custom post types and page builders review of the options

In this article I want to look at WordPress Custom Post Types (CPTs) and the display of dynamic data using page builders. WordPress has had internal support for Custom Post Types since version 3.0, but does not have a built-in way to create them or to display CPT content on the front-end. For a long time, this was the province of only a few plugins and / or custom programming. In the past few years the number of good options has increased, but because there are differences in functionality and ease of use, the best choices are not always obvious.

There are three legs to this stool:

  1. Creating the CPTs and their custom fields so that authors can enter content,
  2. Creating the theme templates for the single and archive display of the CPTs on the frontend, and
  3. Advanced usage, such as complex relationships, conditional display, and search filters.

These are three separate, but related, functional areas that come into play when evaluating tools for creating and display dynamic data. There are few tools that cover all three areas, but often you may use a combination of tools, or use some tools together with custom programming.

Note: This article was originally published January 11, 2019 but has been substantially rewritten and expanded.

Levels of Complexity

Remember buying your first computer and the salesperson asked you “what are you going to use it for?”  If you said “surfing the web” and “word processing” then that meant low end. If you said “games” then that meant at least a medium level machine with a good graphics card. If you said “Photoshop” then that meant a high end machine with a good graphics card, lots of memory, and fast hard disk. Well, there is a similar stepping of things to consider when it comes to CPTs, templates, and display flexibility.

Simple Custom Post Typessimple custom post types

For the sake of this article, “simple” means basic CPTs, like “Portfolio”, “Team”, “Recipes”, “Books”, or “Movies” where you need single and archive templates and that’s about it. For many sites, that is all you need.

A “medium” level of complexity are cases where, for instance, you have multiple related CPTs or you want to support various display conditions.

Complex Custom Post Typescomplex custom post type

A “high” level of complexity involves more complex relations where you are building an entire system out of CPT building blocks and their relations. Complex solutions will often involve careful architecture and custom PHP.

If you are building an “enterprise” level solution then stop and ask yourself if WordPress is the best foundation. It is possible to base an enterprise solution on WordPress, but you are going to need a full time team that covers the entire stack and such is beyond the scope of this discussion of tools.

Custom Field Plugins – Price / Active Install Information

As of June 16, 2022

ACF – More than 2 million active installs
$49 per year for 1 site – all features
$149 per year for 10 sites – all features
$249 per year unlimited sites – all features

Meta Box – More than 700,000 active installs
$49 per year for 1 site – 12 extensions
$149 per year for unlimited sites – 12 extensions
$99 per year 3 sites – all extensions
$229 per year unlimited sites – all extensions
$299 lifetime for 3 sites – all extensions
$699 lifetime for unlimited sites – all extensions

Toolset – Had more than 200,000 active installs before leaving the WP directory
$69 per year for 1 site – all features – ~25% renewal discount
$149 per year for 3 sites – all features – ~25% renewal discount
$299 per year for unlimited sites – all features – ~25% renewal discount

Pods – More than 100,000 active installs
Free unlimited sites – all basic features
$79 per year for 1 site – Pods Pro Addons
$119 per year for unlimited sites – Pods Pro Addons

Crocoblock JetEngine – Unknown number of active installs
$86 per year for 1 site – just JetEngine and JetSmartFilters
$199 per year for 1 site – full Crocoblock suite
$399 per year for unlimited sites – full Crocoblock suite
$999 lifetime for unlimited sites – full Crocoblock suite

What conclusions do you draw from this information?

Page Builder’s Official Support for Custom Fields

(This list shows the official support that page builder teams provide for custom field providers)

Beaver Themer
Official Support – ACF, Pods, Toolset

Bricks Builder
Official Support – ACF, Meta Box, Pods, CMB2, Toolset, JetEngine

Brizy
Official Support – ACF, Pods, Meta Box, Toolset

Divi
Official Support – Only ACF is officially mentioned though support says “all should work”

Elementor
Official Support – ACF, Pods, Toolset
Third Party Plugin Support – Meta Box

Oxygen
Official Support – ACF, Meta Box, Toolset, and JetEngine

Zion Builder
Official Support – ACF, (Meta Box in progress)

Third Parties Adding Support for Custom Fields to a Builder

Beaver Themer
Meta Box has an extension for Beaver Builder / Beaver Themer
Pods has a free extension for Beaver Builder / Beaver Themer

Elementor
Meta Box has an extension for Elementor Pro
Crocoblock adds support for ACF and JetEngine to Elementor
Dynamic.ooo adds support for ACF, Toolset, Pods, and JetEngine to Elementor

Even if a plugin is supported, that doesn’t mean all of the features of that plugin are supported. Generally, ACF has the widest and deepest support.

