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Getting started with your new Big Cartel shop

Filed in Getting Started & Troubleshooting

Read ALL of this article before working with your new theme. It is required reading for learning how to use your basic and advanced Aarcade theme features.

The instructions provided in this article, and throughout this support site, are purpose-written for users of any experience level. It may look daunting if you scroll through the length of the article, but it is quick and easy to get through if you focus on just completing one section at a time in the order presented.

Most enquiries we receive are answered within the following introductory instructions. In these cases we will refer users back to this article. So please make sure that you have worked through this article before contacting support to ensure that both you and Aarcade get to proceed as efficiently as possible.


The following article requires that you have completed ALL of the steps detailed in How do I install my Big Cartel theme?

Do not be concerned if your theme installation appears broken or messy at this point. The following sections – including Check Your Installation – will walk you through refreshing and reviewing your installation.

Maintenance Mode

It is likely that your Big Cartel shop was placed into Maintenance Mode during your theme installation. Your shop can not be accessed by the public while your Maintenance Mode is active, so be aware of your shop status and activate / deactivate as required – refer Big Cartel “How does maintenance mode work?” help article.

Note that you will need to log in to be able to view your shop and/or manage this setting – see section Your First Log In below.

Additionally, your admin View store link will not work if you have incorrectly set a custom domain – see section Your First Log In > Custom Domain below.

We recommend that you leave maintenance mode active until you have finished working through this article.

Check Your Installation

View your shop outside of your Customize design preview panel – i.e. load your Big Cartel URL, for example..

..directly in a new browser window. If you only see your maintenance message then you will need to log into your shop – see section Your First Log In below – and then repeat the instructions above.

With your Big Cartel URL loaded in your browser, refresh your browser by clicking the circular arrow icon in your browser toolbar. This will ensure that any old theme assets are cleared from your cache. If your shop still looks incorrect, close your browser completely, restart it and then revisit your Big Cartel URL.

Note: Always view and refresh your shop in this manner after making changes to your shop and theme.

Your shop layout should now look the same as Aarcade’s preview for your installed theme. Review all areas of your shop at this stage. While browsing your shop, add products to your cart and checkout (you should see the PayPal checkout page at the final step).

Messy Title? Missing Header Image?

Note that the correct theme installation process will clear your header image and your site title may look messy or broken across multiple lines at the default font settings. Uploading your header image, adjusting your site title font size, header margins, alignment and area is part of getting started with your new theme (covered later in the Basic Theme Settings section).

Messy Menus?

Note that your menus may take up multiple lines, and even overwhelm your shop design, depending upon the number of pages and categories you are using in your shop. Reorganising these into clean and approachable menus is part of getting started with your new theme (covered later in the Customise Your Menus section).

Cropped Images?

Note that some themes crop product images to portrait dimensions by default and, depending upon size and framing of your images, this may not be ideal for your shop. Choosing the correct image size setting for your shop is part of getting started with your new theme (covered later in the The Importance of Product Image Quality and Size section).

Broken? Incorrect Layout?

If any section of your shop looks significantly different to Aarcade’s preview, or any features or checkout do not work, it is very likely that there has been an error during your installation. If this is the case, please refer to I think my Big Cartel theme is broken.

Your First Log In

If you are not already logged in to your Big Cartel admin area, you can do so now at the admin subdirectory of your shop – for example:

Note that your Big Cartel admin area includes quick help links. Just click the closest help icon for more information on using a specific area of your admin.

When you first log in to your Big Cartel admin after theme installation, we recommend that you carry out the following items:

Store Settings

Navigate to the Store > Settings admin area and review all of your store settings, edit as necessary and save. Be sure to include the following items in your review:

  • Store name: the name of your site, to appear in your header, page titles and links to your site.
  • Description: enter a brief description of your site. Make it accurate and captivating as this is the description that will be displayed in Google searches when no specific page description is available.
  • Store type: This defines the category you will be listed under in Big Cartel’s Store Directory.
  • Google Analytics ID: If you wish to log the traffic to your site, enter your Google Analytics code in accordance with the instructions provided.

PayPal and contact email settings

  • PayPal email: this setting must match the email for the PayPal account that you wish to use to process your shop orders and collect customer payments. PayPal order notifications and other important PayPal alerts will be sent to your PayPal email. Refer to PayPal > Update email for more information.
  • Contact email: all messages sent via your shop Contact page, as well as all notifications from Big Cartel, will be sent to this email address. Double check that you have correctly entered a working email address.
Store Promotion

To ensure that you are listed in Big Cartel’s Store Directory, navigate to the Promote > Extras admin area and upload a thumbnail image to represent your store.

