The Difference Between A Custom Shopify Theme & A Premium Shopify Theme

Maybe you are in the market for a new look for your online store. 

But, you are wondering if you should go with a custom Shopify theme or a premium Shopify theme.

Or, you just want to know the difference between the options so you can make the best decision for your business. 

Well, you’re in the right place. I’m going to be sharing with you the difference between the two and give you the pros and cons of each. So you can make the best decision for your business.

Let’s dive in!

What’s A Custom Shopify Theme

Custom Shopify themes are Shopify stores that are built from scratch with no pre-existing base. Meaning almost every element of your online can be custom designed. Without a pre-existing base, there are some added benefits and some cons of going with this solution.

Pros of a Custom Shopify Theme

Since there isn’t a starting point for this type of experience. One pro of this solution is that your store’s website code will be very lean. Meaning that your website can have excellent performance in terms of speed and load times. Because your website code will only have just the necessary components to make it run most efficiently.

Check out: Shopify Site Speed: How to Speed Up Your Shopify Website. Inside you’ll find other facts that play an important role in your website speed. 

Another pro is that you can have a completely unique design that 100% fits your brand. Without having to design over existing elements from a pre-design theme (like a premium Shopify theme) that I will go over soon.

Cons of a Custom Shopify Theme

The cons of going with a custom Shopify theme is that it can take a long-time to produce. Around 3 – 4 months or more depending on the complexity of your website. If you aren’t into a long creative process, this may not be the best option for you. 

Another con is that if you are limited on budget – this may not be the right solution for your business. A custom Shopify theme can be an investment of at least $10,000 and there are some sites that can be at least $50,000 + to create. 

You’ll also want to keep in mind. That when it comes to updates since your theme is custom. You would need to maintain a solid relationship with the development team. So that your store stays up to date. Meaning you would also need to invest more in updates and a retainer relationship. 

Also, consider if you want to stick to your design for a long time. If not, then you’ll need to re-invest into a new design. Whenever you decide you need to change up your store design. Starting the creative process all over again.

Premium Shopify Theme

A premium Shopify theme is a pre-made theme that starts you off with the base of your store. Instead of starting from scratch, like a custom theme. Meaning you’ll already have important settings in place that won’t need to be custom-built.

With a premium Shopify theme, there are definitely some pros and cons. 

Pros of a Premium Shopify Theme

A good pro is that they are more affordable in that they usually range from $150 – $350 and it gives you the essential elements of your store. That allows you to go in and add your own branding, images, and other content.

You also won’t have to wait long to get your store up and running. If time is a factor, then this will be your ideal route. 

Another pro is that your code maintenance will be handled via the theme developer. Reducing the additional investment you’d have to make with a custom theme. 

Your design will also be easier to switch because you would just select a new theme and set it up with your branding. On average, people do a redesign about every 3 years depending on their business growth. 

Cons of a Premium Shopify Theme

There are of course cons of a premium Shopify theme, an important one, is choosing the wrong theme. 

You can purchase a premium Shopify theme from multiple vendors but not all vendors are created equal. Purchasing your theme from a reputable vendor is better than going with an option such as Themeforest.

Meaning that if you choose the wrong theme for your brand. You could risk purchasing a theme that is poorly made & coded. Resulting in your website loading slowly. Or, if the vendor happens to only be offering this theme temporarily. They may no longer offer support to make sure that your theme maintains the latest coding and security standards.

This can really suck if you find a theme you really enjoy and it works for your business.

Then discover that it is no longer supported.

Which could result in you making it an unplanned move and investment. Especially if this happens during a busy time in your business. It can really add more stress and overwhelm.

Another con of a premium Shopify theme is that you may not use most of the features included in the theme. Or you may feel limited by the existing features of the theme that may not be easy for you to customize and manage on your own.

When to Choose A Custom Shopify Theme Vs. A Premium Shopify Theme

I’d say most stores are fine with a premium theme even as their business begins to evolve and expand. But, here are some indicators that you’d want to consider a custom Shopify theme vs. a premium Shopify theme.

Your business has a unique flow

If your business has a special way of delivering products. For example, a custom subscription where customers need plenty of options to build a specialty box. Then maybe a custom solution is best because the subscription apps that the Shopify app developers offer may limit you. Depending on the type of integrations you may need.

You want something completely unique in terms of visuals

When you want a completely unique-looking online store. Then a custom theme is your more ideal solution. This is great when you can set aside a healthy investment and the time needed to create a purely custom experience. That will set your brand apart and increase your customer’s enjoyment of shopping your online store.

Before you decide here is some important information to discuss with your designer/developer.

Information to Discuss With Your Designer/Developer

When you are ready to have a conversation. It’s important to have some key information about your business to decide what would be the best solution. 

Starting with…

Being clear on what you need

Have some sort of idea of what you need your online store to do. Think beyond your basic needs but more like what type of experience do your customers need to have. This will help your creative partner provide you with the most accurate solution for your business. 

Focus on what’s most important

Sometimes as business owners, we can want all the bells and whistles. You should prioritize what’s most important first and then consider what can be secondary. Or even added to your online store in the future. This is very true if you are launching online for the very first time. 

In that situation, I can almost guarantee that your needs will shift a lot. So focus on the big picture and not all the nitty-gritty details. 

Be Realistic Of Your Budget

Think about what you truly can afford to invest in your experience. That may mean waiting to bring certain ideas to life and just focusing on the most important priorities. Sometimes we as business owners can have unrealistic expectations of what we want versus what we can invest. Especially if you are inspired by stores that have premium features and designs.

Check out: How Much Does A Shopify Store Cost?

What’s a Happy Medium Between a Custom Theme Vs. Premium Shopify Theme?

Maybe you don’t want your store to look like it came from an off-the-shelf template. But, you also don’t want to invest in the high upfront price of a custom theme and future updates. 

That’s totally understandable! A happy medium is using a premium Shopify theme as a base and having it customized to meet your business needs. 

This will make sure it doesn’t look like you just purchased it straight from a template shop and added it to your store. But will give you a more unique look that sets your brand apart from the rest of the market. 

This is often achieved by adding your branding elements such as your logo, brand colors, imagery, and typography to the theme and customizing certain aspects of the theme to make it different.

It’s the happy medium that allows clients to still scale their business. With a shorter creative process. If you need further help figuring out what would make the most sense for your business. Book a Consulting Session and we can go over your ideas and come up with some solutions that will lead you to your goals.


Hi, I'm Karen, the founder + strategist/Shopify expert behind The May Creative. I help modern luxury & lifestyle product-based business owners craft an elevated Shopify website experience. So they can scale their business & reach their next level of success. Connect to learn more about working together. Or check out the other articles below and listen to the podcast.


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