Here are some of my favourite themes ~ for now

WordPress themesChoosing a theme for a WordPress.com-hosted blog is more difficult than choosing a theme for a self-hosted WordPress.org site.

For one, you cannot customise a theme in WP.com unless you go for the premium theme or custom-designed theme ($30 a year fee) route where you are given access to change the fonts or the CSS stylesheet of your selected theme.

For those who prefer to stick to “free themes”, there are a number of excellent themes that you can choose from.

I select themes which meet my requirements like –

(a) The theme’s layout is appropriate for the type of content I want to create for my blog. This means that if I want my blog to be a photoblog, then I use a theme for photoblogging. For newsy content, I use a theme that has the look and feel of a news or news-magazine site.

(b) The theme’s overall appearance (color, typography, background) is suitable to the readership I intend to reach.

(c) The theme is updated to leverage on WordPress new features including social media functionalities.

The fourth criterion I also apply in choosing a theme is that the theme’s coding should be SEO-compliant. Since I use only “free” themes for my WP.com blog, I apply this requirement to themes for my self-hosted sites.

From the range of free themes available at WordPress.com-hosted blogs, the themes I like most ~ at least for Working and WordPress-ing ~ are the following (theme descriptions as per designer’s blurb):

Rusty Grunge

A somewhat dirty, grungy theme with two widget areas and several customization options, including Custom Background, Header Image, Post Formats, and more.”

Remarks: This is the theme this site is using as I write this post.

Twenty Eleven

The 2011 theme for WordPress is sophisticated, lightweight, and adaptable. Make it yours with a custom menu, header image, and background — then go further with available theme options for light or dark color scheme, custom link colors, and three layout choices. Twenty Eleven comes equipped with a Showcase page template that transforms your front page into a showcase to show off your best content, widget support galore (sidebar, three footer areas, and a Showcase page widget area), and a custom “Ephemera” widget to display your Aside, Link, Quote, or Status posts. Included are styles for print and for the admin editor, support for featured images (as custom header images on posts and pages and as large images on featured “sticky” posts), and special styles for six different post formats.

Remarks: This is WordPress’s current default theme.

Selecta

With a featured posts slider on the front page, a wide, one-column template on image and video posts, and archives displayed in gallery format, Selecta is well-suited for blogs which focus primarily on showcasing videos or images. It comes with six color schemes, support for video, image, aside, gallery, quote, chat, and audio post formats, custom header, custom background, and four widget areas — one in the left sidebar and three in the footer.

Remarks: I should try this next time.

monochrome

This theme supports widget, theme-options, and translation is ready. Also including page-navigation and multi level dropdown menu.

Remarks: I should try this next time.

Bold Life

A bold, colorful theme that lends itself well to personal blogs and daily journals.

Remarks: I will try this next time.

Greyzed

A dark and grungy theme with drop-down menus and a widgetized footer.

Remarks: A very impressive theme. I installed it last month for this site, but used it only for 3 days because it was displaying a bottom-page ad over which I do not have any control. Not really sure why ads were showing up.

Bueno

A stylish and fun theme with a custom header, custom background, and multiple alternate color schemes. Supports featured images for index and archive pages and in the Bueno featured posts widget.

Remarks: I am using this in one of my self-hosted sites, www.pinoykomiks.com for demo.

Skeptical

A theme featuring a custom header, custom background, and five widget areas – one in the sidebar, four in the footer. The footer also shows a maximum of three featured (sticky) posts. It comes with four different color schemes. It supports several post formats including aside, gallery, image, quote, link, chat, video, and audio.

Remarks: I am using this in one of my self-hosted sites, www.justanotherbloodywebsite.com

Mystique

Packed with six layout options, six color schemes, a spot for you to link to four popular social network profiles, and support for aside, image, and quote post formats, Mystique can meet the needs of many types of blogs. Further customize the design by adding a custom header and background.

Remarks: I am using this in one of my self-hosted sites, www.crazyprices.ws

Prologue

A group blog theme for short update messages, inspired by Twitter.

Remarks: I am using this in one of my self-hosted sites, www.cooltext.org

Which theme are you using? What features does your theme have that you are happy about? Please share.

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How to put a text widget in your blog’s header

In an earlier post, How to customize your blog with widgets, leanpearl asked: “How do I put text widget in my header? I wanna use it for social networking sites’ icons.”

I thought I use my response to that question as a separate post so it wouldn’t get lost as we progress.

Here is my response:

That’s a very interesting question. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have an expert answer to that.

But here are some thoughts and observations:

1. The widgets in a WP blog are dependent on (a) the plugins installed and active in a site, and (b) the structure of the blog theme, ie, whether the theme had been coded to allow widgets in the header, sidebar or footer.

