Thanks to the active opensource CMS community, especially the big three (WordPress, Joomla and Drupal) website development cost has dwindled down to affordable levels. The more you understand how to use a CMS the better you can control development cost and best make use of your site to promote your products or services.
For people like me who has close to zero code nor design skills the most important thing when creating a new site is to get content published very quickly, it should look professional and also be very usable for visitors. Because I’d rather want to spend time on content and website optimization and not on learning advanced coding.
If customization is not of top priority for you, just search for the innumerable free templates for your content platform and you can have a site up and running ridiculously cheap. But for owners who don’t really want to have their site look very like thousands of others they are looking for a professional looking template and then have someone tweak around until it fits their requirements.
Below is a list of 15 players in the theming industry that I personally can vouch for as they offer unique products and services. Basically there are three types of businesses that offer ready made CMS themes. Either you buy single themes on markets or from shops, or you can join a theme club and get full access to all designs on offer. Then if you need some grade of customization you will contact a web studio or a freelance developer to get your design tailored to your needs.
Generally these markets function as places where lots of designers showcase their collection of themes that can be purchased one on one. They are popular for the sheer endless amount of stand-alone-themes you can choose from, though quality is really of varying levels.
Professional support and bug fixing is not provided by the market owner. The creator of the template himself is responsible for support and in most cases speed and availability is limited if you report a problem. Some quality theme markets you should know (ordered by Alexa):
A well respected bazaar, where only high class work can be uploaded as TF has very upper-market conditions in terms of quality standards. Known for having very unique themes for WordPress and Joomla created by thousands of talented designers.
The oldest and biggest market place if we compare quantity of themes on offer and traffic numbers. Besides themes for CMS you can purchase loads of templates for other uses.
A great alternative place to buy and sell not only WordPress themes but also for Tumblr, a very popular blogging platform.
A relatively new spot in the market area. They are right now only offering WordPress themes, but this could change quickly once more buzz has been created.
These providers develop themes and frameworks and sell only their products, either as single item or offer a flat fee for accessing the complete collection. These shops are pros in terms of design standards.
As theme shops are professional developers they offer more dedicated support than the one-man-designer. Also there are real good tutorials for customers to get more out of the product. Some prominent theme shops you should know (ordered by Alexa):
Creator of the Genesis Framework, a really versatile and popular framework. Only selling themes for WordPress.
Creator of Thesis theme framework, that provides a sophisticated UI to build your own WordPress themes with drag and drop and little configuration. Really easy to use without coding.
These guys shine with the perhaps best Real Estate/MLS/Residential theme solutions for WordPress anyone can find. Great looking and ready to go.
If you are power user or a little advanced with CMS you really want to join so called theme clubs.
On template clubs it is not intended that you buy a single template. You subscribe to a yearly membership plan and gain access to all club themes, often bundled with custom written extensions. They focus on creating high quality prototype templates and frameworks that are turnkey solutions with lots of functionality and options.
If it comes to support, professional clubs provide much better and faster service as on the other places. Within 24 hours or even 12 hours after opening a support ticket, common problems are normally solved already. All themes have extensive documentation and tutorials. Some prominent theme clubs you should know (ordered by Alexa):
Great modern designs for WordPress and Drupal CMS serving lots of different purposes. You can purchase one theme like in shops or join membership if you want to use more than only one theme.
This site lives up to it’s name, providing eye-catching themes with simplicity and elegance in mind.
One of the oldest and most respected theme clubs offering over 130 Joomla, WordPress and Drupal templates, highly functional extensions and a very active forum.
Creators of T3, one of the most downloaded frameworks ever and totally free under GPL. Over 120 Joomla, Magento and Drupal themes coming with complementary extensions. Active community with over 200k members.
1st-class Design from Germany. They clearly have the best looking Icons built-in their themes, making it really stand out.
Gavick designs very innovative Joomla templates, especially distinguished are their news and corporate templates with great attention to typefaces.
I would say there is no best option where to buy premium themes and which theme provider model is the superior one. It depends on a lot of factors such as purpose of your site, individual taste, number of sites you are managing, web CMS knowledge and development skills and more.
Overall you can generally say people who are less code-savvy and just want to set up one particular site will search a suitable theme on those template markets or shops. Whereas advanced web developers, freelancers and design studios will purchase membership in theme clubs to get bulk access to all products.
Obviously most professional developers do not really start from scratch. In order to reduce time and costs and win projects, they choose a theme or a framework as a starting point. Then they customize styling, add features to meet the different client requirements. Those developers rely on a library of high quality designed, functional and versatile templates which is the reason why markets aren’t the best options for them. If there is no active community around, upgrades to newer versions and support can be slow or non-existing
It’s important to know that a theme that looks good is one thing. Adaptivity, functionality and usability is totally another thing that many designs simply are weak at.