Solutions

Here is a matrix showing the capabilities of the tools being listed. All of the tools that allow you to create a Custom Post Type also allow you to create custom taxonomies. Note that both Meta Box and Pods provide the ability to create Templates for Custom Post Types and apply Conditional Display options, but they require some use of code. Of the two, Meta Box Views is much more advanced.

 Create CPTCreate Custom FieldsCreate Templates for CPTConditional Display Options
ACF ProNYNN
Beaver ThemerNNYY
Bricks BuilderNNYN
Brizy ProNNYN
Crocoblock SuiteYYYY
DiviNNYN
Dynamic.oooNNYY
Elementor ProNNYN
Meta BoxYYYY
OxygenNNYY
PodsYYYY
Themify Post Type BuilderYYYN
ToolsetYYYY
Zion BuilderNNYY
advanced custom fields
What is it: The Advanced Custom Fields plugin allows you to add custom fields and field groups to post edit pages. There is a feature rich free version and a Pro version that adds more capabilities.

Visit Advanced Custom Fields Pro Site

Advanced Custom Fields Pro


Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) is a good example of a plugin that focuses on one thing and does it well.  For a long time ACF was one of the few main go-to solutions for creating sites with dynamic content.  When using ACF, you create field groups, add fields to them, and then assign them to the edit screens for the post type, or CPT that they will be used with.  The UI is well crafted and the plugin is very solid. ACF Pro comes with more than 30 field types, including relationship, repeater, and flexible content fields.  ACF is very widely used that there many third-party extensions. I have the notion that they invented the repeating field, but maybe they just brought it into the mainstream.

ACF does not have the ability to create CPTs itself, so it is often coupled with the Custom Post Type UI plugin or the output from a CPT code generator to create the actual CPT.

Classically, developers used ACF for creating bespoke themes for small businesses, restaurants, and so on.  These ACF solutions involved custom coding the theme single and archive template files, and the plugin comes with helper functions to make that easier.  These days, you can use some template building tools, such as those listed here, for creating the single and archive layouts.

ACF has a feature rich and very popular free version and a Pro version that adds repeater fields, the ability to create ACF Blocks using PHP, the Flexible Content Field, and the ability to use ACF fields on admin options pages.

I have a walk-through and video for creating Custom Post Types using CPT-UI and Advanced Custom Fields.

Pros: ACF Pro is regularly updated and is GPL. It has good documentation and support, and there are lots of online resources. ACF is the most widely used tool for adding custom fields with more than 1 million active installs of the free version. All of the template builders mentioned here support it.

You can use ACF to extend built in WordPress post types, Custom Post Types, and even taxonomies.

Cons: ACF does not have the ability to create CPTs, nor does it have any templating features, conditional logic, etc for front-end display. You will need to do some custom programming or use an additional tool to create the CPT and another one for generating the output for the front-end.

Additional Information: These days people want more flexibility and speed than you get with hand-coded PHP template files and all of the solutions mentioned here for creating templates support ACF. So, ACF has a lot going for it. There is nothing in ACF that limits it to one level of solution, the limitation largely being a function of what you pair it with.

ACF has been sold twice in the last year or so, first to Delicious Brains and then to WP Engine. While there is indication that development and support with suffer, people are keeping their eyes open.


beaver themer
What is it: Beaver Themer is an add-on to Beaver Builder that allows you to create templates for your CPTs.

Visit Beaver Themer Site

Beaver Themer


The Beaver Builder team was the first to create a plugin connecting a front-end page builder to a theme layout builder.  You can create your layouts easily using the familiar Beaver Builder layout options making it one of the easiest template builders.  You are able to select a post for the template being created, so that you get a closer WYSIWYG experience.  Beaver Themer lets you create layouts for single and archive templates.  You can also use it to theme 404 and search pages.  Themer allows you to create custom headers, footers, and template parts, but you will need a theme that includes Themer support for these.