2. As we all know, most WP themes display widgets in the sidebar, and some themes also display widgets in the footer. I have checked the more than 70 themes in WordPress.com, and I have not found a theme with the options you have in mind.

That said, you may wish to check your theme options including its Custom Header, if any.

For example, this theme I am currently using has several options to customize its header. I can insert a standard 468×60 banner to the right of my site name (which obviously I did not do). The banner can be replaced with other displays like SNS icons using HTML, or anything within the TOS of WordPress.com.

In short, the key to customizing your header is to look for a theme that gives you that option – to change the image, to change the color, to change the text or to insert other objects.

Hope this helps.

This is me, of course. Others may have differing views or ways of customizing a blog header.

Let us hear from you.

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Changing themes is part of the exercise

romyc-wordpress-gridFor those who were following me from day one, 10 days ago, you would have noticed a big change in this site.

Yes, I am using Sadish’s MistyLook, except for the header image which I customized using other themes images. Not that there was something wrong with Derek Punsalan’s Grid Focus theme. In fact, it is one of my favorites for other self-hosted sites. I switched to a new theme as part of the exercise. I wanted to have a feel of how it is to “re-skin a blog” at WordPress.com.

Well, it was not that difficult after all. It took me only about 10 minutes to move to a different theme and re-set the widgets to display the same information.

Next time our friends ask me how it is to blog at WordPress.com, this is one story I can tell them.

By the way, is this theme XHTML 1.0 validated? I did check it and it is.

Updated 13 October: Experimenting with INove by mg12.

How to upgrade your WordPress theme

After selecting your WordPress theme and you are still not happy with some of its elements like theme’s font sizes, column sizes and other similar styles, you can customize the theme’s CSS through custom CSS.

Unlike with self-hosted blogs however, in WordPress.com blogs, you need to buy credits from WordPress.com via PayPal. (I have not tried buying credits for this purpose, but I imagine that with the purchased credits, you will be given an extra command in your dashboard control panel which would allow you to “edit” the stylesheet.) Based on the WPMU version I am using, to upgrade a WordPress theme, you need to pay something like $14.97 which is good for one year.

Did I hear you asking “What is a custom CSS?” If you did, then the Upgrade is not for you. The upgrade is for advanced users only. As the “Upgrades” page on my WordPress.com dashboard page states:

“This upgrade allows you to add custom CSS to customize any theme on this current blog. This is recommended mostly for advanced users who understand CSS.”

With that upgrade requirement, how then do you customize your site?

Yes, the operative word is “site” and not “theme” since customizing a theme would mean adding custom CSS which may be outside the current knowledge of a beginner or outside his/her budget.

But don’t fret. Even if you cannot add custom CSS to a theme under the current WordPress.com free blogs environment, still you can change the looks of your site and make it a little bit different from other sites using the same theme.

We will tackle that in our next posts.

How to XHTML validate a WordPress theme

Selecting a WordPress theme is not all about the layout and other design elements. Consider also if the theme can pass the test of being XTHML valid.

For those who would like to know more about XHTML validation, you can refer to the W3 website or to this article “Are your webpages XTHML valid?” which I wrote some months ago.

To quickly check if each theme you like is XHTML valid, run it against this test by entering your WordPress.com URL onto W3’s validation at http://validator.w3.org.

When I ran my WordPress.com URL using this current theme, the test results came out with 3 validation errors. Yes, I wanted a perfect score, but to me anything less than 10 errors is quite acceptable.

Is your theme XTML valid? If it yields with more than 10 errors even without any post yet, drop it. It’s not worth tweaking.

How to select a WordPress theme

After successfully logging in to my account (and responding to a prompt to change my system-generated password in the profile page), my first task is to select a theme.

Others would probably start entering a post but me, I just want to make sure that I have the right design for me to proceed with my blog. I don’t know about you but having the right theme somehow sets the mood of my blog.

To select a theme in a WordPress.com-hosted blog, step into the following:

Step 1: Select Appearance > Themes on the left panel of your dashboard.

WordPress themes

WordPress themes

Step 2: Browse over the 76 themes (that’s the number of themes as of to date).

NOTE: Unlike in a self-hosted blog, you have only very limited options to change the layout and looks of the theme. But still, you can customise the theme. For my blog at WordPress.com, I chose Grid Focus by Derek Punsalan as it is the closest to my self-hosted blog in terms of layout and design.

Step 3: Press the Activate link to select the theme you like.

You can change the theme anytime you want. Whilst the Preview mode will give you an idea of how your blog would look like, still I prefer to actually Activate it so I can run other tests which I will explain in subsequent posts.

Try other themes repeating Steps 2 and 3 until you find the right theme which reflects your writing style, content and aesthetic preference.

That’s all there is.

Updated October 22: I have changed themes twice already after this post. Current I am experimenting with NeoEase’s Inove WP theme.