Custom Domain

A custom domain strengthens your brand and SEO, but can cause significant site issues and even damage SEO when applied incorrectly. When applying a custom domain:

Note that your Website field – just below your custom domain field – is provided for an external web site, i.e. separate from your Big Cartel, like a WordPress blog. It should not be the same as your custom domain and should be left blank if you do not want to link to an external site.

The Customize design Area

The Customize design area – accessed via the Customize design link in your admin area – is used in the following sections to edit your theme settings. It displays a working preview of your shop while you are editing.

It is important to note that the preview may not always display your shop correctly, so if you make changes and they do not seem to be reflected properly in your preview (this more commonly occurs with complex content like slideshow, galleries, etc.), save your changes and view your shop outside of the preview area in the same way discussed at the beginning of this support article.

If your shop looks completely broken and nothing like Aarcade’s theme preview in your preview area, or you continue to see a disconnect between viewing inside and outside of your preview area, please refer now to I am having problems with my Big Cartel Customize design (preview) admin area.

Your CSS Area and Style Blocks

You will be working in your admin CSS area during your basic theme set up. Please review the support article How do I locate and use my theme's CSS? now as this will give you a brief introduction to the sections of your CSS area, including Colours, Fonts, Extra Styles, etc. Browse through the titles in your CSS area as you read the article to ensure that you are familiar with the settings available for your theme.

We also provide a growing collection of free style blocks – essentially replacement code for your CSS area – that quickly transform the appearance of your theme and give you a different starting point for your theme customisation. If you are interested in installing an alternate style block, now is the best time to do so, i.e. before proceeding with the rest of this article. Review How do I install and uninstall an alternate style block? for information on locating and installing style blocks.

Basic Theme Settings

Navigate to the Customize design > Customize (customize) admin area and review and change your basic options to suit your preferences, refer to How do I use the basic "Customize" options for my Big Cartel theme?

The basic options covered in the above-linked article include:

  1. Uploading a custom header image or logo
  2. Setting header image or text alignment and margins
  3. Uploading a custom background image
  4. Customising your theme text and layout colours
  5. Customising the text font and size for your site title*, menus and content
  6. Setting the number of products displayed on your home and products page
  7. Setting which products are displayed on your home page
  8. Display / hide your inventory bars, search field, newest products, top selling products and RSS feed

*Adjusting the site title font size can be particularly important if you have a long site name that appears messy or broken across multiple lines at the default font size. Note that header margin settings, and in some cases other Extra Styles, will increase/decrease your header area – see What is the size of my header area?

Incomplete Product Image Rows

Note that your products per page settings (item 6 above) are used to ensure a full grid of products are displayed on your shop pages, without an incomplete last row. You will need to make sure these settings are appropriate for your theme and adjust as necessary.

Also note that your home and products page image size setting (covered in a later section of this article) affect the number of products displayed per row, so any time you change these sizes you will also need to change your products per page settings accordingly.

Further Customisation

Further customisation of your theme, via your unique Aarcade theme features – including options for social network icon links, sharing, image sizing, navigation/menus and much more – is covered in the Customising Your Theme section at the end of this article.

Customise Your Menus

Your shop menus are defined by the pages, categories and custom option settings you have added to your site. In some cases, if you have many pages and/or categories, your menus may look cluttered and untidy after theme installation. To create, edit or tidy up your menus, refer to How do I add links to my shop menus? (An overview of all Aarcade menu areas)

The above-linked article includes creating, hiding and moving links in your:

  • Page Menu, Category Menu and Footer Menu (i.e. your main menu areas)
  • Sub-Page Menus and Sub-Category Menus
  • Artist Menu, Special Menu Items (Home, View All and Site) and Custom Link Menu Items
Custom Content and Page Templates

There are a number of resources and articles to help you add pages and custom content to your site, including:

Reviewing the above will also help you get familiar with other content tools built into your Aarcade theme, like shortcodes and insert content.

Back Up Your Theme

After customising your theme settings and adding custom pages, it is good practice to back up your theme including these changes – refer to How do I back up my Big Cartel theme?

Your Checkout Experience

To maintain your shop’s branding through the checkout experience, it is recommended that you log in to your PayPal account and customise your PayPal checkout page, refer to How do I customise my PayPal payment page?

Theme License and Usage

If your new theme files include a file named readme, double click this file to open it and review the contents. It is important that you take the time to view your theme readme file as it contains information about your theme installation, usage and license.


These support sites are your best resource for quickly and efficiently finding an answer to any queries you have in the future. Visit them now and bookmark them as required.

