Merchants often ask questions: “What is the difference between a custom and prebuilt template? Which one should I choose for my online shop?”

Our team decided to give answers to the most frequently asked questions here to make your decision-making process easier.

So, there are three options with regards to design choice for your e-commerce site: creating a custom site design, buying a prebuilt Magento template, or a “symbiosis” between those two options.

Option 1: Custom Design

Time investment: minimum of 40 hours (for frontend development: the designer needs to create PSD files beforehand).

Things to consider:

  • Custom-made templates are not updated automatically along with Magento version updates, as the templates are based on the coding traits of a set version. The settings may be tweaked or lost during the Magento version upgrade.
  • Depending on the developer’s skills, site performance (load time, indexation, and other things important for SEO) may vary a lot.
  • As the time invested in creating a template from scratch is much higher, the cost will get higher with every custom thing you want to see on your website.

In general, a theme created from scratch would be viable for a large business that is not limited in funds and wants some custom traits to make the website stand out at the market or niche.

Option 2: Ready-Made Template (Buying on Themeforest)

Time investment: several hours needed for the developer to buy, install, and renovate/adjust the theme to your backend.

Things to consider:

  • Ultimo (the most widely used Magento ready-made theme, exists for both Magento 1.x and 2.x; regular license $99 with 6 months support);
  • Porto (regular license $99 with 6 months support; Porto 2 with Magento 2 compatibility exists);
  • Milano (regular license $94 with 6 months support; not compatible with Magento 2 yet);
  • Some more time may be invested into internal customizations that were not provided with the template.

As they are very popular and used by many online sellers, you will have no issues with them, they are upgraded easily along with new Magento versions, and many extensions are integrated easily into these themes.

People may choose out of the three themes basing either on the functionality their site needs or the type of e-commerce they lead. If you’re interested in the differences and peculiarities of use for each of the three frontend themes that are the most popular for Magento 1 and 2 shops, let us know through the comment section, and we will create an article on this topic.

Option 3: Symbiosis

There will be no troubles with the Magento version update if you use the symbiosis method of frontend development for your e-commerce site.

What does it mean: The developer buys a theme you chose and makes stylizations based on your design (to match your corporate style – banner, colors, layout) and create the extensions that are needed for your best cooperation with customers.

Time investment: depends on the number of customizations.

Things to consider: 

  • Depending on the level of the developer’s experience, there may be various troubles in performance;
  • If the number of customizations is vast, it might be easier to create a new design.


In general, the custom-made design is the best for big businesses who want to have a unique website and willing to invest hundreds of dollars in it for the best user experience and result. Prebuilt Magento template is the best choice for those e-sellers whose funds are limited but who have a large number of products to sell. – If your business is just starting, it might be a better choice to use smaller and easier CMSs like Shopify or Shopware – we can help with that, as well). A symbiosis between them is ideal for those online entrepreneurs who have tried prebuilt themes and see that they need additional features, or for the site to match their corporate style.

If you have questions regarding the template that will suit your business, or you need to customize your existing frontend, team WebMeridian is here to help!