How to Make a Drupal Theme

Making a custom Drupal theme is actually quite easy. A Drupal theme is just a few PHP files, a CSS file, and an info file. I prefer the PHPtemplate theme engine (the default one) but you have several choices. See the bottom of this post for a link to the official Drupal Theme Developer's Guide which has information on other Drupal template engines.

The following information was originally written for Drupal 4.7, but has been updated for Drupal 6 on March 4, 2009.

Navigate to your /themes directory. You should have a theme there called /bluemarine. We will use that as an example.

NOTE: before you edit any files you will copy the theme to another directory and rename it. Your custom themes go in the directory /sites/all/themes/. Details about that come later in this tutorial.

Here is a list of the files in the Drupal 6's Bluemarine theme:

Bluemarine Drupal tempate directory

The Files of a Drupal Theme

  • — A required file that is new to Drupal 6 which provides information about the theme.
  • page.tpl.php — The main template that defines the content on most of the page.
  • style.css — The CSS file that sets the CSS rules for the template.
  • node.tpl.php — This file defines the content of the nodes.
  • block.tpl.php — Defines the content of the blocks.
  • comment.tpl.php — Defines the content of the comments.
  • logo.png — Your logo, if you are using one.
  • screenshot.png — This is a screenshot of your theme that is used in the admin panel and in the user account settings if you have enabled more than one theme so that visitors can choose which theme they want to use.
  • box.tpl.php — puts a box around things like comments. See also
  • style-rtl.css — this file is new to Drupal 6's Bluemarine. I think it's a CSS for right to left languages and can be ignored if you're using a left-to-right language like English.

page.tpl.php and style.css

The page.tpl.php and style.css files are the main files for your Drupal theme. The page.tpl.php is a mix of HTML and PHP. Look at the file and notice which snippets of PHP are used where. For example, the following snippet from the page.tpl.php file inserts the site's <head> information. Just copy that snippet into your own custom Drupal template.

  <title><?php print $head_title ?></title>
  <?php print $head ?>
  <?php print $styles ?>
  <?php print $scripts ?>
  <script type="text/javascript"><?php /* Needed to avoid Flash of Unstyle Content in IE */ ?> </script>

The following code from the Bluemarine page.tpl.php file use PHP if statements to print out optional information such as primary links, secondary links, and site slogan. You control whether those display in the Drupal control panel. The Bluemarine template uses tables, but you can easily remove the tables and make it a 100% CSS-based template.

<table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" id="header">
    <td id="logo">
      <?php if ($logo) { ?><a href="<?php print $base_path ?>" title="<?php print t('Home') ?>">
<img src="<?php print $logo ?>" alt="<?php print t('Home') ?>" /></a><?php } ?>
      <?php if ($site_name) { ?>
<h1 class='site-name'><a href="<?php print $base_path ?>" 
title="<?php print t('Home') ?>"><?php print $site_name ?></a></h1><?php } ?>
      <?php if ($site_slogan) { ?><div class='site-slogan'><?php print $site_slogan ?></div><?php } ?>
    <td id="menu">
      <?php if (isset($secondary_links)) { ?>
<div id="secondary"><?php print theme('links', $secondary_links) ?></div><?php } ?>
      <?php if (isset($primary_links)) { ?>
<div id="primary"><?php print theme('links', $primary_links) ?></div><?php } ?>
      <?php print $search_box ?>
    <td colspan="2"><div><?php print $header ?></div></td>

The Drupal styles.css File

The style.css file is straightforward. I recommend the Firefox Web Developer Toolbar for creating the style.css file. Use the toolbars option Display ID & Class Details in the Information menu to view the CSS classes and ID's that Drupal is generating. Then add your own CSS rules to the style.css file.

Other Drupal Theme Files

Other files in the Drupal theme are block.tpl.php, box.tpl.php, comment.tpl.php, and node.tpl.php. Each one controls the layout of certain parts of the template. The comment.tpl.php defines the comment layout as shown below. It is fairly straightforward PHP: "If there is a user picture, print the user picture, etc.

