You may find this brief guide useful if…
- You purchased a WooThemes Canvas license because the thought of coding with CSS/HTML/PHP induced shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and mild panic.
- You’ve heard that Woo has stopped developing Canvas because it will be incompatible with the changes coming to WordPress in 2018.
- You’ve looked at a ton of promising alternatives for replacing WooThemes Canvas, only to find that they all had sneaky little corners where coding was required. (Also, those frameworks required a hefty learning curve.)
- You’re looking for a replacement that will work a LOT like Canvas, with a backend that lets you set most formatting options using boxes, dropdowns, sliders, and color pickers.
These suggestions MAY NOT BE FOR YOU if you’re even slightly code-savvy. If you can write CSS, HTML, and PHP as easily as brushing your teeth, really, I’m not sure you won’t be well-served by other platforms.
On the other hand, even though this advice is primarily aimed at code-impaired WordPress users like me, it’s just possible that you’ll find these suggested products worth a glance.
I started using Canvas about 10 years ago. When I learned that it would no longer be developed and would soon become incompatible with WordPress, I felt like I’d been smacked with a wet fish. Devastated. How could I approach the 10 clients whose websites I manage and tell them, out of the blue, “The Web framework I recommended for your site is no longer working, and it’s going to cost you several hundred bucks to fix it.”
I understand Woo’s decision. They’re committed to WooCommerce, which has been far more successful than Canvas ever was. The Woo devs aren’t the ones making the changes in WordPress that are going to leave Canvas stranded. So I harbor no resentment toward them.
But I am sad for the many, many people who are now faced with converting their sites. Especially the full-time developers who may be looking at converting dozens or even hundreds of sites.
What Are the Choices?
I spent two weeks examining the alternatives. I looked at many themes and frameworks. All of them were known to offer a solid Web platform. I looked at Genesis, X, Pro, Divi, and many others. And although they are highly capable in their own right, they were simply wrong for me.
I’m a simpleminded 75-year-old writer-photographer who manages 10 small nonprofit sites as a low-paid service. All of the Web platforms I looked at required a learning curve and a knowledge of CSS that were too tedious to contemplate.
After pulling out bales of hair for a couple of weeks, I found a solution that seemed very well-suited for people like me who don’t want to be bothered learning CSS and HTML when we hardly ever have a need to build websites from scratch.
I Discover GeneratePress
I was pleased to discover GeneratePress, a theme that, though by no means an exact Canvas replica, allows clueless non-coders like me to set a ton of site-wide formatting options in the backend using check boxes, dropdowns, sliders, and color pickers, like Canvas did.
One thing I love about GeneratePress is the very generous license, compared to other themes that are reasonably affordable for a single license, but quickly become expensive if you’re developing multiple sites for small, budget-strapped nonprofits.
Two years after discovering GeneratePress, here’s my “official” review, posted to the GP website at their request after using tech support:
“GeneratePress has been tremendous. I discovered it while looking for a replacement for the defunct WooThemes Canvas framework. GeneratePress now powers more than a dozen websites for us and we could not be happier. Support has been very impressive, never frustrating. And the solidity of the code, the ease of building new sites, and the general pleasantness of working with the framework have been MOST gratifying. Thanks to Tom and crew! We are grateful.”
To learn about GeneratePress, see Learn About the Tools, below.
I Discover Elementor
The sites I manage are so simple that I could easily get by with GeneratePress alone. I rarely need to build “artsy” pages – e.g., a photo essay about a trip to the Google Science Fair for a K-8 school site.
I formerly used an excellent tool called Pootle Pagebuilder Pro. I still recommend it, because it’s powerful and has great support. But I really only need a page builder for three of my sites, and Elementor has some specific page-building elements that will be useful, as well as solid online documentation and a large user community..
I Discover CSS Hero
Having lived with Canvas for 10 years, I’m aware that no matter how loudly a WordPress framework boasts that it will free us from writing code, there will ALWAYS be times when CSS and HTML and PHP code are needed. And that’s why I was very, very grateful to discover CSS Hero.
Sure enough, once I began converting a moderately large school website, I ran into a formatting issue that GeneratePress couldn’t handle. I wanted to center the sub-menu items in the main navigation, and GeneratePress didn’t have an option for that. But I found that I could click the blue CSS Hero icon, then hover over one of the submenu items I wanted to center, and click it. CSS Hero then displayed a list of formatting options: font family, font size, line height, alignment, etc., that I could set the “Canvas way” with boxes and dropdowns – exactly what I needed!
It was a simple change, but without CSS Hero, I would have had to either (a) grind some teeth while using Firefox > Tools > Web Developer to try to identify the code I needed to change, and figure out how to change it. (I HATE that option.) Or (b), I could pester the GeneratePress author for some CSS. (I HATE that option.) Or (c) I could try to find the appropriate code with a frustrating Google search. (I HATE that option.)
All of which would take precious time and would involve no small amount of aggravation. But with CSS Hero, I had it done in under 30 seconds. I was sooooooooo grateful!
Why Am I Doing This?
I feel good about helping Canvas users who are looking for a replacement. That said, I’m an affiliate for these tools. It means I’ll get a cut if you order with the links below. Everything I make from this page supports the work of the nonprofit educational, music, healing, arts, and community organizations whose websites I manage.
I’m enabling comments so you can suggest alternatives to these tools. As Canvas users in withdrawal let’s help each other get through this crisis.
Learn About the Tools
If you’d like to learn more about the tools I’m using, here are some helpful links:
Video: Elementor Quick Tour (2 min.)
Video: CSS Hero Walk-Through (6 min.)
Video: Glad to Introduce You to CSS Hero (5 min.)
These are easy tweaks that you can use to make GeneratePress and Elementor work more smoothly together.
Most of the small nonprofit websites I manage are hosted at SiteGround (affiliate link). We’ve experienced consistently fast loading times, outstanding support, and reasonable rates. They offer a WordPress migration plugin that eases moving your site(s) to their servers.
Kissing Canvas Good-by
I hope this information will help you. It might not be easy for us old Canvas dogs to learn new tricks. But with patience and goodwill we can get through the transition together. Feel free to drop me a line using the Contact page. — George Beinhorn
I recently converted the school site I manage from Canvas to GeneratePress. The site has a ton of sidebar content that looks really dumb when displayed in a single looooong widget. The obvious solution was to split it into manageable chunks in tabs. A Google search turned up WP Tab Widget Pro, a nice plugin that let me style the tabs Canvas-style using dropdowns and checkboxes. When I had questions, I got prompt, helpful answers from tech support, so I feel safe in recommending the publishers, MyThemeShop. Here’s my affiliate link if you’d like to give them a look. If you need a WordPress slider/slideshow, I can heartily recommend Smart Slider 3. (NOT an affiliate link). I’ve used other plugins and found them clunky and poorly designed. Smart Slider is a huge exception: easy to work with and includes a full range of options. It is wonderful.
This morning (September 28, 2018), I converted two fairly large sites from Canvas to GeneratePress. Bear in mind, I’m familiar with the process, having completed it several times. But I was shocked, because it took just 55 minutes to convert the first site and 61 minutes to convert the second. These are, of course, not vast, highly complex corporate sites. Nevertheless, the fact that GeneratePress required just a very reasonable amount of tweaking to absorb the sites was very impressive to me — and a huge relief. So, yes, I guess the point is that I feel more confident than ever to stand solidly behind these products.