WordPress starter theme test – Best free minimalist WP themes

📂 Category: WP Blog

🖺 Last modified: 7th Dec 2021

💻 Experience: Intermediate

🕑 Read Time: 6 min

In most cases, development of a WP website begins with choosing a theme to start from. Some developers will create a child theme and rework it according to their project needs, but some will start completely from scratch. A well done WordPress starter theme will give developers a solid base to start from, without the need to code everything from zero. These minimalist WP themes can be real time savers to developers and this article is intended to help you choosing the right one to start your project.

What is a WordPress starter theme ?

Deprived of any advanced functionality and visual styling, a WordPress stater theme is intended to be used as a base for development of custom themes and building websites. These minimalist WP themes have only the most basic file structure needed to run a WordPress website.

Usually, the file structure of a WordPress starter theme consist of the following:

  • the Main Index template
  • single page and single post templates
  • basic header with navigation and footer templates
  • an archive/category and search results template
  • minimalist functions file and CSS stylesheet
  • few more template files depending on each WordPress starter theme, such as sidebar, 404 page, comments template, etc…

All those files usually have only the most basic code needed for their functionality. That way, developers don’t need to spend time on ripping the template files of unnecessary functions and can start building their project right away. Starter themes also don’t come packed with any plugins and scripts, such as sliders, counters, custom post types or other visual enhancements. Therefore, a WordPress starter theme is usually very lightweight and fast loading, which is also an important thing to consider.

Who are WordPress starter themes intended for?

Since those minimalist WP themes have very few or none options to customize from the WP Dashboard, all modifications are done by editing template files code. Therefore, to build a website using a WordPress starter theme, some coding skills are required. We suggest at least intermediate knowledge of HTML and CSS and basic understanding of PHP. At least some JavaScript or jQuerry knowledge could also come handy, but it’s not always necessary.

Even though WordPress starter themes are intended for experienced developers, there are a few good starter WP themes with some basic styling and formatting that even less experienced developers can use to create minimalist design websites.

WordPress starter theme test

There’s a wide choice of free minimalist WP themes in the WordPress Theme Archive. But which one will be the perfect WordPress starter theme for your specific project?


Underscores WordPress starter theme

Underscores is probably the most popular and frequently used WordPress starter theme. It’s developed by the Automattic team, well known for their WP plugins used by millions of websites worldwide. You won’t find this theme in the official WordPress Themes Archive, but you can download it from the Underscores website.

This WordPress starter theme has all the template files needed to begin building a great new template or website. There is some rudimental styling and formatting which can be easily overridden. Since this theme is not a part of the WordPress Themes archive, you don’t have to worry about accidental updates and spend time creating Child themes.

Regarding loading speed, the performance of this minimalist WP theme is outstanding. It’s extremely lightweight and fast. Here are the measurements results:

  • Theme size (compressed): 43kb
  • Rendered blank website: 30kb
  • Server requests (Pingdom): 8
  • Loading speed (Pingdom): 0.45 sec
  • Google P.S.I. score: 100 desktop / 100 mobile

Theme Download


Understrap minimalist WP theme

Understrap by Howard Development & Consulting is one of the most popular minimalist WP themes within the official WordPress Theme Archive with over 10.000 downloads and a 4.5 average vote. As it’s name suggests, Understrap is a combination of the Underscores WordPress starter theme and the Bootstrap framework. Underscores is used as a reliable code base for back-end development, while Bootstrap eases laying out and styling the front-end with familiar elements.

As it incorporates Bootstrap, this minimalist WP theme is not as lightweight and fast as some naked starter themes, which is expected. In the other hand, Understrap has default Bootstrap visual styling, some customizing options, six widget areas and well developed template files structure. Using this theme, even less experienced developers and non coders can create simple websites. Experienced developers familiar with Bootstrap will be able to unleash the full potential of this theme.

Let’s see what performance measurements say about Understrap:

  • Theme size (compressed): 2MB
  • Rendered blank website: 127kb
  • Server requests (Pingdom): 11
  • Loading speed (Pingdom): 0.61 sec
  • Google P.S.I. score: 100 desktop / 99 mobile

Theme Download


Blankslate starter theme for WordPress

Blankslate by Bryan Hadaway is another frequently used WordPress starter theme with over 10.000 downloads and a 5.0 average vote. If you’re looking for a completely naked theme to start building your project, this might be the right choice for you.

This WordPress starter theme has no styling or formatting at all, but only a CSS reset to maximize the cross-browser compatibility. The Blankslate theme template files structure is well made and quite simple. The template files are clean and easy to edit with minimal amount of essential code and no comments. As expected, this minimalist WP theme is very lightweight and fast loading. Many developers will find it a perfect base to start building custom themes and websites.

Let’s see what performance measurements say about Understrap:

  • Theme size (compressed): 160kb
  • Rendered blank website: 62kb
  • Server requests (Pingdom): 9
  • Loading speed (Pingdom): 0.56 sec
  • Google P.S.I. score: 100 desktop / 100 mobile

Theme Download


More minimalist WP themes

Previously we reviewed some of the most popular WordPress starter themes, but there’s plenty more good minimalist WP themes available for free. Themes such as Generic or Davis are also a good choice to begin creating a new theme or website from scratch.

Generic by Bryan Hadaway is not a completely naked WordPress starter theme since it comes with some basic styling and scripting, but it’s a very fast and lightweight minimalist WP theme. On our test it achieved a 0.57 seconds loading speed and generated modest 11 server requests. It also scored great 100/100 Google P.S.I. points. It is a solid base to start developing your project, but thanks to it’s minimal design it can be used to create a simple WordPress website right away.

Davis by Anders Norén is another great theme with minimalist design that can also be used as a WordPress starter theme. The default minimal design looks very nice and clean, so the theme can be used right away as a simple blog. Some developers that will use it as a WordPress starter theme will love the extremely simple template files structure. Davis theme file structure is so simple it contains only the stylesheet, functions file and the main index template. The theme is very fast with only 0.54 seconds loading speed and almost perfect 99/94 Google P.S.I. score.


WordPress starter theme loading speed

Website loading speed is one of the most important factors in modern web development. It’s not only that a fast website will provide a better user experience, but it will also rank higher in search results. That’s why we gave big importance to the loading speed of the themes we tested. The results measured on our WordPress starter theme test are based on a clean WP installation without any loading speed optimization. In other words, the speed performance of each theme can be further improved by loading speed optimization.

Here on HowTo WordPress Tips, you can find some articles on how to improve your website loading speed. Here are a few tips! Firstly, you have to choose a reliable and fast web hosting provider. Secondly, you have to install a couple of loading speed optimization plugins and configure them properly. Beside that, with smart design and development you can make your WordPress website loading lighting fast.