  <div class="comment<?php if ($comment->status == COMMENT_NOT_PUBLISHED) print ' comment-unpublished'; ?>">
    <?php if ($picture) {
    print $picture;
  } ?>
<h3 class="title"><?php print $title; ?></h3>
<?php if ($new != '') { ?><span class="new"><?php print $new; ?></span><?php } ?>
    <div class="submitted"><?php print $submitted; ?></div>
    <div class="content"><?php print $content; ?></div>
    <div class="links">&raquo; <?php print $links; ?></div>

Your First Custom Drupal Theme

Just make a copy of the default Bluemarine template and put it in your Drupal /sites/all/themes/ directory. That directory doesn't exist by default, so you should create it if you haven't already. See the README file in /sites/all/ for more information. Rename the copy of Bluemarine to the name of your new theme. Enable the new theme.

NOTE: In Drupal 6 there are also theme info files. To change the name of the theme you'll also need to change the name in the file:

; $Id:,v 1.4 2007/06/08 05:50:57 dries Exp $
name = Bluemarine
description = Table-based multi-column theme with a marine and ash color scheme.
version = VERSION
core = 6.x
engine = phptemplate

Then strip most of the HTML out of the page.tpl.php file and replace it with the HTML that you would like for your theme. Leave the PHP, modifying it as desired. If you are using Linux for Web development, you can use Quanta Plus as an editor to edit your template files directly on the server. Each time you save the file in Quanta Plus, the remote copy of the file will be updated.

Use the Firefox Web Developer Toolbar's Display ID & Class Details feature to view CSS information on your new template that you are viewing the the browser. Either start a new style.css file from scratch, or modify the existing one to get the template the way you would like. To edit the display of blocks, nodes, and comments, edit the block.tpl.php, node.tpl.php, and comment.tpl.php files respectively.

When you are finished with your template, take a screenshot and resize it to about 150x90 pixels. Upload it to your theme directory as screenshot.png.

Drupal Template Variables

The PHP snippets in the examples above are just printing PHPtemplate variables. A complete list of available PHPtemplate variables that you can use in your template can be found on's PHPtemplate variables page. Below are the available variables from 24 July 2007:

HTML for displaying the breadcrumbs at the top of the page.
Needs to be displayed at the bottom of the page, for any dynamic javascript that needs to be called once the page has already been displayed.
The HTML content generated by Drupal to be displayed.
The directory the theme is located in , e.g.
themes/box_grey or themes/box_grey/box_cleanslate.
The footer message as defined in the admin settings.
HTML as generated by drupal_get_html_head().
The text to be displayed in the page title.
Dynamic help text, mostly for admin pages.
True if the front page is currently being displayed. Used to toggle the mission.
The language the site is being displayed in.
This setting allows you to style different types of layout ('none', 'left', 'right' or 'both') differently, depending on how many sidebars are enabled.
The path to the logo image, as defined in theme configuration.
HTML for status and error messages, to be displayed at the top of the page.
The text of the site mission.
(5.x and after only)If you are in page.tpl.php displaying a node in full page view then $node is available to your template.
(4.7 and older only) Onload tags to be added to the head tag, to allow for autoexecution of attached scripts.
$primary_links (array)
An array containing the links as they have been defined in the phptemplate specific configuration block.
(5.x and after only) HTML to load the JavaScript files and make the JS settings available. Previously, javascript files are hardcoded into the page.tpl.php
True(1) if the search box has been enabled.
(4.7 and older only)Translated text on the search button.
(4.7 and older only)Translated description for the search button.
(4.7 and older only)URL the search form is submitted to.
$secondary_links (array)
An array containing the links as they have been defined in the phptemplate specific configuration block.
The HTML for the left sidebar.
The HTML for the right sidebar.
The name of the site, always filled in.
The site name of the site, to be used in the header, empty when display has been disabled.
The slogan of the site, empty when display has been disabled.
Required for stylesheet switching to work. This prints out the style tags required.
HTML for displaying tabs at the top of the page.
Title, different from head_title, as this is just the node title most of the time.

