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Templates vs. Custom Websites

Template vs. Custom Websites: The Great Debate

Q: How effective are templated sites versus custom designed sites?

I’ve heard it over and over again from photographers and illustrators: “I don’t want my website to look like everyone else’s.” And my art director, art buyer and photo editor friends repeatedly tell me: “I don’t care whether it is a template site as long as it loads fast and is easy to navigate.”

What Every Good Artist Website Needs

In today’s market, there are 3 key players in templated websites: A Photo Folio, liveBooks, and Neon Sky. Of course, there are others but they have some limitations for showing artwork. To find out which is best for you, be sure to do your homework. A Flash-only site can’t be seen on mobile devices, so you should avoid these. Your site should allow you to post video, so you can provide engaging content that might include a movie showing you at work. An element that buyers find useful – and that I love – is the ability to select a gallery using a dropdown menu. But above all this, the most important element is the capability for back-end editing!! You must be able to edit your website when you need to.

Tried and Tested Artist Marketing

One of the biggest reasons to not discount templated websites is that the companies have invested significant time and effort testing their templates with your potential clients, the very people you want to impress. So why not save yourself thousands of dollars? If you decide to go with a custom design, try to use some of the same design and usability items used by these tried and true template website companies.

Some Good Examples of Website Design

To illustrate the impact a template site can make, here are four before-and-after samples. The samples I have are created with A Photo Folio.


Paul Edmondson used Brand Envy to create a refreshing look that makes a template site look like a custom site. Big bold images with new branding.

Fig. 1: Before

Fig. 2: After


Jonathan Fennell needed to separate his specialties into distinct galleries to make the work shine. Images went from a tiny visual to in-your-face, bold images.

Fig. 3: Before

Fig. 4: After


Vincent DeVries needed to highlight his specialty, cut down on the image clutter and instead show large and powerful images

Fig. 5: Before

Fig. 6: After


Ramblin Lamb used PhotoShelter and SmugMug to house all their images for stock sales but it wasn’t a proper vehicle for their commercial work.

Fig. 7: Before

Fig. 8: After

Your Website is Your First Impression

So in closing, if you can’t afford a custom website, hopefully you can see the value and benefits of a template website. Remember – your website is the first place a potential client will see your work so you need to make your website a budget priority.

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