You connect your templates to fields in your post types by selecting them using field connectors.  You can create layouts for global use or set display conditions, such as for a certain post type, or archive term.  These display options are pretty standard now for determining template usage.  Themer has taken it further by including conditional display options for showing or hiding content within layouts based on field values.

I have a walk-through and video on creating single and archive templates using Beaver Themer.

Pros: Beaver Themer is easy to use and they have added conditional logic for use when creating templates and for within Beaver Builder, which means that you can go beyond basic single and archive templates. The plugin is GPL, there is good support and an active community. Beaver Themer officially supports CPTs and fields created using ACF and Pods (Toolset support dropped?). You can use Themer to create templates for built in WordPress post types as well as with CPTs.

Beaver tools are oft cited for their stability, which is a boon for those offering care plans. Also, the HTML output is relatively clean and lean which helps to keep the site performant.

Cons: You are going to need another tool for creating your CPT and custom fields. ACF (with CPTUI or a CPT code generator) and Pods are popular choices. You could use Toolset for creating your CPT and Themer for the templates, but there is a lot of overlap and I'm not sure that makes sense. Themer is an add-on to Beaver Builder, which means it is an additional purchase. Due to the slow pace of releases, new features are not released as often as they are for other plugins in this space.

Additional Information: In a recent WP Tavern interview, a member of the Beaver Builder team shared that they are focusing on the site developer community, as opposed to single users or designers. That is good news in this area, because as working with CPTs is more of a developer purview.

Meta Box is another option for creating your CPTs and they have a free extension for working with Themer. The Meta Box extension allows you to use custom fields in concert with Themer conditional logic to control front-end display. This YouTube video from the Meta Box team demonstrates that feature.

Pods also has a free Beaver Themer companion plugin for use with Themer. The Pods extension makes it easy to work with relations between CPTs and makes Pods easier to use than ACF Pro in this regards. For more information on this, see Peter Luit's article comparing using Pods vs ACF Pro with Themer.

Beaver Builder and Beaver Themer together will cost $246 the first year. After the first year, that goes to $148 annually. Recommended for everything but the more complex use cases.


bricks solution
What is it: Bricks Builder installs as a theme and includes a theme builder and page builder. It has good support for dynamic data and a good number of layout and design options.

Visit Bricks Builder Site

Bricks Builder


Bricks Builder is a new theme that includes a page builder. Version 1 was released in March 2021 with a surprising number of features.  Since its release, development has been quick with lots of refinements and features added.  Bricks includes theme template building functionality, a page builder, and it works with Custom Post Types and custom fields.  Bricks supports ACF, Meta Box, and Pods, Toolset, and JetEngine. It is nice that users are not locked into only one option.

Unlike some builders, the output on the front-end is well optimized and the builder touts good speed scores out of the box.

I have a walk-through and review of Bricks Builder here.

Pros: There are several ways to access and use dynamic data and custom fields and no matter which way you do it, it is easier to access the custom fields than other builders. Development has been quick, there is a public roadmap, and the developer listens to community feedback.

Cons: The builder is still new and some advanced features are still on the roadmap, such as conditional display options.

Additional Information: The Bricks Builder has a growing community and is a great value with reasonably priced lifetime options.


brizy pro
What is it: Brizy Pro is a page builder that includes the ability to create theme templates.

Visit Brizy Pro Site

Brizy Pro


Brizy Pro is a new WordPress page builder from the team behind ThemeFuse themes. Brizy Pro has the ability to create templates for CPT single and archive displays.  The Brizy Pro “dynamic data” functionality includes support for ACF, Meta Box, Pods, and Toolset.

I have a walk-through and video on creating single and archive templates using Brizy Pro.

I have a review of Brizy Pro 2.

Pros: Brizy Pro is easy to use and there is an active Facebook community. Members of the Brizy team are active on social media sites.

Cons: Active development of Brizy is still ongoing. The API for third party addons hasn't been released yet, so there isn't any ecosystem to fill in the gaps. The rendered code is very verbose and not as clean as some of the other options.

Additional Information: The Brizy team also has a separate hosted cloud version called Brizy Cloud. It is easy to use and has some interesting features and some integrations with the Brizy plugin.  


crocoblock suite
What is it: The Crocoblock suite includes plugins for creating CPTs as well as single and archive layouts in Elementor. They have added Gutenberg blocks that work with custom fields and the ability to create templates that work with the Gutenberg Full Site Editor.

