How to pick a Shopify theme style to start with — plus ways to make styles your own

by Michael P. Hill

How to pick a Shopify theme style to start with — plus ways to make styles your own

A few weeks ago, I took a look at how to compare Shopify themes using our PDF comparison chart — which includes a discussion about what a Shopify theme style is.

In this post, we’re going to dive deeper into styles and some tips on how to pick the best one to use as the base for your Shopify theme setup — as well as how to give your theme a unique look that will make it hard for anyone to believe you even started with a template style!

As discussed in the comparing Shopify theme post, styles are meant as a basic, preset “look and feel” for a Shopify store.

Typically, besides needing to upload the images, add or edit placeholder content and tweak a few settings, you can use the Shopify theme almost right away.

However, most Shopify themes have hundreds if not thousands of possible configurations that can be achieved under the “Customize” button — everything from the color of buttons, text, and backgrounds to what fonts and images are used.

It’s also important to keep in mind that your store will not look like our demo stores when you first install them — Shopify requires us to pre-populate all of our themes with generic placeholder content that’s also designed to help get you started filling in text and images.

We also typically don’t own the rights to all of the imagery being used — most of our demo stores showcase real products from real merchants!

That said, every layout and design in the demo store can be created using the theme's built-in features with your own images and content.

Deciding on a Shopify theme styles

When deciding which style to start with, it’s vital to compare both the demo store and how the theme style looks when you first install and preview it on your store (which lets you get down and dirty by changing “Customize” settings).

Think strategically. If you’re looking for a particular look for, say, your buttons, header or other elements, keep a sharp eye out for which styles have this look that’s closest to what you’re after — which will, in most cases, mean less changing on your end.

It’s usually best to ignore the specific colors that are used in the styles — with the exception of whether you prefer a “light” or “dark” look.

Changing the colors of most text and areas of your Shopify theme is relatively easy to do with either settings under “Customize” or through some CSS development work.

However, take a look at a dark style such as Turbo’s Chicago and compare it to the lighter looks of, say, Seoul or Florence. While it’s certainly not impossible to take Chicago and make it “lighter” — it may require more setting changes.

That said, if you like a certain layout element that’s unique to Chicago, but want a lighter look, you may be better off starting with Chicago and working from there.

It’s ultimately a careful balancing act between deciding which style will be the “path of least resistance.”

Going beyond our Shopify theme styles

While all of our styles have been designed by professional designers with years of experience and are designed to be used, forgive the pun, “out of the box” with just some minor content setup, we’re always excited to see how Shopify store owners change them to match their own brands.

While you might think that making a store look significantly different is hard, be sure to explore all of the options available under the “Customize” menu that can give your store a unique look and set it apart from all of the other stores using our themes out there.

Small changes — such as colors and fonts — can not only make the theme better match your brand and products, but it’s also surprising what just a few minor changes can do to make the theme look significantly different than its base style.

At the end of the day, your goal for updating your Shopify theme styles should be to capture the emotion, personality, and vibe of you and your company, as well as your products.

Don’t feel like you have to go “all in” however — making tons of changes, especially if you like certain elements of the design or want to rely on the UI best practices for conversion that have been included in the theme.

Sometimes it’s enough to just capture certain elements of your brand.

For example, stores selling handmade goods can draw color palettes from the materials they use — whether it be the bold gem tones of beadwork, subtle tints of glass or rich hues of leather mixed with typography that complements the lines or shapes of your products. These stores can benefit from clean, thin lines so that the photography pops.

Stores selling natural or outdoor products can channel earth tones and rough, handwriting typography, while bolder blocks and accents might look better.

Some other quick suggestions for select types of businesses:

  • High tech products: Use bright greens, blues teals, grays, and white along with monospaced or super clean fonts. Or go “retro” with bold colors and fonts to match. Consider “pill” shaped buttons or experiment with both thin or thick accents — keeping in mind the visual references to cords, circuits or connections.
  • Health and beauty products: Use your product colors as inspiration or look to pastels to create a soft and relaxing design. Complement this with either super sleek typography or intricate typefaces that capture the character of your products. “Pill” or round shapes can sometimes be a good look here.
  • Furniture: Look for colors that are common throughout your products, such as the wood frames of beds, chairs or tables. You don’t need to capture every single tone — instead look for a “middle ground” that has an earthy, natural feel. Try mixing this with either rough, hand-drawn fonts that look carved or solid, bold fonts that convey a sense of sturdiness. Experiment with thicker, bolder outlines and blocks.
  • Kids products: Here’s a chance to add splashes of colors — even seemingly randomly color palettes — though make sure that text is legible no matter what color it or the background behind it is. Look for informal handwritten fonts or go in the opposite direction and use a super clear font reminiscent of alphabet blocks or lines above classroom chalkboards. Also, consider Artisan’s shapes feature and the lively shapes it can add to your store quickly and easily.
  • Food: An obvious choice here may be to use the color of your food item. However, keep in mind that some colors aren’t necessarily appetizing or that not everyone may associate that color with the same flavor or type of food. For example, brown might seem like a natural choice for chocolate, but it can also easily shift into unappealing hues, so use with caution. For fonts, look for typefaces that convey the feel or texture of your products — smooth scripts for creamy candy or textured type for super healthy items.
  • Clothing: Since clothing typically comes in so many colors, here’s a fun chance to pick a color and font palette that really embodies your brand style. You could use a color that tends to appear in your clothing— or pick a bold, daring color to stand out. Fashion fonts can range from super clean and minimal to ones with thick, bold lines and rounded flourishes, so there is a lot to explore here.

Finally, don’t be afraid to go completely “off book” when selecting a color scheme. Sometimes a color that seemingly has no immediate connection to your products can be just what you need to make a splash and stand out!

This is especially true if you can carry out this color palette in your social media icons. Think about how much, for example, a bright coral will stand out against the traditional corporate-style colors many businesses have.

That said, there’s also a reason that Out of the Sandbox themes are so popular — each one is carefully crafted to have its own personality, look and feel as well as perform well for a wide range of e-commerce businesses.

So, don’t feel like you have to go wild changing things up — in fact, going too far could make your site harder to use or keep updated (if you write lots of custom code).

As someone who not only sees hundreds of Shopify stores a year — I also do my own fair of online shopping outside of work (bad habit, I know). It’s always interesting to stumble upon a store that looks vaguely familiar — only to realize it is an Out of the Sandbox theme!

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn. While comments and feedback are always appreciated, Michael regrets that, due to the volume of inquires received, personal responses are not possible. For specific assistance or support with Out of the Sandbox themes, visit the help center.