Templates vs. Custom Theme
Theme Development
January 26, 2021
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Written by
Kyle Dicke

Templates vs. Custom Theme

Written by
Kyle Dicke
January 26, 2021

You’ve finalized your business plan, and now it’s time to start building a website. You’ve done your research, and you’re a bit lost on why there are so many options to build your site with a huge variance in prices. Why is that?

Well, there are lots of ways to build a website. Some are better than others, but any could be the right choice for a specific business. It really depends on your business and your goals.

This Kinful Guide is here to help you with that decision.

Custom Shopify Theme Web Development - Kinful

Let’s start with platform choice.

Now that you’ve been searching “Web Design for my business” you’re probably getting hit with ads from a million different website platforms. Their marketing efforts will always be directed at educating you on how easy it is for you to build your site.  Take that with a grain of salt.  It’s important to know that almost all platforms have a templated route and a custom route.  

You can build a crap Shopify site, just as much as you can build a beautiful one generating millions of dollars in sales a year.   The platform choice does not generate the look and feel of your site. The theme does.

Platform names have really become something of an adjective to describe a website.  You may hear “oh it’s just a Squarespace site” and hear the negative connotations in that.  Or “Webflow is quick and easy”, making the assumption that you can just flip a switch and have a beautifully branded website live in minutes.

In the same sense, WordPress gets a bad rap sometimes because of clients’ previous experiences with it.  More often than not, that frustration is really associated with the $60 theme they were working from…not the platform itself. 

When describing a website by its platform, you’re making an assumption that the platform is responsible for any mishaps or fortunes. That’s not totally correct. It mostly depends on how well your theme or template was developed within that platform. 

Let's unpack that

In reality, that negative connotation should be directed at the template or theme that the website is using.  There are ways to build beautiful custom themes in Squarespace, just like Webflow, Wordpress, or Shopify. You can build a quick website in Webflow, but you’re still going to need to use a template and fit your brand to the mold.

That being said, there are reasons to use specific platforms. At Kinful, we don’t use Squarespace. We’re a small team and limit the platforms we work in. It’s just not in our toolkit. Shopify is our bread and butter and platform of choice for ecommerce.  Webflow and Wordpress are our platforms of choice for marketing sites. 

We also don’t use templates or premade themes. We build a custom theme (in any of those platforms) specifically for your brand. We won’t elaborate on our process in this guide, but you can refer to that here if you’re inclined.

We build a custom theme (in any of those platforms) specifically for your brand.

Pre-made Templates or Themes

Platform aside, when do you use a premade template or theme?

The type of business and the budget are the biggest determining factors. It really depends on where you are in your business and what your business is.  We won’t advise that a template is the best path forward for long-term success, but are conscious that you can’t always build the “forever home” right off the bat. The best candidate for template usage is:

  • You’re simply trying to market your new business, and you’re not an ecommerce business.  You’re still trying to prove your concept and have a small budget to do so.  At this point (if you’re not selling ecommerce) branding is probably the most important thing to focus on.  Put your budget toward that, and build a super simple splash page with your fresh branding. Come back to your website once you’ve seen some success.
  • You’re an ecommerce business with only 1 or 2 products to sell, and don’t have a budget to fully flesh out a site yet.  There’s a time and a place for a template in this scenario… again it’s a budget thing. You can probably come up with a nice looking site, but it won’t perfectly match your brand and you’ll hear “no, the theme can’t do that” often.

Be aware that templates are heavily bloated with features and options to attract the most businesses to want to buy or use them.  This can cause issues down the road with site performance. If you don’t have a developer on hand, it will also force you to use tons of 3rd party apps (and monthly fees) for new features you want to add.  

We call this a Frankensite.

You’ve seen them before: That site with a million different colors and fonts and tons of spacing issues. Frankensite. They can create a nightmare of bugs and features that eventually will need to be redone correctly. 

When can a template be done well?

  • You absolutely must have a graphic designer on board to help you.  They can help you ensure that your images are sized correctly and your colors are on-brand. 
  • You should pick a very simple, not bloated template, directed toward your industry.
  • Your business or products do not have a lot of complexities behind them. 
  • You have excellent photography. 
  • Keep it simple and don’t add a ton of 3rd party apps that consume the design of the template.

Can’t I just start with a template and hire a web developer later?


The only issue with this plan is that you’ll likely have to rebuild an entire new custom theme once you've proven your concept and need more complexities and a more "on-brand" site. With that come migrations and other headaches.  OR you'll hire a web developer that adds customizations and patches to your template...sending you down the path to Frankensite.

Starting with a custom site gives you a solid foundation to build off of.  Starting with a template can be a bit rickety of a foundation.


It will be tough to find a team that will want to take over your site, if you’re not building a new theme from scratch.  Frankensites are scary to work in and will likely require a paid audit of the site prior to a dev team being willing to take over.  Especially if you've had a long trail of development teams and/or freelancers in the site making customizations, then dipping out.

Once your site is drifting toward Frankensite status, it’s time to rebuild.  It’s scary to be running a successful ecommerce business off of a pre-made template that’s been poked and prodded as a foundation. You’ll start seeing a ton of bugs and issues with the site. Nothing will be easy. 

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of a pre-made template or theme:


  • Can likely get started very quickly and launch the site with little technical knowledge.
  • Keep costs low by only hiring a designer to build out imagery for the template.
  • If you’re just testing a theory or an idea, it’s a low-budget way of doing it. 
  • If you have excellent photography, you can really use a template to your advantage by focusing all design elements on photography.


  • Tough to match branding completely without a developer. Installing brand fonts might be a challenge.
  • Complexities specific to your business won’t work well in a template.  For example, customizable products or questionnaires. 
  • You more than likely did not start with a web design process that comprehensively thought out how your website should look and feel to provide the best customer experience. Instead, you fit the mold of a template that is used on many similar businesses. 
  • You’ll need to use 3rd party apps to build out functionality you want, like a newsletter popup.  You’ll start to notice each app has its faults in being able to match your brand perfectly. 
  • Not a lot of uniqueness or nice interactions.  
  • No support team to help you with technical issues, bugs or technology changes.  All faults with your site will be blamed on the theme, and you’ll have to hire one-off developers to tweak things
  • As you start to customize the theme on your own, you’ll likely create bugs and head down the path of a Frankensite.

And the pros and cons of a custom template or theme:


  • Thoughtful design, not limited to the confines and settings of a pre-made template. Provides you exactly what you need for your brand, product or service. 
  • Unique design that builds brand equity and sets you apart from your competition. 
  • Not limited to the confines of a template. You can really do anything you want. 
  • Built to be edited by your team, but locked down enough to where you can’t mess up the design or structure of the site. 
  • Custom integrated third parties, to keep your site looking custom and not pieced together. 
  • A completely on-brand experience for your site visitors and customers. 
  • A support team to help you as your business grows.
  • A solid foundation to build and grow from. 


  • Larger investment than a pre-build shopify theme, and therefore a longer timeline to launch. 
  • Harder to add new pages or sections to the site without needing additional development or design. 
  • Ongoing budget is recommended to keep the site updated as your business changes.