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Resources to Learn How to Make WordPress Themes

October 30, 2012

WordPress is great. It’s easy to install and there are a multitude of free and premium themes available to download. Or you could always make a theme yourself. Don’t know how to code? No problem, we’ve got you covered! Everyone is a beginner at some point, and with WordPress the more resources the better. Luckily there are many places you can turn to for help and instruction without ever having to leave your desk. Below are books, tutorials, starter themes, and a few extra items that we feel are great for learning how to code for WordPress. Go ahead and get started – you’ll be coding in no time!


How to be a Rockstar WordPress Designer

How To Be A Rockstar WordPress Designer is a great book, with tons of information great for coding beginners. The book walks you through three WordPress themes to show you how to develop solid portfolio, blog, and general WordPress sites. And as you go through each of the tutorials they build on each other to gradually expand your coding skillset. The Photoshop, HTML, CSS and WordPress PHP files are all included so you’ll have lots of reference material, and the only prerequisite is that you’ve had some exposure to HTML/CSS.

Digging Into WordPress

This is the place to start, and we even wrote a Digging Into WordPress Review all about it. This book provides practical knowledge and tips to transform from a WordPress beginner to a coding master. The book teaches you the basics of installation, set-up, theme anatomy, theme/plugin development, comment for creation, site security and how to keep up a healthy blog. There are tons of great tips you might not find elsewhere, as well as a lifetime of updates. So every time a new edition of Digging Into WordPress comes out, you’ll have access to all the new info and tutorials.

Building WordPress Themes From Scratch

Building WordPress Themes From Scratch takes you through the process of coding for WordPress. As you go through the tutorials, you will learn how to code a WordPress theme starting from an HTML/CSS template, how to create custom post types, developing theme options and widgets, as well as how to build plugins and more. This book does require a background in HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript so I would say this is for higher level-beginners or those with intermediate knowledge about web development.


Developing Your First WordPress Theme by WP Tuts+

Developing Your First WordPress Theme is a three-part tutorial series is a great place to start if you’re new to developing WordPress themes. The step-by-step guides teach you basics about WordPress, development, and design. And by the time you finish the series you will have created your very own complete WordPress theme.

WordPress Theme Development Training Wheels by WP Tuts+

With WordPress Training Wheels you are lead through a series of tutorials to create your own WordPress theme. This series is designed for beginners, and takes you through the process of transforming an HTML template into a functioning WordPress theme. The tutorials keep it basic and are easy to follow – perfect for all newbies.

How to Build a Responsive WordPress Theme with Bootstrap by Treehouse

This tutorial on How to Build a Responsive WordPress Theme with Bootstrap takes advantage of Bootstrap and guides you through creating a responsive WordPress theme. Bootstrap provides a strong base for learning to create responsive themes, and teh only prerequisite for this tutorial is that you have experience adding posts and installing plugins as an admin. Topics and theme features covered include: a custom homepage design, about page, contact page, news section with comments, and a widgetized sidebar.

How to Create a WordPress Theme 2nd Edition by ThemeShaper

This detailed WordPress Theme Tutorial by ThemeShaper shows you how to build a WordPress theme from start to finish, and even explains why certain methods are preferred over others. Because of the detail, this is an ongoing 16 part series and it’s worth your time to check it out. The author even affirms that by the time you complete the tutorial you should be able to do just about anything WordPress Theme related that you want.

Creating a Child Theme for WordPress by WP Tuts+

Creating a Simple Child Theme for WordPress is a great tutorial that walks you through how to create a child theme for WordPress. Because WordPress allows you to separate design from content, you can keep a theme and change the design using a child theme. And after completing this tutorial, you should be able to create a simple child theme of your own.

Starter Themes for Reference

Twenty Twelve WordPress Theme

The default Twenty Twelve WordPress theme is a great starter theme to learn from. With its bare bones design, basic structure, and limited features it’s a good place to start if you want to pick apart a well coded theme.

Underscores (_S) Theme

The Underscores WordPress theme is another strong starter theme by Automattic. Unlike Twenty Twelve, there is no style/design included – there’s only HTML5 templates. This theme is meant to be edited and expanded on to develop your own theme and improve your coding skills.

Other Helpful Resources

WordPress Cheat Sheet

This juicy little tidbit is a WordPress Cheat Sheet that sums up a bunch of useful WordPress functions. Print it out and tape it to your desk, or set it as your desktop background – then you’ll always have a quick reference when you need it!

Theme Anatomy Cheat Sheet

This Theme Anatomy Cheat Sheet is a simple diagram of what makes up a theme. Is each element needed? No. Are there other elements not listed you might want to include in a theme? Well yeah. This is a SIMPLE cheat sheet, showing the basic bones of most WordPress themes out there, and it’s a great quick-glance resource to use when composing a new theme.

