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In my first post for GraphicDesign.com I outlined the pro’s and con’s of using WordPress as your portfolio platform in addition to (and even instead of) the other options readily available on the web. I argued that WordPress is the most open, powerful, customizable, and effective platform for designers (or artists of any kind for that matter) to build a meaningful and profitable personal brand online. Now, as a follow up to that article I’ve put together a list of some truly awesome WordPress themes created in 2012 specifically for artists and designers.

In the post below I will briefly explain the criteria I used to select the themes on this list, and then spend the rest of the post talking about the specific perks of each theme. So if you’re in the market for an updated portfolio and/or personal website – this post is for you!

What Makes These Themes Great?

While my method of generating this list may not be what you would call “scientific” there was a definite method to the madness. I spend a great deal of time each week browsing theme marketplaces in order to do my near daily blogging over at WPHub.com and other WordPress resource websites. When you’re around this sort of content that often and for years on end, you begin to develop a sort of sixth sense for which themes are best and which ones just look good but won’t deliver the goods. Ideally you want a theme that looks great, has a well thought out and easy to navigate admin, comes with the right amount of useful features, was created recently, is updated often, and includes some sort of support. All for a reasonable price, like say, at or under $50.

Rightfully, all of the themes on my list meet that set of criteria. But how did I manage to narrow my list down to just 10 “best” themes and 5 honorable mentions when the potential pool was comprised of thousands of WordPress themes from many marketplaces and theme author websites? By using these “filters”.

Each theme on the list below is from Themeforest.net. Themeforest is by no means the only source for great premium WordPress themes but they are by far the largest. As a result, many of the world’s top WordPress theme developers pedal their wares in the Themeforest marketplace resulting in a high concentration of what are arguably the world’s best WordPress themes under one roof.

All but one or two of the themes below has a five out of five star user rating. The other one or two are either four stars or too new to the marketplace to have garnered a rating yet. Responsive design or its equivalent (via multiple theme size options) was a must. Meaning that each and every theme on my list must automatically reformat itself to fit the screen it’s being viewed on whether that be a desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet.

From a design perspective the themes I chose had to make an instant positive impression. If the theme design wasn’t beautiful and unique it didn’t make the cut. Each and every theme author represented in the list below had to show that they care about their users’ questions and have maintained open lines of communication either through an official support channel or in the commenting sections at Themeforest.

After applying these filters to my search I was able to narrow down the potential themes for this post to about 50. After which I began eliminating themes by comparing the user experience provided by their demo sites until I was left with only the best – and a few honorable mentions I couldn’t quite bring myself to ignore. So here they are and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

The 10 Best WordPress Portfolio Themes of 2012

1. BigBang

Theme Price: $45

BigBang is a gorgeous theme that has all the right features. Not only does it provide an amazing variety of display options for your content but it’s tailor made to help you capture new business. As a freelancer or small creative agency it goes without saying that you want a great looking portfolio section. And in that case BigBang certainly delivers – Its portfolio page comes with 6 different layout options as well as its own custom post type/page template for projects. But you will also want a great looking landing page, a creative and professional looking about page, an elegant way to display a client list, and of course a really good looking blog too. All of which are present in this theme.

BigBang.pngSource

What puts BigBang over the top for me are it’s gorgeous collection of included features/elements:

• A huge customized social icon set.
• Beautiful dropcaps and text highlighting.
• Photostreams for Pinterest, Dribbble, Instagram, and Flickr.
• A killer collection of pre-designed buttons.
• Great looking blockquotes, checklists, star lists, arrow lists, and colored counter lists.
• And much more…

I could go on, but I think you get my point. This theme is loaded! And at just $45 it’s a great deal too.

Info & Download | Demo

2. Daisho

Theme Price: $45

The Daisho WordPress theme is a crisp, clean theme for designers and creatives of all stripes. Its portfolio page doubles as the homepage meaning that visitors are immediately greeted by your work. Its simplicity pushes people towards your content and services, which, if you’re in the market for new customers – and who isn’t? – this theme can work wonders.

Daisho.pngSource

I’d have to say that my favorite thing about the Daisho WordPress theme is the way it utilizes its minimal design to really wow your visitors with the vibrancy of your portfolio. I know as someone who loves color, it’s nice to be greeted by a bright and vibrant website full of great work. So while this theme may not have the robustness of features that BigBang above has, it’s still very effective in its simplicity.

