So You Want to Create Your Own WordPress Theme

One of the best ways to make your WordPress blog stand out is by deploying a customized theme. There are two ways you can do this — buy a commercial theme, have a professional create one for you, or create your own.

While the first option is definitely the easiest route, using a commercial theme does not automatically mean that your blog will truly stand out in terms of design — others can buy and deploy the same theme. Moreover, sometimes you might find that you would be violating the terms of the license agreement should you wish to tailor the theme to your liking. You might have to pay for a “developer’s license” if you wish to do that.

Professional designers can definitely give you a unique theme, but that usually involves paying a good amount of money so unless you have cash to burn it’s not really an option for many.

So, we come to the option of creating your own. It sounds like fun and even easy, perhaps, but building one from scratch might prove daunting to many although there are great tutorials out there that give a step-by-step how-to (one of my favorites is the one written by SmallPotato a good while ago).

It’s a good thing that there are now a number of frameworks, or base themes, available on which anyone can utilize to build their own themes using the concept of “child themes”, i.e. by simply modifying or adding Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) components, one can easily build a new theme without having to tinker with PHP code.

For now, I’ll just leave off elaborating on the usefulness of child themes and CSS and just introduce the more popular frameworks that I personally have come across and had spent some time tinkering with.


Perhaps the first theme to be offered as a framework, Sandbox is beautiful code-wise and is a joy to work with. There are already numerous beautiful blogs built on the Sandbox framework, so it’ll be easy to find and see what others have done with it. To help you, Lorelle has a great list of all the available styles in the Sandbox theme.

Demo | Support


Thematic by Ian Stewart is such a great framework that one can even use the theme as-is without customization — it looks good enough on its own. If you like, you can choose to purchase either one of two commercial child themes (Travailler and Acamas), or grab one of many free child themes now currently available.

Oh, wait! My bad. I forgot we are talking about creating your own WordPress theme here so forget I mentioned those.

Demo | Support

Theme Hybrid

I’m going to be biased here — Theme Hybrid by Justin Tadlock is now my favorite framework, and I am actually working on a child theme for my main blog based on Hybrid. Like Thematic, the theme is good enough to use as-is without customization if you like.


Carrington Blog

Carrington Blog by Crowd Favorite (Alex King) is excellent on its own and I’ve used it once on my main blog as-is. However, it’s proven a little daunting for a novice like me to customize and it’s no wonder — it’s been released as a framework more for the technically-inclined versus those who are more inclined to fiddling around with just the CSS.

Demo | Documentation

Now that you’re all fired up about creating your own WordPress theme, do look out for the next installment to the series where I’ll showcase some great sites and blogs where you can find inspiration.

Screenshot of CSS mark-up taken from

3 Responses

  1. @Isaiah: Good post. I’ve not looked at Small Potatoes tutorial before, so I’ll go give it a look. Speaking of SP, do you know what/where he is up to?

  2. Thanks for mentioning Hybrid. A lot of what went into it was based on what Ian done with Thematic and what was done with Sandbox. But Hybrid and Thematic are vastly different because we both want to accomplish different things with our frameworks.

    The reason I like using a framework as a starting point is that you can quickly put together a unique design. I’ve made three child themes in two weeks using Hybrid. Just having that base there cut back on more than half the time that would’ve normally went into designing a theme.

    I really like Carrington, but I would only use it strictly as a development theme for client projects. It’s not something I’d recommend to beginners.

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