Whether you talk about forum skins, templates or themes, you are talking about the same thing: how to make your forum look the way you want it. At Vanilla we call it theme, but you can interchange it with template or skin if you prefer. Building a theme consists of two main elements, the CSS or Cascading Style Sheet and the HTML code that calls upon it. You can use a ready-made theme/template/skin and make minor adjustments such as adding a logo and changing a title tag to make it yours. Or you can dive deep into creating your own style sheet and configuring the HTML at code level. With Vanilla you have both options available to you straight from your admin dashboard.
If you want to use a ready-made theme, you can select one from the Themes tab and apply it. You can then customize it with a logo and title from the dashboard as well. You can also apply a custom domain name and/or single-sign-on to another site or application.
If you want to start creating your own unique CSS and HTML you access those tabs from Customize Theme tab. You don’t need to actually create the code from within that interface. Typically you would do that from within an Integrated Development Environment (such as Dreamweaver, Coda or Aptana) or a simple code editor (such as Notepad) and then paste your code into the appropriate tabs provided.
When customizing CSS for a Vanilla Forum, you will work with our system of 5 template tags: asset, link, literal, logo, and searchbox. If you have a good familiarity with CSS and HTML, this system should be straightforward and easy to use. If you are new to these topics, you will want to brush up on these skills first with the help of courses or tutorials such as O’Reilly or Sitepoint. Or if you have neither the time nor the inclination to do this yourself, you can hire a web-designer to do it or you can also hire Vanilla Project Services to do it for you.
Having the right look for you forum is important. It speaks to the overall experience your audience will have when accessing it. If they are coming from another part of your site to the forum, you want to match the look and feel of the rest of the site in the forum. If it is a stand-alone forum site, you want the theme to match the content. Some content-types will match dark and brooding colors, while others require a bright and flowery theme. Ultimately your audience will vote with their eyeballs and mouseclicks so you should have a good sense of what you think will keep them coming back and prepare accordingly.