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Caldera Forms

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7th Jul, 2018

Caldera Forms
By Caldera Labs

Caldera forms is a free form builder plugin for WordPress. With over over 30+ field types heaps of features, Caldera forms is a beast of a plugin.

Lets see how it stacks against other form plugins.

Functionality

After installing from the WordPress plugin repository, activate the plugin and head over to Sidebar > Caldera Forms. This is how it looks like:

Caldera Forms dashboard
Caldera Forms dashboard

Click on the blue button on the top to create your first form. This will show a popup with the most popular form templates to choose from. We will select the contact template for now:

Form templates
Form templates

Next up, the edit screen will pop up from where you can drag and drop form elements. We’ll leave this alone for now and click on save:

Caldera Forms editor
Caldera Forms editor

With that done, head over to the post pages and add the contact form we just created by clicking on the Caldera Forms shortcode button on top of the wysiwyg field. Save the post and check out the contact form we’ve just created:

The sample contact form, in all its glory
The sample contact form, in all its glory

That’s the basics of it really. Caldera Forms makes it really simple to create forms using the drag and drop editor and the prebuilt templates help a lot too.

Form fields

 

There are over 30+ form fields available. They are:

  • Single line text
  • Hidden text field
  • Email
  • Button
  • Phone number advanced
  • Phone number basic
  • Number
  • Paragraph Text
  • Rich Text wysiwyg
  • Url
  • Dropdown select
  • Checkbox
  • Radio
  • Autocomplete
  • Date picker
  • Toggle switch
  • Color picker
  • State/province select(US and canada only)
  • File uploader
  • File uploader advanced
  • HTML content
  • Summary
  • Section break
  • Credit card number
  • Credit Card expiration data
  • Credit Card CVC
  • Calculation field
  • Range slider
  • Star rating
  • Utm tag
  • Gravatar

That’s a huge number of fields you’re getting out of the box. Out of all these fields, I really liked these ones:

  1. Phone number advanced
  2. State/Province picker
  3. HTML content
  4. Credit card fields

You’ll need to connect Credit Card(CC) Number field, cc expiration field and the cc CVC field together to be able to accept credit card payments.
The devs have taken care to ensure your customers have a safe experience by only saving the last 4 digits of the credit card. You’ll still need to connect a credit card processor in the form setting to be able to receive payments.

Form editor

This is the biggest, most feature rich form editor I’ve ever seen for a form plugin. The sheer number of fields compared with the column editor gives the user a lot of options to customize the forms.

Feature wise the drag and drop editor is pretty much the same as other form plugins, however I found the column editor really useful. Basically, you can set up fields inside columns.

One great thing about the editor is how you can create columns and rows. This results in bootstrap compatible templates to be used on the frontend. They are also responsive too.

Creating a field is simple. Click on the + icon inside the column and a new field dialog will popup from where you can select your field type. After selecting the field type, you’ll need to give it a unique name. That’s all to it. You can also add html inside the textarea in the field’s form to customize the label area.

The form editor sceen
The form editor sceen

Conceptually, the inputs need to be in a column. They can’t be in their own space. By default, columns will be full width. You can create subcolumns by clicking the dragger-like icon to subdivide columns. This is a great feature as single column forms with heaps of inputs can become complicated really quickly.

Plus, there’s support for merge tags. If you’ve used Mailchimp or Gravity forms, this will make a lot of sense when constructing complicated forms.


In theory the editor is extremely powerful, however, I found the editor to be very clunky. The buttons for creating new fields, arranging columns, etc are very small. When saving a form, the required fields are not highlighted. They only have a red border around them which can hard to locate. It would be good if Caldera forms could scroll to the field which doesn’t have a required field filled out.

On top of it, Caldera forms uses its own custom style instead of following the WordPress style guide – which is not a bad thing per se but their custom style is bad. Really bad. The input/button styling is probably done by the plugin creator’s nephew who has just started a webdesign course and the color scheme will make you puke – especially that green color.

Don’t get me wrong, its a pretty powerful editor but unless you’re only going to make a couple of forms and call it a day, the editor will be quite clunky to use.

For developers

Luckily the frontend markup is very sensible and conforms to bootstrap 3(for the grid). You can also disable the frontend css via form settings.


Caldera forms has ‘processors’ for well, processing forms. So if you want to customize the validation of a particular form, you’ll need to create a new processor.

By default it comes with four processors:

  • Auto Responder
  • Redirect
  • Increment Value
  • Conditional Email Recipients

There’s a handy blog post on how to create your own processors. This could be useful for:

  • Saving the form data in a custom post type after submission
  • Custom form validation
  • Sending form data to 3rd party locations such as Airtable, google sheets, your own api, etc.

