Look Before You Leap

Trying out new themes is fun, isn’t it? I think so! The thing about changing my blog’s theme that has traditionally bugged me, though, is the 10-15 minutes right after you click “Activate” when you have to rush through uploading a new custom header, maybe resetting the background, fiddling with a new sidebar configuration, and other transition adjustments so that people won’t see your site in a half-switched state. Maybe I’m overly sensitive to that — I don’t like to leave things half-painted either — but luckily for me we’ve just finished a new feature to improve this very thing. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to our new theme customization tool* and say good-bye to half-painted websites.

The customizer provides a live preview as you play with Appearance settings, and can be used to customize a live preview of a new theme before you activate it, or to make changes to your existing theme. It allows you to edit the site title and tagline, custom headers and backgrounds, navigation placement, front page selection, and other options that vary by theme. It works with both free themes and premium themes. Shall we take a test drive?

Imagine you want to change themes. As you are browsing on the Themes screen, notice the new “Live Preview” link and click it.

Theme browser screenshot

You’re taken to the customizer. As you make changes, the preview in the right-hand part of the screen updates live so you can get things just right.

Previewer in action with Shelf theme

When things look the way you want them, click the Save & Activate button in the lower left (or Save & Purchase if it is a premium theme) and boom, your new theme and custom settings are live!

You can also use the live preview feature to customize your existing theme. On the themes screen in your dashboard, you’ll now see a “Customize” button that launches the previewer.

Screenshot of current theme management screen

And don’t worry, you still have access to the regular screens for adjusting these and other features. Just use the navigation for the Appearance section like you always have.

Screenshot of Appearance section navigation

So, please try it out, and let us know what you think in the comments! I hope you like  it as much as we do. If you hit any snags, let us know in the forums so that we can help.

But wait, there’s more!

Yes, more! Here are a couple of smaller additions also aimed at making it easier to customize your site and make it look just the way you want it.

  • When choosing a custom header image, you can now choose from your Media Library. I looove this, because I have uploaded the same header image at least a dozen times to re-use it when I changed themes.
  • For themes that support it, custom headers now have a recommended size rather than a fixed required size, so you can be flexible with the height and width of your header images. I love this too, because sometimes I really like a theme but the header image I want to use is taller or shorter than the theme design allows. Now, the power is in your hands to decide! The goal is for as many themes as possible on WordPress.com to support this feature, but you can see if we’ve added it to yours yet by checking the list of supported themes.

And one last thing…
If you know HTML, you can now add links and a little bit of formatting to your image captions. This is great for people who want to link a photo credit to the photographer’s blog or to a Creative Commons license, or want to make some text bold or italicized. At some point in the future we may add a WYSIWYG option, but for now you’ll just need to learn some basic HTML tags if you want to use this one. Just type the HTML right into the caption field in the image uploader, and your links will appear like magic. So this:

Screenshot of html caption

becomes this:

four kittens

You can adopt adorable kittens at your local Humane Society.
Make a new friend and save a life today!
Photo by Jane Wells, saver of kittens

I’ve been wanting this feature for four years now, so I’m really excited.

Have fun with these new features!

*Fun Fact: While this feature was in development, it was originally conceived as a wizard, or guided walkthrough. We codenamed it Gandalf. :)

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Jane Wells


Comments are closed.

  1. whatnomints

    This is great!! I always love to try out new themes, but I could never get a complete feel for them the way it used to be set up – Thanks for adding this, off to check it out now!!

    • Jane Wells

      I know what you mean — the old preview was helpful, but you could never really tell what it would be like once you updated the colors and stuff. Glad you’re checking it out!

  2. Lydia

    Oh, I am stoked about those HTML captions! Thanks for including that feature!

  3. Cutaway Creation

    New user here of WordPress so have been trying many themes out to find one i like and already a fantastic update to help me along the way. Great stuff!

  4. Sandra Pawula

    This is incredible! I’ve changed themes often so it’s a real gift to being to try a theme on before making the plunge. I’m also thrilled about being able to use the header size of my choice. That makes a huge difference. For example, I’ve always loved the twenty eleven theme, but not the gigantic header. This is a great option.

    Now…when will twenty-twelve be bursting on the scene?

  5. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude)

    This is absolutely brilliant! (Both the ability to preview and adjust the header size.) Thank you.

    If I had one next wish, it would be to add a preview for font customization. Many times that’s a deal-breaker for me.

