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How to install a WordPress theme

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Okay, you already know how to install the latest version of WordPress and want to switch away from the default WordPress theme look, but have no idea how to do it? Here’s the tutorial for you, complete with screenshots so even a beginner can easily follow along. With this three-step tutorial you’ll have a new blog theme ready in no time.

There are a few automated ways to do this, but like our previous tutorial, we will be focusing on manual WordPress theme installation only. This tutorial assumes you already have WordPress installed on your host. It also assumes you are installing a “normal” theme, i.e. no advanced functionality that would require additional plugins or configuration.

Step 1: Download your theme of choice
Unfortunately WordPress can’t read minds, so you’ll have to pick out the theme you want to use. Call me biased, but some of the templates on our free WordPress themes page are quite nice. For this tutorial we’ll choose the Blue Green theme. Click the download link, and save the .zip file to your hard drive.

WordPress Theme Zip Screenshot

Extract the /blue-green/ folder only. All you have to do with Readme.txt is read it (which is why it’s called a readme file) and isn’t needed for the next step – uploading the theme to WordPress.

Step 2: Upload the theme directory to WordPress
Seems simple enough, right? It really is, if you know where to upload it. Use an FTP client such as FileZilla to connect to your hosting account. Navigate to where WordPress is installed and locate the /wp-content/themes/ directory. Upload the /blue-green/ directory it. After you’re done, it should look something like this.

Uploaded Theme Screenshot

The hard part is now out of the way. The next and final step is to activate the theme within your WordPress admin panel.

Step 3: Activate the theme within your WordPress admin panel
Login to your WordPress admin panel, and navigate to the Presentation tab. You should now be at a screen that looks like this.

WordPress Theme Menu

Wow, look, you can already see the Blue Green screenshot below! WordPress reads the directory and searches for the screenshot image and stylesheet within it. Simply click on it, and your theme is activated.

Congratulations!  Theme installed.

That wasn’t so bad was it? WordPress makes it simple like that. If you still need help, feel free to ask in our general support forum for assistance. Feel free to leave a comment or subscribe to our feed if you liked this tutorial.

About

Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.

  • momochan

    hi.. i juz want to ask.. wat do u mean by hosting account and “Navigate to where WordPress is installed and locate the /wp-content/themes/ directory”?? Please explain elaborately.. I was planning to open a blog on wordpress and searched for some reviews about it and ended up here.. If u wouldn’t mind please explain step 2 in a more comprehensive way.. [**dumbfound sori**] :)

    • http://mrsymbiote.wordpress.com/ Zizzle

      This seems to be strictly a WordPress.ORG tutorial rather than WordPress.COM (and the author may want to specify as such to avoid further confusion)

      • Nick

        I’m pretty sure wordpress.COM doesn’t allow you to upload custom themes, anyway.

    • Debbie

      Yep – I found the same problem. I went on the net and got a tutorial to make my own wordpress blog and got halfway though and found I didn’t have detailed instructions and called someone in to finish installing it – now it looks like I have the same problem with themes. It would be great if it didn’t say it’s suitable for beginners if it doesn’t contain exact detail of what to do.

    • Guru2go

      Just needed to add a half comment here. You can host wordpress on your home PC without having to pay a hosting company and no FTP’ing needed. All software required is FREE, all you need is a broadband supplier without a static IP (this means you get a unique IP address every day or so)

      Basically install IIS through Windows Controls Panel within the Add Remove Programs / Features (you will find it in the Internet section under Web Management tools. Create a simply web page or edit the default Web pages installed in to the C:\inetpub folders.

      Create a free account with an Dynamic DNS supplier like dynDNS. This will have to be added to your Router settings (refer to your manuals).

      Download and install Microsoft Web Platform Installer. Then run the program and select WordPress from available applications and follow the instructions. It may ask you to install MySQL which is ok just read the following before hand.

      Note: make a note of all the Database settings during the install.

      That’s about it. You should now have a wordpress page available to everyone via the ‘web’ which is on your own hard drive with as much storage space as you have on your hard drive. Enjoy.

  • Leland

    When you install WordPress, you’ll find these directories in your FTP client while connected to the server. I’m not sure how else to explain it. You may want to consult with your web hosting provider.