There are also other variables available for your Drupal theme. A good list can be found in Chapter 8 of the essential book Pro Drupal Development. I believe that Chapter 8 is a free sample download.

Also check out these two books from Packt Publishing: Drupal 5 Theming and Building powerful and robust websites with Drupal 6.

More Drupal Theme Documentation

For more information on how to make a Drupal theme, check out the official Drupal Theme Developer's Guide, the anatomy of a Drupal 6 theme page, and the Themeable Functions list.

When you're ready to build a Drupal 6 theme completely from scratch, check out David Lanier's Minimal Drupal 6 Theme Creation tutorial.


Content Theme

I like this page. My question is can I theme a particular piece of content I created? Separate of course from the site theme.

Webmaster Tips's picture

Theming Drupal Content

One way to do it would be to set the input type to "Full HTML" and add CSS classes and IDs to the content:

<div class="about">
  <p>Some text here.</p>
  <p>Some more text.</p>

Then add the CSS rules to the file style.css in your Drupal theme.

/* for the "about" page. (Comment it well so you don't forget what it is for) */
.about p {
  background-color: #eee;
  border: 3px solid #ccc;
  padding: 5px;

Thanks for the useful

Thanks for the useful information.

Thank you very much. Your

Thank you very much.
Your information is very helpful.

I'd like to replace the blue

I'd like to replace the blue gradient of blue marine at the top (header) with an image - yet I want to retain the text with the slogans, title etc. Is this possible (maybe by using a partially transparent image) - if so where would I make changes? I'm having trouble locating where the gradient is created. I do see where the logo.png is.

Also, what/where is the "bar" separating the top area from the main body of the page created. I understand that some of this might be done using CSS. I need some help identifying the parts so I can *intelligently* try to experiment with altering them. Thank You.

Interesting reading. Very

Interesting reading. Very helpfull.
It could be nice to find some article with complete drupal theme design process.

Thanks for this, its very

Thanks for this, its very helpful for a newbie like me just starting with Drupal and its themes.

Webmaster Tips's picture

Drupal Themes

I highly recommend the new Drupal book by Apress: Pro Drupal Development by John K VanDyk and Matt Westgate. It has a lot of good information on Drupal theming.

Webmaster Tips's picture

Drupal Theme Customization

Are you sure you mean the Bluemarine theme? Bluemarine doesn't have a gradient in the header.

Use the Firefox Web Developer Toolbar to display ID and Class information (in the Information menu). You will see that the header has a CSS ID called #header. You will also find other classes and IDs like .logo, .site-name, .site-slogan. Those control the display of the elements in the header.

You can use the Web Developer Toolbar to edit the CSS live on the page by going to CSS > Edit CSS. Edit the tab style.css (the CSS file from your theme). In Bluemarine (at lease in Drupal 5.1) you will see the following code:

#header {
background-color: #69c;
height: 100px;

Change that background-color to whatever you want. Or insert a background image by adding it there.

My Themes is based also on

My Themes is based also on “bluemarine”. It gives thereby only few disadvantages: “bluemarine” consists it of tables and is not always good. I have try a Theme without tables to create, me however did not succeed :( I have myself decided my Themes on tables to develop. My last Themes can see here:

My first Themes for Drupal

Webmaster Tips's picture

Drupal CSS themes - tableless design

Nice themes...

One way to make Drupal themes without tables is to look up css layouts in Google. Then download an open-source CSS layout that you like. Put the main HTML in a Drupal template file called page.tpl.php. Insert the PHPtemplate variables into the HTML (a list of PHPtemplate variables is listed above). Put the CSS in a file called style.css.

Then add the other Drupal template files like block.tpl.php and comment.tpl.php. You can essentially copy those out of Bluemarine because they don't have tables in them.

Some places to find CSS layouts for making tableless Drupal themes are:

See also Chapter 8 of the Apress book Pro Drupal Development by John Van Dyk and Matt Westgate.

Thx. for tips :) PS: Forum

Thx. for tips :)

PS: Forum and Adminpanel makes most problems. block.tpl.php, comment.tpl.php, node.tpl.php or page.tpl.php do not make problems.

