Automattic Theme Team Releases Plugin to Create Blockbase Child Themes – WP Tavern


On Wednesday, Ben Dwyer announced a new block-based plugin on the Theme Shaper blog. The Automattic theme team had created a child theme creator for its Blockbase WordPress parent theme.

Blockbase quickly began to fulfill the role of Underscores, a starter that many developers used to create custom themes in the classic era. For block models and global styles, something new was needed. It is both a launching pad and an educational tool for theme authors who wish to test the block theme waters.

The approach is different now than in the past. Instead of using Blockbase as a customizable starting point, which is still a valid use case, the Automattic thematic team is leaning much more into the child thematic. He is a single parent raising a legion of children, and the family has grown at a rapid rate. Since Blockbase’s release on WordPress.org, the team has already released five child themes for it. Their theme repository on GitHub shows several more in the works.

With the talent in the team’s arsenal and the Create Blockbase Theme plugin at their fingertips, they could spit out design after design after design. Of course, children’s themes could start to lose their flavor if the team went too fast.

Dwyer created a custom theme called Typewriter, downloadable via the announcement post. For my test, I didn’t go that far into customization and relied on one of Blockbase’s pre-existing color schemes.

I mainly wanted to get a feel for how the tool works. After a bit of tinkering, I had something that still looked a lot like its parent with a few simple changes.

To use the plugin, users need to install and activate the Blockbase theme. Until the release of WordPress 5.9, the Gutenberg plugin is also required. Currently there are two places to make style changes. The first is in the site editor. I made some adjustments to the header template part and the index template. I also changed some overall styles.

WordPress site editor displaying a site's index page on the left and the global styles panel on the right.
Customization of the index template and global styles.

The second place to change the theme’s design is through the customizer, which Blockbase activates (it is not accessible by default with block themes). The long term goal should be to move all of those additional customizations to the Site Builder when it handles all of the necessary use cases, such as a Web Fonts API.

After changing the color scheme and selecting a few custom fonts, everything was in place.

WordPress theme customizer with an open font panel on the left.
Selecting a custom font.

After I had all the customizations I wanted, I headed to Appearance> Create Blockbase Theme in Admin. The page has a handful of fields to fill in – just basic information on the topic. Once I’m done, clicking “Create Blockbase Theme” created a downloadable ZIP file.

Plugin settings screen with theme information fields to generate a Blockbase child theme.
Generate a Blockbase child theme.

Everything worked. The only issue I encountered was with the theme folder slug when using a multi-word theme name. Tavern Test become tavern_test.zip. It is common practice to split theme folders instead of using an underscore to separate multiple words.

The plugin adds a blank screenshot.png to file. Creators will want to change this if they intend to publicly release their custom child theme.

It’s the kind of future I have envisioned for a long time for the WordPress theme space, a future that can allow anyone to create their own designs. It’s a future where an end user, even a non-encoder, can tinker around for a while, export whatever they’ve built, and share it with others.

We’re not there with WordPress itself. The Site Editor currently allows users to export their models. However, I hope this same functionality will be extended to exporting a fully installable parent or child theme in the future. The basis of democratizing design means that anyone can try it out without learning to code.


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