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How to Install a WordPress Theme

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When you set up a new WordPress site, it’s not really yours until you have installed and configured a theme of your own choosing.

This guide will show you how to install a WordPress theme in three different ways.

1. How to Add a Theme to WordPress From Repositories

The people behind WordPress provide an integrated library of themes, typically referred to as the “repositories”, which can be browsed directly with in your site’s admin area.

To access these themes look in the left admin sidebar, locate the Appearance section, then click the Themes menu item. Once there click the Add New button:

wordpress theme repositorieswordpress theme repositorieswordpress theme repositories

You’ll be shown a gallery of themes you can choose from. Once here you can either browse casually or enter search terms in the field at the top right:

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In any self-hosted WordPress site all the themes in this gallery are free, although some may offer paid versions with additional features. If your site is hosted on WordPress.com there may also be some themes available for purchase in this area.

When you click one of the thumbnails you’ll be taken into the Theme Details view. Here you can read some more information about the theme and see a basic demo:

theme demotheme demotheme demo

That said, it‘s generally not a good idea to judge a theme based on this demo as it’s shown on a mostly empty site with little configuration and several features may be missing. If you like the look of a theme in its thumbnail you should visit the developer’s website to look for a proper demo. There will usually be a URL included in the theme’s description text.

For example, the image below shows the official demo of the theme in the image above. As you can see the two look very different:


Once you decide you like the theme, click the blue Install button found at the top of the sidebar in its details view.


The button will change to read Installing while WordPress downloads the theme:


When the installation is complete the button will read Activate. Click this button to apply the theme to your site:


After activation you’ll be taken back to the themes area, where you’ll see a message that your new theme has been activated, and its thumbnail is now positioned first in line:

new themenew themenew theme

2. How to Upload a Theme to WordPress

If you have a theme from outside the repositories, such as one you purchased from a store or had custom made, you’ll need to know how to upload a theme to WordPress yourself.

Note: This requires self hosted WordPress on a service such as SiteGround, rather than a site hosted on WordPress.com.

Go to the themes area just as you would if installing from the repositories:

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But instead of looking in the gallery, click the Upload Theme button near the top:

Upload ThemeUpload ThemeUpload Theme

When you purchased your theme you will have been provided with a zip file. This zip file contains all the files that comprise your theme.

Click the button pictured below to browse for that zip:

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After selecting your theme’s zip file, press the Install Now button:

Install NowInstall NowInstall Now

WordPress will automatically handle the installation from here. Once it is complete click the Activate link to apply the theme to your site:


It’s not uncommon for a paid theme to show you a little more information than a free theme immediately after installation. For example, this theme suggests some plugins and provides links to tutorials:

suggested plugins and tutorialssuggested plugins and tutorialssuggested plugins and tutorials

3. How to Install a WordPress Theme Manually

You don’t necessarily have to go through the admin panel as we have in the first two examples, you can install a WordPress theme manually instead.

To do this you’ll need an FTP client, or a hosting control panel that gives you a file manager, such as the one that comes with cPanel. Use one of these to connect to your site and view its folder structure.

From there, first locate the wp-content directory, then within it the themes directory. Every theme installed on your site has its own folder inside this directory. Browse into this directory so you can get your own theme set up here:

Browse into this directory so you can get your own theme set up herBrowse into this directory so you can get your own theme set up herBrowse into this directory so you can get your own theme set up her

If you are using the file manager that comes with cPanel you’ll be able to click the Upload button in its top bar and directly upload your theme’s zip file:


You can then select the uploaded zip file, click Extract in the top bar to unzip it in place:


You’ll then see your theme now has its own folder, with all its files inside:

theme directorytheme directorytheme directory

If you are using an FTP client or file manager that doesn’t have the ability to extract a zip file on your hosting server, you’ll need to extract it on your PC then upload the entire directory instead.

Once you have installed your WordPress theme manually you will see it among your available themes, ready for activation:

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4. How to Use WordPress Themes After Install

There are still a few more things to learn about how to use a WordPress theme after install.

Almost every theme provides some controls via the WordPress in-built customizer. To access the customizer click the Customize button either in the theme’s thumbnail, or in the admin sidebar:


In the left sidebar of the customizer you will see all the available settings to configure the theme to your liking:


As well as the official theme customizer, in many cases there may also be a custom options page the theme provides. If so there will usually be a dedicated section added to the admin sidebar:

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Always look to see if the theme provides documentation that explains what the features are and how to use them.

Wrapping Up

Some of the most beloved WordPress themes live right here at our Theme Forest marketplace. Check out the current most popular themes!

And if you want to make multiple sites or be free to try out lots of themes before you stick to one, check out the collection of over 1300 themes at Envato elements.

Learn More About WordPress Themes

Take your knowledge of WordPress themes to the next stage with these tutorials:

WordPress Theme Collections on Tuts+

At Tuts+ we regular publish collections of themes for your WordPress website. Take a look at some of the niches below:

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