How can i make a Theme

Hey i know its kindo of dumb but, i've reading about customizing theme and some how i cant even change some minim details like backgrounds and stuffs.

I foun the #header and i did change a least the color but when i save the style.css nothing happens... its like they ignore my changes. If theres a manual where i can step by step (jaja its kind for dummies) change a theme or some one who can tell me how to make one or better if you guys can tell me how you do it. I have some skills of html (know the language) but i just can read css. Any way, some other guide i do apraciate.

What ill do maybe its record my all i did and then you see...

Webmaster Tips's picture

Drupal Theme CSS

If you post a link to your site, I could take a look.

Did you upload the CSS file to your server after you were done editing it? It might be a small problem like that.

Very good tutorial. Thank's

Very good tutorial. Thank's a lot.

Hi, thanks for your

Hi, thanks for your article.

I am using the vote up or down module, and I want it to show on the comments of a specific content type.

Is there a way to force this by saving a comment-content_name.tpl.php or something like this?


Thanks for this nice

Thanks for this nice tutorial.
It was very helpful when I was Drupal theming novice :-)

Webmaster Tips's picture

Drupal theming

Thanks for stopping by and leaving feedback. I like your "artists" theme. Just downloaded it and may use it on a site.

Print $scripts

I saw no mention of including <?php print $scripts ?> after $styles etc. Any reason that was omitted?

Webmaster Tips's picture


Good catch...
I'm not sure why it's missing there, but I think that I copied and pasted it from Drupal 4.7's Bluemarine theme.

I've updated it now.


Webmaster Tips's picture

Bluemarine or Garland?

"I'd like to replace the blue gradient of blue marine at the top (header) with an image..."

Do you mean Bluemarine or Garland? I don't think Bluemarine has a header gradient. If you want to modify a theme I don't recommend starting with Garland. Bluemarine is a good beginners' theme, and after that try the Zen theme.

Wonderful Information

I was having a hard time understanding a few things but once I read what you have here, it all made some sense. Thank you for taking the time to put this up, wanted you to know that it does help.

This is great info thanks

This is great info thanks for sharing it. I have been trying to make my own theme because the ones that I found on were not that good.

how to enable the custom theme?

Hi there! Im just a newbie. I have this problem when I copied the garland theme to sites/all/themes/ directory and named it to something else but I can't see it in the themes list on my drupal site. I tried also putting it together with the core themes, under themes/ directory but I can't still see it on the theme list. Anyone can help me please..

got it!

I tried downloading some custom themes and put in on the sites/all/themes directory. The first one didn't also appeared on the themes list but the second one does. Then I notice of a INFO file common on the themes that are on the list. I tried to edit this file on my custome theme and it appears now on the list!

Webmaster Tips's picture

Drupal themes

Glad to hear it's working.

implement of html page theme in my site

Hi. I am web developer in php and mysql. i have created a website i want to implement a own html page theme on this site. so can you help me, how to implement? please send your answer to thnx in advance.


I'm trying to build my own theme for my site but I can't enter the page.tpl.php. It said that I'm forbidden. I logged in to the site as admin already and even logged in at the one that host my site but it still says I'm forbidden. Please help me!

Webmaster Tips's picture


Are you using Windows, Mac, or Linux?
Are you trying to edit the file over FTP or through the Drupal control panel in a browser?

Awesome post!!

I’m having a problem styling the div.rounded-block, I edited the png files so they had transparent backgrounds, but the left side of the block is just showing up white. Here’s a screen capture of the block Casino Slots Online .I’m thinking its because the div’s background image is actually longer than the block.How do I fix this?

Webmaster Tips's picture

link spam

"Casino Slots Online" for link text and it's not even a Drupal site. I removed the hyperlink.

Most Detailed Drupal Theme Customization


this is most detailed Drupal Theme Customization, i can see outside of

Many types of content

Hi, thanks for tutorial.

I have a question, I am using a CCK module and i have a lot of types of content. For example: tool, material, service, company. Can i create template for each type (page_tool.tpl.php, page_material.tpl.php, page_companie.tpl.php)

PS suppose i need all templates to be completely different

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