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WordPress 3.4: Using the New Theme Customizer

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Preview changes to a WordPress theme before launching them to your site! In just a few steps, Jessica Neuman Beck, coauthor of WordPress: Visual QuickStart Guide, Second Edition, shows how to use the new Theme Customizer introduced with the WordPress 3.4 core update.
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Making changes to a theme on a live WordPress site used to be nerve-wracking: Risk breaking your layout for all the world to see, or take down your site and risk losing traffic while you perfect your new look?

The WordPress 3.4 update takes the stress out of choosing and customizing a new theme. Using the highly anticipated new Theme Customizer, you can preview and tweak a theme before launching it to the world. This article walks you through the process of selecting and customizing a theme using the Theme Customizer.

Choosing a Theme for Your Site

One of the first things you'll notice about the Themes screen in the Appearance section of WordPress 3.4 is the new Live Preview link, which replaces the Preview link in older versions of WordPress. Now, instead of just viewing a static version of a theme, you can see how it would look when posted on your site. It's sort of like the "virtual fitting room" of web design.

The process is simple. Log into your WordPress dashboard and choose Appearance > Themes. Find a theme you want to use, and click the Live Preview link below the theme's title (see Figure 1). An overlay will appear, showing the theme you're previewing in the main section and a sidebar with the theme's options on the left (see Figure 2).

Figure 1 Choose the theme you want to preview, and click the Live Preview link. You can preview the theme without making any changes to your live site.

Figure 2 The Theme Customizer gives you quick access to your theme options, including the tagline, static front page, and sometimes even color and navigation options.

The Theme Customizer sidebar gives you an overview of the customization options available to that particular theme. I'm using the Twenty Eleven theme in Figure 3; other themes might give you more or fewer customization options.

Figure 3 An overview of the Twenty Eleven theme customization options. Different themes show different options in the Theme Customizer. Click the arrow to the right of an option name to expand it.

Test a few themes to see what customization options are open to you. In the next section, we'll take a look at some of the ways in which you can customize a theme to fit the needs of your site.

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