Artisteer 3.1 Home and Academic Edition
Copyright © 2012, Jean Schara, All Rights Reserved
If you're a writer, you're likely to decide you need a blog or a website. The easiest route is to sign up for a free account with either WordPress.com or Blogger.com. You don't need a hosting service, there's no cost, and you can customize your site with a variety of templates provided by each service. That's a good place to start. I did that when I began blogging in 2003. My original blog is still here: http://polarbear60.blogspot.com/. But what if you decide to host your own blog or website? You're not a programming wizard. You don't want to learn PHP or HTML. Neither do you want to pay someone else to design a template for you every time you want to "freshen" things up. Sure, you can look through the free templates available with either WordPress or your own Blogger installation. But maybe you want a little more control. Have you heard of Artisteer (http://www.artisteer.com)?
Artisteer 3.1 comes in two versions -- the Home and Academic Edition (the one I use) and the Standard Edition. Both versions are available for Windows and Mac. Artisteer Home and Academic Edition ($49.95) generates and allows you to customize Blogger, self-hosted WordPress, or HTML website templates primarily by pointing and clicking until you get what you like. The Standard Edition ($129.95) also works with Joomla (Vision, the e-magazine you're reading this article in, is using an Artisteer template) and Drupal content management systems as well as DotNetNuke, ASP.Net applications, and Code Charge Studio. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of some of those things. I haven’t either. Here's the link to compare the features of the two versions: http://www.artisteer.com/?p=purchase.
I used an earlier version of Artisteer to design my primary WordPress blog template at http://polarbear60.org/randr a few years ago. I designed an alternate site as well at http://natrogers.com. I don't do a lot of entries there, but you can see a different design. Finally, you can see a third site with yet a different layout at http://polarbear60.org. Artisteer works very nicely for WordPress.org (self-hosted) implementations. You will either need to familiarize yourself with FTP (file transfer protocol) or get the FTP parameters from your hosting service’s support page for Artisteer to get the template uploaded to your hosting service once the site is built.
One nice aspect of Artisteer is the ability to use the full version on a trial basis. Any templates you save will have a watermark, which you would not want on your final site, but it's a great way to try the software and see how all aspects of it work for you -- including uploading and displaying on your website. If you're thinking about getting the software, I highly encourage you to do just this to make sure it does what you want it to do and is as easy as I think it is to work with. If you decide you like it, once you’ve registered your copy, open your template or theme, save it, export it, and upload it to your site. The watermark will be gone, and your site is ready to go. If you don't like it, revert to another template and move on. You will be out some time but no money.
When you open the program, a splash screen opens by default to a New Project box (which you can turn off by unchecking "Show on Startup"). You have several choices. You may click on Website or Blog, Samples, or Online Samples. Alternatively, you may choose between two Content Management System Themes: WordPress or Blogger. Samples will show you a selection of three types of websites: Personal and Professional, Business, or Community. If you want to take a quick peek at the online samples, go here: http://www.artisteer.com/?p=free_website_templates.
If you select Website or Blog as you’re looking at the software, you should see a sample website with the following areas available to you for customization along the top of the window: Home, Edit, Colors & Fonts, Layout, Background, Sheet, Header, Menu, Articles, Sidebar, Vertical Menu, Buttons, and Footer. Each of these represents an element in your website design you can customize. If you have no idea what you want, stay in the ideas area. While there, below the menu bar I just itemized, you'll have many opportunities to ask the program to "suggest" things -- Suggest Colors, Suggest Fonts, Suggest Background, etc. If you aren’t sure what you want or just want to see the capabilities of the program, click on the area that says "Suggest Design" and it will generate a new, complete design each time you click on it. Since it produces a random blend of each of the elements, you can generate a theoretically limitless number of templates. If this whole process terrifies you, you can continue to click “Suggest Design,” and eventually -- maybe days or weeks later -- one will be just what you want. But I hope this process doesn't terrify you. I hope you have fun with it.