Template Hierarchy Cheat Sheet

This awesome little cheat sheet visually lays out the WordPress Template Hierarchy. The hierarchy displays the template files within your theme and the order in which they’re loaded. This is especially helpful in you plan on creating different layouts for different types of content in your themes.

WordPress Codex

As always, you can refer to the WordPress Codex for anything you can’t find elsewhere. There area ton of useful tips and lessons in the codex that are sure to help you out at some point or another. And since the tutorials are coming directly from WordPress, you know they’re legit.

Your Resource Recommendations

What resources have you had success with? If you’ve used any of the resources above, or if you’ve found others on the web, we’d love to hear which have been helpful. Let us know about your experiences in the comments below!

Article by Kyla staff
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  1. Julien Desrosiers

    Thanks for this great roundup!
    Another good resource is the Daily WordPress Newsletter which sends you one WP function documentation every day.
    In the long run, it can really help developers to know the WordPress API.

  2. Danny Jones

    Nice list. Actually didn’t know about the cheat sheets which themselves look very useful indeed, thank you.

  3. Robert

    Nice roundup with great source of tutorials for WordPress lovers. Thank you so so much

  4. Vanessa

    Great ressources indeed.
    Maybe you could add tools like divine project to help in the creation of themes.

  5. Julian Price

    First I wanted to thank you guys for some great freebies themes but most importantly the various topics from creating a plugin, seo or working with themes. Keep up the great work.

    I am complete newbie in trying to create my own theme and probably should write how I have driven myself crazy. From bootstrap and foundation had to learn html, css than I finally got the full layout bringing it over to wordpress is complete difference story.

    I just really wanted to say thanks, keep the fresh content coming because that sometimes is the hard part tutorial or how to from 2008 not sure how relevant they are today

  6. umre

    Nice compilation of tutorial for WordPress! Thanks for this!

    I will probably read on and try to create my first WordPress theme

    again.. thanks!


    • Kyla

      I’m glad you found it helpful! Best of luck!

  7. Sarah

    Hi, have a blog and theme, but would like to learn css and html to modify and create themes. Can you recommend where the best place to start is? Thanks

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer

      I just learned CSS/HTML from trying it out myself, I didn’t really read any books on the subject or take any courses. There are some great guides out there but in general I find HTMl/CSS to be common sense / logical as long as you know English 😉 So ya…just scourge the web! – AJ

  8. nomadone

    Oh cool thanks for sharing my Training Wheels Tut Series, I wish I could have continued it and created a video series from it as well. It turned out way more work than I could handle with all the project stuff going.

    AJ Clarke, I learned what I know the same way, but it took me ages compared to jump starting the process with a comprehensive course. Many people are just unable to break through certain areas of learning without a course or someone to guide them.

    Personally it took me a long time to break through the surface of HTML even though after doing so i realised how easy it is but just had this mental block being a print designer.

    That’s also why I structured my tuts in the way I did. Some people can learn with copy & paste chunks of code and others need each line or each tag explained in more detail, like me, LOL.

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer

      Hey dude, thanks for stopping by! Your Tut series is a great resource a video series would have made it fantastic for people. Oh man, there is always way too much to do! So many things I wish I could do, improve, finish…there is just no time.

      If you ever would like to guest blog here at WPExplorer (nothing so giant as the Tuts series necessary) we’d love to have you! We do pay our writers 😉

  9. nomadone

    AJ Clarke, I would love to write more, I can’t even find the time to blog on my own websites, a real shame I know. Something about getting older and having 3 kids LOL

    I love your site, it’s a really beneficial resource. I still think as much as there are tons of wp dev tuts out there, there’s yet to be a video series which I think completely nails it for newbies.

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer

      Ha, yes I completely understand. I wanted to do the video series as well…you can see I even started adding a video tab here and I had a bunch ideas for this just haven’t had the time and finding quality people to hire for the videos has been a challenge. I do think its great, but also very time consuming, especially with WP changing all the times videos need constant updating.

      Thanks again for stopping by! Good luck with your busy life 😉

  10. sparrowman

    Thanks Kyla!!


    I just start build my wordpress theme, usefull article!

  12. Nicola

    Thank you so much for this! I have been looking for an article on developing WP themes for about 4 months and I came to it via the newsletter you just sent out – great start to the new year!

  13. Bucur

    very good this list of resources, exactly what should someone who wants to start …

  14. raksha bandhan 2014

    oooohh nice, dig into wp is a must have book

  15. Navjot Kaur

    A nice list of tips! Free templates and a lot more. Everything is very amazing. I think a WordPress theme framework is also another great option to generate themes of own choice.

    Template Toaster is a great tool, I have been using. Everyone can get help for WordPress theme creation here,

    It is amazing!

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