WooCommerce Retires Canvas Theme, Recommends Customers Migrate to Storefront Theme

WooCommerce is retiring its Canvas Theme after seven years. Canvas was one of the most innovative themes on the market when it first launched in 2010, giving customers the ability to modify their sites’ design and layout through an extensive options panel. It sold for $99 before the product URL was redirected to a retirement page today.

Canvas’ retirement is a strong signal that Automattic is going all-in on Gutenberg. Without a complete overhaul, the theme is no longer able to keep pace with the changes that Gutenberg and the Customizer will bring to WordPress theming and site building.

“While still early, we believe strongly that Gutenberg is the future,” Canvas lead developer Jeffrey Pearce said. “We’ve decided to invest our resources in preparing our products for it in order to bring you the best experience. Unfortunately, that won’t include Canvas.”

WooCommerce has discontinued Canvas sales and will not be open sourcing the theme to the community.

“Overhauling the theme wouldn’t serve our users, yet continuing to sell it as-is wasn’t the right decision. So we made the difficult decision to say goodbye,” Pearce said.

“We considered open sourcing Canvas to the community, but ultimately decided that extending its lifetime will not serve the community. It’s in the best interest of our users and the community to eventually move to another theme.”

WooCommerce plans to continue supporting active subscriptions and will offer support for lifetime subscriptions for the next year. However, the theme will not be updated to support newer features coming to WordPress. The team strongly urges users to migrate their sites to Storefront, the company’s more mobile-friendly flagship theme built on top of the Underscores starter theme. WooCommerce has published a migration guide to help customers move on from Canvas.

Over the years customers have created many different types of websites (not limited to e-commerce) using Canvas. While some have accepted the inevitable, others are anxious and upset about the change, faced with the prospect of migrating dozens of sites (in many instances) away from the theme. The news of Canvas’ retirement was especially difficult for those who support clients who may not be happy to pay for their existing sites to get updated with no appreciable difference. It’s not easy to sell the change to clients when most of it happens under the hood.

“This puts me in a terrible position,” WooCommerce customer Leon Wagner said. “I have 10 client sites on Canvas. They look beautiful and the clients are happy. So these are done deals, I’ve been paid, and do occasional maintenance. Now you’re telling me I have to go back to each of them and explain that because you’re discontinuing this theme, my clients will now have to pay me thousands of dollars to port their sites (with no obvious improvements) to new themes. Pretty sure I’ll just lose most of those clients.”

Other freelancers and small business owners find themselves in the same boat, many of them with twice that many clients on the Canvas theme. Although the theme can continue to be used without breaking, it will no longer receive compatibility or security updates after the support window expires in October 2018. WooCommerce is currently giving away its Storefront Extensions Bundle for free to Canvas customers to help make the migration easier.

42 Comments


  1. I’m a little bit confused about the open sourcing this theme. As far as I remember, if a theme is for WordPress it automatically should be licensed under GPL. Right?

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    1. For heavens sake somebody fork Canvas PLEASE!!! As a small busuiness owner, that just can’t afford to use web developers, I had to learn how to code an e-commerce site entirely by myself. Months and months of work and stress, just to get it up and running and working the way we needed it to. by reading digesting and learning from brilliant and helpful people on-line. Only to be S**T on from a great height by WooCommerce discontinuing this theme.

      A theme that they originally sold to us as their “Flagship” product. Leaving us struggling to migrate our web site to “Storefront” that just doesn’t have the same capabilities as Canvas. Even with their extensions. It just doesn’t work in “Storefront.”

      The fact that they seem to think it’s OK to un-stabilise a commercial platform, that we have to try and earn a living on and then expect us to cover the costs of clearing up the mess they have created and left behind them, is absolutely and utterly unbelievable. Once again Woo Themes / Commerce or whatever they prefer to be called this week forks over its customers for a few extra shekels. And then tells the customer to pick up the pieces at their own cost.

      I am disgusted and outraged at this company… As for Jeffrey Pearce saying that customers can still download the code from their account dashboard!!! Yeah!! can they??? We can’t…. Even though our subscription to Canvas doesn’t expire until 2019. The code download has vanished from our dashboard.

