WordPress.com bloggers create some truly bespoke sites using our 200+ themes as a starting point — the possibilities are endless, especially if you’re willing to give CSS a try.
What if you want something that’s more off-the-shelf, but still feels like you? Using a custom header and background — options that are available with most themes, no upgrade or coding chops needed — can completely transform the look of a theme. Not convinced? Take a look at Chef in Disguise, BKLYN Locavore, and The Modage Cottage. We bet you’ll be as surprised as we are at how they started out, and how far they’ve come with just a few tweaks.
Sawsan explores her passion for Middle Eastern food on Chef in Disguise, where her delicate header and complementary background pattern create a soft, welcoming mood that still allows her photography to shine:
From a theme perspective, it could just as easily be called “Comet in Disguise” — take a peek at its humble origins:
Comet offers clean typography and a simple, single-sidebar layout. Sawsan takes advantage of both these features, then layers her personal touch on top of them. Her lovely header image, graphic yet muted, provides pops of color, while a faded background pattern pulls from the header’s palette and lends more warmth and depth to her site.
“It looks nice,” some of you may be saying, “but I’m no graphic designer. I can’t create a header, or pay someone to make one for me.” Luckily, the vast resources of the internet are here to help. There are many sites where you can download free patterns and textures to use as a background — re-create this look by picking one for your background, and another for your header. Add a bit of text to the header image yourself, or simply upload the pattern and allow WordPress.com to display your blog’s title and tagline over it.
A New Jersey native transplanted to Brooklyn, Melissa Brody started BKLYN Locavore to share her twin loves of food and food sourcing, with an emphasis on locally-grown and produced foods:
You might not suspect that this bright site celebrating all things green would use the darker, more serious Quintus, but BKLYN Locavore is another testament to the power of a custom header and background.
Melissa uses the standard Quintus layout, with its mix of serif and sans serif fonts and clean custom menu, then transforms it completely with a relatively simple text header and bold background. We especially love her background image, an extremely zoomed-in photo of plants. It reinforces the focus of her blog, creating a softly blurred image that adds color and texture without distracting from her content.
A photo background is an easy and effective way to add an incredibly personal touch to your blog; using a close-up gives your photo a nice abstract quality. Give it a try: pick a photo you love, use a program like Photoshop or an online tool like Picasa to crop out a piece to use for your background, and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind custom image. For more background inspiration, take a look at The Daily Post’s tutorial.
On The Modage Cottage, Kristin Kaylor chronicles her journey from big-city corporate life to small-town shop owner, offering up recipes, fashion, and home renovation tips along the way:
She chose to use the extremely flexible ThemeMin, which starts out looking like this:
Beyond its default layout, ThemeMin comes loaded with pre-set options: five different color schemes and a variety of mix-and-match options for a home page layout, and that’s before you upload a header.
Kristin opted to put a sidebar on the right-hand side of the page, and to display posts in a single column. Notably, she’s also removed the carousel on top of the home page; by not making any of her posts sticky, the carousel simply doesn’t appear. Instead, she’s added a bright, airy header image that keeps things cheerful and gives her site a breezy feel. (She also uses the Custom Design upgrade to carry those colors through the rest of her site.)
There are two key things Kristin’s choices teach us: first, don’t underestimate the ways a header can set the mood for your blog (and a header that’s largely text, at that). Second, when browsing the theme showcase in search of your perfect fit, keep an open mind and don’t let form eclipse function. Pick a theme because you like the basics — how posts are laid out, what optional features are offered, the menu and sidebar options — and then add details you love. For detailed instructions, take a look at our support documents on custom headers and backgrounds.
The way a demo theme looks is only the starting place. As long as you’re happy with the basic structure and core features of a theme, you can give it a cosmetic makeover to turn it into your Dream Theme — without buying upgrades or learning CSS. A creative approach to your header and background, using online tools available to anyone, can turn a pre-fab theme into a comfy online home.
Other posts in the Customizing series:
- One Theme, Three Ways: Customizing Coraline
- One Theme, Three Ways: Customizing iTheme2
- Customizing Imbalance 2: The Patterned Plate
- Customizing Modularity Lite: Girls of Summer
- Customizing Koi: 129 Twig and Vine
- Customizing Comet: Beau and Arrow Events
- Customizing Sight: distraction no. 99
- Customizing Forever: Prada for Breakfast
- Customizing Bueno: Mi Piace Kate
- Customizing Oxygen: BeatRoute Magazine
Sep 24th at 6:09 pm
To be honest… This is something that really frustrates me.
I am using the Choco theme, since it fits me needs quiet well (very sublime, classy, easy to navigate for visitors). There are a few things I would like to change about (like a custom header), but with Choco that is not an option.
I have looked at other themes, but they either lack the properties I am looking for or they do not seem to work with the widgets I am running (which are all just off the shelf) or subpages. When I start the demo for these alternative themes some of the widgets or subpages are always missing.
So personally I am somewhere between a rock and a had place here. I would like to customize, but my theme does not allow me to and those that do, either do not fill my needs or do not allow for the functionality I want.
Sep 24th at 6:14 pm
I love this series of posts! This one in particular has me brainstorming about ways to spiff up my Twenty-Twelve blog.
Sep 24th at 6:22 pm
I’d previously discounted Quintus as being too dark and heavy, until I saw the customised version, I’m using it on my blog now, I love the typography, perfect for crochet patterns!