    • Jane Wells

      We’ll be trying to add the more complicated settings to the customizer in the future, but I’m not sure when it will happen.

  6. Mikalee Byerman

    I LOVE THIS!!! I have “broken” my blog so many times…as someone with serious commitment issues, I like to play too much! Now I’m guaranteed a safe outlet for my commitment therapy.

    Thank you!

  7. blastedgoat

    LOVE this. I freak out about switching because I’m a perfectionist and know it will take me forever to get things “just right.” Thank you WordPress!! The header and caption options are also great for the OCD blogger :)

  8. jalexartis

    Thank you! I’ve so needed this!!!

  9. Linda Cassidy Lewis

    Thank you!!! This is one of the most useful improvements you’ve made.

    • Jane Wells

      Ultimately, I want every improvement we make to feel like that. As we knock out one challenge and move on to the next, thinking about how much easier using WordPress could still become is a good motivator to keep updating how we think about blogging.

  10. theartmotel

    Super love these additions! I LOVE WordPress!!!!

  11. New Heights Dance Ministry

    Too bad, I just missed this feature since I just upgraded my website to “Oxygen” theme. My website is still “under construction” since this feature wasn’t out yet, but thanks! Maybe I’ll change it again in a year or two!

    • Jane Wells

      The customizer can be used on your current theme, too. Just go to Appearance → Themes and click the Customize button under your current theme’s description.

  12. timethief

    I change themes frequently in my public blogs and also on my private tests blog while answering questions on the support forum. I love this new very useful feature. Thank you so much for it.

  13. Ro

    This is a fantastic update! Having to backtrack and redo headers, background and other things, only to see that I don’t like the result is one of the most annoying parts of using themes. I’m excited to see that it’ll be easier!

  14. Ludwig

    The custom header size is a great addition! So many blogs have way too much space taken up by the header image, I have been trying to find themes with smaller height headers – allowing this to be customized it really helpful. Now, I wish that this is rolled out to all my themes soon. Shameless plea: Add Nishita and Twenty Ten soon.

  15. JPK

    Hahaha this is well needed I just feel like you looked over my shoulder and reported how I feel changing haha great article

  16. Jessica

    Great update, cannot wait to play around with it now! :D Thanks WordPress!

  17. Fish & Bicycles

    This is AWESOME! Thanks!

  18. blogsausbetties

    Thanks, Jane – have just switched my theme and understand what you are talking about. Great help!

  19. Liv Elin

    Tickled pink over this, thanks bunches!

  20. newpillowbook

    This sounds WONDERFUL!

  21. PiedType

    Whee! This sounds much better than having a test blog. And the caption thing rocks! I’m constantly tinkering with my blog, so a feature like this is going to be used a lot. Thanks!

  22. sabahsongs

    Live previews, custom headers in media gallery – those are fabulous improvements. Thank you so much. WordPress is amazing and you guys are the best!

  23. thatfellow

    The Live Preview addition is great. I’m the type who still likes to change theme from time to time and this definitely helps me to decide.

  24. holeinthefabic

    WordPress FTW =) what made me laugh about the cats from the shelter is that my cat is about to have kittens and I need to find homes for them as well!! How can something so cute not be loved xD

    • Jane Wells

      Of the kittens in the picture, we wound up keeping 2, and the others found homes with friends or family. In fact, one of the black ones found her new home at a WordCamp!

  25. the blogging disciple

    You continue to make RAVING FANS of us. :)

    WordPress is: “All that and a bag of chips!”

    Thank you very much! :)

  26. Nicolle

    I was just looking at possible new premium themes for my blog and noticed that new button. Didn’t realize I could preview other changes though. That’s awesome!
    You rock! :-)

    • Jane Wells

      With premium themes especially, I think it helps a lot to see how you could make it look before you buy it so that you can feel secure in knowing that you are making the right choice.

  27. chyrondave

    I have actually gone and created a duplicate of my blog that I keep private for the sole purpose of mucking around with alternate looks. This way, I can “break” that blog without having to try and correct it on the main blog.

    • Jane Wells

      You’re not the only one who does this. Hopefully this new feature will make it a little easier to fiddle with your blog’s appearance without having to switch back and forth between sites.

      • chyrondave

        I don’t find it that much of a problem since I like to tinker a lot. It gives me the opportunity to take a look at what may need to be done with tweaks so that I don’t get blindsided.

