Flexible New Licensing for Thesis Skins and Boxes

by Chris Pearson · 27 comments

With last week’s release of Thesis 2.1.9, we also released a round of updates for our Skins and Boxes. While these updates improved functionality and performance (you know, the usual stuff), they also included new, open-source MIT licenses.

I’ll go into the licensing details in a moment, but first, I want to tell you a story about how this all came to be.

It’s All About Leverage

The whole point of Thesis is to provide leverage that drastically reduces the amount of repetitive code work and energy required to create a customized, high-performance website.

Thesis Skins and Boxes are digital embodiments of this leverage—they are optimized pieces you can use to build any kind of website you want.

The big idea here is that inspired developers will see how easy it is to create Skins and Boxes, and then they’ll go about making their own (and eventually share them with the community for everyone’s benefit).

To some extent, this is precisely what has happened, but admittedly, the reality of the situation has been underwhelming.

And now I understand why.

Our previous licensing made it so developers (or just intrepid tinkerers) had to create their own Skins or Boxes from scratch. Thesis contains all sorts of APIs and developer-y things that make this job easy, and even though these things provide some leverage, completed Skins and Boxes provide way more.

For example, all of our Skins come with options that let you make powerful design changes from the comfort of a simple interface. These options have to be integrated into the Skin’s code and also into the CSS, and honestly, it’s both challenging and time-consuming to integrate these things.

When you change something like the font size in your Skin Design options, you might logically think only one thing—the font size—changes. But this is not how our Thesis Skins work.

The problem here is that you cannot change just one thing and hope your design is still going to look good (because everything is related!). Instead, when you change your font size, your Skin carefully recalculates every physical dimension in your layout to ensure your design looks pixel perfect on every device.

This is high-level stuff that no other website design software can do, but as I’ve already mentioned, it’s kind of a pain in the butt for developers to integrate.

Thus, a Skin that includes integrated design options provides you with way more leverage than a Skin that doesn’t. I didn’t realize what an important, non-trivial point this was until I saw Criss Cross, a cool new Skin from Thesis enthusiast Tom Soler.

As soon as I saw Criss Cross, I knew right away that Tom had basically taken the Promo Skin and turned it into something new and different. Unfortunately, I also knew that, technically speaking, our Skin licensing did not “support” what Tom had done.

But let’s think about this situation for a second. Tom:

  • was motivated to create a Thesis Skin
  • knew how to modify the design with CSS
  • knew how to provide new functionality with custom Boxes
  • wanted to give users more custom templates

Clearly, Tom had the motivation and the know-how to build a useful new Skin and share it with the world. The only thing in his way was the aforementioned (and fairly intense) options integration, but Promo already had that.

Thanks to the leverage provided by Promo, nothing was standing between Tom and a brand new design for you…except our Thesis Skin licensing.

I’ve already said that the point of Thesis is to provide leverage at every step of the website design/development process. As soon as I saw Criss Cross, I realized I had missed what is probably the single most valuable point of leverage—completed Skins and Boxes where the “technical voodoo” is already done.

If Thesis is going to achieve everything I have planned, then I need to help others take advantage of its benefits wherever possible.

The first step I can take in this process is to apply open source MIT licenses to all of our Skins and Boxes. Now everyone can benefit from the good work we’ve already done at every step of the website design process, and this should produce a multiplier effect on creativity out in the wild.

My hope is that this change will not only provide a huge value to the entire Thesis community, but it will also inspire designers and developers to create their own Skins and Boxes without fear of limitations, constraints, or infringement.

Why Choose the MIT License?

Licensing is one of those things that’s rarely understood (and oftentimes flat out misunderstood). In truth, most people just want assurance they’re not violating whatever license they’ve agreed to.

So, why choose the open source MIT license for Thesis Skins and Boxes? Simplicity.

Weighing in at only 162 words, the MIT license is the simplest, easiest-to-understand license in the history of software. The bottom line is this:

Now that Thesis Skins and Boxes carry MIT licenses, you can use them where you want, however you want, without limitation. Copy ’em, modify ’em, or use ’em as the basis for your own work—it’s all good.

Skin Updates

In addition to applying MIT licenses to our Skins, we also made some enhancements to improve responsive design, custom templates, and general usability. Get all the details below.

Oh, and if you’ve never updated a Skin before, here are some instructions on how to update Thesis Skins.

Classic Responsive 1.1

Pearsonified 1.1

Promo 1.2

Social Triggers 1.1

Box Updates

Like our Skins, we’ve updated all our Boxes with MIT licenses. Most of you have probably never needed to update a Box before, so here’s some instructions on how to update your Thesis Boxes.

A Reminder About License Keys

Since version 2.1.8, Thesis has included a page where you can enter a license key to validate your installation.

This capability will not go into full effect until Thesis 2.2, but you can get your site ready now by entering your license key.

What’s Next?

We’re currently focused on Thesis 2.2, ever-evolving documentation, and a special new Skin collaboration with the Hodder brothers of Themedy Themes fame.

