Why I Left Metabox and Went Back to Advanced Custom Fields (ACF)

Many people have noticed my transition from Metabox AIO back to Advanced Custom Fields (ACF Pro), both in my web design tutorials on YouTube and web design trainings within the Inner Circle.

While I’ve touched on a few reasons for the switch here and there, many people have requested an official write-up given the fact that I influenced a lot of users to choose Metabox over ACF for the past couple of years.

Given that a lot of people rely on my recommendations, I’m happy to provide a write-up.

There are no deal-breaking issues here

Let me get this out of the way from the jump. I didn’t make the switch to ACF because of any “deal-breaking” issues with Metabox. If you’re a happy Metabox user, there’s no real cause for alarm here. By and large, both tools do the same thing and you can get your work done with either one.

So, why the switch then?

I was originally an ACF user

I’ve been using WordPress since 2005. I think Advanced Custom Fields was initially published somewhere around 2013. I’m pretty sure Metabox has been around a tad bit longer — perhaps 2010 or so. But, for whatever reason, I was only familiar with ACF.

At that time, ACF was only for creating custom fields. You couldn’t create custom post types (CPTs), custom taxonomies, options pages, or bi-directional relationships. At least, not natively.

So my stack was ACF, CPT UI, and ACF Post-2-Post.

That’s what I used for years until I heard about Metabox and started exploring it.

Ultimately, I made the switch from ACF to Metabox for three main reasons:

  1. I preferred the “all-in-one” nature of Metabox. I was able to go from 3 plugins that felt duct-taped together, to a single plugin that did everything I needed.
  2. The Metabox UI was much better than ACF and CPT UI. Not a huge deal for many, I’m sure, but UI does matter.
  3. Metabox is a little more efficient (arguably, perhaps) than ACF in the way it stores data in the tables. Where Metabox adds data to a single row, ACF requires two rows. It’s not a huge deal, in my opinion, but it was a “nice to know” as a Metabox user.

So yeah, like it or hate it, those were the three main reasons I initially switched from ACF to Metabox.

It should be clear why I came back to ACF

Read the above three reasons for why I migrated to Metabox and then take a look at what ACF has done with the last few updates. My conversion back to ACF should be obvious.

  • The new ACF UI is beautiful. It’s not just “better.” It blows Metabox out of the water, especially since the new UI also dramatically enhances the UX. Working in ACF feels effortless now while Metabox feels cumbersome and dated.
  • Create CPTs, custom taxonomies, bi-directional relationships, and options pages natively. Yep, ACF is “all in one” now. And almost every aspect of it is easier to manage than Metabox.

It’s a UI/UX personal preference thing for the most part. I don’t use all the bells and whistles. I wouldn’t even consider myself a power user of these tools. For example, where many use features like Metabox Views or ACF Blocks, I simply leverage the power of advanced page builders.

My use of these tools is based on their core functionality: CPTs, taxonomies, relationships, options pages, etc. and ACF wins hands down when it comes to core functionality.

There’s also a lot of little stuff that ACF does way better than Metabox and there are some things Metabox does that really overcomplicate workflow.

For example, try limiting the number of characters or words allowed in a custom field in both ACF and Metabox and tell me which process brings you more joy (hint: Metabox is atrociously technical and there’s no good reason for it).

It’s a nit-picky kind of thing, but these kinds of issues add up, especially when they roadblock workflow. Two other nagging issues with Metabox are the stripping of paragraph tags in dynamic data and the apparent inability to configure date/time field output.

Again, there’s no “single reason” for the change back to ACF. It’s the major reasons I already discussed plus a few “thorns” that I can feel poking me in the side on sites where I’m using Metabox.

Use what you’d like in this situation

There are certain situations where I’m very clear and vocal about whether or not a tool is acceptable for a professional workflow. This isn’t one of those situations.

This is a situation where I’ll freely acknowledge that my decision is based on personal preferences and not technical, objective reasoning.

Lastly, I have an LTD for both, so price is not part of my comparison. For those comparing prices, however, I’ll say this: Even if I had an LTD for Metabox and not ACF, I’d still pay for ACF.

The advantages in UI and workflow are worth it to me to justify the cost. I’m the type of person who will gladly pay for the tool I enjoy using most, even if it’s more expensive than other viable options.

join the conversation


  • Personally, I prefer to use Toolset for CPT / custom fields. Toolset is also an all-in-one solution, but it doesn’t just offer an UI for creating and managing custom post types and custom fields, but also custom front-end forms, Gutenberg blocks for creating (query) templates, and a native facet filter system. And their support is the best I’ve ever experienced.

    I have an unlimited lifetime licence for Toolset, but I also have that for ACF and ACPT.

  • Timely article Kevin!

    I’m an Inner Circle member currently following your Service Area Pages course and ran into some issues. Being an ACF main, I was trying to follow along (while supplementing ACF instead of Meta Box) and discovered a few limitations between Oxygen ACF. I was about to make the full jump to Meta Box until I read this post, lol.

    My question is, now that you’ve jumped back to ACF, what are you currently using for a website builder that easily allows setting up your SAP system? I’ll follow the stack.

    I’m ultimately looking to build on your SAP system with relationship fields, but also add dynamic text into the service page content, example:

    With ACF Shortcodes …
    Plumbing & HVAC Services in [acf field='city'], [acf field='state']

    With some other solution, likely Twig based …
    Plumbing & HVAC Services in {% service_area.city %}, {% service_area.state %}

  • Alejandro

    Thank you for writing this and taking the time to put both solutions into perspective!
    Personally, I have found myself in the situation of having to use ACF (I’m MetaBox user) and I have seen its rapid evolution in recent months.
    However, I think that for people who have budget limitations – or even for independent developers – ACF’s lack of having a lifetime plan for its bundle works against it.

    It would be interesting to be able to access a plan of that style, and although I understand that this may not be the business that ACF is looking for, for me it is a fairly important point to consider when it comes to acquiring tools for long-term use.

  • Thank you for the write up. Curious about your comment: “My use of these tools is based on their core functionality: CPTs, taxonomies, relationships, options pages, etc. and ACF wins hands down when it comes to core functionality.”, can you provide some details about the hands down wins in core functionality? You provide a few examples, but they don’t seem to me to be “ hands down wins in core functionality”.

    Also, does ACF still store data in 2 rows?

    Thank you

    • ACF does almost of the things better now than MetaBox imho.
      URL rewriting for example is much better understandable in ACF, as they simply hide the fields you can’t use if you choose “no URL” for example.
      Relationships are working better in ACF, as those are still a little bit of nightmare in MB.
      Some (many) fields in MB feel a little bit redundant. Why are there 4 different file and image fields, for example? The taxonomy fields in MetaBox are really hard to grasp without reading the docs.
      The only thing missing from ACF (imo) is the admin columns feature. That’s still nice in MB although also not perfect.

  • As a user who requested this write up I appreciate you taking the time to thoughtfully go through your rationale.

  • I’m here to thank you for putting this out to public as I one of those requested this for the reasons you mentioned in the first paragraph, Not to argue whether the MB or ACF better or not..

    Appreciated, Thank you.

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Kevin Geary

Kevin is the CEO of Digital Gravy, creator of Automatic.css, creator of Frames, and a passionate WordPress educator. If you're interested in learning directly from Kevin, you can join his 1500+ member Inner Circle.

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