  28. Huffygirl

    This is incredible – I’ve been reluctant to change themes because I don’t want to scramble around changing it all back it I don’t like the new one. If I set up the live preview and don’t like it, can I still go back to the old one?

    • Jane Wells

      Yep! As long as you don’t click the save button you’ll be all set. Click the “Return to Manage Themes” link in the upper left to go back to the previous screen.

  29. jenmorris

    Big thumbs up for this one! I’m so glad WordPress.com is working on the little things that make a big difference to us.

  30. thisislemonade

    Great! Little improvements make a huge difference. WordPress has great functionality and these improvements make it more fun and less of a risk-taking exercise to personalise my blog ;) Thanks!

  31. Salih Emin

    One of the most waited features !!!
    Now you’ve destroyed any reason NOT to play with the themes… Now I have to test them and play with, all of them !!!
    When will I stop procrastinating by playing with themes and start writing again? :)

  32. Stef

    I have been pining for HTML in photos ever since I started my wordpress blogs 2 years ago; so glad that it’s finally here!

  33. todayiwatchedamovie

    The update I’ve always wanted but didn’t know it.

  34. purpleowltree1234

    Cool changes! …Makes me want to go get another couple kittens!! (that would make five…) >^~^<

  35. troy

    Been there and done that with the ‘rushing’ on new themes ….it’s a great feature! And I love the html imaging tagging as well, thanks :)

  36. Monique Shante

    I just started my blog & the Live Preview has been fantastic for viewing almost all of the themes, & choosing one that fits my style! Great addition!

  37. IEBA

    This is delicious.
    After having just built a site for a client, the biggest PITA is the fact that I can _sort_ of see what a theme would look like for my client, but only after building it do I see that certain critical features I now have aren’t in the new theme. Pissed off.

    So now we can build it and “take it for a test drive” as it were. That is about a bazillion times more betterer than it was. Mo betta.

    But the one thing that I would STILL need is the ability to “bank” several themes so that I can have them pre-built and jump between them. Right now, that takes several different test accounts, and uploading all the artwork fresh for each test account, building each custom widget for each test account.

    The ability to poke around, see an issue and then jump into theme B or C to check on that feature would be “Facebook IPO” better.

    Oh, and as for links and bold in captions, I remember doing that way back in v 2.5 or so, so thanks for bringing it back, but I really recall having done it before. Maybe it was on self-hosted stuff. I forget. It was a while ago.

    • Jane Wells

      Re HTML in captions, maybe it was a plugin on a self-hosted install? We’ve just added the feature in 3.4, and I started working on WP at v2.5 in 2008 and it wasn’t there..

  38. suzysomething

    You have no idea how much this would have helped me last week when I was changing “addresses” and blog names. I will be so very happy to have it available from now on because I like to “play” with the appearance of my blogs, sort of like redecorating my office every season, and if it won’t be seen by the few who actually do see my blogs unless I publish it, I’ll feel a lot better about it! Some of my trials are more errors than successes. Thank you!

  39. Dr. CaSo

    OK OK, I have been super mad for a few weeks now (because of the new comment->email setting and the new commenting requirements) but the HTML-in-a-caption feature makes me VERY happy! Have been hoping for that for years!!!! Thanks :)

  40. oldswimmer

    Woo Hoo! Great changes! WordPress, you guys are super. Thanks.

  41. Kathy

    Being able to choose header photos from the Media Library is extremely helpful, as is the flexible size. Thank you!

  42. scrunchyy

    Thank you! This is awesome!

  43. Josh

    This is amazing! Thankyou so much!

  44. MindMindful

    I’ve learned — the hard way! — map out the changes I want to make beFORE activation of a new theme, so that I can quickly put them all in place. But this …….. THIS, is the best thing EVer!! I genuflect to you…………. (& I amost wish I was ready to change again)

  45. blacklobster

    This is wonderful – I’ve been wondering about this. Is there an easy way to back out of the live preview if you don’t like the experiment? (like, you just want to go back to your original appearance) Thanks!

    • Jane Wells

      Yep, instead of clicking the Save button at the button, click the Return to Manage Themes link at the top. Easy as pie!

  46. Erleen H.

    You have NO idea how timely this is! I was pretty much crying for something like it the whole week!… thank you so so much!

  47. Jojie Alcantara

    Ahh, thank you. Making WP more awesome than ever. :-)

  48. JC Giraldo & Your Brand

    Hi NIce Post…Just today I Changed my Template and I followed all your “instructions”…was coincidence because I did before read your post…but my new template is more fresh and more “friendly”..!!
    Have Fun !

