A framework is a clean theme, ready for you to skin/customize with your own design preferences.
Why use a theme framework?
The benefit of a theme framework is that you start from a more or less blank starting point. If you were to “remix” a ready-made premium theme, from Organic Themes, Elegant Themes or WooThemes, the three major drawbacks would be:
- You’d spend too much time removing unnecessary/superfluous design ornaments and details.
- You’d end up with a slower website, because of the bloated code, typical of premium themes, due to excessive theme admin options.
- Your final website design would not be as unique and tailor-made as it would have been if you started from scratch.
You don’t wanna start ALL the way from scratch though! I used to create WordPress themes from scratch. While it does give a really lean theme, lightning fast loading, you also spend too much time repeating the same, basic code tasks over and over.
That’s why you should use a theme framework as a foundation for your theme building efforts. You save tons of time and get a great quality result in the end.
Well, onto the Canvas WordPress theme framework
I’ve previously used Canvas on a few projects, and while it’s a fair enough WordPress theme framework, I didn’t find it to fit my needs. But it may be just right for you. In this blog post, I’ll tell you what I see as the pros and cons of the Canvas WordPress theme.
This review is based on the latest version of Canvas at the time of writing, namely version 5.2.6, released yesterday. So rest assured: The review is as fresh as a ripe banana in Costa Rica:)
I must admit I’m not a big fan of the WooThemes design aesthetic. I find themes from WooThemes sterile, square and pale, to state it clearly. If you like the WooThemes look, but wanna DESIGN it yourself, Canvas is perfect for you though.
So ehm… Canvas is like a nudist WooThemes theme;-)
The need for speed
Code quality and speed wise, Canvas is about on par with alternative theme frameworks like Headway 3 and Genesis 2. It’s not as heavy as PageLines 2 (review) and not as lightweight as Responsive and Thesis 2 (review).
Pros of WooThemes Canvas
- If you like the WooThemes “look” of WordPress themes, but want a clean starting point – Canvas is perfect for you.
- Shortcodes galore: You can create columns with these, colored buttons, highlight text. Very convenient.
- If’ you aren’t very technical, Canvas will let you use the built-in design control panel to design your own website.
- Canvas is fully responsive and looks great on mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad and Android.
- A large selection of Google fonts are just a click away.
Canvas is WooCommerce compatible
Canvas being a WooThemes product, it of course works perfectly with WooThemes WooCommerce ecommerce plugin, that is the standard of WordPress ecommerce.
But what are the less charming aspects of Canvas then?
Biggest con of WooThemes Canvas: Layout limitations
When I’m designing sites for myself and clients, I almost always need to break out of WordPress’ dreaded “content + sidebar” paradigm. Sales pages, landing pages, product pages; all require more advanced, custom layouts.
WooThemes Canvas provides you with a few specialty templates to choose from: Business, Magazine and Portfolio.
The “Business” template basically gives you a slider above your content. In my opinion that look is becoming a cliché.
The “Magazine” template gives you a page with a grid of posts, with thumbnails and titles. Cliché but at least useful.
The “Portfolio” template is like a categorized gallery page.
There’s also a Contact Form template, as well as a few other basic ones. But that’s as far as your layout freedom goes in WooThemes Canvas. Want to add a box here or there? Can’t easily do that with Canvas. Unless you are willing to code.
You can use shortcodes to create columns in your content area. But you can’t as an example directly in Canvas (without writing custom CSS) style these columns as boxes with a light gray background color. In Headway you’d quickly be able to do such stuff without coding.
Canvas Child themes
Unless you just wanna use the built-in design controls, you should create a child theme. that will give you more flexibility when customizing your theme.
But remember: There’s no shame in being lazy and taking the easy path! Feel free to just use what Canvas has built-in from the get-go. It can take most people plenty far towards a good, solid website.
It does bring me to a personal caveat though:
Design controls and child themes don’t mix!
In my experience, it’s an annoyance to have both:
- Design controls available in the theme options +
- The need to create a child theme (with a style.css file).
It’s my experience, that such design controls often interfere with you own custom CSS code. Design controls add confusion to your development process.
In Headway, the design options (in Headway’s unique Visual Design Editor) are so versatile, that child themes aren’t needed. You do it all in Headway. And even when custom CSS is needed, Headway’s Live CSS Preview feature integrates that process. No interference. Zero friction.
But in Canvas, the design controls only take you so far. You’ll quickly need to create a child theme. At that point, you’d wish you’d chosen Genesis as the foundation of your child theme, instead. Much leaner, and no interfering design controls.
Canvas inconveniently sits itself between two chairs. It doesn’t exactly cater to people who can’t or won’t write code. On the other hand, Canvas isn’t a lean, mean theme framework, like Genesis or Responsive. If I were to code a child theme from scratch, I’d not choose the Canvas WordPress theme. I’d choose Genesis.
So do I recommend the Canvas WordPress theme as your framework of choice?
Not really. I can’t see anything wrong with WooThemes Canvas. It’s just very average, like that dude at the office who’s nice and polite, but never drinks, swears or jokes. Bottom line: Competing frameworks offer you more personality and possibilities: Headway is currently the supreme choice on the market. But PageLines (review) will also give you much more flexibility than Canvas. If you just want a lean framework without help from a design options control panel; Genesis by StudioPress just came out in a fresh version 2.0.
If you have questions or comments you’re welcome to chime in!