Anders Norén Release Free Chaplin Theme Designed for Block Editor, Theme Authors Discuss Better Ways to Promote Truly Free Themes

Anders Norén has released Chaplin, his 20th free WordPress theme, designed specifically for use with the block editor. Chaplin could be loosely described as an agency or business stye theme but the capabilities of the block editor enable users to create advanced page layouts that would suit many different types of websites.

The layout for the front page shown in the screenshots can be easily recreated by adding a new page, selecting “Cover Template” for the page template, and adding a featured image. Users can then add columns, images, and paragraph text using the block editor to recreate the structure of the demo. Norén has included detailed instructions in the theme’s readme.txt file for setting it up to look like the demo.

Font and color settings can both be found in the Customizer and these styles will be reflected in the block editor for a more realistic preview of the content. Chaplin comes with infinite scroll built in and additional settings for displaying and hiding specific post meta on archives and single posts. The theme has logo support, widget areas, a social menu with icons, sticky header support, and a search overlay. Check out the live demo to see all the features in action.

Shortly before the release of WordPress 5.0, Norén worked to get all of his themes compatible with the new block editor. Most of his previous themes were created to be niche-specific and easy to have looking just like the demo upon activation. One drawback was that the only way to really customize his themes was to create a child theme and add/or custom CSS, something that is out of reach for most WordPress users.

In a post introducing the theme, Norén described how the new block editor inspired him to start building themes differently than he had in the past.

“For a while, though, I’ve been thinking about how I could build a theme more customizable than the ones I’ve been making so far,” he said. “With the introduction of the Block Editor in WordPress 5.0, any page on a WordPress site can accommodate pretty much any layout, making WordPress itself a lot more flexible than it was just a year ago. If the Block Editor would enable users to create any layout on their site, and the theme would allow them to style the layouts however they want, then that could end up being pretty useful.”

Chaplin is a successful departure from Norén’s previously static themes that gives users more freedom simply by making the block editor the main vehicle for creating and rearranging the home page layout. No two customizations will look exactly alike because users can arrange blocks in any combination.

This theme is a good example of the possibilities that the block editor opens up for users who want more control of their sites’ layouts and content without having to wade through pages of documentation and dozens of panels of Customizer options. In many ways, themes that fully embrace the block editor are beginning to make older themes seem two-dimensional. This shift in focus is an important milestone in the evolution of theme development.

WordPress Theme Authors Discuss Better Ways to Promote Quality Themes on WordPress.org

Based on the community response to Chaplin’s release, it’s clear that there is a real demand for themes made specifically for the block editor. However, WordPress.org is not currently set up to promote themes like this.

If you filter for “block editor styles” and “wide blocks” when searching for themes, WordPress.org search currently returns just 26 themes.

Unless you already know about a specific theme and search for it, the best themes are difficult to find. The Featured and Popular Tabs inside WordPress’ theme browser do little to surface block-ready themes.

In a related discussion that popped up over the weekend, long time Theme Review Team member Justin Tadlock contends that the WordPress.org theme directory is “becoming little more than a crippleware distributor.” He is referring to those themes that do not enable users to further customize them but rather lock away certain features behind upsells.

“Essentially, many themes submitted are a ‘lite’ or ‘free’ version of a commercial theme with extremely reduced functionality,” Tadlock said. “For example, we had a theme author trying to upsell access to post formats (a core feature) the other day.”

Fellow Theme Review Team member Danny Cooper cited Elementor’s Hello Theme as one example of “the new breed of themes that only exist to ‘sell’ something else.”

Participants in the discussion suggested WordPress.org employ stricter enforcement of upsells or implement a more nuanced tag system that would identify themes that have some features locked for users who don’t purchase an upgrade. Others suggested theme authors meet the minimum accessibility requirements as a new threshold for entry into the directory, which would likely slash the number of themes waiting to be reviewed and incentivize companies to invest in accessibility testing to improve that process.

“Honestly, I would prefer all themes with upsell to be filtered out into their own section of the directory, so it’s clear to visitors what themes are free and what themes are ‘free,’ Norén said in response to the discussion. “It would also reduce the incentive for theme shops to flood the directory with crippled themes.”

Norén is one of a handful of theme authors who are submitting high quality themes to the directory that are truly free from upsells. In a time when it’s still not common to find new themes built specifically for the block editor, WordPress.org might benefit from featuring these themes in the same way it does for block-enabled plugins.