Once you see a design close to what you like, you can customize it. If you realize the design you like better was earlier, go to the top of the program window (just above Ideas). You'll see stylized forward and back arrows. Click the backward arrow to go back to the earlier design you think you liked better. Like a newer design better? Click the forward arrow to return to that newer design. Not happy with those? Click the light bulb (Suggest Design) again for a completely new design suggestion. I have a relatively anemic processor in my Mac Mini, so each design takes a few seconds to build. Don't worry, a hand with fingers counting out the seconds is displayed to let you know it's working.
If you get an overall design you sort of like, try adjusting some of the elements either with the “suggest” elements or by clicking on the menu item for that element and fiddling with the settings. Remember your forward and back arrows if you like something better. It's similar to being at the eye doctor when the doctor selects two settings and asks, "Better or worse?" Do this with each element until you're comfortable with what you have. You'll also get a chance to see what the different elements combine to create -- some creations are definitely not meant to be! The key is that you can have the program suggest design elements just like it will suggest an entire site, or you can systematically modify each element by pointing and clicking and adjusting it the way you like. I highly recommend saving your document before moving to new elements. Not doing so is the equivalent of writing 2,000 simply awe-inspiring words then having your machine crash without a saved file. You’ll never get them back quite the way they were. If you haven’t saved your design as you get each element the way you want it, the same thing could happen.
As with most programs, there are two or three ways you can accomplish each modification, so it depends upon what works best for you. You can operate from the menu bar at the top of your editing window, or you can point and click on various elements of your sample template. In some of the elements in the menu, the bottom right hand corner of the section has an arrow in a half box. If you click on that, you get a pop-up box with sliders and other simple ways to configure that setting. Please experiment to find what works best for you.
To design the sample website I created for this article, I attempted to imitate the template I used for my blog for my pseudonym, Nat Rogers, created in an earlier version of Artisteer, because I like the colors and header. If I had easy access to the Artisteer .artx file I used to create the original template, I could have imported the design and used it (a new feature in version 3.1). This feature is a welcome addition, because my major gripe with the earlier version of the program was not having a way to import the elements of a theme into a new design. There’s also a way to import content into a theme. I have not tried that yet, but when updating a website that must be a welcome option.
While you can choose any layout you like for a blog template, I have one minor frustration. Artisteer does not appear capable of modifying the “number of columns” once a template is compiled. I like templates that give me the option of choosing two or three columns. Artisteer will allow you to do that in the design, but I have not found a way to build in the flexibility of changing, say, from three to two columns later on without either making a new template or editing your PHP template file, something we're trying to avoid by using Artisteer. Therefore, it's important to know what you want before you move from design to template.
Are you ready to publish? Save and then click on the Home area. On the far right, you'll see an Export section with an option to "Export HTML Website." Click and enter your details. I recommend you select to export the website to a folder on your hard drive (it's a good back up), and if you're ready to upload it to your site, make sure you have your FTP information for the site on your hosting service, enter that information, and upload. You have the option of including your .artx file with your export (checkbox). I didn’t do this at first. Did you notice when I said “If I had easy access to…” earlier in the article? I didn’t save the file with the folder. I have moved to another machine, and I don’t have easy access to my files generated on my old Windows machine. If I’d saved the .artx file with my template folder, it would have uploaded to my site with the template, and I’d have easy access to it. Alternatively, once you've saved it to a folder on your drive, it's just as easy to fire up your FTP software and upload it via that method.
I planned to update my “Polar Bear on the Loose” Blogger template for this article, and I designed a lovely template, but I wasn't able to get it to work. I could be missing something simple, and Artisteer has a full page devoted to instructions for how to implement a Blogger template (http://www.artisteer.com/?p=help_blogger), but something did not work for me. If I get it to work, I’ll update it and indicate what happened in a post on that site.
Overall, I've had a wonderful experience with Artisteer templates. The sample website I generated for this article can be found here: http://natrogers.com/ArtisteerSampleNR/natrogers-com.html. This website took a couple of hours to design and add the content. The Artisteer templates aren't foolproof, but they are pretty close. I'm still trying to figure out what I may have done wrong with the Blogger template, and I'm sure your mileage may vary with that. I can wholeheartedly recommend the program for either a WordPress site or a standard website.