Info & Download | Demo

3. Elastico

Theme Price: $45

The Elastico WordPress theme is great for those who love more unconventional site formats, particularly the types most popular on sites like Tumblr. This theme sports side navigation and puts the visual focus on a grid shaped portfolio that dominates the screen. As is the case with most, if not all, of these themes the portfolio items have their own custom post type that when expanded beyond the thumbnail/teaser image provides you with custom fields for entering the project date, client, and project type. A nice touch that adds to your professional appearance with clients and fans alike.

Elastico.pngSource

My favorite aspect of this theme is the incredibly immersive blog. Similar to a Tumblr style blog this theme comes with several blog post formats specific to the type of content you want to share, including: image, gallery, video, audio, link, quote, and status in addition to their standard format. This means that when scrolling through the blog each piece of content adds a bit of welcomed variety that keeps readers interested.

Info & Download | Demo

4. Coraline

Theme Price: $35

If I had to describe this WordPress theme in one word it would be impressive. When you land on this page you almost can’t help but have what I’ve come to call a “wow moment” where you think, “wow, this is nice.” And it is! Coraline is super clean, colorful, and set up to both show your work off as well as lure in new clients. For me personally, it’s always a good sign when you have a call to action option on the home or main landing page. And the blog…it’s beautiful. You gotta check it out for yourself in the demo.

Coraline.pngSource

But what really does it for me with Coraline is its uncanny combination of flexibility and ease of customization. You do not need to know a lick of code to make this site uniquely yours. It comes with an extremely easy to use admin section that gives you the option to choose between 6 different home page options, 15 color schemes, 12 background patterns, unlimited slideshow and sidebar configurations, not to mention it also has excellent shortcode support.

Info & Download | Demo

5. Masculine

Theme Price: $40

The Masculine WordPress theme is bold, modern, dynamic, and surprisingly interactive. It’s one of a select few themes that successfully pulls off large type. It’s got 6 different home page elements that you can add or subtract, 2 portfolio layout options, unlimited color options, lots of shortcodes, an easy to navigate admin, and just recently they added some new background options. This theme is perfect for anyone – freelancer, general creative type, or small creative agency – who wants to make a big statement in a sleek and stylish way.

Masculine.pngSource

As you can probably tell by this point, each theme has at least one special thing that to me sets it apart from the rest. With Masculine it’s the way portfolio images respond to a hovering mouse. The theme authors have captured a really elegant and memorable effect here that will make a lasting impression on anyone viewing your work. Be sure to check it out!

Info & Download | Demo

6. Creative Skeleton

Theme Price: $35

The only reason the Creative Skeleton WordPress theme is not number one on this list is because it’s SO new that it hasn’t had the chance to garner a lot of purchases and/or user ratings. That said, I’m incredibly impressed with this theme and I think you will be too. It’s called Creative Skeleton for good reason: the ways in which you can customize this theme and make it your own are not quite limitless, but they are definitely extensive. It’s got one of the most unique headers I’ve ever seen in a theme with lots of really great options on how to display content there. You’re able to create hoverscroll sliders and something new that I haven’t seen before called piles where your images are “stacked” on top of each other in a really cool looking collage that is sortable and rearrangeable. This thing is packed with options too! Everything from different font selections to tons of helpful shortcodes that will make your pages and posts look fantastic.

Creative-Skeleton.pngSource

For me though, the best thing about this theme is that even though they’re already giving you one of the most unique and interesting themes in the market (and at a great price) they’ve also included all these little “extras” that sweeten the pot to the point that NOT making a purchase begins to sound silly. What kinds of extras you might ask? Well, they have three different button packs, over eight different ways to display columns on pages and posts, 90 (yeah, that’s right 90!) black and white icons for stuff like products/services/etc., colorful message boxes, dropcaps, special quote displays, the ability to enter whitespace on pages and posts and the list goes on. So for me, this theme not only gets it right with the broad strokes – like general design, site functionality, etc – but it goes deeper than most in its efforts to make even the little things awesome.

Info & Download | Demo

7. Plug

Theme Price: $40

For me Plug is one of those WordPress themes that just jumps off the screen and grabs your attention. It’s simple but not overly minimal. It’s attractive and loud without being flashy and annoying. It’s not as options intensive as some of the other themes in this collection but yet what it does offer is done very well. Such as the portfolio, a tumblr style blog, and various shortcodes that make formatting pages and posts easier and more attractive. It comes with customized widgets, 15 shortcodes, 8 different post formats, a custom 404 page, and much more.

Plug.pngSource

My favorite thing about this WordPress theme is that Plug really gets the placement of your bio, skills, recent projects, clients, and testimonials right. Every one of those items is prominently and stylishly displayed right on the homepage and they’re the first thing a visitor sees. It’s probably the best theme out of the bunch here in terms of quickly and effectively making the case for why its owner is hireable.

