By Lisa Sabin-Wilson

It doesn’t get much better than free. If you want to customize your WordPress website without developing a theme of your own, try one of these. All the themes meet the following criteria:

  • They’re user friendly. You don’t have to tinker with anything to get things to look the way you want them to.

  • They’re compatible with widgets. Widgets are wonderful.

  • They’re free. Why pay if you don’t have to?

  • They use valid code. Although you may not notice it, valid code that meets W3C standards won’t cause errors in browsers.

Hybrid

Theme designer: Justin Tadlock

Hybrid is more of a theme framework, or parent theme that can be modified endlessly to create the perfect child theme, than a theme to use straight out of the box, but don’t let that intimidate you! It’s very user-friendly.

By default, the Hybrid theme is very plain and simple, but it encompasses any and all of the WordPress features and functions that you would want:

  • It’s SEO-ready: Hybrid comes completely optimized for SEO.

  • It’s highly customizable: Hybrid has 15 custom page templates for you to choose from. Each custom page is set up slightly differently, giving you an array of options.

  • It’s widget-ready: Hybrid has multiple widgetized areas for you to easily drop content into, making your WordPress theme experience easy and efficient.

You can read about the Hybrid theme at the developer’s (Justin Tadlock) website. You can also download and install the theme directly into your WordPress website.

designPile

Theme designer: Smashing Magazine

The highlights of designPile are the following:

  • Three different color schemes: black and pink, black and green, and black and blue

  • Sidebar and footer widgets

  • Post thumbnails: Supports the WordPress post thumbnails/featured image feature

  • Space for monetization with ads

  • Built-in social networking links and sharing

The designPile theme is a sharp design and an easy-to-use, free WordPress theme for any new user.

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Responsive

Theme designer: CyberChimps

Responsive design is all the rage right now because of the emergence of mobile and tablet browsing. Responsive design ensures that a website looks perfect, no matter which device a reader is using to view it. The Responsive theme by Emil Uzelac features nine page templates including the Blog, Blog Summary, and other static page templates built on a fluid grid system that adapts to the user’s browsing environment.

Theme options in this responsive design include webmaster tools, logo management, social icons, and navigation menus, as well as multilingual support.

P2

Theme designer: Automattic

You can easily see the Twitter-esque inspiration behind P2 by looking at the post text box displayed at the top of the theme. As with Twitter, users can post quick updates, and logged-in visitors can leave feedback on the updates.

All this happens from the convenience of the front page of your site — without requiring anyone to click through to a different page on your site, locate the comment form, type, and submit the comment. The P2 theme also features the following:

  • Live tag suggestions for your posts and updates

  • Threaded comment display

  • A show/hide feature for comments

  • Real-time notification for posts, updates, and comments

  • Keyboard shortcuts

Annotum Base

Theme designer: Annotum

Annotum Base is a scholar’s blog theme providing a complete open-access journaling system including peer review, workflow, and advanced editing and formatting for blog posts and pages. The most interesting features in this theme include structured figures, equations, and cross referencing from PubMed and CrossRef (including reference importing).

Other theme options include

  • Customized color options

  • Custom header image

  • Custom background image/colors

  • Navigation menus

  • Featured images

  • Microformats

  • Multilingual support

Blackbird

Theme designer: InkThemes

Blackbird is a responsive theme (mobile-ready) with extensive customization options, including the ability to:

  • Use your own logo

  • Include your analytics code

  • Customize featured text using an easy widget

  • Customize background colors and/or images

  • Incorporate post thumbnails using the WordPress featured image feature

  • Customize the header image

  • Use the navigation menu feature in WordPress

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iTheme

Theme designer: Nick La

iTheme is a WordPress theme designed with Mac lovers in mind. The theme emulates the design elements and features of the Mac operating system, with beautiful blue gradients and Mac-like menu headers and icons. This theme has a fully configurable sidebar that allows you to use WordPress widgets, and when they’re in your blog, you can drag those widgets around in the sidebar.

Esquire

Theme designer: Automattic

Esquire is a free WordPress theme created by Automattic, the company behind the WordPress.com hosted service. It has a distinct visual design with creative typography, a two-column layout, and visually creative design elements that make it unique.

Esquire supports all of the expected default WordPress features such as featured images, custom background, custom header, navigation menus, and post formats. The theme design is inspired by the art direction of Esquire Magazine.

WP-Creativix

Theme designer: IWEBIX

The WP-Creativix theme by IWEBIX is a very clean, professional-looking free theme for WordPress that you can begin using immediately after you install and activate it. This elegantly designed theme is well suited for a business, portfolio, or photoblogging website.

The WP-Creativix theme provides users with custom page templates and allows you to use default WordPress features such as custom header, custom background, navigation menu, featured images, and threaded comments.

Gridline

Theme designer: Thad Allender

Gridline is a minimalist WordPress theme featuring a grid layout. The theme has clean, simple, light elements, which lets your design focus mainly on content rather than appearance. The theme uses black, white, and gray tones and a two-column layout, with content on the left and sidebar on the right.

This is a free theme offered by a commercial theme company: Graph Paper Press — and while it is free, to be able to download it, you need to register for a free account on the Graph Paper Press website.