Visit Crocoblock Site

Crocoblock


Crocoblock is a suite of plugins / an add-on packages mainly for the Elementor page builder.  It includes a theme and template library in addition to CPT-related features.

The suite contains a huge number of Elementor widgets and users may find they got the CPT features as a bonus.  The suite uniquely includes a plugin called JetEngine, which allows you to create CPTs and custom fields and another plugin JetThemeCore for creating templates.  So, the suite covers both creating CPTs and creating templates.  Recently the Crocoblock team has been adding basic support for Gutenberg in JetEngine, JetSmartFilters, and a few of the other plugins.

I have a walk-through and video on using Crocoblock with Elementor for creating a Custom Post Type and the single and archive templates.

Here is a walk-through and video on using Crocoblock with Gutenberg for creating the single and archive templates.

Pros: You can use the Crocoblock Suite to extend built in post types and it supports relational fields linking CPTs. The Elementor Pro widgets that support dynamic data work with JetEngine fields and Crocoblock has added dynamic fields to a number of the widgets in the suite. There is advanced functionality available for edge cases.

The team releases updates and new features regularly and there is a very active Facebook group. The suite contains a plugin JetSmartFilters that works with its CPTs. The Crocoblock suite works with Elementor free version (works with Pro but doesn't require it) and has a lifetime license option. The Crocoblock team has started to include Gutenberg support so that your Custom Post Type solution is not tied to the Elementor page builder. The plugins are distributed without a license file, but I believe they are GPL.

Cons: Some of the advanced using options are difficult to figure out, even with documentation.

Additional Information: The Crocoblock Suite is a good fit for simple to large projects, especially if you are using Elementor. If you are using Gutenberg there may be some functionality that is not yet available.


divi builder
What is it: The Divi Builder is a page builder for the content area of your website. It now also has the ability to create theme templates.

Visit Divi Builder Site

Divi Builder


The Divi Builder is one of the first page builders. It is integrated with the Divi and Extra themes or available as a stand-alone plugin. In addition to an annual subscription model, Divi is also available as a lifetime purchase.

Divi started out as a back-end builder and later they added a front-end editor as well. The separate Divi Builder plugin was created as a counter to claims that using the Divi theme, with the built-in builder, resulted in theme lock in. Using the plugin, users can switch themes without losing content.

Divi added a Theme Builder component late 2019 which provides the ability to create the full range of theme templates, including headers and footers.

I have a walk-through and video on using the new Divi Theme Builder for creating single and archive templates.

Pros: Divi is the flagship product from Element Themes and even after a number of years is still under active development with frequent new features. Layout packs for Divi are released at an impressive rate of twice a week. Divi is GPL licensed.

Cons: When disabled, the Divi Builder leaves behind a bunch of shortcodes intermixed with the content. This needs to be cleaned out if discontinuing use of the builder. Also, Divi is one of the builders that sometimes adds a lot of extra HTML elements to support the builder features, which is not clean and performant as some of the other options.

The front-end editor allows for in-place editing but the interface is somewhat confusing. You will need to use another tool for creating the CPTs and custom fields. While you can create archives for CPTs, the ability to use custom fields in archives isn't currently available.

Additional Information: Divi is very popular and has several large community groups on Facebook.

Divi has the ability to use dynamic data for custom fields and "theming" features. You can use the builder with CPTs. Divi has frequent updates which sometimes require attention. There is a lifetime unlimited plan.


Dynamic Content for Elementor
What is it: Dynamic.ooo allows you to create content templates and display custom field information.

Visit Dynamic Content for Elementor Site

Dynamic Content for Elementor


Like the Crocoblock Suite, Dynamic.ooo – Dynamic Content for Elementor (DCE), is an addon for the Elementor Page Builder.  However, while Crocoblock provides many standard Elementor widgets and solutions, Dynamic.ooo focuses more on unique widgets and extensions.  Dynamic.ooo has the ability to create content templates for core post types as well as Custom Post Types.  It supports ACF, Toolset, Pods, and JetEngine, including relationship fields.  It works with both Elementor Free and Pro.

I have a walk-through and video on my sister site Elementor360.com.