  49. Gwendolyn Alley aka Art Predator

    I decided to switch themes the other day for my Wine Predator blog and noticed this feature. Wow! fun! But I wasn’t sure what I was doing and what was going on there–very useful blog post! (I changed to splendio from vigilence)

  50. Buhori

    Love it…

  51. jessielansdel

    Excellent. I’m a serial theme hopper so this is just my cuppa tea. :D

  52. Irfan Hussain

    Thanks for writing this. I found it very helpfull. Especially the html formatting part. Oh btw, nice itteh bitteh kitteh committeh photo.

  53. Cle

    Thank you very very much for this improvement.
    Maybe now i don’t need anymore my “try_new_layouts” blog!
    I really appreciate this.
    Thank you

  54. kammotion

    These are fantastic updates. I love the idea of live preview. And getting to use the media library for custom headers is awesome. I just started my blog about a month ago and have appreciated the sophistication of the services. Thanks for continuing to improve features and offer new options. Cheers!

  55. Orit.Sha

    Thanks Jane. i saw all this great changes yesterday morning when i wake up and wrote about it in my Hebrew site. really great changs !

  56. TheMeth90

    Nice, any news about twenty twelve?

    • Jane Wells

      It wasn’t quite ready for the upcoming release date for WordPress 3.4, but it will hopefully ship with 3.5. Sometime before the end of the year, anyway!

  57. themirrenlee

    Yay! Exactly the feature I wanted. Along with the flexible header, you’ve made playing with my website so much better. Thank you SO much!

  58. Noke in the Cloud


    For the ones as I that manage different blogs here, this is a great new. Showing now to pateners how will look (on the road) a new theme will be quite easy.

  59. Mormon Soprano

    Thank you!!!!!!!! I’m excited about all of these new improvements, esp. the ability to use previously uploaded headers and images, and html in captions. I cant wait to go exploring with Gandolf! :)

  60. Sharon (@shasbat54)

    That is really good with custom header. Because it is our community blog I am always nervous about making changes because people are used to it . They recognise the layout, header etc and know where things are.mi may be tempted now to change it!

  61. zoren28

    thanks im planning to change my theme!

  62. hallucinatingmartyr

    Excellent, love it :)

  63. Ilham

    OMG this is a wow. You gotta know how people love to play with themes. And this new feature fixes it all.

  64. Debs

    The ability to have photo attribution enable links is great when using creative commons images. Allows me to place the attribution exactly where it should be. Thanks.

  65. jmcideas

    I w’d hardly preferring an other way for a change theme
    like many developpers use in their local machine server site:
    In Keeping the old previous site as it then reload it all by a new design then making changes while everything has been save!!
    The “old” site is generally called as id name.old.com
    C’d this version applicable to a WP.com?
    Much more securely to be back
    Please said me a word about
    Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate your ‘live preview” feature for evaluation of it lools like…
    (sorry-Frenchy with a bad english)

  66. JPanda

    Such a helpful post! Thanks for sharing these tips! I am sure you have helped MANY people out there :D

  67. Layta

    Keep up the good work guys! great improvementes =)

  68. Darren Bayliss

    Great stuff :-)

  69. diabeticlifestyle

    I am BRAND spankin new at blogging at this couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you so much for this! Love it.

  70. abritinspain

    I just started to use wordpress for the first time after many years of html coding. I am liking what I see, few bugs but otherwise its a great tool.

  71. R.

    WP you guys are the best!!! I’ve been with WP for 5 years now and you’ve never ever let me down!!

  72. sthaler

    I started my blog about two months ago. I thought about changing my theme, but wasn’s sure how it would affect the content. Thanks for the blog it was very helpful and had a lot of good tips for new users.

  73. LAPCATS Sacramento Area Cat & Kitten Adoptions

    So glad to see this! My current and original theme fits my needs so well that I’ve been hesitant to even think of updating. This change certainly gives me the confidence to “maybe” make a theme in the future. Thank you so much for continuing to give us improvements!

  74. Brooke

    Two things I have been wanting since I started my blog a couple years ago – thank you soooo much! (And I love the geeky codename, hehe.)

  75. yousef59

    Like this!…very nice…

  76. Shubhan Chemburkar


  77. Anuraag Sanghi

    I am soooooo unhappy with the WordPress team.