Info & Download | Demo

8. Atom

Theme Price: $45

There’s a lot to love about the Atom WordPress theme. It’s got a beautiful design, fully responsive layout, custom “get a quote” system, unlimited color options, and lots of shortcode features. This theme is definitely for the designer and/or creative agency that wants to attract and win new business.

Right away on the homepage you’re getting a gorgeous portfolio slider, customizable call to action text, and specific service descriptions accompanied by attractive icons. Below that you have more recent work followed by recent blog posts. In the sidebar the theme provides theme specific widgets that give common sidebar items a themed appearance. But I’ve left the best for last…

Atom.pngSource

My absolute favorite aspect of this theme is the “get a quote” system I mentioned above. This is the ONLY theme on this list that has anything like this and I think it’s an incredible tool for growing your freelance or small business. You’re able to create project types, customize data capture fields, and provide an automatic project quote. So you get the project details and the prospective client can get a good idea of the cost involved before you ever have to talk to each other. This could potentially save you a lot of time chasing down false leads and give you the perfect opportunity to zero in on the types of projects you want to specialize in – at the prices you deserve to charge.

Info & Download | Demo

9. Porfo

Theme Price: $35

Porfo is like a swiss army knife for the designer or creative agency who wants to rock a powerful homepage, a super sleek blog, and an ever present portfolio. This WordPress theme was created with HTML5 and CSS3, it’s got a great admin panel (even among the other great admin panels of this list), lots and lots of powerful homepage options, 2 portfolio layouts and 3 portfolio types, 8 color skins, some really useful shortcodes as well as the relatively rare sidebar navigation that will immediately make your site stand out from the rest.

Porfo.pngSource

I’d have to say that my favorite thing about this theme is it’s homepage. The author of this theme added a lot of value when they included the homepage elements that they did and made it so easy to add and rearrange those elements as you please. Like few others, this theme knows the importance of a great landing page when it comes to converting new business and they make sure you have the means to build one.

Info & Download | Demo

10. Un Altro

Theme Price: $40

With the Un Altro WordPress theme you really get the impression that you can take the tools provided and build a website with some meat on its bones. Here’s what I mean by that: some great portfolio sites feel ONLY like a portfolio site while others are able to transcend that sort of blog-page-turned-into-something-else look and feel and literally BE a different sort of page and site. That’s what this theme does really well. With 9 custom page templates, 4 blog post formats, a great options panel and unique design this theme will definitely set you apart.

Un-Altro.pngSource

My favorite thing about this theme is how its pages look and feel. Especially as someone who wants to create product and service pages, the simple yet distinctive page elements provided really go a long way in effectively communicating a pitch and the value of what you have to offer.

Info & Download | Demo

Honorable Mentions

Ok, so the themes above are my top 10, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I narrowed those down from about 50. These are the five themes that didn’t make my top 10 list but were SO close that I couldn’t resist mentioning them anyways. Please take some time and check out their info and demo pages.

1. Renovatio

Theme Price: $40

Renovatio.pngSource

Info & Download | Demo

2. Viewr

Theme Price: $40

Viewr.pngSource

Info & Download | Demo

3. Blox

Theme Price: $50

Blox.pngSource

Info & Download | Demo

4. Feather

Theme Price: $45

Feather.pngSource

Info & Download | Demo

5. Sketch

Theme Price: $40

Sketch.pngSource

Info & Download | Demo

Some Useful WordPress Resources

If all of my talk about how great WordPress is has peaked your interest and you want to know more about the platform OR if you decide to snag one of these themes and build your portfolio site on WordPress, you may want to check out the links below for some extra reading. In fact, I’d highly recommend subscribing to them or bookmarking them because they are all great resources with regularly updated content.

The WordPress section of Smashing Magazine

WPHub – where I blog nearly every day about WordPress news, plugins, themes, and services.

WPBeginner – a great resource for anyone new to WordPress.

Final Thoughts

In closing, I hope you found my selection of WordPress themes for design portfolios helpful. My goal with these WordPress posts, as I stated in my first post, is to a) encourage artists to share their work online via SOME type of portfolio; but also b) which is to use the very best tools available to you so that you make the most out of your creative career choice. And this isn’t something I just spout off about because I think it’s fun to write about either.

I have a few friends that I’m helping right now make the transition from their current platform onto the WordPress platform and we’re using a few of the themes above. In fact, I plan on documenting the process and sharing it all with you here in another post or two so that the whole process is laid out as neatly and simply as possible. If you have any questions about the themes I’ve written about above or would like something WordPress related covered in the future, please let me know in the comments below.