How to Customize a WordPress Theme – DIY Guide for Beginners

Last Updated: Posted On: December 16, 2020 0 Comments Post Views:
how to customize WordPress theme

When it comes to choosing the right WordPress theme for your site, it is always a challenge, especially if you are a beginner. In one of our previous posts, we have already discussed how to choose a WordPress theme. Once you choose a WordPress theme for your site, you might want to customize it as per your requirements. WordPress beginners might not be familiar with the process of theme customization. If you want to customize a WordPress theme but you have no idea how to do that, keep reading this article. Here we will discuss how to customize a WordPress theme in different ways.

Do You Really Want to Customize a WordPress Theme?

Before you can actually start customizing a WordPress theme, you should ask yourself if it is really necessary to do that.

Sometimes you do not need to customize a WordPress theme. Instead, you need to install a plugin. Themes help you design your WordPress site, i.e. how it will look and how it will display content. Whereas, plugins help you add extra functionality to your site. So if the changes you want to make are related to the functionality instead of design, you should consider using a WordPress plugin. For example, if you want to add widgets to your site, create custom fields, register custom post types and taxonomies, or add any extra feature like an online store or SEO enhancement, you should use a plugin instead of customizing a WordPress theme. The WordPress plugin directory has thousands of plugins. Just go to the plugin directory, search for the plugins you want to use, and install them on your website.

But if you want to make changes that are completely design-focused, then you should definitely customize a WordPress theme. And there are different ways to do that. You can choose the way that suits you the best.

Different Ways to Customize a WordPress Theme

Now it is time to learn how to customize a WordPress theme. But before we dive in and start customizing a WordPress theme, you should get familiar with the different ways to customize a WordPress theme. Below is an overview of the options available according to situations:

  • WordPress has a built-in customizer using which you easily customize your fonts, color, header image, and maybe the layout too, depending on your WordPress theme. The theme customizer is available on the WordPress dashboard.
  • If your WordPress theme has a page builder, you can also use that to customize the design of your website.
  • If you are comfortable editing the CSS or PHP file of your website, you should consider editing the code in your WordPress theme.

#1 – Use WordPress Customizer

If you are looking for the easiest way to customize a WordPress theme, you should definitely use the WordPress theme customizer. Depending on your WordPress theme, there are a different set of changes you can make to your WordPress site. And to do that, you need to go to the Customization page. Follow the steps shown below:

Step 1: Firstly, you need to open your WordPress dashboard. Make sure you are logged in as an admin.

Step 2: On your WordPress dashboard, click Appearance > Themes.

Accessing themes from the WordPress dashboard

Step 3: This will take you to the Themes page. Here you will see all the themes you have installed along with the active theme being highlighted. Click Customise on the active theme.

customize a WordPress theme

Step 4: This will take you to the WordPress customizer page where you can customize your WordPress site in real-time. You will see a list of the available options on the left-hand side of the page. Whereas, the right-hand side of the page will show you the live preview of the changes you will be making.

WordPress Theme Customizer

Step 5: After making the changes, you can simply click the Publish button on the top to save the changes.

Note: Some WordPress themes may have a wide range of customization options. So you can easily customize almost everything related to your website design.

Refer to this article for some useful information – How to Use WordPress Theme Customizer Like a Pro.

2 – Use Page Builder

You can also customize a WordPress theme by using page builders. They give lots of flexibility with the layout and design of your web pages. Many WordPress themes have a built-in page builder. So if your theme has a page builder, you can use it to customize the design and layout of your WordPress site. If your WordPress theme does not have a page builder, you can simply install a page builder plugin like Elementor.

WordPress Elementor Page Builder

With the help of like Elementor, you can easily set the design of your website. The user-friendly drag-and-drop interface of Elementor lets you see the changes you are making. Elementor has a wide range of options using which you can design your website exactly the way you want it. You can simply drag and drop the elements from the options shown on the left-hand side of the page. You can see how your content will look, and also you can make sure that each of your web pages looks unique.

3 – Edit Your Theme’s Code

To customize a WordPress theme, you can try to edit your theme’s code. Although this method will give you full control over customization, you should only try it if you are comfortable editing the CSS or PHP file. This method is extremely helpful if you are editing your own theme, specially designed for your website. You can make the changes by simply editing the code of your WordPress theme.

Note: In case you are using a third-party WordPress theme and you want to edit it, first you should create a child theme. This will help you avoid losing the changes whenever you update the theme.

Before editing the code of your WordPress theme, you should understand which themes file you need to edit because every theme file has a different function or control. Generally, there are 3 main files that may need to edit – the stylesheet, the functions file, and the theme template files.

Edit the Stylesheet (CSS)

edit stylesheet file on WordPress

Every WordPress theme has a stylesheet file, called styles.css. As the name suggests, the style.css file contains all the codes to style a website, such as fonts, color, layouts, and more. For example, if you want to make color-related changes in your WordPress theme, you need to edit the stylesheet. And if you want to add a new font to your WordPress site, you need to use the stylesheet to apply the newly added font to different elements, such as the body text, headings, etc. Refer to this article for more information – How to Edit a WordPress CSS File.

Edit the Function Files

The function file (aka functions.php) is another common file that is available in all WordPress themes. A WordPress theme has many functions, such as how many sidebars a layout should have, how many thumbnails need to be generated for each image, etc. Each such function is registered inside a file, called functions.php. It works as a controller file of your WordPress theme to produce the outputs you need.

edit theme functions file

If you want to add a new functional code or edit an existing one, this is the file you need to work on. Refer to this article for more information – How to Edit functions.php File.

Note: While editing the function files, keep the below points in mind – 

  • You should edit a function file only when it is very necessary. If possible, you can simply write a plugin instead of adding a new code to the functions. In this way, you can keep the newly added functionality when you switch to a new theme in the future.
  • The functions file is written in PHP so make sure you are quite familiar with it. Do not use the codes blindly that you have copied from Google. Try to understand more about the code before adding it.

Edit the Theme Template Files

Most of the files in a WordPress theme are called theme template files. They determine what type of content WordPress will show on a particular page, according to the template hierarchy. If you want to change the way your content is shown on a particular post or page, you need to edit one of the theme template files or create a new one, if not available.

For example, your WordPress theme has an archive.php file that is used to show the archive pages of categories and tags. You want to make changes to the way tags are shown. So you need to create a new file, called tag.php, based on the archive.php file with your changes.

Refer to this article for some useful information – Learn how to edit WordPress theme HTML.


Customizing a WordPress theme means making changes to a WordPress theme and design your site as per your requirement. Today most of the WordPress themes are fully customizable. So you can easily customize a WordPress theme to design your website the way you want it. The article has explained different ways to customize a WordPress theme. Now you have to decide which method you would like to choose.


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