Umair Khokhar
By:  Umair Khokhar

Published: May 7, 2021


Last Updated: April 16, 2024

A Complete Guide to Shopify Themes
A Complete Guide to Shopify Themes

In this article

Everything you need to know about Shopify Themes

If you’re looking to learn more about Shopify themes for your ecommerce website, you’ve come to the right place.

Shopify is a leading ecommerce software that lets anyone create an online store to sell products. Shopify integrates with point-of-sale (POS) systems and other business tools for things like inventory management, shipping, SEO, multi-channel marketing, and reporting to essentially serve as a complete ecommerce platform. Building out the bones of the ecommerce website is the first step though, and that can require some technical know-how. Many business owners go with Shopify themes as a simple way to get started, but is that the right option for everyone?

Read on to learn about what Shopify themes are, why you may want to consider using one, and how to pick the right theme for your business.

What are Shopify themes?

Shopify themes are a set of pre-built templates, modules, and style settings that determine the look and feel of your website. There are off-the-shelf themes which are pre-designed, turnkey templates that allow you to easily customize built-in modules and create a beautiful ecommerce website. Off-the-shelf themes come in a range of free and paid options based on overall design and functionality. You can select from a variety of theme options that are best suited for the types of products you sell, your branding, by industry, or based on the kind of experience you want your customers to have while visiting your online store.

Then there are custom themes which can be created with the help of a developer. Custom themes can either be developed from scratch, or an existing off-the-shelf theme can be further customized to support more complex functionality or designs.

Benefits of using Shopify themes

For business owners who want a plug-and-play option, Shopify themes couldn’t make things easier. But what can be gained from using Shopify themes really depends on the needs of your business and what your goals are.

There are several benefits to using Shopify themes including:

  • Easily customizable modules to build out website sections, collections, and blog posts
  • Fully responsive and optimized for web and mobile experiences
  • Plenty of free and budget-friendly options to choose from
  • Ability to quickly build a beautiful and professional-looking online store

Themes can be modified using the theme editor from your Shopify admin, or you can switch out themes altogether without worrying about affecting other parts of your online store. Additionally, many off-the-shelf Shopify themes can be further customized and built out by working with a Shopify expert or developer.

Limitations of using Shopify themes

It is also important to look ahead and think about the direction and growth of your business and consider whether Shopify themes can support you in that journey. Do you need custom functionality or features? Do you want a unique design or brand experience for your customers? Shopify themes offer baseline functionality for most online businesses, and higher-cost themes can offer more robust and dynamic performance.

There are some limitations of using Shopify themes as well, including:

  • Limited support from premium (paid) theme developers if something goes awry with your online store
  • May require coding knowledge to modify or add new layouts, templates, pages, and changes to navigation
  • Image displays may be altered with some themes (e.g. color profiles, making images appear darker or lighter than how you uploaded them)

What is the Shopify Themes Store?

Shopify Themes is where you can go to browse the available ecommerce website templates for your online business. You can explore over 70 themes and create search filters based on free or paid options, the number of products you have, layout style, navigation options, industry, and more. You also have the option to sort through themes based on price and popularity to help you find the right match.

The addition of the Shopify Apps Store makes it simple to install a variety of tools to help boost sales and maintain your online business.

Should I purchase a theme or build one from scratch?

Well, that depends.

There are many factors to consider:

  • Are you new to starting an online business or are you an established business with lots of experience?
  • Do you need to build a new website, make changes to an existing one, redesign the look and feel, or add more custom functionality?
  • What is your industry and what are your competitors doing?
  • Are you looking for more affordable options or do you have a flexible budget?

If you already have established branding, a shortlist of product offerings, and your online business model is straightforward, going with an off-the-shelf Shopify theme may be a good option.

If you want to have complete control over the look and feel, visual storytelling, and performance of your online store, building your own theme could be the way to go. There are many Shopify theme developers and service providers out there who can support you in creating a custom theme from the ground up for your ecommerce website.