      No response to anything from their “Happiness Engineers” Just in case anybody is confused that’s Marketeer WankSpeak for Customer Support. Makes them sound like a pack of stoners and hippies. Which probably isn’t far from the truth.

      No response at all from them… which is probably not surprising given the sheer number of angry customers they will currently be failing to Engineer Happy.

      Regards,
      Purple Bob.

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      1. Since you already say you learned to code, why not make yourself a child theme of Storefront to do what Canvas did? You could even open source it to so people like yourself and be the hero.

        You would then benefit from the advancements / additional functionality and retain the look. The shortcodes are even available as a standalone plugin.

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      2. Hi Purple Bob

        Thanks for your honest feedback. I appreciate it and I understand that you are frustrated.

        If you are having trouble downloading the theme from your dashboard, please can you contact our Happiness Engineers for help. That should not be happening. If you have already contacted them, and have a ticket number, please let us know so that can be escalated.

        I’m not sure as to the specifics of your account, but they will clarify your license queries in the ticket.

        Thanks,

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      3. Thank you for responding in here Jeffrey. We’re not unreasonable people, but we see no reason why this screw up should be at our cost. Similarly we see no reason why any small business using Canvas should have to cover the costs of this.

        A couple of years or more ago almost all Developers including yourself, were hailing what a wonderful thing Canvas and the Woo Framework was and how brilliant “short codes” were. Making it easy for non-engineers like ourselves to create wonderful sites using the huge number of “short codes” you included for us. Not only that but hailing the inclusion of more and more short codes for different things with each release and update of Canvas. All of that, along with encouraging end users to make use of these wonderful whiz bang features that made building static pages so much easier.

        So of course we all listened to you and did use them……. Roll on 2017 and all I’m hearing from you and the other developers out there who spent their time pushing it to us, is “Oh No you don’t want to use “short codes” because they’re not cross theme compatible or compatible with the latest great whiz bang idea we had.” And you’re now betting on the core Customiser and Gutenberg because you think those “MIGHT” be the future.

        And note that regardless of how you feel about your latest ideas, they still aren’t even properly off the drawing board. Leaving us floundering around out here in the wild. Having huge time commitments involved in migrating things that we shouldn’t have to be messing with. What happens if your new whiz bang ideas turn out not to be the future…… We get to pick up the bill yet again I guess!!

        Small business needs stability. Not constant innovation that isn’t backward compatible. Sure, innovate… sure, move things forward, that’s inevitable. But for us out here that have to tolerate it, you MUST make it all backward compatible no matter how difficult you see that as being, either that or you have to absorb the cost yourselves, when you can’t or don’t want to make it backward compatible. Not foist this total nightmare on us.

        It’s tough enough trying to keep on top of any small business as it is. Without being forced into this impossible and costly corner you have now decided to create for us.

        Regards,
        Purple Bob.

        p.s. we finally got a response to the ticket we raised…. not impressed with the response or the the suggested solutions, given that they would seem to remain at our cost. As for the dashboard issue I will be raising that after the weekend.

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      4. @ Matt suggesting child themes on Storefront… can WooCommerce/Woothemes give those guarentees that Storefront will still be there and supported over 3 to 5 years? Same story, right.
        But we need to also clear the panic. Not supporting a theme anymore doesn’t mean it wil crash the day after. Some themes can go a long way, even if they are not supported. Okay, it’s not a ‘healthy’ site, but still.

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      5. Hi Purple Bob

        I’ll run through each of your feedback items below:

        “we see no reason why any small business using Canvas should have to cover the costs of this”

        I’m not sure what cost you are referring to here?

        “A couple of years or more ago almost all Developers including yourself, were hailing what a wonderful thing Canvas and the Woo Framework was”

        That’s correct, that was the standard practice for almost all theme developers at the time, until theme developers began to realize the shortcomings of this approach.

        “And you’re now betting on the core Customiser and Gutenberg because you think those “MIGHT” be the future”

        Customizer has been in WordPress for a long time already, and Gutenberg is the future – I know you might have trouble accepting that from me, but there are a lot of other WordPress core developers that don’t work at Automattic who will be able to give you an unbiased opinion on that. I’d encourage you to get involved in the project, it’s open source and could use your feedback!

