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I have to admit that I'm a total Magento newbie, just started reading the manual, finished a plain and a demo installation, and preparing the migration from PrestaShop to Magento CE.

I really like the default RWD theme as is, and pretty much would only exchange some colors and make the slider on the homepage 2/3 in a 3 column layout.

I have discovered the RWD dev guide and now I'm wondering if I need to follow that guide with installing compass and making a full copy of the default theme if I only want to implement the mentioned minor changes.

Any advice?

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TBH its worth running through that guide, it wont take too long. If you've not used compass\sass before then spend a couple of hours with a few tutorials on those too.

Once you've got that under your belt you should create the folder structure for your own theme, but then only copy the files you need to modify. in your case prob just the _var.scss, then edit the colours and fonts in there.

try leveluptuts.com/tutorials/sass-tutorials for a quick intro into sass\compass etc (i'm not linked with them)

Once you have this, you can then progress to bigger changes at a later date. Dont forget to change your theme\skin in admin too

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