Cornerstone Page Builder Review
By Sean Ondes | Last updated: March 15, 2020
Cornerstone, developed by Themeco, is built into and tightly integrated with their X and Pro Themes. Themeco has also made it available for sale on CodeCanyon as a stand alone page builder. Cornerstone has a very clean look and uses some novel approaches to page building. However, the interface can be confusing and it will only work with themes that include a full page layout template.
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Cornerstone compared to other page builders
Cornerstone’s interface has a very clean, professional look with an impressive number of customization options. The main UI does a very good job of including a lot of settings inside a fairly small footprint.
Does the interface make sense?
When active, each element typically has a large number of settings that can be customized. The settings grouped into “Setup,” “Design,” and “Customize.” In some cases there are options that are redundant or might even conflict with one another. A good example of this is in the Headline element. This element has a section called “Setup” with options to set a base font size and heading tag. Then later in the Headline options is a “Text Format” section that has text options including another setting for font size.
Cornerstone also includes “global” settings for fonts and colors. Don’t be confused (like I was), these settings are not the same as those included with the active theme on your site. These font and color settings only affect pages built with Cornerstone.
However, in some respects the user interface can be confusing. One place for improvement would be the icons stacked on the far left of the editor. The functions of these icons aren’t all intuitive enough for an inexperienced Cornerstone user to know what they do without clicking on them first. That all said, the learning curve isn’t too steep.
Is live editing possible?
The latest versions of the Cornerstone plugin include live, inline text editing.
Cornerstone’s developers bill their plugin as live editing 100% of the time. In practice, this means that there is really no back end editing interface. Though there is a “skeleton mode”.
Cornerstone includes a fairly standard assortment of elements. Compared to other page builders, the number of elements included is on the small side.
Are modules well organized into recognizable categories?
Elements in Cornerstone are not grouped at all.
Instead of grouping them into categories, Cornerstone elements are organized alphabetically with a search field at the top of the section. With some experience using Cornerstone it’s possible to get the hang of the interface but this is not a selling point. It would be nice to see everything grouped together into sensible, browse-able categories.
An oddity in the list of elements is that there are essentially two lists of included elements. After scrolling to the bottom of the main group, there’s a second group all labelled “classic elements.” I’ve been watching Cornerstone for a few years and can tell that the classic elements are left over from previous builds of the plugin. They only seem to be included to provide backward compatibility.
The effect of including these older elements is confusion. It would have been a lot better if the developers had come up with a different solution such as porting settings from the old elements into the newer ones.
To complicate it further, not all the classic elements have newer counterparts. If you want to use a pricing table element for example, you’ll have to use the classic one. I have to wonder when the developers will stop supporting the classic elements.
Layouts and Templates
While the Pro Theme from Themeco includes dozens of nice looking, Cornerstone based layouts, the standalone version of Cornerstone comes with 5 template sections and 33 element presets included. Element presets are basic Cornerstone elements that have preconfigured settings. There are no full page templates available. Element presets can be a great head start when setting up an unfamiliar element but they hardly take the place of full page layouts.
The oversight of not including full page templates (intentional or not) has created a something of a cottage industry for paid Cornerstone templates. A quick search shows that there are at least a dozen sites selling templates for this page builder. The quality of the layouts varies widely.
In my testing, I found no specific theme incompatibilities. Cornerstone seems to work as designed with any theme that adheres to WordPress’ best practices for theme building. Cornerstone doesn’t include a full width page template so make sure that whatever theme you choose has one.
Installation and Removal
How easy/hard is it to install?
Installs normally. Nothing special needed to be done.
Lock in is a problem with Cornerstone
Since it’s release, the developers have definitely made improvements in performance and in adding new features. Since they’ve had plenty of time, it looks like they’re sticking with the shortcode approach to page building.
Disabling the plugin leaves behind a mess of all the Cornerstone shortcodes. It’s a pretty ugly sight but only a problem if you plan on switching to another page builder plugin.
Performance and Updates
How fast is Cornerstone?
Shared hosting is generally the slowest hosting environment so that’s what I use for testing page builder responsiveness. I typically increase WordPress’ memory allocation to 256MB. The Cornerstone editing interface loads quickly in a Siteground shared hosting environment with this much memory. I’ve also seen recommendations in Themeco’s Cornerstone support forum to set memory to 256MB.
The editor responds quickly and text edits are visible almost instantly in the live preview screen.
Does the plugin slow down page loading?
Cornerstone doesn’t have any obvious effect on page loading.
Themeco regularly releases updates and bug fixes — sometimes weekly.
Customer Support and Documentation
What kind of support is available?
Themeco includes 6 months of support with each purchase. Additional support can be purchased through Codecanyon.
How to contact support (email, phone, chat, slack, ticketing system, etc?)
Support is provided through a premium support forum. They claim to respond to support requests within 24 hours. In practice, this is pretty much accurate. Users are granted access to the support forum after purchasing the plugin and creating a Themeco account. Themeco also provides a peer-to-peer forum and a knowledge base archive of how-to articles.
$35 on Codecanyon. Cornerstone is included with Themeco’s X Theme WordPress theme.
One time packages or subscription model?
One-time cost which includes all future updates on one installation and 6 months of support. Support can be renewed through Codecanyon for a slightly discounted price.
When Cornerstone was first released it looked really promising. It’s most major drawback then and now is that the layouts it creates are shortcode based.
If you’ve read my other reviews of shortcode based page builders, you know how much they bug me. In 2019, using shortcodes like this is obviously unnecessary. Just look at Elementor, Beaver Builder, and Brizy Pro. I consider it to be a development choice made that is meant to lock in users. The amount of work involved after deactivating a shortcode based page builder can be immense on even moderately sized websites.
My name is Sean. I've been building websites for more than 15 years. For the last 8 years, I've been working almost exclusively with WordPress and Shopify.
I've read all the blog posts that review the "Best WordPress Page Builders" or the "Top 5 WordPress Page Builders". They can be helpful but after I finished all that reading, I still didn't know which one to choose.
The only thing left to do was try them all. I've spent my own money and hundreds of hours testing every WordPress page builder that I can get my hands on. I'm putting all this together because I personally have needed a resource exactly like this for a long time!
I' don't favor any single page builder over another. I'm not really even promoting WordPress. This guide is for people who have already decided that WordPress is the right fit for them and need the flexibility of using a page builder.