        “And note that regardless of how you feel about your latest ideas, they still aren’t even properly off the drawing board.”

        I’m not sure why you feel this way, I respect your opinion but I’d love to try and understand more – having said that we stand by our belief that this is the right decision. Perhaps we can agree to disagree here?

        “either that or you have to absorb the cost yourselves, when you can’t or don’t want to make it backward compatible”

        With regards to cost, again, I’m not sure what you are referring to? I’ve already tackled the issue of backwards compatibility in the post on woocommerce.com.

        “Without being forced into this impossible and costly corner you have now decided to create for us”

        Just to reiterate, you aren’t being forced to change themes. Canvas isn’t going to suddenly stop working, and you have a year within to think about this change and make an informed decision about it. I’d love to know more about the “cost” you have mentioned a few times in your reply.

        Thanks for the feedback, always happy to answer!

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    1. Hi Justin

      Yes it is licensed under the GPL, and anyone can fork it. The code is available, however, the repository where it stored is not publicly accessible at this time. We may revisit this in the future, however, for now our customers may download the code as per normal from their account dashboard.

      Thanks,

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    1. Which theme did you choose to replace Canvas, David? I might need to pull the same stunt, mate!

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  2. “WooCommerce has discontinued Canvas sales and will not be open sourcing the theme to the community.”

    That HAS to be a misquote or something. Given Matt’s fanatical stance on the GPL if this theme has a closed source license it would by amazingly hypocritical. I dont use Woo so don’t have the theme but I’d bet that if someone looked it’s GPL which would mean it doesn’t have to ‘be open sourced’, it is, by definition.

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    1. From the announcement on the WooCommerce blog:

      We aren’t open sourcing Canvas because it won’t serve the community.

      We considered open sourcing Canvas to the community, but ultimately decided that extending its lifetime will not serve the community.

      I think it means they won’t be putting it up on GitHub but it’s GPL so anyone can fork it if they want to.

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      1. “We aren’t open sourcing Canvas…” That’s not what that means at all. That quote literally means that they don’t consider the code to be open source.

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      2. Yeah, it’s bad phrasing.

        What was intended (by my understanding) was that we’re not currently opening up the private Canvas GitHub repository and releasing the code to the community for maintenance and whatnot going forward.

        The theme itself is of course GPL, so anyone is free to redistribute it from a copyright license perspective, and I imagine the trademark will at some point be dropped so there’s no concerns on that front either (as a total shot in the dark guess, I am not a lawyer).

        In short: it was awk phrasing, as it is of course open source GPL, but the repo isn’t getting scrubbed to go public.

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      3. Hi Sarah

        That’s correct, as George point out, we realize that the way that was phrased wasn’t super clear, and I’ve updated the post accordingly. As I mentioned in my reply to Justin above, the repository where the code is stored will not be made public at this time – we may revisit this in the future – but for now the code is available to download as normal from the WooCommerce.com account dashboard.

        Let me know if you have any other questions about this.

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  3. Well, this is becoming a Classic repeating story in themes. I was a Woothemes cliënt for years, had their all themes plan. So, build tens of child themes on that for paying customers. Know what: They dropped mostly all of the themes. I really understand the choice to fully go for WooCommerce, but they could have sold the theme department rather then just dropping it. A few things i have learned: make your websites as independable as possible. This is becoming so important for me. Get your own starterstheme and know that code in depth. Since i have chosing this route of my own parent theme, my workflow and quality just accelerated. Its really really the best advice i can give on this matter.

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  4. I have over 60 sites on Canvas and, like Leon in the main article, this has put me right in the s***. Most have lots of custom CSS that (probably) won’t work with Storefront, and so this is going to cause maybe hundreds of hours of work. Not long ago Woo committed to the long term future of Canvas and promised us a version 6.

    And funny that I tipped off WP Tavern to this at least six weeks ago and they are only publishing now.

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    1. Hi Pat

      That’s correct, in late 2015 the plan was to release Canvas 6, I linked to that article in the main body. I pointed out in the post that we actually built 2 iterations of Canvas 6, neither making it to a release for a number of reasons.

      We believe in this decision and believe in what Gutenberg is going to do for the theme industry in the future.