  • HELPPPPPPPP

    HELP im like first user….
    where do i access the ftp
    i tried ftp://wordpress.com or ftp://username.wordpress.com
    both dont work.
    what do u mean installed wordpress?
    i signed up to wordpress site i didnt install anything

  • Leland

    Okay, I’m talking about self-hosted WordPress. Not WordPress.com blogs.

  • HELPPPPPPPP

    and on wordpress.com? how do i change the theme????

  • HELPPPPPPPP

    i have a theme i d/l from a site i want to upload it and use it (not the theme they offer)

  • Leland

    I don’t think you can do that on WordPress.com …

  • Hello

    do you know how I can upload a theme to a WordPress.com blogs

    Thank You

  • Shah

    i get something like this
    Fatal error: Call to undefined function: get_header() in /homepages/37/d237123450/htdocs/wordpress/index.php on line 1

  • Leland

    @Shah: Have you installed WordPress first? Are you uploading the theme to the proper directory?

  • http://www.infolink2u.com Bob Millan

    Hi Leland,

    This is a great post and have kept it in my bookmarks. Will continue to read it as i’m very new to a lot of the points you mention!

    Thanks though, i’m glad some people share good stuff like this!

  • http://athanobs.com jayas

    @shah can you provide us the url on where you encounter the error?

  • Joan JOnes

    My admin panel does not have a presentation tab. What should I do?

  • Leland

    @Joan: Try the “Design” tab if you’re using WordPress 2.5 and above. This tutorial was written when 2.3 came out.

  • Kerri

    I’ve upload (FTP) a theme to the correct folder but it does not show up. What could be wrong? I’ve checked and it is not a nested folder situation. I’ve checked permissions (755). I’m stuck.

  • Leland

    @Kerri: On the themes page in your admin panel, if you scroll to the bottom – do you see any errors?

  • Kristie

    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand these directions at all, and I am usually pretty good at these things. The only thing I understood was downloading Filezilla, which I did.

    But some of the terminology used here is beyond my knowledge. Would it be possible to explain certain things please?

    Step 2 needs a lot more explanation…

    Thank you.

  • designchic

    THANK YOU!!! This was so easy, I would have never figured it out without your TUT help!

    • http://www.steve-vale.com Dum Steve

      I am trying to use the controls in cPanel but it does not have the tool “unlimited FTP” so it is more complicated also every thing you say above is a complete mystery to me.
      Please have an other go but in full this time

      thank you

  • http://www.greatest-internet-business-opportunity.com Dennis

    Man, this was great!! I wish I had a tutorial like this when I first tried to install a theme.

  • xiaoyu

    thanks a for your tutorial,i learned a lot from this !!!!

  • http://jenniferdcarroll.com Jenn

    Thank you very much for this post! I had tried to do this before and was unsuccessful and even paid someone to do it for me…but then I needed to add things and they wanted to keep charging me.

    I found your post…followed your instructions to a T and it worked great! Thanks!!

  • http://www.canadianolympicteams.wordpress.com Nazaar

    Hi,

    how do i upload a theme if I do not have a hosting provider but using wordpress.com hosting?

  • http://www.digital-art.de werbeagentur digital art

    i uploaded the themes into my admin folder and i cant select them. i’m sorry for this “stupid” question but i’m very new to this stuff.

  • Lavender Dreams

    I uploaded the theme to my themes section of my wordpress file and now how or where do I Activate the theme within your WordPress admin panel…. Where do I log in at??
    I am very new here so please someone email me and tell me what to do …. Thank you!!!

  • Ian

    Hi everybody,

    Please help me. I could not get my directory listing on Filezilla. I don’t know what to put in the field Remote Site. When I tried to do it like the example above, it didn’t work.

    Please help with this step.
    Thank you.

    Ian

  • http://www.onlyliesbeth.nl/ Liesbeth

    I can’t activate some themes anymore, its stuck and see no activation button..is there another way..

  • Lisa

    OMG! thank you! Everyone else made it so confusing. I saw your tutorial and Zing, success. Thank you so much. I am so full of gratitude!!!!!!!
    Lisa

  • amy

    how do you DOWNLOAD any part of WordPress onto your computer? We are using a wordpress blog…and have never downloaded anything onto the computer. Once I get it downloaded, I will understand how to do the other steps. What is there to download? Can someone provide a link to this download. Thanks.

