Graph Paper Press Review: Understated Themes for Creative Types
Headquarters: New York, United States
Graph Paper Press began as a side-project in 2004 for New York-based photographer, designer and developer Thad Allender.
The company focuses on producing niche themes for visual artists, photographers, video and new media producers.
In a 2011 interview with Mixergy, Allender said he started out building sites for friends, colleagues and some organisations and his business grew from there.
“I got tired of responding to e-mails: how did you build your website? So, I just decided to launch, develop a theme and make it available on my own site,” Allender said.
After putting out his first theme for free and getting a positive response, he continued full-time work as a photographer while growing his business in his spare time.
“There was a question that one of my editors at USA Today asked me. It was, ‘Hey, we’ve got this assignment in Iraq. We’re thinking about sending you,’ and that was when I kind of thought, wait a second, I’m married, I have a business on the side that I can up and just focus on 100 per cent right now,” he said.
“And that’s when I decided to just walk away from journalism and focus on web development.”
In 2012, the company partnered with WordPress.com to release its first premium theme, Gridspace. Full Frame followed in March this year.
In June this year, Allender announced Graph Paper Press would give laid off Chicago Sun-Times photographers free forever plans and Sell Media extensions. A former photographer and multimedia producer for USA Today and Lawrence Journal-World, Allender said he wanted to help other photographers land on their feet.
“Most of the older staffers never thought they’d need their own sites. We’re committed to helping them get rolling,” Allender wrote on the Graph Paper Press Blog.
Graph Paper Press has also partnered with PhotoShelter to allow photographers to combine their WordPress blog with their PhotoShelter website. PhotoShelter allows you to show and sell photography online.
Graph Paper Press themes are available to buy individually or you can join their theme club.
When you sign up for the theme club, you can choose:
- An Annual membership for $125 (one year) – Access to all themes and plugins, new theme launches monthly, automatic theme updates, forum support and complete library with two hours of video tutorials and written tutorials.
- Forever for $299 (10 years) – Access to all themes, new theme launches monthly, automatic theme updates, plugins, forum support and complete library with two hours of video tutorials and written tutorials.
You can also buy themes individually:
- $75 for a single site
- $140 for 2-4 sites
- $200 for unlimited sites
There are 10 free themes available but you have to sign up for a free subscription before you can download them. The themes aren’t advertised as free – you have to scroll through the theme collection and click on each theme to find the free ones.
If you’re not satisfied with any purchases, Graph Paper Press offers a 30-day money back guarantee.
If you find a bug in any themes, the theme seller is committed to fixing them with 24-48 hours during general support hours.
For this review I used a Theme Club membership.
There are more than 44 themes available with designs aimed at photographers, artists, bloggers and entrepreneurs.
Each of the themes are customizable as far as colors, fonts, backgrounds and headers go, and are SEO optimized.
Most of the themes are responsive – some of the older ones aren’t. Many of the themes feature slideshows and video.
Graph Paper Press also offers a set of 14 plugins on top of its theme collection, which add functionality like improving image quality, slideshows and PhotoShelter integration.
The company’s flagship plugin is Sell Media. The free plugin allows you to sell digital products like photos, video, audio, PDFs or any other type of file securely from your site. It’s an ideal plugin for photographers, videographers, musicians and artists who might want to set up a stock photography site or sell graphic art prints. Extensions are available for the plugin, which add functionality such as the ability to add licenses to your content.
All of the themes use the company’s Base Theme Framework, a minimally-style framework built specifically to power child themes. It also allows you to make the most of features like post formats, custom post types, custom headers and menus.
If you want to customize a theme, Graph Paper Press can make tweaks to your site, such as centering navigation and adding a background images from $25. Bigger jobs are referred to WerkPress, a WordPress customization shop.
If you’re looking for a theme for a Multi Site installation, all Graph Paper Press themes are compatible. In fact, the theme demo sites run on Multi Site. However, you will need to join the theme club to get the right license. If you just buy one theme then you’ll need to also purchase the unlimited sites options.
Understated. There’s no other way to describe Graph Paper Press’ designs. The themes are targeted at creative users who work in the visual arts and would no doubt have a bunch of their own images, video and other content ready to load in a theme. The theme seller makes it easy for your content to take center stage through the use of minimalist fonts and colors (mostly black and greyscale).
Content is king when it comes to these themes. If you don’t have any decent images and like to rely on the design of themes, then you can forget about downloading any of these themes.
While the themes are clean in their design, there are none that push the boundaries of current design trends, which is disappointing given its a theme company aimed at visual designs. It would be great to see at least one parallax theme and even a splash of color.
Here are a few examples of Graph Paper Press’ themes:
There is a showcase of customer sites featuring themes that have been personalised and customized. Scrolling through the showcase is a great way to get your head around what your finished site might look like when finished if you’re not sure about buying a particular theme.
I installed a few themes and found them relatively easy to set up, however it wasn’t immediately obvious with themes like Emporia that I needed to install the Base theme first. Emporia is a child theme of Base.
Each theme comes with instructions, which are displayed in the WordPress admin area under Appearance > Theme Instructions.
Installing the Base theme before activating other Graph Paper Press themes provides basic theme options, such as the ability to upload a logo and favicon, change color options and custom CSS and specify blog categories.
Available downloads are also displayed, including all Theme Club downloads if you have an Annual or Forever membership, and your download purchases if you bought themes individually.
There is a Quick Start Guide and a FAQ for any easy to solve issues, as well as basic instructions for themes and plugins.
I found the theme instructions handy but not very comprehensive compared to other theme sellers who offer videos.
Support is available via tickets 24 hours a day, Monday to Friday.
I contacted the support team via Twitter and a support ticket. While I received a reply on Twitter the next day, the support team got back to my ticket a couple of hours after official support hours opened on a Monday morning.
I tested two themes using Google PageSpeed Insights – Remag and Full Frame.
PageSpeed Insights measures the performance of a page for desktop and mobile devices and provides a rating from 0 to 100 points. A higher score is better, with a score of 85 or above indicating the page is performing well.
PageSpeed Insights measure how a page can improve its performance on:
- Time to above-the-fold load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page and to the moment the above-the-fold content is rendered by the browser.
- Time to full page load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page to the moment the page is fully rendered by the browser.
Remag is a responsive and bold magazine theme that features a large header and slider and includes minimal navigation so the focus is squarely on your content.
Full Frame is a “post format loving” theme ideal for showcasing big images, galleries and videos. It features a beautiful responsive design as well as custom backgrounds and headers.
It’s important to keep in mind that when you install and activate a theme, it’s then up to you to optimize your WordPress site to give your theme the best chance to perform well, i.e. set up caching, minimise scripts and think about getting CDN.
Disclaimer: In putting together this review, we bought our Graph Paper Press review account just like any other customer – via the sign-up link on the homepage. We didn’t let Graph Paper Press in on the fact we were reviewing their services to avoid any special treatment.
Have you used Graph Paper Press? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
- Great niche themes tailored for creative types looking for themes that will showcase their content.
- Free plugins, including the company's flagship product Sell Media, which helps you sell digital products directly from your site.
- Puts the creative work first.
- Themes are pricey.
- Not many themes push the boundries of modern design.
- Creative types would probably like more creative features, such as parallax or colorful flat designs.