Pros: Dynamic.ooo has the most extensive support for Advanced Custom Fields of any solution considered here. There is a great deal of flexibility when creating templates and it is possible to use custom fields in archive templates. Dynamic.ooo has a powerful token system that includes custom fields. It also has the most extensive conditional display set of features of any Elementor addon.

Cons: Dynamic.ooo is a power tool and there is a learning curve. You will need to use another tool for creating the Custom Post Types.

Additional Information: Dynamic Content for Elementor adds the dynamic data option for widgets in both Elementor Free and third-party addons, which means these can be using in templates.


elementor pro
What is it: Elementor Pro is a WordPress page builder that includes the ability to create templates for Custom Post Types.

Visit Elementor Pro Site

Elementor Pro


Elementor is the most popular WordPress page builder.  There is a free version and a premium Pro version.  Elementor Pro includes a Theme Builder, a Form Builder, and a Popup Builder.

The theming features are easy to use and allow you to connect fields in your template to fields in your Custom Post Types.  You can create templates, headers and footers and set the conditions for use.  The theming features work with most themes.

Elementor Pro officially supports ACF, Pods, and Toolset.

I have a walk-through and video on using Elementor Pro to create single and archive templates.

Pros: You can use Elementor Pro to create templates for built in post types, CPTs, create template parts, headers, footers, and custom 404 pages. The Elementor Pro theme template building features are easy to use and the support for dynamic content is good. Elementor gets updates and new features regularly and has a huge community. Elementor Pro is GPL licensed.

Cons: Elementor Pro does not have support for conditional display (other than for device types), it is not possible to use custom fields in archive templates, and a number of other advanced dynamic data related features are missing. There are a number of 3rd party solutions to fill in these gaps.

Elementor is one of the builders that adds a lot of extra HTML elements to support the builder features, such as the advanced animations and style options. This results in page output which is not as clean and performant as some of the other options, though they are taking steps to improve this.

Additional Information: The lack of conditional display options reinforces my impression that Elementor targets the designer community more than the developer community.


Meta Box Solution
What is it: Meta Box is a set of WordPress plugins for creating CPTs and custom fields.

Visit Meta Box Site

Meta Box


Meta Box has been around for a while, but it seems like it has had a higher profile recently. It allows you to create CPTs, custom taxonomies, and custom fields. It was originally designed in a very modular fashion, which means that there is a separate plugin for each feature, though there is now a move to also have some “all in one options” to avoid overwhelming the plugin page.

Meta Box is very developer focused.  In fact, you can export your CPTs and fields to code and put them in your child theme’s functions.php file or a plugin. There are more than 47 field types and 31 plugin extensions, covering the range from front-end submissions to custom database tables on the back-end. Like ACF, Meta Box has the ability to create Blocks for Custom Post Types using PHP. It also has a Views extension for creating templates with code.

I wrote a post about using Meta Box with Beaver Themer and a walk-through on my sister site for using Meta Box with Elementor Pro.

Pros: The Meta Box plugins are actively developed and well supported. The Meta Box team has created their own extensions for use with Beaver Themer and Elementor Pro. It is GPL licensed.

Cons: There are not as many tutorials available as for ACF. Advanced features, such as relationships, will require adding PHP code. It might not make sense if you are not comfortable working with code.

Additional Information: There is nothing inherent in Meta Box that would limit it to a certain level of project. It would make sense if you wanted or needed to work closely with code. Official Oxygen support, as well as Bricks and Zion Builder support have been added in the past year, which has been a real boost for Meta Box awareness.


Oixygen Builder
What is it: Oxygen is a WordPress plugin that includes a page builder and theme template builder.

Visit Oxygen Site

Oxygen


Oxygen is a somewhat unique combination of theme template builder and page builder that takes over and replaces the theme.  The template building features have support for ACF, Meta Box, Toolset, and JetEngine.  Of all of the plugins in the builder class, Oxygen is one of the most developer focused and includes a code block for custom PHP and a PHP callback function for working with advanced field types.  It has a loop builder and Gutenberg block builder.

I created a post showing how to create single and archive templates using Oxygen, if you are interested in it.

Pros: The template building features work well and are easy to use. Oxygen is actively developed, has a very active Facebook community, and good documentation. The builder is very flexible and it is possible to include custom fields in archive templates. Oxygen is GPL licensed.

Oxygen has a visual conditional display feature as well as a programmer API for creating your own conditions.

Version 4 was recently released with speed and other editor enhancements.