  • http://usefz.biz.nf UsefZ

    you can download wordpress at http://www.wordpress.org
    there you’ll have all the needed files and instructions, in addition to themes, plugins, etc…

  • http://jaimechicheri.revenuemanagement.com jaime

    Hi!

    Everything perfect except that I do not find “the Presentation tab”

    Could you tell me where it is?

    Nice blog I will follow u from now on!

  • http://paeditorials.com John R. Kenton

    First of all thanks for being here. Trying to load a theme and everything appears to be okay except I get a functions.php on line 61 error. Any ideas what I can do about this. John

  • Leland

    Okay, this tutorial is a little out of date, since it was written for WP 2.3. There is no “Presentation” tab anymore, but you can still change themes under the “Appearance” menu.

    Also another note, THIS IS FOR SELF HOSTED WORDPRESS BLOGS ONLY and not WordPress.com users, sorry.

    @John: Well, that would be an issue with your theme, and it doesn’t really have to do anything with the information contained in this tutorial. May I ask what theme you’re using? E-mail me through my contact form.

  • http://thatgirlattheparty.com Courtney

    Have hosting w/ Go Daddy who although Word Press recommends them as a host will not help with the very confusing uploading of themes or anything else WordPress! When I download the desired theme to my computer it is UNZIPPED. So when I tried to use the FTP Client folder and move the file from the local to the remote in my Go Daddy Hosting folder, it did not download. Then Go Daddy refused to tell me how to unzip file or do it properly! Word Press is very difficult to use and I hope that future versions will be more user friendly. There are currently so many side steps and constant refrencing to one’s hosting site. This makes things unnecessarily difficult. Themes and templates should simply upload to the site directly and everything should be able to be done from one’s Word Press dashboard!

  • Leland

    @Courtney: With WordPress 2.8 you will be able to automatically download themes from the respository, kind of like how you can install plugins with WordPress 2.7.

    And just a note, the hosts WordPress “recommends” at http://wordpress.org/hosting/ are mostly affiliate links, including the one to Go Daddy.

  • http://thegreenoutfitters.com Kobra

    Thanks a ton themelab. That was the easiest tutorial. I didnt know it was so easy to switch back and forth on themes. Thanks

  • http://www.ejakulasi-dini.com ejakulasi dini

    I like the tutorial, thanks for making it, i understand right now.

  • http://www.lloyddaniels.info Lloyd Daniels

    This tutorial is NOT for complete dummies :)
    However it’s quite easy to figure out what to do if you have some experience with WordPress.

    Very helpful, big thanks, that’s exactly what I needed!

  • Arif

    Hi Leland, I just would like to thank you for posting this tutorial, It is exactly what I needed. Cheers :-)

  • Ellie

    Hi, I’ve a few questions regarding installing WordPress themes.

    Correct me if I’m wrong. WordPress.com doesn’t allow its users to upload their self-created themes. However, it does allow them to customise (a little) or tweak the premade layouts.

    As for WordPress.org, I have to download the WordPress software and install it to a server, through ftp? Let’s say, I use Ripway. So after installing WordPress, I can upload my own theme (which I made using Photoshop, not a premade layout, but my very own layout). All this is possible by using WordPress platform on a different web host right?

    In this sense, I can still use WordPress and use my own themes FOR FREE, without the need for upgrade or purchasing of any web host deals?

    Pls reply me soon! :)Thanks!

  • http://www.tnttricks.co.cc Sukhjit

    Thanks! Easy Set up! But not for people hosting on word press itself.

    Thanks Again

  • BonBon

    Thanks for this tutorial! I followed both How to install wordpress, and how to install a wordpress theme! They both worked amazingly for me, and now my site is up and running! I can’t thank you enough Leland :D -Much Love?

  • Gail

    i have just installed WordPress 2.9.2 on localhost so i can play with it – as i am toitally new to WP.
    I made a couple of changes to the Default theme e.g. added stuff to sidebar and footer.
    i then successfully downloaded blue green theme and installed + actrivated succfessfully – simples!

    however, i expected that the changes i made inthe default theme would be carried over to the new theme. this has not happened. i get the vanilla theme with no changes.

    does that mean that if ai develop a blog on one theme and then activate another theme, i will have to apply all changes and content again to the new theme?
    Sorry if this is a dumb question but i think i must have missed something important here : )

    • Leland

      Yes, if you make changes to one theme, those changes only affect that one theme. If you switch themes, you’d have to make those changes again.