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17 Comments


  1. There really was a good deal of support from the wider community with relation to tougher accessibility standards for the .org directory. We’re working just now on ways to make that happen so if you are experienced with accessibility matters then I would love it if you could come along to Theme Review Team meetings and help us shape the new improved guidelines 🙂

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  2. Chaplin is a very attractive theme. On par with or nicer than some premium themes.

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  3. Norén is one of a handful of theme authors who are submitting high quality themes to the directory that are truly free from upsells.

    Examples of other authors like Norén? I find very difficult to find such a high quality and full featured themes for free.

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    1. I think you’ll love
      Blocksy
      . It really stands out with its features and it’s still offered for free.

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  4. Feedback to the site designer: On the comment text editor, the quote format is available on the editor but is not visually represented when the comment is posted.

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  5. I’m a fan of Noren’s themes. His work is beautiful, elegant and simple.

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  6. “Honestly, I would prefer all themes with upsell to be filtered out into their own section of the directory, so it’s clear to visitors what themes are free and what themes are ‘free,’ Norén said in response to the discussion. “It would also reduce the incentive for theme shops to flood the directory with crippled themes.”

    I think the same goes for plugins, I’d prefer that all plugins with a premium or freemium option should be shown in their own category/directory.

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  7. Yes, the theme looks nice. And with the Block Editor it will be flexible for sure, at least within the world of blocks.

    However, it is not the only one, others like GeneratePress, Astra are also fully supporting Block Editor, Classic Editor, even Page Builders. Those for example are also somewhat like “frameworks” in offering lots of filters, hooks and are developer friendly.

    Having a pro upsell like GeneratePress and Astra and some others do, doesn’t make those themes bad at all.

    Not all “upsell themes” are equal. There a lot of differences, same like the “without upsell free” themes.

    And yes, the theme repo search and filter was always bad, really bad. Users complain about this for the last 10 years or so. I have given up my hope on this. It’s a mess.

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  8. Honestly, I would prefer all themes with upsell to be filtered out into their own section of the directory, so it’s clear to visitors what themes are free and what themes are ‘free,’ Norén said in response to the discussion. “It would also reduce the incentive for theme shops to flood the directory with crippled themes.”

    Some time ago, I suggested here that the theme review team should consider adding a “really-free” or “no-upsell” tag to the theme repository. All I got were responses from theme devs against this saying that there was nothing wrong with trying to make some money. The result is a directory flooded with crippled themes, with some minor really free exceptions, such as Norén’s themes, which are extremely hard to find.

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  9. I just love Norén’s themes. And this one especially blew my head off; such a beauty!

    Anders is one of the theme authors that inspire and deserves every penny for his free themes… (…donation link can be found at https://www.andersnoren.se/teman/)

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  10. If you develop WordPress websites for money, there should be no problem with using a premium themes. I have fixed many sites that had problems with free themes after the theme author abandoned the theme. At least with premium themes the authors have a reason to continue development and support. I avoid free themes for client sites. I’m not saying that all premium themes are trouble free, just that these themes have fewer problems since there’s a financial incentive to keep them working well.

    That being said, premium themes being offered as “free” themes should be clearly identified as “limited” versions. I do like being able to evaluate these limited versions to determine if I even want to purchase the premium version.

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  11. Not sure, if author saw the theme on today’s standard – higher resolution screen or some bigger screen at all.

    The content covers just left half of a web space aligned to the left side. It looks horrible like default WP theme 2019.

    I can understand the width of these themes, however I have no idea why they align whole content left in this case. It looks clunky, like something is missing on the right side.

    Probably I miss something regarding these designs.

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    1. Not everyone is going to like every design, and not everyone has to like every design. There are currently 7,354 themes in the free directory alone, and we certainly didn’t get there by everyone liking every design.

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      1. Most themes there are broken and incompatible with recent version of WordPress.

        Even in situation if 10% would be usable, with current search system in the directory and preview, good luck to install and try them all 🙂

        These themes which relatively works are “free adverts” for theme’s businesses.

        If lucky after hours of trying, still majority of themes are bloated for no reason with clunky “features” and lack just basic functions what a themes should do – show a content on a screen.

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      2. Then ask for help in the theme’s support forum, or leave a review and move on to another theme. They’re all free.

        Use the Feature Filter button to narrow down your options there, or sort by Latest for the best change at compatibility with the current version of WordPress.

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