Top Drupal Themes

posted by Ishmael Sanchez on Jul 14, 2009

One of the major benefits of using Drupal is the separation between content and presentation. Meaning you can easily change the look and feel of a site without having to recreate all of its pages. Drupal's theme layer makes this whole process possible. And thanks to Drupal's active community, many pre-made themes are available to download. Yet, selecting a theme from all the available themes can be a time-consuming task. I reviewed and tested 25 themes that you should consider when you are looking for a good Drupal theme. Skip to results table

Basic Theming

When you first install Drupal, a core theme named Garland, is enabled and selected as the default theme. Drupal also ships with five other core themes: Bluemarine, Chameleon, Marvin, Minnelli, and Pushbutton. You can select other themes by visiting the /admin/build/themes and selecting a new default theme.

Garland theme Nitobe Theme Dark Elegance Theme
Shows the same page with three different themes applied

 You are not limited to these core themes. Many Drupal contributors have created themes and share them with the rest of the Drupal community. Contributed themes as they are called can be downloaded at http://drupal.org/project/themes. Once you download a contributed theme, you extract the files and upload them to your site at /sites/all/themes/. Once you have done that enable the theme by checking the "Enabled" box and select the "Default" radio button at /admin/build/themes page.  To use a different theme simply install and enable another theme. You can configure Drupal to use multiple themes. For example, it is possible to enable one theme for public users of a site and a different theme for the site administrators

About Drupal Themes

All Drupal themes can be categorized into five types:

  • End User: If you don't intend to customize a theme, try these complete themes that are immediately ready for use "out of the box". Acquia Marina, Dreamy, and Nitobe are examples of end users
  • Colorable: If you want to simply modify the color scheme of a theme try Twilight, Garland, or Pixture Reloaded
  • Starter:  If you want to build a custom theme, start with a bare-bones starter theme such as  Zen, Stark, or Genesis.
  • Admin: These themes are optimized for the administration pages of Drupal. Some examples are: Fruity, RootCandy, and  Nerdalistic
  • RTL Ready: Features and full support for Right to Left Languages. Examples are Tendu and interactive media

Finding 25 Drupal themes

I set out to identify 25 Drupal 6 contributed themes which would give end users the ability to use the theme immediately after install and provide some additional benefits for their site. I evaluated mainly colorable and end user themes as they are geared more toward the user experience than the three other types of themes.

Before I list my findings I want to mention that I have no affiliation with any of the themes mentioned in this article. Also, note these are simply my observations and my personal opinions based on having used different contributed Drupal themes. In a nut shell all this information is subjective.

Testing Environment
I tested the 25 selected themes on my local machine running Windows XP and XAMPP. The following are the web browsers I tested the themes in: Chrome 1.0.154.53, Internet Explorer 5.5, 6, 7, 8 beta, Firefox 3.0.8, Opera 9.52, and Safari 3.1.2. I used IE tester to render the page in different version of Internet Explorer. I conducted my tests in April 2009 and used the latest version of each theme available at that time.

Selection Criteria

  • Drupal 6 themes: Themes that were available for Drupal 6. (I omitted themes that did not have a Drupal 6 version)
  • Uniqueness: Visually striking themes or unique in their own right.
  • Community backing/support: I selected themes which had multiple version releases. This tells me that people are actively using the theme and improvements, updates, and additional features were highly likely to come from these themes.
  • Sponsored Themes: I also selected themes that were company sponsored as a firm is more likely to attempt to keep its theme highly usable and feature rich.
  • Documentation: One final thing that was important to me despite being somewhat trivial was a link to a demo page and/or a visual screen shot of the theme on the theme page. I believe that anyone serious about their theme would include these items. It shows transparency about the theme and it's a general usability issue that makes me more comfortable selecting that theme.

Evaluation Criteria
After selecting 25 themes that matched the selection criteria I evaluated them based on:

  • Cross browser support: The theme should render properly in at least all the browsers I tested (Not IE 5.5 which isn't really supported by many sites). Having a theme which renders consistently is important especially considering all the web browsers options available now.

  • Features: Refer to the options available to the site administrator to configure on the /admin/build/themes/settings/theme-name page.  Features of a theme give a site admin with limited knowledge of theming the ability to toggle on or off features simply by checking or unchecking a boxes.

  • Basic search engine optimization: Websites need to attract visitors and having a search engine friendly site is crucial. Search engine optimization means that the theme should print the content section in the HTML before any sidebars, so that the main content gets higher priority when indexed by search engines.

Results

Theme Name Screenshots Interesting Feature/s SEO Optimization and Cross Browser Support Look and Feel Description
A3 Atlantis A3 Atlantis User images, light text dark backgrouud Yes, Yes Smooth
Absynthe Absynthe Unique images and unconventional design Yes, Yes Welcoming
Acquia Marina Acquia Marina User images, SEO modifications, fun icons Yes, Yes Web 2.0
Acquia Slate Acquia Slate SEO modifications, rounded corners, sleek design No, Yes Modern Corporate
Bluespan Bluespan Rounded corners and prominent header Yes, Yes Stylish
celju Celju Tabbed naviation, large header, clean presentation Yes, Yes Warm
colorpaper Colorpaper multiple subthemes, good use of typography Yes, Yes Fresh
darkelegance Darkelegance User friendly icons and layout, distinctive login box Yes, Yes Crisp
deco Deco Clever use of background image, clean color scheme Yes, Yes Classy
dreamy Dreamy Clean layout, suited for bloggers Yes, Yes Grabbing
Fervens Fervens Rounded corners and lots of colors Yes, Yes Smart
InfO8 inf08 Tabbed main navigation and emphasized header Yes, Yes Clean
Inove inove subtle design features and simply layout Yes, Yes Professional
Light Fantasic Lightfantastic Pleasing color scheme and background graphics Yes, Yes Inviting
Lemontwist lemontwist Rounded block corners, naturalistic design No, Yes

Whimsical

Magazeen magazeen Large text, rounded corners, prominent header Yes, Yes Logical
NewsFlash newsflash Traditional look, suckerfish menu support No, Yes Streamlined
Nitobe Nitobe Rotating masthead,creative navigation sytles Yes, Yes Simple
Painted wall Painted Customizable color scheme, cool background images Yes, Yes Stimulating
Pluralism Pluralism Attractive use of gradients and backgrounds Yes, Yes Sharp
Sapo sapo Large banner image, original color scheme Yes, Yes Quirky
Scruffy scruffy

Gritty and innovative design

Yes, Yes Eccentric
Smooth Blue smoothblue Lots of rounded corners, very blue Yes, Problems with some rounded corners Fun
SuperClean superclean Cool styles for primary navigation, easy to scan No, Yes Classic Corporate
Twilight twilight Light text dark background No, Yes Straight Forward

Resources

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Ishmael Sanchez