      Thanks,

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      1. Hi Jeffrey

        Thanks for coming back, but unfortunately this isn’t just about Canvas, it’s about the way WooThemes/WooCommerce have CONSISTENTLY been treating customers for many years now.

        The late 2015 blog post (The one that says TL;DR Canvas isn’t going anywhere) is one thing, but not keeping those of us who rely on it informed is the main problem, and it’s typical of how Woo has acted down the years. There has been silence on the future of Canvas for a long time, but we could only assume that Woo’s last word on it was still correct. In fact I haven’t seen any announcement about it, despite subscribing to your blog.

        Only this year we discovered that a range of Woo extensions no longer offer a 50% renewal only when we were charged full price to renew. There was no communication, just double the charge we were expecting. And there’s no way to see how much renewal is going to cost in advance in my account. I have an extension renewing tomorrow, as it happens, and I don’t know what to bill the client in advance because I don’t know what it’s going to cost.

        However, despite being told through a support conversation that the All Themes Package I have used for 5 years is being discontinued, in my dashboard today it was still switched to auto-renew from when it comes up in February! Support says one thing and my account says another – who knows which is right! Perhaps you can clarify?

        Also your WooCommerce Updater plugin no longer works and there’s no way to automatically update a Woo theme that isn’t Storefront from within a WooCommerce site.

        There have been many other instances of Woo changing policies on charging in particular with zero communication, followed by an outcry by customers and a promise by Woo to do it better next time – then the same thing happens. Over and over again and each time it makes us look like idiots to our clients.

        Canvas’ child themes, Uno and Duo, disappeared overnight but most of all support, even for paying customers like ourselves, has been dire for a long time and is only getting worse. But the biggest issue has always been communication.

        I have long been a loyal customer of Woo and sang your praises to anyone who would listen – you can ask Marina in your marketing department if you wish – but after this latest shambles I can no longer trust the company.

        Indeed we were developing a new site around the Galleria Storefront child theme but we’ve switched it to a new provider’s theme because you’re likely to abandon that without warning also.

        But if you can at least clarify the position with the All Themes package and my multiple WooCommerce sites where theme updates don’t work because Woo updater won’t activate I would be grateful. I tried contacting support (Happiness Engineers – don’t make me laugh) but the promised reply/update never came.

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  5. They retired the popular Mystile theme some months ago, too, which I was using in a couple of sites. I’d be very reluctant to consider Storefront, taking into account their history of theme abandonment…

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  6. Storefront’s less of a theme, more of a business model. A free parent theme, under which they sell a bunch of child themes.

    Stop paying for updates to your WooCommerce-sold child, then accidently update Storefront and you broke your bought child theme. So you’d best keep paying those annual subs.

    I can’t think of a less developer-friendly model – their notes on how to keep customisations out of the theme are laughable, and go against their own means to do WooCommerce template overrides (ie a subdir inside the child theme)- update your child theme, and all those customisations are lost.

    I though at first it was laziness – they use build tools, they could compile and sell parent themes that themselves are customised versions of the current version of Storefront, ready for users to make child customisations. But then I thought about their business’ desire for recurring revenue.

    Avoid at all costs.

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    1. If you can’t pay for a paid child theme then why don’t you use one of those free StoreFront Child Themes? there are tonnes of those. If daddy can’t pay for the candy then you got to eat mommy’s dinner right?

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    2. I think my approach would be to use the free Storefront theme and make my own child theme for that.
      Same thing I did for Canvas.

      As far as I can see you should be able to do this and keep Storefront up to date until it’s EOLed.

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    3. Hi Hugh

      Thanks for the feedback.

      “their notes on how to keep customisations out of the theme are laughable”

      I’d love to hear more from you about this, specifically what you are unhappy about so that we can improve this.

      Thanks,

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  7. Rather than forking and maintaining this old theme (if you must stay on it after the 1 year) for however long perhaps it might be worth it ( especially if you have 10 sites for example) to create a Canvas child theme for Storefront instead?

    The appearance could be replicated from a client point of view. If I was in this position, this work would be absorbed as a cost of doing business if the choice to use Canvas was that of the agency and not the client.

