What is the WordPress Customizer?

Appearance > Customize navigation
How to access the WordPress Customizer

The Customizer is where you make design changes to your site.

WordPress separates your site’s content from its design. The design & layout is managed by your theme, and the Customizer provides the ability to “customize” your WordPress theme.

NOTE: Some themes choose not to use the Customizer, and provide a Theme Options panel of their own. This is not recommended, and highly discouraged. If you access theme options from anywhere other than Appearance > Customize, you are not using the WordPress Customizer.

The Customizer options will vary from theme to theme. It is up to the theme author to decide what to include. Typically, premium themes will have more options than free themes.

What can you do with the WordPress Customizer?

Like I said, this varies by theme, but here’s a general list of what the WordPress Customizer allows you to do:

  • Change your site’s logo
  • Update your site’s favicon
  • Update your site title & tagline
  • Create, update & assign navigation menus
  • Add widgets to your sidebar
  • Set specific pages for your homepage & blog
  • Add custom CSS to override your theme styles
  • Test & preview a new theme before activating it
  • Schedule changes to automatically go live at a later date
  • Preview site changes on desktop, tablet & mobile devices
  • (Some themes) Change the general color scheme
  • (Some themes) Add a header image at the top of every page
  • (Some themes) Add a background image to your site

WordPress Customizer Sections

WordPress Customizer sections

To access all of these design options, the WordPress Customizer is made up of sections that allow you to drill down and access all of your customization options.

Standard Customizer options you can except with just about every theme include:

  • Site Identity
  • Menus
  • Widgets
  • Homepage Settings
  • Additional CSS

Other common options that will sometimes be included are:

  • Colors
  • Header Image
  • Background Image

After that, it will completely depend on your theme, and what they have chosen to give you the ability to change.

Customizer’s Live Preview

The WordPress Customizer provides a live, real-time view of your changes, as you make them. You can also navigate to different pages on your site to get an idea what kind of effect your changes will have on various pages.

This is especially helpful because not all changes you make will be visible on all pages. You could be editing link styles, but one of your pages doesn’t have any links. Simply use the live preview window in the Customizer to switch to another page.

Edit Shortcuts

Another benefit to the Customizer are the edit shortcuts. Click on a pencil icon anywhere in the live preview, and it will open up the corresponding options in the Customizer’s sidebar.

Edit shortcut pencil icons in Customizer
The edit shortcuts are denoted by pencil icons

Device Preview in the WordPress Customizer

The WordPress Customizer also gives you the ability to see what your site will look like on desktop, tablet & mobile devices. Use the icons at the bottom of the left sidebar to switch views.

Device preview buttons in Customizer
The device preview icons in the Customizer

If you’d like to know more, I wrote an entire article dedicated to using the device preview in the Customizer.

Animation of device preview
The Customizer’s device preview in action

Schedule Changes in the Customizer

One of the exciting new features launched in WordPress 4.9 was the ability to schedule Customizer changes. You no longer have to publish your changes at the time you make them.

You can save your changes as a draft, and return to them later, or schedule them to go live in the future.

WordPress 4.9 Customizer scheduling options

Full Tutorial: How to schedule changes in the WordPress Customizer

Share Preview Links

Along side this new feature, WordPress also added the ability to share your drafted changes with anyone in the world. Simply save or schedule your changes in the Customizer, and you are immediately provided with a shareable link. Send this link to your manager, colleagues or friends, and request feedback before making your changes live.

WordPress Customizer preview link

The WordPress Customizer is an incredibly powerful tool for updating your site’s design. Most theme authors now fully support it, and as a WordPress user, you should take full advantage of it when editing your theme.