Lastly, you can do almost anything possible using the filters and actions given by Caldera forms, however documentation is scattered among random blog posts around the internet and inside their own site. It would be really helpful if they could spruce up their documentation section.

Documentation

I found the documentation to be hit-or-miss. You will find most of your answers on the documentation page however I found their website to be cumbersome to use. It was almost as if they used a page builder to slap together a website.

There are example form layout available from the examples page. This is useful for quickly setting up a form based on your usecase. However, there’s next to developer examples for setting up filters/hooks, etc.

For example, when clicking on the ‘field types’ on the sidebar would expect to open a list of all field types. Instead it opens a blogroll like layout:

Caldera forms docs vs Gravity forms docs
Caldera forms docs vs Gravity forms docs

By contrast, the documentation on its nearest competitor is much more intutive and well designed.

Its a shame the documentation site is so confusing, especially when Caldera Forms has a truckload of features and its really hard to search for functions, field types, filters, options, etc.

Support

The folks over at Caldera Forms offer paid support if you buy a subscription plan. Otherwise for free users you can get help at the wordpress plugin repository.

Caldera forms comes with all the necessary infrastructure to setup GDPR ready form submissions. Take a look at their post about this topic for more details.

Honestly, I would recommend getting paid support for sensitive issues such as GDPR, integrations with other services, data export, stripe payment processing, etc – especially if you’re a developing a theme for a large organization. The wordpress.org support forum isn’t active much anyways and you get to support the developers who have created a feature rich plugin for free anyways.

Pricing

The core plugin is completely free, however there are various pricing plans to accommodate a wide variety of users.

Basic Starter Individual Advanced Agency
$14.99/mo $74.99/year $164.89/year $274.89/year $549.89/year

The basic plan comes to around $179.99 which makes the starter plan the cheapest(if you’re going by year).

The main benefit of getting a paid plan is premium support. Other than that, purchasing one of the plans gives you varying access to different extensions as well as a few other features.


Caldera Forms has a 30 day refund policy. Please ask their support for help if you would like a refund.

Gotchas

On the frontend, Caldera forms injects a 112kb css file for form styling as well as 200kbs of javascript. Normally, this is given considering most form plugins add their own assets to the web page to assist with form styling, parsing, validation, etc. However, Caldera’s scripts are really big in size. Luckily, these assets only get loaded only if the current page has Caldera forms loaded.


I am critical of plugins which add upsells and banners. I was disappointed when I found Caldera forms added their own banner on the plugin page.

Banner on the plugin page
Banner on the plugin page

You can see how ugly it looks. Notice the horrible contrast between the orange and the grey along with the puke green color.

Also not a big fan of the admin UI. I reckon they should firmly stick with the default WordPress style guide and not create element of their own.

TLDR

Caldera Forms comes with heaps of features and a form editor. It supports all popular form features such as multistep forms, API access, drag-and-drop editor, payment form support, customize form redirects/email recipients, etc.

There’s documentation but it is really hard to find documentation on their website. There’s no search function and the everything is oversized.

For everything it comes with, Caldera forms is a beast. And a very ugly one at that. The form editor is clunky, the UI itself looks messy and the documentation isn’t clearly organized. Don’t get me wrong, it is great for what is does. However, if you’re looking for something lightweight, go with Contact Form 7 or even Ninja Forms.

Technical Report

Lines of code 45,693
Cyclometric complexity(CC) 16.26
Code violations

(0 criticals, 73 errors) - 139 violations

Uses custom Db table? Yes
CC Chart

Data generated from Phpmetrics. Although the data found through our research has been produced and processed from sources believed to be reliable, no warranty, expressed or implied, is made regarding accuracy, adequacy, legality or reliability of any information.

Features

Drag and drop builder Yes - fairly comprehensive and comes with column structuring support
Custom styles Yes - You can always override caldera's default form styling and the markup is sensible. However, you can't change the form markup.
API Yes - Although documentation can be hard to find sometimes.
JSON import/export Yes - Caldera forms supports json import/export as well as php includes
Multistep form Yes
Form calculations Yes
Has shortcodes Yes
GDPR ready Yes

Verdict

Comes with over 30+ field types as well as heaps of features. Extendable as well. Sadly the admin UI sucks and the form editor is clunky.

  • Comes with the whole kitchensink. Heaps of features.

  • Comes with over 30+ form field types.

  • Finding specific field/API documentation can be hard.

  • Admin UI/UX can be clunky.

3.5/5

Helpful disclosure

Our works are supported by earning an affiliate commision
when readers choose to purchase a plugin based our reviews.

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