And even though I’ve got plenty to keep me busy, I’m always happy to see what you’ve been doing with Thesis, so don’t hesitate to drop me a link on Twitter or even here in the comments. Go ahead and show off a little—you’ve earned it!

About the Author: Chris Pearson, Thesis creator and DIYthemes founder, is obsessed with optimizing the web and making sure every last detail receives the attention it requires. Follow DIYthemes on Twitter for the latest tips and info on building effective websites.

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Bravo Christopher!!! (Cam applauds loudly at your personal growth over the past 2 years!) : )

Vivek Parmar

Woot..this will mark the new era in WordPress theme..

David Alexander

Inspired decision Chris. Understandable that it was an oversight until you had seen users “in the wild” as you say finding it far more efficient to have a starter skin rather than create their skins from scratch.

Having the skin options and other goodies already setup and configured is a god send.

Keep up the good work! I would love to see a guide published to show general tinkerers how they would go about modifying an existing theme and then saving and exporting it with a new name for use on another site later.


All I can say is WOW..!

Well done Chris and all the best for the future. Needless to say Thesis is the only theme I use for my personal sites…

Looking forward to the skin and box explosion, as well as Thesis development to stay in front.


Richard B.

Smart move. Reminiscent of the Apple vs. PC battle when home computers first hit the market. Apple wanted to control the licensing and IBM allowed suppliers to manufacture compatible hardware and software. Since then PCs have dominated the market (For those Apple zealots there is no need to argue which system is better. This is about world domination in the marketplace–quantity, not quality.)

Looking forward to new skins and boxes.


Glad to hear this Chris….

Rick Henderson

Very interesting. Actually makes me think about starting a WordPress site again to see what I can do. Or what it can do.

Srinu Ipathy

Why don’t you bulid skins like thesislaboratory did. It was really awesome but the thing is again we have to buy. It is easy for you to design a skin I thinks so. Thesis users will feel much more happy if build different type of skins.

Matthew Horme

This will save me time for sure, I have two focused skins in the works and this just probably saved a fair amount of work.

Thanks Chris, I look forward to releasing these two optimized bad boys.

Bilal Ahmad

That is a good move chris. Hope to see some stunning skins from you in the near future. Disparately waiting for the Official Skins Directory from Diythemes.

Chris Pearson

Thanks, Bilal. What do you mean when you say the “Official Skins Directory from Diythemes?”

Neil Egginton

This is great news Chris! I love the Criss Cross skin as much as the official Thesis skins.

It’s fantastic to have more choice, and even better if you’re going to support that.

I’ve just bought Criss Cross, which is a steal at $27

Well done!

Chris Pearson


Rick Lomas

Thanks Chris, I am by the way, massively enjoying the personified skin. I really have no reason to bother learning much more than just getting familiar with the Skin Editor. It seems a long time ago now since Thesis 2.0 came out (was it October 2012?) and everybody was moaning about the learning curve! It’s second nature now 🙂

Chris Pearson

Haha, I love to see you rockin’ Thesis, Rick 😀

Matt O'Toole

Thanks Chris, this will bring forth a lot more ready-to-use code for all our different designs and purposes. Thesis is easy and even fun to build with, but I need to spend my time building my business, vs. pushing pixels around. BTW I’ve used Thesis for most of my projects since before 1.0, and I still think it’s the best!

Chris Pearson

Love it. You’ll be happy to know that we’re doing everything we can to continue to streamline your website workflow, too.

Willie Jackson



Inspired decision.

Love Tom’s theme. Buying now. (Like Marketers Delight but arguably nicer. Sorry Alex.)


Hi Chris
This all sound absolutely fantastic.

If I was to make and rename a new skin for a client (based on classic responsive for example), I lose the automatic option to update the skin.

How would I update my new skin? Or would it not be necessary?


Chris Pearson

In a case like yours, updates could have unintended consequences if CSS or templates/Boxes (HTML) get overwritten. You’re completely safeguarded against this if you change the class name of the Skin, but as you noted, doing this kills auto updates on that Skin.

If you’d like to issue your own automatic updates, you can follow in the footsteps of Themedy Themes, who have worked out auto-updates for their 3rd party Skins. Either ask them directly, or else ask around in our members-only forums for additional info on how to issue your own automatic updates.


Thanks Chris


Hi chris,

Thank you very much for sharing these post. Looking forward more skins from DIY.


Hi Chris-

I thought I asked this question before buy maybe I did not or can’t find the place I asked it on.

Do you happen to have examples of people using thesis as a video site? I looked through the “showcase” an could not find anything.

I am looking to use thesis for a video only “Vlog” and would like to look at examples of layouts and whatnot!

Thanks for the help and info


Hurray ! I started using Thesis and from Day one. I really loved it.


Hi Chris,
What does the license state? Am I allowed to use this theme on multiple sites or it is just for one domain?

Chris Pearson

Nicole, you can see the licensing terms here, but I’ll rehash them anyway:

  • Basic or Basic Plus License — use Thesis on one site
  • Professional License — use Thesis on an unlimited number of sites that you own