Now I know this might come off as a bit snobbish sounding, but here lately I only use premium wordpress themes ... even on my niche sites.
I like the fact that, for the most part, paid themes come with more features, look good "right out of the box, but are also easier to customize. In addition, most paid licenses give me the choice of what links I can have (or not have) down there in the footer.
Which leads right into one of the ways that "free" themes aren't always really all that free. Those little links down in the footer that you are requested to "leave intact". Most of the time, they're relatively innocuous; simply giving credit to the designer ... even still, it's a site-wide link(s) to a page that you may or may not even want to send your readers (and the googlebot) to visit. The bigger potential problem is that sometimes these free themes contain links that quite possibly "evil" ... as Kristi recently discovered in Free WordPress Themes - with a catch.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way trying to imply that ALL free wordpress themes are "bad". But once you decide that blogging is something you want to do, on more than just a "hey let's try this and see how it works out" basis, paying for a wordpress theme is probably a prudient step.
The good news is, sometimes there seems to be almost as many choices in paid themes, as there are for free ones ...
By far one of the most popular paid themes out there right now is Thesis. I know quite a few people who are using this theme, and are more than happy with it. That being said, not everyone (especially bloggers just starting out) has $77 or $160 to invest in a wordpress template.
For many people who want to make the jump from free designs to premuim blog templates, a theme club may be a good option.
Being the theme junkie that I am, I suspect I'm probably qualified to recommend what I think are possibly the two best values in Premium WordPress Theme Clubs ...
Elegant Themes - For people who want a choice of over a dozen impressive looking themes, that don't require you to know code, but are still reasonably customizable, Elegant Themes is an insanely great value at only $19.95 a year.
Not only do these themes look real snazzy, but they have one of the most all encompassing, yet still user friendly, options panels that I've ever seen. You can do so many tasks, from changing colors, to managing your ads, to excluding certain pages from showing up in your menu bar ... all without touching a single line of code!
Theme Hybrid - Justin Tadlock's Theme Hybrid club actually doesn't cost a penny to download the hybrid framework, or any of the child themes. But have no doubt, these are definitely "premium" wordpress themes. If you are a "tinkerer" (which I am), and you like to play around with code and css in an attempt to "make the theme your own", then Hybrid is definitely for you. Where the premium part comes in, is the support ...
It costs $25 a year, but is probably easily worth 10x that. It is a Very Active forum, with help provided not only by members, but more often than not Justin himself will answer your questions ... and even provide you with examples of code, when needed. If you're at all interested becoming knowlegable about the "under the hood" aspects of wordpress themes, this is a community you really can't afford to pass up.
Todd's Tips is currently using a customized version of one of Justin's child themes. It's still not "perfect" (probably never will be), but after trying out a whole bunch of designs over the years, this is the one I keep coming back to .... it's the closest thing I've found to my vision of how my blog "should" look.
Like many other things I write on this blog, everything above is just my opinion. However, if you're one of those people who's at that crossroads, ready to jump into the world of paid wordpress themes, I hope you find my experiences helpful in your own decision making.
Talk to you again soon,