Of all of the builders considered here, Oxygen is known for outputting straight HTML without a lot of the extra DIV elements that other builders use to support animations and more elaborate designs. Sites created with Oxygen generally score well on the various speed tests.

Cons: Requires more knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript than other page builders. Uses shortcodes when creating content. There is no roadmap and bugs can take a long time to be addressed.

Additional Information: Working with Oxygen is different than working with a theme and some builder / themer plugin. Toolset support is not as good as the options custom field options.


pods
What is it: Pods is a WordPress plugin for creating CPTs and custom fields. It has some templating features and conditional display logic.

Visit Pods Framework Site

Pods Framework


Pods is a free solution for creating CPTs and custom fields. It has extensive support for a range of field types.  It allows you to create CPTS and add custom fields easily and is very flexible. There is some templating ability and conditional display options using Pods templates, shortcodes, and Pods “magic tags.”

Pros: Pods is a popular solution for creating CPTs and custom fields. It has extensive support for field types and relations. The Pods Beaver Themer extension makes working with CPT relations very easy when using Themer to create your templates.

There are a good number of 3rd party extensions. It is fast and works well under the hood. The Pods programmer API is powerful and appreciated by programmers. Many Pods users are enthusiastic and willing to help others and the project has an active Slack channel for help. The bi-directional relationship feature is easy to use.

Cons: The user interface seems a bit dated, the documentation sports videos from 4 and 5 years ago, and it sometimes feels like a hodgepodge. The templating ability works, but is somewhat primitive, will require HTML and CSS, and is not a visual building experience. The release schedule is inconsistent, but may be improving.

Additional Information: You can get the job done using Pods templating features if you are comfortable with HTML and CSS, but many users would want to pair it with Beaver Themer or Elementor Pro.

There is nothing in Pods per se that would limit it to a certain level of project complexity. Pods is popular among Beaver Themer users and its plugin integration with Beaver Themer makes that a good pairing.

Pods used to be 100% free with no upsell, but recently the developer has release his own separate "Pro" addons. Much of the income goes back to support the Pods project.


themify post type builder
What is it: The Themify Post Type Builder allows you to create CPTS, add fields, and create templates for display.

Visit Themify Post Type Builder Site

Themify Post Type Builder


The Themify Post Type Builder is an easy to use plugin for creating CPTs, for adding custom fields, and for creating the templates for single and archive display.  It has integration with Themify’s themes, but will work with any theme.

The creation of the CPT and custom fields is pretty standard.  When creating the templates, you use a builder interface to layout rows and columns and then drag and drop fields into position.  The templates are responsive out of the box.

I have a walk-through and video on creating a Custom Post Type and its single and archive templates.

Pros: The Themify Post Type Builder is one of the easiest options available for creating CPTS and creating display templates. It has a simple relationship field and the option for repeater fields. It is kept up to date, uses a GPL license. Support is good. You can include custom fields in archive templates.

Cons: There are not a lot of field types. There are no conditional display options. There is not a large community for user assistance. Themify products sometimes have update glitches.

Additional Information: My sense is that the interface is kept simple and straightforward, which makes it easy to use, but it may not have a ton of flexibility for advanced use cases. If you are using Themify themes or want a simple all-in-one solution, the Themify Post Type Builder makes sense for simple to medium use cases.


tooset
What is it: Toolset is a suite of WordPress plugins for creating CPTs, creating custom fields, creating display templates, and for advanced usage.

Visit Toolset Site

Toolset


Along with ACF, Toolset has been one of the solutions that has been around for a while. It is used for both creating CPTs and for displaying custom content. Toolset is a suite of plugins largely focused on CPTs and their display, so it makes sense that it is the most comprehensive. It includes Types for creating CPTs and adding custom fields, and Views for creating templates using HTML and Bootstrap. There is also a maps plugin and a limited forms plugin for front-end submissions, along with other plugins for things like access management. The Views plugin provides options for creating search forms and complex displays with conditional logic beyond just template usage logic.

Toolset released the Toolset Blocks plugin, which was a shift to support the Gutenberg builder.  Toolset Blocks lets you create the single and archive templates using the drag and drop Gutenberg editor and is much easier to use than the now dated Views option.

I have a walk-through and video that shows how to create a Custom Post Type and single and archive templates.

