Let's be honest - Wordpress rocks! But if you're anything like me you've been continually disappointed by the themes available. Sure there are some cool looking ones, but they're also the popular ones - meaning your site will look just like a million others. Boring!
Very early on, when I started using Wordpress, I decided that I wanted to be able to create my own themes. Trouble is, as someone with only a basic knowledge of webdesign (we're talking HTML and a bit of CSS here), the task was daunting.
But I found the solution, and it's a piece of software called Artisteer.
Artisteer is purpose built theme design software that can export themes for Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal as well as HTML templates (for programs like Dreamweaver) and Web Development templates for ASP.NET and CodeCharge (don't worry if you don't know what these are).
This software is really designed for the complete beginner in mind. Utilizing the same ‘ribbon' interface as Office 2007 - meaning everything you need is right there in front of you.
Now unless you're a very gifted designer, one of the most difficult things is trying to start a design from scratch - it's what I call the "blank-canvas" problem, when you're staring at a blank piece of paper or a white screen it can be really hard to know exactly where to start. In Artisteer on the other hand, you start with what is basically a complete theme - and by clicking the "Suggest Design" button, the program automatically comes up with a randomized design which can then be customized to suit.
The design is broken up into 10 elements; Colors & Fonts, Layout, Background, Sheet, Header, Menu, Articles, Blocks, Buttons and Footer.
From a random design, you can then change each of these elements until they're exactly what you want. You can do this in two ways, either by selecting that element's ‘ribbon' menu, which allows you to change the element to exactly what you want, or you can use the ‘suggest' button which will create a new look for that element randomly. So for example if you like the layout of the page, but don't like the color scheme, you can simply hit the ‘suggest' button for the color scheme and you can flick through various color scheme options - or you can keep the same color scheme and styles, but flick through different layout options. So easy!
Now it's important that you understand that when I say ‘random', you're not going to end up with a rainbow-colored website with strange backgrounds and fonts. Artisteer has been cleverly programmed with sets of complimentary colors, fonts and layouts. Think of it kind of like the Genius function on iTunes; for example when you click ‘suggest colors', it will pick out a pallet from a list of professionally created sets.
Artisteer also comes complete with a bunch of stock images that you can use in the header (you know all those websites with the attractive professional with their arms folded smiling at you in the header?) Well the truth is, having a picture of a person at the top of your page dramatically increases the professional look of your site - and Artisteer allows you to choose an image from the built in categorized collection (categories like medicine; doctors and nurses, communications; people on phones, business; people in suits, etc.) or import your own - so long as they're transparent background gif format.
Note: the stock images are only for personal use. You cannot distribute a theme to others with any of the stock images included.
Once you've got a design you're happy with, you can preview it in your browser (supports I.E, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari - provided you have them installed) - this is a great way to make sure everything is displaying properly for all users.
Then, exporting the theme is just two clicks away - you can choose whether to export as a folder or as a ZIP file. If you want to upload the theme using an FTP client, use the folder option, however if you wish to use Wordpress's theme upload function, you'll need it in a ZIP.
Best of all, Artisteer takes care of all the tricky coding of making the site look good across all browsers - it displays properly in all major browsers - including I.E. And it even exports a separate CSS file for all those annoying people still using I.E. 6. To top it off you'll find that it passes an official W3C CSS validation with no problems. In other words; no more hours of complex coding and fiddling around to make sure that everything is properly formatted with correct syntax and no errors - it's all done for you. Artisteer comes in two versions - Home/Academic and Standard. The standard edition exports in all formats (XHTML+CSS, Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, ASP.Net, CodeCharge, and DotNEtNuke) and has a full library of images, colors, fonts, textures and gradients, while the Home/Academic version only exports in Wordpress and XHTML+CSS and has slightly more limited libraries. While the Home/Academic version may be a far more attainable price for many, however the added capabilities of the Standard edition are well worth the added expense. Particularly as if you ever decide to upgrade your CMS, you can use your old theme source file to create a new theme in the new CMS format.
To sum up:
- Ridiculously easy to use. Unless you haven't used a computer since DOS was considered ‘cutting-edge', then you shouldn't have a problem creating great looking themes with Artisteer. Exporting and uploading is slightly more complicated, but assuming you've actually managed to get Wordpress working, you will find this easy as well.
- Limitless possibilities. With so many settings to manipulate, you could create thousands of great looking templates.
- Themes compatible with all browsers. This is really important if you want everyone to be able to see your site properly.
- Free Trial. Download the program and see if you like it! Only restrictions are the template has a watermark embedded through it - meaning you can get the idea of how the site will look, but you probably won't want to actually use a theme from the trial version (the watermark is annoying - as it's suppose to be!)
- Specific ideas take time to get to. Because you're always starting with an existing idea, it can take quite a bit of tweaking to get to what you're picturing in your mind.
- No outside the box, wildly creative ideas. Artisteer builds simple, professional themes - and it does it very well. If you're looking for something wildly different then this might not do what you're looking for. That being said, with a bit of time and fiddling with the PHP down the road, you'll be surprised with what you can come up with.
- Lack of advanced functionality in PHP. Again, Artisteer builds stable, well rounded themes - but it doesn't allow you to change any of the functional PHP aspects of the theme. However even with my limited coding experience, I was able to modify my theme's code do to exactly what I wanted. Like every piece of easy-to-use software, some functionality must be sacrificed. Think Windows Paint versus Photoshop (OK, bad comparison, Artisteer is infinitely better than Paint, but you get the idea).
As you can see, for someone with little coding or design experience, the pros way outweigh the cons. And if you're an advanced user you likely don't need a program like this anyway.
All in all, it's a great program and I have not come across anything else that even comes close to matching it when it comes to building themes for Wordpress and other CMSs.
Interested? Check Artisteer at www.artisteer.com