Artisteer vs. TemplateToaster

{Caveat: I am a heavy WordPress user. Artisteer and TemplateToaster are WYSIWIG CMS theme-builders not limited to WordPRess, but I will be dealing from a WordPress point of view, so some of the below may not apply outside of that. And as with any such reviews, be aware of the date. This is about the two CMS theme platforms, Artisteer and Template Toaster (version 4.x), as of the beginning of May 2014. I discuss Artisteer version 4, but most references are to version 3, for reasons explained below.}

There are plenty of ways to develop WordPress site designs, from highly customizable themes and framework plugins, to development tools such as Artisteer and TemplateToaster. These last two have been invaluable to me, as I want to focus directly on design and layout, not code.

How they are (mostly) similar

Both Artisteer and TemplateToaster generate WordPress theme .ZIP files containing all the necessary elements, templates, and CSS files. Simply export from the program(s), then upload the file using the Dashboard, install, and activate. Artisteer also lets you include in the .ZIP file a copy of the project file (Artisteer’s .artx format) that could be a helpful archive if you lose the original file, or simply want a snapshot of that version of your theme.

These are WYSIWYG editors. They both have a ton of settings from general layouts to minute, granular adjustments for very specific text (such as the font size of a visited link in a widget). You may have to dig through the menus a bit to find every little detail you want to change, but it’s worth it. The overall interface is so similar, my guess is TemplateToaster is based heavily on Artisteer, to the point I wouldn’t be surprised if it was started by ex-employees. But there are many distinct differences that, depending on what is important to you, could be a deal-breaker for one or the other.

Both are inexpensive and worth every penny: $129 for Artisteer, and $99 for TemplateToaster.

Framework and Responsive Layout

This is the biggest gap between the two.

TemplateToaster allows for three templates (“index”, “PageTemplate1”, “PageTemplate2”) so that you can have different layouts available (columns, etc.) for use in pages. It is also fully responsive, and you can even preview it based on various devices (portrait and landscape).

Artisteer 4 is responsive at well, but this is by no means a tie, since this latest version of Artisteer is incompatible with still-heavily-used versions of Internet Explorer. The company’s response? Update your browser. Seriously — somehow you as  designer are supposed to have the magical ability to get all your client’s potential client’s across the world to upgrade their browser. This not only reveals a huge gap between the developers of Artisteer and marketplace reality, but an outright apathy toward it. Their users — including myself — have been begging for them to fix this for some time, and it seems more likely the market will change before this happens however long it takes.

This is why I — and so many others — have uninstalled version 4 and restored version 3. The problem there is that is it not responsive, and you must use a plugin to enable a mobile theme (such as WP Touch and Carrington).

This is also why most of the comparisons below are for version 3 of Artisteer, not 4.

Design Suggestions

TemplateToaster has a library of easily choosable themes or you may start “from scratch”. Artisteer has color themes to choose from, but not complete designs. Well, that’s not true. Both will give you a nearly infinite number of design suggestions both to start with and for individual elements, randomly generated but with a sane sense of color combinations. In my opinion, Artisteer’s suggestions are far more vibrant, so much so I often wish I had a project just to use this or that suggestion.

In this respect, if you take the time to sort through suggestions and don’t have pre-established design criteria, you will probably find a LOT less tweaking using Artisteer. In general, Artisteer also bundles settings of fonts and colors far better, whereas you may end up wit ha long list of individual element changes in TemplateToaster.

Visual Design Abilities

With Artisteer, almost everything has a transparency setting; TemplateToaster has very few transparency options. On the other hand, TemplateToaster allows for the use of an image and not merely a texture or color for many elements, such as widget areas and even buttons. It’s a trade-off.

Both have plenty of textures and stock images to choose from, and nice effects to boot. Artisteer seems to have a better library, but TemplateToaster enables adding multiple foreground images (and even has pre-made logos) for the header. In fact, TemplateToaster allows for more text areas in the header, though not as smooth in tweaking header setting as Artisteer.

Artisteer gives Flash effects options for the header, but Template Toaster allows for a header slideshow. Again, a trade-off.

Other Considerations & Conclusion

There are more theme options in the WordPress dashboard once a TemplateToaster theme is activated, but when you switch themes you may have to redo or re-save settings each time, particularly the placement of menus in sidebars. In Artisteer, just make sure any custom menu is still in place for the main navigation.

I must mention one more amazing thing: TemplateToaster has a huge number of customizable widget areas, allowing for some nice framework flexibility. It bogs down the widget page on the dashboard if you don’t use them, but is a heaven-send if you want to insert some content in between spaces in the layout, such as between the main content and the footer, or in the main body above or below the content and/or sidebars.

There are other details too exhaustive to mention here, but if we have to reach a conclusion, it really depends on your needs and preferences as a developer. For me, Artisteer is a faster path to getting design done, but lacks responsive design unless you want to alienate a big segment of web users. TemplateToaster gives more control, but also demands more attention.

A lot of people have migrated to TemplateToaster from Artisteer, though Artisteer seems more “finished” in its user experience, TemplateToaster a touch like it’s still developing. I use both, depending on the project parameters. If I have the time and the client needs a slick mobile version, it’s TemplateToaster. If it’s a simple site not expected to be used on phones often, Artisteer 3 saves me a lot of time. I only wish their project files were compatible or could be imported and exported between them.