How I built an entirely custom theme for my blog

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Let’s face a hard fact here. As fun as it is to create something all your own, designing your blog is a project and a half! And for most new bloggers, design isn’t something you want to spend a massive amount of time on; you want to get up and writing.

To help with that, most blog platforms will have standard templates that you can use as a skeleton for your site. All a new blogger has to do is pick one they like and potentially add a few customizations. The only issue is that they can be limiting, especially if you have a vision; too often, you end up having to adjust your vision to your site, rather than build your site for your vision.

Without knowledge of HTML, CSS, and who knows what else, though, there aren’t always a lot of options.

That was the situation I found myself in for the first few years of my blog.

Some of you might remember the early days when I had just about the most basic WordPress template possible for the front page of my blog.

I went through a few different iterations of building on themes after that, but I always knew deep down that I wanted to be able to build a unique design all on my own, even though I knew absolutely nothing about it.

I just needed to find a way to make it happen.

Then, I discovered Elementor.

The first time I heard about Elementor, it was completely by accident. I had been wandering around the plugins section of WordPress, just window shopping, and saw one that touted itself as a code-free way to design. 

Naturally, I was intrigued.

Of course, I did some research, and it looked promising: It was all block-based, so I could drag and drop blocks I wanted into pages and then change colours and spacing and whatnot all I wanted. At the time, that was still a relatively new feature; Gutenberg hadn’t quite been rolled out yet, and I was still working with old WordPress. And even now, I wouldn’t have the same functionality.

I decided to try it out and see whether I could figure out how to design all on my own. Now, more than three years later, I can’t imagine going back.

What I like about Elementor

The first thing that attracted me to Elementor was what attracts me to a lot of things, if I’m honest: It has a free version that lets you test it out. At first, bloggers rarely have an expendable budget, so you’ve got to make it count!

That said, you’d probably want the paid version to be able to unlock all the block types. It’s not too bad, especially as web services go; I pay about $75 CAD after taxes for an entire year.

Building blocks: Everything about Elementor is block-based, which makes it easy to drag and drop what you want where you want it. They’re also all responsive by default, so you can adjust how everything looks and don’t have to worry about building a beautiful site that looks awful on mobile or vice versa.

Customization: It takes a little bit of imagination sometimes to make what you want happen, but Elementor comes with some nice core features that make it possible to customize just about everything.

DIY themes: One thing I didn’t know about for a while is that paid versions of Elementor come with a theme builder. This fun feature goes beyond pages and posts and essentially lets you build your own version of a WordPress template.

This includes things like setting what all current and future archives look like, custom blog post pages that automatically apply to all new posts, and custom headers and footers that you can apply anywhere you want on your site.

Another neat feature of this theme builder is that you can set the rules for where everything appears. So for example, if you have multiple types of posts that need different layouts, you can assign one design to appear only for a certain tag or category, and another design to appear for a different tag or category. I use this setup for my site; if you look around, you’ll notice design posts don’t quite look the same as regular blog posts!

What’s worth knowing about Elementor

I believe in finding out everything you can about something before you use it, especially when it comes to something you’re pouring your heart and soul into. So here’s what I’ve discovered that’s good to know before you decide whether Elementor is right for you.

Learning curve: There’s a lot to learn about Elementor, and there are a few things that even years later I haven’t figured out. But so far those things haven’t impacted my site, so I don’t worry about it too much. Plus, there’s an extensive knowledge base available for all users, and in my experience, they’re pretty quick to answer any direct questions.

Necessary accessories: Though Elementor’s got quite a library of blocks, you’ll probably end up needing a few other plugins to get the most out of it. These extra plugins have both free and paid versions. There are quite a few out there, but I’m running the free versions of:

  • Envato Elements
  • Essential Addons for Elementor

All in all, I’ve found it to be a pretty useful tool and a fun creative outlet. So if you have a look, let me know what you think!

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