Sep 24th at 6:45 pm
Now if, I can only remember them, I will have a great blog! Thanks
Sep 24th at 6:45 pm
I created my own header on Forever Theme and am really happy with it.
Sep 24th at 7:52 pm
This was great! I wasn’t aware that there was so much flexibility within each theme. I may have to do some experimenting. Thank you!
Sep 24th at 7:59 pm
Really great simple ideas!
Sep 24th at 8:04 pm
Michelle, thank you so much for using my blog design as a customization example! Blog design is definitely not an easy feat – it takes a lot of hemming and hawing and more than a few scraps before deciding on a theme. And then there is the detail! It is definitely an intimidating process. I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was doing when I started, but this just goes to show that with time and effort, anything is possible. You laid out the tweaking process quite nicely – with a flexible design and a little creativity…the world is your oyster!
Sep 24th at 8:45 pm
This is one of your best and most useful posts ever. Thank you!
Sep 24th at 8:49 pm
I was previously using the bueno red theme, but this post made me realize my headers and background images fit the quintus theme more. The images took away from the content and sidebar in the bueno theme, I think
Sep 24th at 9:51 pm
Those look great! Very exciting to see the customization options. I customized mine too. It started out as ThatSimple theme.
Sep 24th at 11:45 pm
Those sites look awesome! So do they just create a custom header with their site title (and tagline) in it? And then not actually have a title/tagline (just in the header)? In case you couldn’t tell, the whole thing confuses me, though I’m anxious to give it a try!
Sep 25th at 2:40 am
Agreed. Headers can transform a theme. While I am a caricaturist and one would expect that my blog would use a less “technical” looking theme, it uses the iTheme2 theme with a custom header, and custom background. I think it conveys the impression that I want to convey – a technically-savvy artist.
Sep 25th at 3:50 am
I used one of the websites recommended in this post to change my background, and my blog finally looks and feels like I always wanted it to! I have been having a hard time getting it to look a way I was happy with! Thanks for the link!
Sep 25th at 5:13 am
I’m very impressed by Sawsan’s Chef in Disguise blogskin. If you did not mention, I wouldn’t notice it is actually using the Comet theme. Great way to customise a free theme to suit the blog’s style. I hope I can see more of this series. Really inspires me to personalise my blog in a more creative way.
Sep 25th at 5:40 am
I worked around a few themes and it takes time but I like the way you can adjust a lot of things. I worked some time on my canteclaer2usa.wordpress.com travelblog to USA and am working on canteclaer3usa.wordpress.com. I think it is still difficult to give enough possiblities to find all posts and still keep a clear menu in the front page. That is my fight now, maybe you have tips.
Sep 25th at 6:48 am
So many themes to try
Sep 25th at 9:37 am
Try PhotoScape for designing headers and for editing photos in general.
Sep 25th at 12:19 pm
My header is a simple pic of my with my name on it. Simple and to the point!
Sep 25th at 12:27 pm
I recently started revamping my blog using the Untitled theme. One of my favorites because of the header and carousel options that ThemeMinDemo has without the premium price. Plus the type is huge and I love that too. Keep these articles coming though, they’re great for ideas and tweaks that a lot of us forget we have. Maybe next year I’ll be switching themes again
Sep 25th at 1:46 pm
I love how much you can change a theme with a header and a BG image! It took me a while to put together something I was happy with for my site, but once I did I was amazed. I love the Splendido theme, but once it was customized it became a real slam dunk for me.
Sep 25th at 5:55 pm
Great post! Very useful for me because I’m so new in this blogging world. Gracias!
Sep 26th at 11:32 am
Beautiful examples. Quintus I believe was the most dramatic change going from what looks like a simple design, to a more intricate one.
Sep 27th at 1:09 am
Just started recently blogging, currently I’m using an iTheme 2 and Oxygen Theme. I was just wondering what would be the best header for these two blogs?
Sep 27th at 5:38 am
Is anyone using twenty thirteen?
Sep 27th at 10:14 pm
I’ve been using Comet for a while now and love it. Just a few simple changes and I was able to make it more of my own. I am not super savvy but I was able to figure out how to personalize it. It just takes a little patience and resourcefulness to find the sites that teach you how to do things like make your own blog header to upload free social media icons. Thanks!
Sep 28th at 1:39 pm
Its amazing what you can do when overcoming fear. Starting a blog was scary enough, understanding everything related is a lot easier with information like you provided. keep it up.
Sep 28th at 3:15 pm
Blog header is so important! It’s the first thing you see!
Sep 28th at 5:41 pm
I just started my first blog and got a lot of inspiration from your post! I chose the Quintus Theme before I read your post and was happy to see that there is a lot to do with this theme. My design is probably not the final version yet, but your post encouraged me to start playing around with the header and keep an open eye on what’s possible.
Sep 29th at 12:44 am
I use a Test blog which is private so I can play around themes, header images and so on. I suggest everyone to do the same as this saves the frustration of when making major changes if they don’t look as you expected. For my new blog I wanted a clean, artistic and easy to navigate layout where I can choose a Header Image to suit the blog’s vibe. I use iTheme2.
Oct 5th at 2:18 am
I need to really work on taking advantage of all that WordPress has to offer. I can see what I want my blog to look like in my head, now I just need to work on customization to get it there. Great inspiration.
Oct 8th at 5:38 am
Customizing your header is Important because it really shows you. But if you are one of those people who likes to pick an already-made background or header, then that’s fine — do it if it makes you happy, not what other people think about your vision in things.