  • Big Cartel Help – Your Aarcade theme supports all standard Big Cartel features, so refer to Big Cartel Help for more information on the settings in your Big Cartel admin area (e.g. product options, inventory tables, shipping and tax settings, etc.)
  • Aarcade Support – Use the search field or browse the categories listed at the top right of this support site to find detailed articles on using your unique Aarcade theme features.
  • Featherweight Updates – Keep up with the latest updates for your theme and new products for Aarcade and other Featherweight projects.

These support resources also include articles to help you grow your business, like:

Get Started – Add Products

Your basic shop set up is now complete. When you are ready to start adding products you can navigate to the Products admin area and start adding products and assigning them to categories. For details on adding products and setting product options refer to:

The Importance of Product Image Quality and Size

We strongly recommend that you establish a high quality and preferred size for your product images. These are among the most important elements in the appearance and success of your online shop.

Refer now to Big Cartel theme product image preparation and size.

Cropped Images?

If your theme’s default thumbnail size is cropping your images in an undesirable way, note that you can change this by setting different thumbnail sizes as covered in the section Setting Thumbnail Size and Removing Image Cropping of the above-linked article.

Customising Your Theme

Even if you do not wish to carry out further theme customisation at this stage, please read through all of this section to ensure that you are aware of the extra theme features available to you.

Advanced Theme Area

After installation you should never make changes to the theme page titles or page code in your Customize design > Advanced (advanced) admin area except to edit your CSS and set your custom options as described below.

Should you ever need to add custom script or meta tags to your theme, refer to How do I insert code into my Big Cartel theme layout?

Custom Options

Read and understand ALL of the support article How do I use the Custom Options for my Big Cartel theme? This article will allow you to discover the many additional custom settings for your theme (options for social network and sharing, image sizing, navigation/menus and much more). Review and set your custom options to suit your preferences.

Browsing or searching this support site will also lead you to articles specifically covering some of the most common custom option settings. For example:

Your Home Page

Your home page is typically your first impression upon your visitor. To keep your visitor at your site make sure your home page has clear and concise content. Consider hierarchy; what’s your most important message and where do you want your visitor to navigate to next? Don’t cram your home page with too many links, ads or other content that will make your site look spammy.

Browsing or searching this support site will lead you to articles specifically covering home page customisation. For example:

Also keep in mind that too many elements on the home page – i.e. too many slide images, too many products, etc. – can cause your home page to load slowly or even incorrectly on some low-memory devices (like older mobile phones). This can lead to visitors abandoning your shop before you have even had a chance to capture their interest.

Built In Tools

Aarcade themes include many built in tools that allow you to easily customise your shop content, including:

  1. Shortcodes – for creating slide shows, galleries, columns and other custom content
  2. Insert Content – for inserting custom content anywhere in your shop – e.g. category banners – without editing your core theme files
  3. Extended Category Controls – for hiding category / product links, labeling products or creating automatic categories for sale items or price groups

Read the above linked articles to get familiar with these tools and get the most out of your Aarcade theme.

Know Your Shop and Theme

Although the following items are not critical in getting your shop started, we strongly recommend that you complete each of these items at your earliest convenience. This will help you become familiar with the powerful features of your shop and theme, enabling you to create and maintain a more tailored and effective web site for your visitors.

  1. Browse around all areas of your Big Cartel admin. If you see a control that you do not understand, take the time to look it up in the Big Cartel manual and understand it.
  2. Browse the templates in our Extras section to get familiar with the tools built into your Aarcade theme, like shortcodes and insert content.
  3. Browse the complete feature list for your Aarcade theme, ref. standard feature list. This will help you become aware of features that may be useful to you. You can then use the relevant categories, or search input, of this support site to find out how to use these features.
  4. Browse the categories (see right side bar) of this support site to become familiar with the support available to you.
Advanced Customisation

If you have correctly followed all of this article so far, you have already discovered the essential tools for performing customisation (e.g. custom options, basic settings, menu controls, etc.). When performing further customisation, always remember:

  1. Use the support resources (see previous section) and your shop and/or theme features to achieve the customisation you desire, rather than adding or editing code (CSS, HTML, API, etc.).
  2. Never add code or content directly to your theme pages, i.e. Layout, Home, Products, Product, Cart, Checkout, Success, Contact and Maintenance, other than to set your custom options. Instead use Insert Content pages.
  3. Review your Customize design > Advanced (advanced) – CSS including all sections as detailed in the article How do I locate and use my theme's CSS?
  4. To make use of your custom styles area, refer to How do I create custom override styles?
  5. If your only option is to add / edit coding (CSS, HTML, API, etc.) to achieve your customisation, read How do I customise my Big Cartel theme? before proceeding.

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