    However, there are probably those that aren’t developers who maybe oversold their abilities? Since Woo has given people a fair bit of notice – Now might be the time to learn to do for yourself, hire someone at your own cost as a lesson or come clean to the client. If none these options sound appealing then yes, the clients will probably walk and they probably should.

    Wouldn’t this help more people move forward than being stuck in the past?

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    1. Sure, people could do all of that. But who pays for that time? If you’ve clients, do you do this for free for them? Ask them to pay for something that might not result in any obvious improvement to their site?

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      1. @ Rick Gregory – Yes, I’ve got clients. No, it’s not always a free service. None are using Canvas anymore. Many are using Storefront though and the rest are custom by me. As far as who pays for the time can depend on who made the final decision to use Canvas in the first place. The site builder or the client? Many times clients are don’t want to deal with what theme to use so I suggest one instead to make it easier (for me and them) and that’s that.

        For those on maintenance, this sort of thing would be covered anyhow because it’s like insurance (to me) and get to determine what’s covered or not covered. If you can’t do this then perhaps you’re not charging enough to cover such things or not selling (enough) clients on maintenance?

        If using Canvas was a choice I made on the behalf of a client then that client probably trusted me to know what was best for them even if they are not paying maintenance. To go to them and tell them that a choice I made likely several years ago that didn’t work out as well as I hoped was going to cost them, is out of the question for me.

        Why? It reflects badly on me and makes them less likely to continue to call on me for work. Things like this don’t happen all the time but when they do, often they’ll remember who’ll go the extra mile and who won’t.

        Who do you think should pay for the upgrades that Gutenberg may require? Automattic may have removed some of the choice here but those on maintenance are covered in my view while those that aren’t still can opt in before it’s too late. Those who don’t can go it alone, hire someone else or ultimately do without.

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  8. A bit bittersweet, since Canvas was a great starting point to develop themes for quite a while there–at the same time, I’m almost surprised it took this long for them to admit to themselves that Canvas hasn’t really been keeping up with other themes the past few years (including Woo’s own Storefront theme).

    I migrated several sites that had been using Canvas since 2012 to GeneratePress (free theme + premium extension) late last/early this year. If you’re feeling left in the lurch by this announcement, I highly recommend checking it out:

    GP, like Canvas, has 1) the ability to change sidebar layouts on a per-page basis, 2) well-documented hook reference, 3) similarly organized menu options (primary + secondary menu), and 4) works w/ WooCommerce out of the box (unlike Genesis, unless something has changed recently that I don’t know about).

    Unlike Canvas, GP has 1) the ability to disable page elements on a per-page basis (replacing the need for many of my old Canvas page templates), and 2) very quick support responses (not trying to be harsh here, but it’s true).

    Note: I have no affiliate w/ GeneratePress, I just looked into a lot of themes/frameworks to take the place of Canvas and I’m happy with my decision–so I figure others in a similar boat would be looking for the same things I was.

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    1. Thanks for the GeneratePress tip, Nikki. Looks like a really good solution for our problem!

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      1. As far as replicate goes, it depends on how far you’re willing to go if you wanted things 100% the same, but overall you can do the same layout w/ GP premium by setting all the page elements to contained (gives the boxed look you have).

        The biggest changes I would forsee are:
        – the RSS (and email I believe) icons in your menu are Canvas features, although you can just remake those links yourself with fontawesome icons.
        – the posts slider above your posts is a Canvas feature, but you can replicate it by placing any shortcode-based recent posts slider (there are multiple plugins for that) into the GP page header for your posts page
        – the tabbed latest/comments/tags widget in your sidebar is a Canvas feature, but you can still put each of those in your sidebar as separate widgets (all available in WP by default)

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    2. Thanks for the tip Nikki. I have got about 30 websites built with Canvas ( some of them are very old) and have started looking for solutions. Some of them are small 5 page websites and others are a bit more complex. All look very different and have varying amounts of custom css (and shortcodes) to make them unique. The GeneratePress theme looks like the best I have come across for using on some of these websites.

      Once I work out some options I am then going to have to work out an approach to let my clients know that I need to update their theme…

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  9. Although it’s bad news for users, nothing lasts forever in this world. WordPress is changing, themes included. At least WC informs the public as good as they can and they keep supporting Canvas for another year.

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