WP PaintBrush: Simple and Powerful WordPress Customization
At a Glance
One of the things I like best about WordPress is the astonishing array of themes available to pick from. WordPress.org currently offers over 1,400 themes, and premium theme sites such as WooThemes offer very polished themes for a reasonable fee (usually around $35). Many of these themes come with customization options, but I have yet to see one that is quite as customizable as WP PaintBrush.
I recently reviewed Artisteer, a $130 Windows application that lets you customize themes for WordPress and other content management systems. WP PaintBrush is tiny and free, but compares well to Artisteer.
One of the cool things about WP PaintBrush is how instantaneous it is: Artisteer (and other theme generators, such as online service Lubith) lets you generate a theme, then download and apply it. With WP PaintBrush, you're working right within your blog, tweaking the page itself and then publishing the changes once you're happy with them.
This is made possible thanks to the fact that WP PaintBrush is a theme in itself. You download it and install it onto your WordPress server just like any other theme. Then, while logged on as a WordPress administrator, you simply go to your site's front end (the part everyone sees). You will then see the default look packaged with WP PaintBrush, but also an elegant sidebar, crammed with numerous options for customizing anything from background colors to the blog's layout.
All you need to do now is pick the colors you want to use for different elements, and use the sliders to specify element sizes and margins, and generally progress through the toolbar's options until you're happy with your site's look. There's no Apply button to hit, and no waiting time: Changes happen just as soon as you move the sliders or hover over the colors in the color picker. Speaking of colors, WP PaintBrush doesn't have the notion of color palettes--you'll need to specify your colors one by one. If picking out a good palette seems a bit tough, there are some excellent tools to help you with that part of the job, such as ColorSchemer Studio.
WP PaintBrush is still in beta, and not everything works right. For example, while it lets you change the site's layout (i.e, move the menu or drop the footer), it refused to let me remove a sidebar. Another quirk was when I tried applying a CSS3 drop shadow to the heading: The drop shadow worked fine in preview mode, but failed to render once I published the theme. However, you can save your work and return to it later, so there's no need to launch a page if you're not happy with it.
CSS3 is one area where WP PaintBrush could do a bit better. CSS3 lets Web designers create rounded corners and other interesting effects, but WP PaintBrush isn't quite there yet. The only CSS3 effect I saw was the drop shadow, and even that didn't quite work.
Much like Artisteer, WP PaintBrush won't let you transform WordPress into a radically different beast. But if you want to take the traditional blog layout and make it your own, this is one great tool, at a price that can't be beat.