Pros: You can use Toolset to extend built-in post types and you can also use it to create templates for them, in addition to templates for CPTs. The post relationship features are sophisticated and I suspect the most performant for large complex projects, though I don't know of any official statistics. There is a version of the Views plugin for use with WooCommerce. The Toolset Blocks plugin provides a modern and easy interface for creating templates.

Toolset is actively developed and has good support. It offers a complete solution from CPT creation to the most complex output requirements. Toolset plugins are GPL.

Cons: The Toolset documentation can be difficult to find. While Toolset handles more complex scenarios than other options, edge cases will require being a power user or developer to realize. Toolset used to integrate with popular page builders, but there were sometimes glitches when third party builders were updated. Now that Toolset has its Gutenberg workflow, they are discouraging using the template features of page builders. Some will be unhappy that they cannot use their premium page builder for creating templates.

Additional Information: The Types plugin was originally offered on the WordPress directory as a free lead-in for the premium suite, but that has changed and to get the latest version of Types you need a premium subscription. Toolset used to have a lifetime purchase option, but they have moved to a subscription only model. The cost of the subscription has gone up, likely to help cover the cost of support.

Toolset recently announced that they are temporarily pausing development to wait and see how WordPress core Full Site Editing comes along. This raised a caution flag for many users. Toolset works well for any level of project, from simple to complex.


zion builder solution
What is it: The Zion Builder is a page builder and theme builder that works well with page builder friendly themes. It has a good number of layout and design options and is under active development.

Visit Zion Builder Site

Zion Builder


The Zion Builder is one of the new breed of page builders that is trying to improve on the previous generation by finding the sweet spot of ease of use, good performance, features, and flexibility.  Zion Builder is a relatively new builder and was recently offered at a discounted price on AppSumo, not to raise money, but to raise awareness. The team wanted to get the builder into people’s hands so they can get feedback and hopefully spread the word.

There is a free version of the Zion Builder available in the WordPress plugin directory. It has more than 1,000 active installs.  It is the pro version that supports custom fields and includes the theme builder.

I have a walk-through and review here.

Pros: I like the range of options available. I thought it was easy to style the different elements, and center them. It was easy to pick the advanced custom fields. The repeater functionality worked well.

Cons: There is some awkwardness in the user interface requiring extra clicks that could be streamlined.

Additional Information: Zion Builder has annual plans and a limited number of unlimited lifetime licenses. There are two third party addons that offer additional builder elements.


Conclusion

If you want to make a smart decision about which tools to purchase and master, then you need to decide what level of projects you are going to be working on and what capabilities you need.

One wrinkle in identifying the level of complexity of your projects is that you might only need simple solutions now, but you can imagine being asked about medium and higher level projects in the future. Can you master one set of tools and be able to use them no matter the project? The answer here is “yes”, you can choose tools that will work across the spectrum, but, referring back to the computer example above, you are basically choosing “Photoshop” and that’s the more complex, costly solution. If that causes you to pause, then consider that 90% or more of the sites needing CPTs are of simple or medium level of complexity and that highly complex sites are less common.

Identifying and understanding your niche will serve you well.  For example, you don’t have to take the most complex jobs.  Your projects may be tied to your page builder of choice. If you are a wizard with the Elementor Page builder then you then you may decide to only take projects where you can maximize those skills.  On the other hand, you may prefer long term complex projects, have mastered database design and optimization, business process modeling, etc. and want to focus on system building.  Fine. It would be a mistake, however, to think that experience at one level translates into mastery at another.  Assuming otherwise could lead to being lost in the one instance and over complicating and over engineering in the other.

In this list my assumption is that you want to get the job done well in the quickest and easiest way, given the complexity of the project.  Coding by hand is slow and can also be harder to maintain, which is why this resource focuses on page builder tools. However, if you need to use code, then I’d favor ACF Pro or Meta Box.

For simple and medium level solutions that are straightforward, any of the options that allow you to create templates will work.  Pods has some templating and conditional logic features, but of the tools with templating options in the list, it is the most primitive.  Pods strength is in creating CPTs and custom fields.  It currently has the deepest integration with Beaver Themer, and that is what I’d pair it with.

For the most complex projects, where you are creating a system out of Custom Post Types and their relations, Toolset will give you the most capabilities and flexibility, but Meta Box and JetEngine should also be evaluated. 