    The Pinterest system is just one theme from wordpress; plus Press This and you have Pinterest. That space and opportunity was yours.

    I have been on WordPress now for 5 years. I have shut down all my other sites. These rest of ‘industry’ just rests on its backside. While you guys are adding features and ideas each day.

    Great job. Keep it up!

  78. viveka

    Great news and … thanks for helping us out.. have been playing around with loads of themes – but I haven’t found anything that suite me better than what I use today – but it took me days to find it. Forever – are perfect for me.

  79. Rao Dao Zao

    Yeah, you release the live preview customiser just *after* I switched themes! :p

  80. Rob

    This is a good start, fantastic even, but it would be very useful to be able to edit widgets as well, as sometimes these (especially any that require parsing HTML) need to be previewed before going live.

    • Jane Wells

      The code behind widgets is highly complex, and the amount of space it takes to manage widgets would not fit well in the sidebar of the Previewer. I do expect us to continue working on a way to preview widgets (it is a pet peeve, as is having to hand-type HTML in widgets), but it will probably take a while because it’s so complicated.

  81. acowsch

    Ditto, Ditto, Ditto! I’ve been wanting a different theme and I just found one I like better since I was able to use this new “Live Preview” and play around without fear of losing all my set up.Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!

  82. ismailimail

    How do I adjust the header size in theme 2011? I don’t see that option. I’d like to reduce the size to make the header image smaller (testing on a private blog right now).

    • Jane Wells

      You can’t adjust the size of an existing header image. The way it works is that you can upload a header image with a different size and the site will adapt to it.

  83. dhenztm

    Wow! These are some of the best update sets you gave us recently! Thank you very much! I really appreciate it! :D

  84. Margie

    These are all great improvements. It makes it so easy to test a theme before selecting it.

  85. Val

    Its very rare for me to love something new but I love this. I saw it ‘previewed’ on a wordpress.org page and thought “when oh when is it coming to wordpress.com?” and here it is! Thank you. :)

    By the way, I’ve already used the custom header via the media library – have been testing out headers that way for the past few days for a new blog – and it’s been really good. Particularly being able to switch between ones I’ve uploaded that are already on the custom header page. The problem for me is choosing between them!

  86. Kate Richmond

    Just love that you guys are making continual improvements because you care so much about us blogger people! Awww! I especially love the header image resizing.. That was really bugging me. Looking forward to more font options! Thanks for caring! by the way.. I wasn’t able to comment when reading this on my smart phone (iP) any ideas..?

  87. mrsgore81

    SO happy about this – thank you, thank you!

  88. Lisa

    Awesome news indeed, thanks so much!!

  89. socialaspects

    I know what you mean — the old preview was helpful, but you could never really tell what it would be like once you updated the colors and stuff.

  90. feverishcontemplation

    many thanks Jane

  91. Sarah

    It’s all good. Kudos :)

  92. etexbill

    Thank you, thank you. Being new to all this, I’ve been almost afraid to play with new themes until now.

  93. kasturika

    Finally!!!! Sometimes it takes so many tweaks and such a long time to customize the blog, this is such a good feature. The custom header too is a welcome relief. I’ve seen such great themes, but the header size always ends up being the deciding factor. Thank you :)

  94. PencilGirl

    Thank you so much! Half switched templates have bugged me too. I’m always in this race to recustomize my blog after I’ve changed templates before anyone sees it. So yeah. I’ve just found another reason to be absolutely in love with WordPress! :D :D

  95. Sarah

    Yey!! Thank you!! It took me hours to edit my blog and this will really helps a lot for future tweaking :) I also love the tweaking of HTML in the photo caption! Good one WP :)

  96. ibrahimweber

    Thank you.

  97. Ebrael Shaddai

    Great! This really is a good feature! WP, always on the front!

  98. kaitui_kiwi

    Great improvements guys, I went through a major theme switch last year and warned my readers beforehand because I knew it would take me a while to be happy with the big change. I’m looking forward to trying out the live preview next time. Also I’ve been wanting links in image captions for aaaages too! Thanks heaps!

  99. cochiseshagiri

    i have no comment simply superb thank u

  100. RJSilva

    Just what i needed as I’m seriously considering switching to a premium them but was hesitant not knowing if it’d look the way I wanted it to. This will make the process that much easier. Oh and yes please, do provide a WYSIWYG editor for photo captions. Thanks for the constant improvements to this the greatest of all blogging platforms,


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