      The only way to modify a theme like this would be using a child theme, but that’s a bit more advanced (which you don’t need to worry about now).

  • Gail

    sorry – just clicking email followup comments so i get notified!

  • http://www.rajneesh.me/ Rajneesh saini

    Gail Leland is right , when you customize a particular theme it doesnot effect other theme.

    If you have any other problem in WP you can ask.

  • http://hollywoodactingworkshop.com/ silvia smith

    i have wp 2.9. i am very new to making changes to my website; and, i do not want to mess up what the web designer did. i have decided that i want to add ONE new page to my website that has a completely different theme than all of the other 20 pages. so, i was successful in creating a new page BUT it automatically has the theme of the other 20 pages. i want a brand new theme (so that i do not have to download a theme, i will go with the available themes included/offered in my wp 2.9: wp classic 1.5 theme by dave shea). how do i proceed…to install the classic 1.5 theme by dave shea…so that i do not INadvertently change the theme on the other 20 pages??

  • http://wpblast.com wpBlast

    Very good tutorial.

  • http://www.mike.nrlforum.net/ Mike Throw

    Thanks for the tut, thats kinda what I though it would be but didn’t want to upload anything to my server without confirmation. And seriously, it was obvious that it’s a .org tut because you cant upload themes to .com wordpress. Seriously, Im 13 y.o. and I find this tutorial great and easy, you must be a web development retard not to know how to do this, and I would suggest Tumblr if you want to be able to edit your theme/template heaps while being able to host it on their site (wordpress.com gives you a couple of default themes, while wordpress.org means you have to find your own host)

  • diyan

    hi,

    what about if the wordpress blog is installed on example.com/blog?

    where do I install the theme?

    thanks

  • http://www.keithrevell.com Keith Revell

    Hi everyone, unfortunately most of the information about wordpress on the internet these days is out of date, wordpress has come a long way since the beginning and it is simple to install the latest wordpress and themes, there is no need for an ftp client … its simple…if you need video tutorials for wordpress just click on my name ..

  • http://www.keithrevell.com Keith Revell

    Hi, from reading these comments I think it is very important for you to understand the difference between wordpress.com (which is a free blog hosted at wordpress.com) and wordpress.org which you upload and host on your own server (with your domain name)

  • http://www.Ideas2Websites.com Tynnisha Hamilton

    Thank you so much for this tutorial. I was close to pulling my hair out yesterday because I couldn’t get this figured out but now I’m set!

  • Candace

    Thank you so much for your help!

  • http://www.craigmusselman.com craig musselman

    Okay, to all the beginners that are CONFUSED.

    To even GET to this tutorial, you are assumed to have done the following.

    1. Bought your OWN domain name. (eg. you went to the internet to a site like godaddy.com, or register.com, etc) and picked out a name for your website that YOU OWN, If you got to this point without using a credit card, you shouldn’t be using this tutorial. Anything you didn’t pay for is basically FAcebook and you can’t change the wordpress theme. It has to be YOUR site.

    for this example, we will assume you bought the name:

    “AllAboutMyLife.com”

    2. Now you AGAIN used your credit card and paid someone to HOST what you bought in step 1. This means you are paying a monthly or annual fee for someone to store you files ON THE INTERNET. Are you paying monthly fees…if not you can’t use this tutorial.

    3. You have you domain name (eg. AllAboutMyLife.com) and it is on the internet stored on some company’s computer ready for you to put files on their hard drive.

    The tutorial states that you INSTALLED WORDPRESS. Did you do that? If you just logged onto some website and they asked you to enter your name and pick a password, you are not in the right place). You had to have your private website that you and nobody else is on or sharing. The disk space the company you paid should now have all the files for the bare bones of WordPress, because you UPLOADED THEM YOURSELF. NOW you are to the step of THIS tutorial.

    4. Access the files you UPLOADED onto the hard drive you paid to rent. You do this via an FTP server like filezilla, or win-scp3 or similar. If you don’t know how to do this go look for a tutorial for that (FTP upload)

    5. Copy the files from your hard drive at home using the Filezilla or similar onto the hard drive you RENTED on the internet. The bare bones wordpress you did in step 3 has some directories already if you did it right. The wordpress THEME you downloaded and unzipped on your hard drive at home has to be copied onto the rented hard drive on the internet. It goes into the directory called themes.