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Theme Lab Look-alike Theme Review

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I receive e-mails all the time with compliments on Theme Lab‘s design. People frequently ask if they could get a copy of the theme I use here, but I’ve always politely declined.

I feel that this design is part of the “brand” here at Theme Lab, and I wouldn’t want to dilute that brand by giving away my theme.

To any of you who don’t know, this design was custom designed, specifically tailored for my site. I’ve had it up for a little over 4 months.

It recently came to my attention that an uncreative individual has released a theme that has an eerily similar resemblance (to say the least) of Theme Lab. At first I thought I wasn’t going to post about this. I mean, why would I want to give a theme like this free publicity? I figured giving it a completely “honest” review would be a better option.

What It Looks Like

Ripoff of Theme Lab

Take a close look at the “tag cloud” in the footer. Look familiar?

What’s this theme called anyway?

In the release post, the author uses 2 different names: NorthBules and NorthBlues. I’m not sure if the author can’t spell or couldn’t decide on what to call it. For the rest of this review, I’ll just assume it’s called NorthBlues.

Setting It Up

The theme setup is relatively straight forward. Following the directions on my how to install a WordPress theme post should be enough. Besides uploading and activating the theme, you can also install the WP-PageNavi plugin for added effect. This plugin is included in the theme download.


As you can see on the demo site as well as the screenshot, you’ll notice three sidebars by default. On your widgets menu, you’ll notice that there is only one widgetized sidebar available to add widgets to. When adding widgets, you’ll see the three sidebars transform into a single sidebar.

Northblues Sidebar

I would consider this theme’s sidebar 33% widget-ready. I guess they didn’t read my tutorial on how to make a theme widget-ready, specifically the part about multiple widget-ready areas.

What I Would Do Differently

Playing off of the lack of widgetized sidebar area, I would also consider adding widgetized areas to the footer as well. This way in case someone wanted to customize the theme’s footer a little more, they could do that without going into the footer.php file and editing code manually.

Another thing I noticed, is that for some reason the Kubrick header customization code is still in functions.php. This is unnecessary code, and I would remove it.


They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, or something like that. Should I be flattered that someone ripped off my theme?

I know I said in the first paragraph in this post that I’ve always decided against giving away Theme Lab’s theme. Now that the flood gates have opened, however, I may consider releasing an “authentic” version of the Theme Lab theme. Of course, it would be stripped of all identifiable Theme Lab graphics (such as the “chemistry-feel” images), leaving you with a nice looking 125×125 ad-ready theme. Is this something you would be interested in?

  • Madara

    I’d like to start by saying “North Bulls” (or whatever they are calling it) is a cheap imitation of Theme Lab. On it’s own, it’s an OK design, but not the quality of a Theme Labs designed theme.

    Now I would love to have a basic Theme Lab Theme for my site. It would be great if you could take out the Lab elements and maybe change the title and/or navbar colors (although I love the green and blue) enough to keep the original unique. Maybe make a customizable base theme that can be easily changed and used on different sites.

    I look forward to see what you can invent!

  • Kyle Eslick

    That REALLY sucks man!

    Things like this really frustrate me. We had someone copy our theme over at Hack WordPress and then copy our individual posts manually to make an almost identical website. I was so upset I almost took down my site, but instead decided to fight back and filed a DMCA complaint which seems to of taken care of the problem.

    As far as your problem, I wouldn’t release your theme. This theme is similar, but yours is much nicer and I really think you should keep it. And that is coming from someone that would love to use a copy of this theme on one of my sites, but I still feel you shouldn’t release it. :)

  • Pangeran | PANGERAN.ORG

    Here’s a quote from me.

    People only copy a good and quality master piece.

    Hence, this bring the meaning…
    You have good and quality master piece!

    Well done, Leland… ;-)

  • Leland

    @Madara: That’s what I had in mind actually. Just a basic Theme Lab theme that could be used as a base for other projects. I appreciate the feedback.

    @Kyle: I do remember that. It appears the site is still online but not actively stealing content anymore. I didn’t know you were considering shutting down Hack WordPress because of that, but I’m glad you didn’t. It’s an invaluable resource of the WordPress community.

    @Pangeran: Thanks very much for the kind words.

  • Jaypee

    Sucks when something like this happens. Although there’s a saying that the “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, I believe that there’s a difference between imitating and copying. Even if you didn’t point out this theme and I’d see it myself, I’d immediately know that it was copied from here.

    I am one of the many fans of your work, especially with this theme you currently use on Theme Lab but I’d never do something like this. :D

    Maybe you can release this theme to the public when you have a new theme/design.

    • Pangeran | PANGERAN.OTG

      Let them be…

      The original artworks always better.
      What if after redesign, someone will copy it.

      Then we need to redesign again? ;-)

  • Alvaro


    I am a wordpress lover and I love those people thta give away their time and skills so we can have good themes for the wordpress community. That’s why for my blogs I always uses wordpress designers, for the following reasn: To promote thier work and to be proud of using a great design.

    I wont use that “NorthBlues” thing. To be honest, I do sometime modify a template but because I want to give it my “touch”. But, I always leave the credit.

    (Sorry, English no my first language)

  • Donace

    I am shocked to read your post; i actually know the owner of techtreak, and I know he brought that template as a psd from sitepoint which he later got coded.

    If you drop him an email, I suppose you could file a dmca against the person who sold the PSD.

    • James Madara

      If this guy is your friend, why not ask him to pull the theme and he can file the DMCA claim himself? I would not want to be know for stealing someone elses work. Just because he bought it don’t make it right.

      • Donace

        realisticly speaking the theme while very similar looking to this one, is different enough to pass the pretentious US copyright.

        The issue is that he has spend $140+ on the psd and coding of the theme, this making a blanket pull out economically unsound.

        I can sit here and argue the case for him, but the bottom line is that theme will probably stay online, with each good design there are many ripoffs, with each bit of bad publicity there is good.

        This arguably is not a ripoff of themelabs main theme, in this argument it could be put as his misfortune, this bad publicity could be seen as one of many or one of few.

        There is little we can do except publicise our work and hope it is worthy of imitation..whether there are created on purpose or unknowingly (as is the case here)

        • James Madara

          You have a valid point. I mean how many Apple knock offs have you seen? People will emulate what they like. From an artists POV as long as someone isn’t pawning off your work as thier own or profitting of your hard work I don’t have a problem with it.

          They call them Starving Artists for a reason. How about a linkback stating: Inspired by ThemeLab at the bottom?

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