When it comes to WordPress theme development, giving your users the ability to customize and setup their website the way they want is a crucial and important feature. In fact, whether yours is a multipurpose theme or a niche centered offering, theme customization is equally important.
In terms of WordPress theme customization, the options are plenty. You can, of course, code every single option yourself from scratch. But if you are looking to save some time and efforts, you can possibly rely on a theme options framework or panel and tweak it accordingly to help your users do more with your WordPress theme.
Such theme options panels are plenty and in this post, we take a look at some of the best options frameworks for WordPress theme development.
Theme Options Frameworks: WordPress Theme Development Made Easy
What is a Theme Options Framework?
But before going any further, let us pause and discuss: what exactly are theme options frameworks? How can they be any different from a theme framework?
Basically, a theme options framework takes part in the process of WordPress theme development in a manner that it allows you to focus on your theme and not on the backend settings. Every WP theme tends to have a frontend (that’s how it looks when you activate it), and a backend (wherein you can customize stuff such as fonts, header, footer widgets, etc.).
Now, you need to code your WP theme, obviously. You can rely on a WP theme framework, such as Genesis, and code a theme that acts as a child theme. You can also start with a skeleton theme, say Underscores, and code a theme without having to start from scratch.
Same way, when it comes to theme customization and options, you can use a theme options framework in your WordPress theme development process. This way, you do not have to write all the fields from scratch and can save your time.
A Word of Advice
However, not all theme options frameworks are loved by everyone. There are many in the WP community who disapprove of theme options frameworks. Why? Back in the day, each theme had its own “Theme Options” page and the frameworks played well with that.
However, with the advent of the Theme Customizer, it is advisable to have all the theme options in the Customizer itself, such that the user can preview the changes live before activating a given theme.
Many theme options frameworks tend not to respect the Customizer API and do things their own way. Of course, this does not mean all theme options frameworks are the same — Kirki, mentioned below, works and integrates nicely with the Customizer API.
Plus, for the most part, the Theme Customizer does make for better UX in terms of live preview. However, many premium WordPress themes, such as Divi or even Thesis or Genesis, tend to still do things their own way. Any drag and drop plugin or theme does not respect the Theme Customizer anyway, so you cannot consider all theme options frameworks as evil.
In simple words, theme options frameworks tend to save development time for coders by allowing them to quickly and conveniently add theme options to their work without having to sacrifice quality or functionality. Thus, it is well worth the logic to consider a good options framework for addition to your WordPress theme development methodology so as to save your own time and efforts.
Bear in mind that a defunct or dead framework can expose your theme to security flaws. As a result, I have only considered those frameworks that are in steady development and have a good number of users. The number of active users shown against each entity on this page reflects the count as mentioned by WordPress plugin repository — there might be additional users who opted for a bundled version of the same plugin and have failed to upgrade to the latest version.
OptionTree is a rather popular option in the world of options frameworks. It lets you create responsive theme options panels and meta boxes that you can then integrate with your theme by means of hooks and filters. As such, you can use its drag and drop interface to create a theme options panel for your WP theme and then export the same to a theme-options.php file.
OptionTree automatically handles your custom text domain and is translation ready. It features a plethora of customization options, such as typography, design elements and logo, ad spaces and widgets, as well as custom sidebars for each layout.
OptionTree has the backing of ThemeForest and you will find this particular options plugin bundled with various ThemeForest premium themes.
2. Redux Framework
Redux Framework is based on WP Settings API. As such, its set of features is rather standard such as error handling, custom fields, validation options, etc. Redux is fully responsive and translation ready and also allows you to import and export settings.
Redux Framework supports all the standard customization settings such as color, text, design elements, images and other media, etc. Plus, it can also handle sliders and custom content fields right in the customization panel. Redux also plays well with Google Fonts and automatically generates the required CSS.
Redux is extremely popular and is under steady development with a very high frequency of regular updates.
Remember the Customizer versus Panel debate we talked about above? Kirki does not suffer from that. It is a theme customization framework that does not re-invent the wheel. Instead, it adds extra customization options in the Theme Customizer itself.
Therefore, it lets you make use of the WP Customizer API and default WP functions to further enhance your WordPress theme development workflow. You can add additional options to the Customizer by the help of Kirki, such as Google Fonts. Plus, you can create panels, sections and even custom fields right within the Customizer.
Kirki is a slightly newer player in the game and so it does not have a gigantic user base.
4. Options Framework
Options Framework (not to be confused with OptionTree Framework mentioned above) is yet another popular entity in the world of options toolkits for WordPress theme development.
It lets you do all the standard tweaks that you would want — add custom buttons, fields, image content, typography options, text fields, and so on. You can also make use of its jQuery integration to add stuff such as color pickers for your users to make use of.
Options Framework does not offer a lot of unique features but at the same time, it does not lag behind in terms of features as compared to any other entry on this list. For what it’s worth, this particular framework is a good choice simply on account of its sheer popularity (though it is not as popular as Redux Framework).
PIKLIST claims to be “the most powerful framework available for WordPress”. Whether or not it lives up to that claim varies from one user to another, but PIKLIST sure has a good list of features.
You can indulge in all the standard expectations here — it lets you create custom fields for settings and widgets and even add custom post types and taxonomies, etc. You can add custom admin notices, Dashboard tabs, pointers and even code the meta boxes such that users cannot disable them.
PIKLIST also lets you add custom post statuses. For a WordPress theme development workflow, such functionality might not always be needed, but for niche themes, this can come in handy.
6. Gantry 5 Framework
Gantry 5 Framework (the 5 is not there just for the sake of it, older versions have followed the numbering too, Gantry 4 is still in development, apparently) offers your custom blocks that you can integrate with your WordPress theme development process.
Ideally, Gantry 5 is more of a pure development model than a mere toolkit. It comes with its own free WP theme that you can use as base for your themes. Next, you can use Gantry’s responsive grid system to create dynamic options panels and do more with your themes.
Gantry 5 is purely cross platform, and works with not just WP but also Joomla and Grav. It has its own layout management module with support for drag and drop editing. Essentially, Gantry 5 focuses more on quick and swift template management and editing.
7. Titan Framework
The last entry on our list, Titan Framework, lets you add custom admin panels, meta boxes and options with just minor tweaks and few lines of code. Beyond that, Titan Framework also integrates with the Customizer API so you can add extra fields and options to the Theme Customizer itself.
You can add quite a lot many fields and options to your theme. Titan Framework also supports automatic CSS generation with SCSS handling. It works well with child and parent themes alike.
Over To You
If you are into WordPress theme development, have you ever given any theme options framework a spin? If yes, which one? Share your views in the comments below!
Matthew Cain says
As far as I know the official WordPress theme review team forbids the usage of theme options, and we should use the WP Customizer instead. Why are you promoting such frameworks? And regarding frameworks, why haven’t you mentioned Cherry?
John Bauer says
What is the difference between Options framework and Settings framework in WordPress?