Five Best Starter Themes for WordPress Theme Development

Posted OnDec 12, 2013     CategoryDevelopment, Themes     CommentsNo comment

If you are planning to create a WordPress theme, there are numerous ways to get started. You can, for example, start with a simple template and add WordPress code to it. Alternatively, you can do it the old school way and start from scratch. If that is too much for you, you can also consider creating a child theme of a pre-existing WordPress theme.

However, one of the most popular ways of creating a WordPress theme is by making use of a starter theme or a theme framework. This is one of the most efficient ways of theme creation: you can easily focus on the task ahead and save precious time which would otherwise have been wasted in developing the basic features from scratch. Furthermore, almost all major starter themes or frameworks are fully standards compliant, adhere to the latest coding norms and are backed by an extensive documentation. Naturally, several developers rely on such frameworks or starter themes to create wonderful results.

In this article, we shall be taking a look at some of the major starter themes that can help you create your new WordPress theme without any hassles.

Six Major Starter Themes For WordPress Theme Development

1. HTML5 Reset

HTML5 Reset is a clean and simple starter theme that does not boast of any extra baggage. If you are a lover of minimalism and are looking for a starter theme that can assist you during the initial phases of WordPress theme development, you should definitely check out HTML5 Reset.

Apart from latest norms such as HTML5 and CSS3, this starter theme also comes with jQuery, Modernizr library, built-in Analytics, cross-browser compatibility and the hNews microformat.


HTML5 Reset is not your everyday learning theme — considering the fact that the theme is rather light and crisp, it is aimed towards developers who are comfortable with coding and know what they are doing. Furthermore, the theme’s biggest flaw is that its documentation is not at par with other starter themes out there. Naturally, HTML5 Reset is a wonderful pick only if you are an expert at WordPress theme creation.

2. Underscores

Coming from the Automattic stable, Underscores (often written too literally as _s) is based on the super popular Toolbox theme. In terms of features, Underscores offers template tags, pre-formatted layouts, custom header implementations, addon functions and smartphone optimization. Add to this the fact that the theme is fully standards compliant, and you have a killer contender for being the top WordPress starter theme out there!


You can find a detailed overview of Underscores, its features as well as the reasons why Toolbox was forked to create this new starter theme — everything is here. Also, you can create a custom version of Underscores over here.

3. Starkers

Starkers is yet another barebones WordPress theme to help you get started with WordPress theme development. As a starter theme, Starkers features zero styles, no non-semantic markup and obviously no presentation elements. In fact, Starkers is just a stripped-down version of the original Twenty Ten WordPress theme.


Considering the fact that Starkers offers fully semantic code and is entirely bare-bones with no presentation elements, it seems like a good choice for those developers who wish to use a starter theme to save time during development, but at the same time do not want the starter theme to impose restrictions on presentation and style. In easier words, you should consider Starkers to be a blank state for WordPress theme development.

You can fork Starkers on Github.

4. Bones

Bones is a sleek and nimble WordPress starter theme built upon the HTML5 Boilerplate Engine, the Grid and CSS3. Bones offers a mobile-first approach to theme creation — users on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are served only the required minimum amount of content on the basis of screen size. This ensures that mobile visitors with slower internet connectivity are not left out and your website gains the maximum in terms of mobile traffic. Plus, since Bones scales itself according to screen size, the users with extra small screens too can easily find relevant information on your website.


The theme is roughly 250 KB in size, and comes with several plugin-like functions (such as related posts, for instance). Beyond that, Bones comes with support for header optimization, dashboard functions, custom post types, and several other features. The code is very well commented so you will not feel lost when developing with Bones, and the theme comes with a fallback mechanism for older web browsers as well.

5. Roots

Roots, as a starter theme, offers you the freedom to use a number of layout frameworks as the base for theme layout (such as, Blueprint CSS, and 1140 CSS Grid). Quite obviously, Roots is extremely customizable and enables you to create WordPress themes with virtually any layout or style imaginable.


Roots is built on the HTML5 Boilerplate Engine, makes use of Twitter Bootstrap, is WPML compatible and supports the hNews microformat. The default installation of Roots also offers additional features such as a custom homepage and permalink structure changes. Thus, if you are looking for a starter theme that lets you customize various aspects of your WP theme’s layout, Roots is the way to go!

Head to Head

 Starter Theme  Pricing  License  Open Source  Child Themes  Mobile-ready  HTML5
 HTML5 Reset  FREE  BSD-L  Yes  Not included  Yes  Obviously!
 Underscores  FREE  GPL  Yes  Not included  Yes  Yes
 Starkers  FREE  GPL  Yes  Not included  Yes  Yes
 Bones  FREE  WTFPL  Yes  Not included  Yes  Yes
 Toolbox  FREE  GPL  Yes  Available  Yes  Yes
Roots  FREE  MIT-L  Yes  Not included  Yes  Yes

We have now come to the end of this article about starter themes for WordPress theme development. Do watch out for the next instalment that talks about some other super powerful and very useful WordPress theme frameworks, such as Thematic, Hybrid Core and the Gantry Framework!

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