpa so flexible is that it’s not heavily designed, so you really can make it look exactly the way you want. But non-designers could find that challenging.
Review of Graphene WordPress Theme by Stampede Design
Graphene turned out to be an excellent choice. It’s got some cool header options of its own, especially placement of the social media buttons. With it, too, some significant styling of the header and menu areas is possible. In addition, it’s got a separate header widget area that can be enabled and styled, and the option to replace the header image with the featured image can be disabled.
Graphene’s got a nice little feature which lets you disable comments entirely on pages while leaving posts intact, so you don’t have to check the box every time you publish a new page. It’s got the option of disabling comments site-wide, but WordPress already lets you do that. And sadly, Graphene lacks the option of hiding the “Comments are disabled” text, which I think is a big downfall I will really have to work on.
One of my favourite Graphene options is the action hooks section, which adds widget areas to predetermined locations on the site. The selection of check boxes is much more user-friendly than how it’s done with Atahualpa (code that’s simple enough once you get the hang of it).
A lot of similar options are available for styling the site, yet a few key differences stand out. Google Fonts is built into Graphene, and you can upload a site favicon directly from the Graphene options screen. And, Graphene has a simple checkbox option to enable Print CSS. Sweet and easy, but I wonder why it wouldn’t just automatically be included. It certainly can’t harm anyone to make sure their site looks good when someone prints out a post.
Possibly the best part about the Graphene options is that there are Save buttons everywhere, and the screen doesn’t refresh or move when you click them, so that it’s easy to continue working without interruption.
Graphene feels more user-friendly and intuitive, and there’s barely anything I’ve tried to do that I couldn’t figure out. I know I’m not using Graphene to its full potential
, so look for improvements at Green Niackery in the future!
Review of Parabola WordPress Theme by Cryout Creations
Still, it’s a fairly new theme and it’s doing really well. I see improvements with each update, and it looks like the theme authors are keeping their eyes peeled for bugs at this early stage.
Parabola has a lot of the same built-in options as Graphene, which makes it very user-friendly. Plugins aren’t needed to use Google Fonts or to upload a favicon, for example.
That being said, Parabola is most certainly the most heavily designed of the three themes, and man in looks fine! It’s got plenty of options to personalise the theme and most people will be satisfied with those. Designers may need to mess around with code more.
I really like Parabola’s graphics settings. You can enable breadcrumbs and pagination without installing a plugin or two. You can align the menu and enable a “Return to Top” button. Plus, you can hide list bullets, category archive titles, and more. One of the things I appreciate most about Parabola is that the “Comments are disabled” text can be hidden.
Like Graphene, Parabola has a built-in social media display. I don’t really like the positioning so I don’t use it, but that’s only because I try to maintain some consistency across all Niackery sites, whenever possible. I think Parabola’s social media display would please many bloggers.
On the downside, Parabola’s drawback is a lack of custom widget areas, but that can be overcome with plugins. Lots of great features do make this a good theme to work with, but for the most part, the options are limited. For example, when setting the layout of the content area and sidebars, you can adjust the site width, content width, and sidebars width; but, if using two sidebars, the sidebar width is split evenly instead of providing the option to set each individually, as with Atahualpa and Graphene.
I plan on trying out some more of Parabola’s options, too, especially on the front page. Plus, since it’s still so new, updates almost always have something good added. MiscellaNiackery’s bound to feel the effects of change over time.
Overview: Comparing Three Free WordPress Themes
But I’m happy with the way things are going on each of my sites for now, and in large part that’s thanks to three wonderful themes! I couldn’t be more thankful for the great support I’ve found in the forums, from theme authors and community members alike. I’d encourage anyone to give either of the Atahualpa, Graphene, or Parabola WordPress themes a go.