How To Change The Nikola Bootswatch Theme

I had my theme for this site set to use Spacelab, which I liked, but the gradients were starting to annoy me so I decided to switch to Journal, which matches my aesthetic tastes a little better. This took more work than I thought it would (mostly because I don't mess with the nikola configuration very often). So these are my notes for the next time.


  1. Install the bootswatch 3 nikola theme (if you haven't already) (nikola install_theme bootstrap3).
  2. Install the journal bootswatch theme (nikola bootswatch_theme -s journal).
  3. Get the base template (nikola theme -c base.tmpl).
  4. In base.tmpl, change navbar-inverse to navbar-default.
  5. Change the anchor color in bootstrap.css to something less creamsicle (and do whatever other CSS adjustments you need to do).
  6. If you need to, minify the CSS (cleancss -o bootstrap.min.css bootstrap.css).
  7. Build the posts (nikola build).
  8. Admire the fruits of your (well, other people's) labor.

Installing the theme

The Bootswatch 3 Theme

I already had the bootswatch 3 theme installed, since I was using Spacelab, but if you don't have it installed this is how to set the base theme:

nikola install_theme bootstrap3

The Journal Theme

Since I want to change the theme to Journal this is the next step (you can also specify a parent theme, but the default is bootstrap3, which is what I wanted anyway):

nikola bootswatch_theme -s journal

This will set up the default bootstrap theme, but you need to re-build the HTML to have it show up on the development-server's web-page (something that I didn't realize initially, causing me to think something was broken).

nikola build

Updating the Template

On re-loading the page I found that it mostly worked, but for some reason it looked more orange than I expected. It turns out that the nikola developer decided that navbar-inverse should be the default style for the navbar (instead of navbar-default) and the section headers are hyperlinks, which in the Journal theme are orange (by orange I really mean something closer to a creamsicle). Following the instructions in this bug report (which says that it isn't a bug, it's a feature) I copied the base template from the nikola installation (in site-packages) into the site using a built-in nikola command.

nikola theme -c base.tmpl

This command creates a file (themes/custom/templates/base.tmpl) which you can edit to override the built-in base template. I opened it up and changed the navbar-inverse CSS class to navbar-default.

<nav class="navbar navbar-default navbar-static-top">

The I re-built the nikola posts, and reloaded the page and there it was, the white navbar I wanted.

Updating the CSS

Fixing the Headline Color

"Fixing" the headlines was more straight-forward. When you install the journal theme it creates a file at themes/custom/assets/css/bootstrap.css (along with a mini-fied version) which you can edit. I decided to leave the anchor-hover value the same but changed the plain anchor color to #990033 so that it's more of a blood red than a creamsicle.

Changing the Font

Since I was editing the CSS anyway I made some other changes. First, I changed the text-font to Goudy Bookletter. It's a little old-fashioned looking, but I've always liked Goudy's fonts. To do this I first added a link to the font:

@import url(",700");

Then I updated the font-family.

body {
  font-family: "Goudy Bookletter 1911", "EB Garamond",  Georgia, "Times New Roman", Times, serif;
  font-size: 3em;
  line-height: 1.42857143;
  color: #777777;
  background-color: #ffffff;

Fixing the headline

For some reason the title of the site has a CSS rule (.navbar-brand #blog-title) that sets the top padding to 15 px even though the other elements have a padding of 19.5 px so I overrode it to make it align with the other elementes.

.navbar-header .navbar-brand #blog-title {
    padding-top: 19.5px;


When I wrote this originally, editing the bootstrap.css file worked, but on one of my other sites the CSS file that is being created uses the file instead. While this seems like it would be preferable, anyway, the change came about unexpectedly - I still don't know why Nikola is doing it on that site and not this one (I guess maybe I'll have to read the manual one of these days). So for that case, after editing the bootstrap.css file you have to minify it (or just make a copy called bootstrap.min.css). To minify it I use Clean CSS CLI.

npm install clean-css-cli -g
cd themes/custom_theme/assets/css/
cleancss -o bootstrap.min.css bootstrap.css

Where the themes folder is in the root of my nikola repository, next to the file.


This isn't really to do with theme-changing, but for completeness, I'll mention it anyway.

nikola github_deploy


Changing the bootswatch theme isn't as hard as it seemed, in retrospect. You just have to know the basic commands (nikola install_theme bootstrap3, nikola bootswatch_theme -s journal), know that the inverse navbar is the default (and how to change it - nikola theme -c base.tmpl), know how to update the CSS to whatever you want (by editing bootstrap.css and minifying it if necessary), and understand that you have to build the site to see the changes on the development server (nikola build).