Another option is to go with a premium Shopify theme and customize on top of the available functionality with the help of a Shopify expert or developer. You can start with this Shopify expert discovery tool to determine the right path for you and find a trusted developer to partner with.

Do I need to know how to code in Shopify to use a theme?

Well, yes and no.

Shopify themes are designed to easily allow merchants and business owners to quickly launch ecommerce websites using preset modules and templates. If you are happy with the preset modules and templates and don’t require any customizations for your product pages, informational pages, or other web pages, you don’t need to know how to code.

However, let’s say you want to build out a unique landing page for your website, but the off-the-shelf theme you chose doesn’t offer a webpage template that fits the requirements for your landing page idea. Or, you want certain layout changes or different options for functionality that the theme doesn’t readily support. At that point, some coding will be required for a custom theme or upgrades to an off-the-shelf theme.

There are Shopify theme development shops or individuals you can partner with to get started on building a custom Shopify theme. You can learn more about building custom themes or find expert developers to partner with.

What do themes mean for developers?

Shopify themes give developers a major head start. Think of it this way: Similar to building a home, the theme is basically the foundation and framing that the developer could work off.

Shopify uses what’s called “Liquid” code to retrieve specific information from your Shopify store and uses that code to load dynamic content. Liquid is a templating engine that acts as the backbone of themes. Once a theme is installed, developers can edit existing code to make additional customizations, layout changes, template changes, and so on.

However, editing within the Shopify store is not recommended. With Shopify Theme Kit, developers can reuse code, maintain different versions of the code, and run their software development workflows.

What can be customized in themes?

There are several elements that can be customized in themes. You can modify fonts, color palettes, image sizes and placement, navigation placement, paddings, spacing, and more. Some off-the-shelf themes have unique ways images are displayed or some limitations with fonts, so it may be a good idea to explore premium themes in depth before committing to one to ensure all website elements come out looking the way you intend. However, an off-the-shelf theme is not recommended if the design or functionality for your ecommerce website is complex. In that case, building a custom theme would be the better option.

How to pick the best theme

There really isn’t a “best theme” because it depends on the context. For example, if you require a complex design or robust functionality, building a custom theme would make sense. Similarly, if you have a more straightforward design and you don’t need a lot of customizations for your website, an off-the-shelf theme would work fine.

Picking the right theme for your ecommerce website can feel like a tall order, but it doesn’t have to be. The great thing about Shopify themes is there are many free options to choose from which allows you to test different ones to see if the styling and functionality is a good fit for your business. Or, if you already know exactly what you want your ecommerce website to look like, you can select a premium theme that offers that framework and build from there.

From a technical standpoint, there are three key considerations:

  1. Scalability – How easy is it to customize the theme?
  2. Security – Are there any security issues with the theme?
  3. Design – Does the theme match the design and branding for your business?

Keep in mind though, there are key elements for any ecommerce website that all themes should have. For example, all themes should have basic templates for a homepage, product pages, about us page, and blog (or content pages).

When browsing Shopify themes, be sure to view the demo to see how each theme looks and click around to check the functionality. Each theme offers up to three different styles that feature distinct designs and colorways. You can also check whether the theme is officially supported by Shopify, which determines whether Shopify or a third-party developer would be available to provide support to address any issues that may arise with the theme and how it behaves with your online store.

How much do themes from Shopify Themes cost?

The prices vary for Shopify themes, ranging from free to $180 USD. The good news is the cost of the theme is only a one-time payment, so there are no recurring charges. Shopify makes it easy to go with a free theme first to see how that would work with your online store, and you can easily switch to a premium theme should the need arise.

What it takes to build a custom Shopify Theme

In order to build a custom theme, one needs to find a reputable Shopify theme development store or individual to work with. Upwork or Shopify Experts is a good place to get started.

Some things to keep in mind when selecting a professional to work with include:

  1. What is their experience building custom Shopify themes and designs?
  2. Are you able to see examples of their work?
  3. Do they have a development environment for testing the theme before releasing it to the production store?
  4. Are they able to provide additional guidance for your ecommerce business or website like SEO optimization or human-centered web design?