For projects requiring conditional display options, Beaver Themer, Toolset, and Oxygen are good options.  Beaver Themer is more straightforward and hits the sweet spot between power and ease of use. Toolset handles more complex use cases than Beaver Themer. Oxygen has a visual conditions builder and a conditions API for programming your own conditions, so it is the most powerful.

There are two newer builders: Bricks Builder and Zion Builder. They are the next generation of builders that are taking the best features from the existing builders and trying to do a better job. They both have theme builder functionality and support dynamic data options. It is early days for both of these solutions, but they hold a lot of promise. The Bricks Builder solution has especially caught the attention of people looking for a balance between the ease of Elementor or Beaver Builder and the power of Oxygen. Bricks has wide support for custom field plugins, but currently lacks conditional display options.

I hope that this listing is useful for your site building and for choosing the best tools for the job.  Let me know in the comments if you have questions or suggestions.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. You will still pay the same amount so there is no extra cost to you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  • Interesting. Toolset and Beaver Themer can be replaced by Toolset and Elementor Pro ? Or Toolset and Elementor Pro + AnyWhere Elementor Pro ?

  • Can you please look at dynamic.ooo this extension with Jettheme core could help ACF builders. It also adds a code block option which mimics Oxygen.
    It would be great if Crocoblock supports Toolset and ACF out of the box

    • I took a look at the dynamic.ooo website. It does look interesting, but looks like it will need a lot of testing and experimentation to understand all of its potential. Have you tried it out?

      I understand that JetEngine and JetThemeCore support basic ACF fields. Some of the more advanced ACF fields may not be supported.

      • Hi David,
        I am on toolset. Dynamic.ooo is adding support for Toolset and ACF also check for extra elements for elementor, They have conditional display. Hence Elementor free + Jet + Dynamic + Extras could be an answer.
        Off the topic but check out the calendar widget in Extras it can take Toolset and ACF fields

        Vijay

  • Well done explanation and comparison of the tools. Something not covered within the scope of your article, and I understand there was no intension of including this factor in your article, I think it’s very important with all these tools to consider the load and performance of each of these tools when the page is delivered and rendered. While some of these tools address the “three legs” of the requirement more completely than others, not of of them perform as well as others at the point of use. I have tried most of these in your list and only one of them delivered well on the promise of site performance – at least in my testing. Maybe the topic of another article?

    • Are you referring to Oxygen or Beaver Builder? 🙂

      John, I do try to give some guidance on when one tool or another might fit better, but you are correct that performance is not mentioned. At the very least, I can add a mention to the pros and cons of the best and worst. Thank you for pointing this out.

  • Hello David, maybe you can help me and your blog does help already. I followed your instructions to make a template to display CPT and related ACFs on Divi. But making an archive page is a different game (at least for a noob like me). Would you know what plugin I should use if I want a filterable archive/grid page showing the CPTs with some custom fiels? Thanks a lot.

    • The Divi theme builder is limited when it comes to the archive templates. As far as I know, you cannot add custom fields to them. It also doesn’t have category filters. There are some 3rd party addons that have a category filter, but I’ve not used them and looking at the comments some people have trouble with them. I would suggest asking Elegant Themes support. There are a couple of filter plugins, but I have not used them and don’t know if they would work with the Divi Theme builder. For example: https://searchandfilter.com/documentation/3rd-party/divi/

  • good and in-depth article, toolset block will not compatible with some web browser, so i had to use view instead.

  • Hi,
    Excellent review! I have read several of your reviews and they are all very helpful and not a bunch of marketing garbage…

    I am a long time Toolset user but not a techie. I got Toolset years ago when the lifetime offer was super cheap.

    I use Toolset with a different set of plugins. 1) Toolset for creating CPT and fields 2) Formidable Forms Pro for entering the data . Form fields are mapped to Toolset fields. 3) Content Views Pro to display the CPT data.

    Content View Pro can display data in grids, lists, Glossary, and many other formats with advanced filtering.

    With this set of plugins I can create unique data, input via a form in many different ways and display the data in unique ways without programming.

    I have also used Toolset and Beaver Themer which is excellent also if templates are needed.

    Thanks for listening!
    Mel

    • Thanks for the positive feedback.

      Formidable Forms are powerful. I hope the new owners keep it going in a good direction. I’ve used Beaver Themer and it is a good solution.