In Blogging 101 and 201, lots of you were customizing your blogs and playing with widgets. This post is a great tutorial on how to create a totally unique, branded look for your widgets, all with free and easy online tools.
In the first post of this series, “Widgets 101,” we introduced some popular widgets, including the Text and Image Widgets, and also mentioned quick ways to transform an image by changing its shape or adding a frame. Since this month is all about photography and phoneography, let’s focus on Image Widgets and explore how to customize them.
If you’re short on time and want to skip ahead:
First, let’s make sure we’ve got the basics down. To activate an Image Widget in your sidebar, go to Appearance » Widgets in your dashboard and locate the widget that says “Image” under Available Widgets. Then, drag it to the right, where you’d like it to appear.
Be sure to fill in the required fields for this widget — the “Image URL” is important, as WordPress.com needs to know where your image is saved so it can display your image. In other words, you need to grab the image’s URL, which you can do by going into your Media Library (Media » Library), clicking the “Edit” link under the image, and copying the link under “File URL.”
This URL is what you’ll insert in the “Image URL” field, shown in the screenshot on the left.
You can also use an image URL on another website — be sure to check the URL in your browser before adding it to the widget to confirm it ends with an extension specific to an image file (such as .jpg, .gif, .png).
Also, do take advantage of the “Link URL” field at the bottom. If you want an image in your sidebar to direct readers somewhere on your site (or elsewhere), specify the link here.
Connor at adventures of a wanna-be writer created Image Widgets for his sidebar, each labeled with text and linked to specific categories on his blog. We like how the black-and-white images (and the font of the image text and captions) work together as a cohesive visual set, and how the objects in the images evoke the literary life.
You can create similar images, too. If you have a working knowledge of Photoshop, whipping up sidebar images is probably a snap. If you don’t have Photoshop, or are a design and photo editing newbie, use one of the free (and very handy) online photo editors out there (like PicMonkey, Pixlr, or FotoFlexer) to transform your images with text, textures and effects, overlays and icons, frames, and more.
Let’s say I want to create an Image Widget for my sidebar that, when clicked, directs my readers to a page on my blog of galleries of ocean photographs. I can do this easily by adding effects to one of my own images.
So, here’s what I’ve done: I grabbed this Instagram image of the Pacific Ocean from my feed; dropped it into PicMonkey; and used its various effects to insert text, add texture, and crop and frame it — all in less than a minute. Here’s the result:
Next, I’ll add this image to my Media Library, copy the “File URL” as described in the section above, and insert this URL into the field in the widget. I’ll control the size by inputting the dimensions (in pixels) for the “Width” and “Height.” And voilà — I’ve created a custom-made Image Widget, which I can link to a gallery page on my site.
The process is pretty simple — all you need are some images to experiment with and an online photo editor. Custom-made Image Widgets help to shape your site’s overall aesthetic, as Connor’s widgets illustrate above, and contribute to the visual branding your blog, which we’ll talk about next.
Not too long ago, Pick talked about branding your blog: creating an overall mood and ensuring your site visually represents you and your interests. We like the look of Zoe’s blog, Miss Zoe: The Art of Creating, because she creates a visual identity using color, font, and pattern — not just in her sidebar, but everywhere.
The pattern used in her custom header — underneath the name of her blog — matches up perfectly with her custom-made image widgets, which direct users to her social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well as a contact email link.
In your dashboard, you’ll find many widgets, including ones for Twitter, Flickr, About.me, and more. They work in different ways — some display your latest content (tweets, Flickr photos), while others simply link to your profiles elsewhere.
Creating your own images for your favorite social networks will help to visually unify your site, especially when combined with a specific color palette. You can specify a custom link color in Oxygen, Zoe’s current theme (and her shade of powder blue is #0da4d3, in case you’re wondering!). The image backgrounds and header design match this color, creating a nice visual package.
Have questions? Ideas? Let us know in the comments.