How To Create Custom WordPress Themes

Sure, plenty of pre-built WordPress themes are conveniently ready to install in just a few clicks. But sometimes, they are just too generic or simply not enough to meet your personal requirements. That is why nothing still is more satisfying than creating your own unique theme.

Don’t worry! It is not as complicated as it seems. Of course, it would still be a great advantage if you have basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript knowledge. However, theme development nowadays tends to be a more straightforward process. There are already available starter themes and plugins that will give you the ability to create even without technical coding skills. 

Yup! Creating DIY themes is totally possible. And in this article, we will teach you exactly how to do that. So, stick around, read until the end, and let us help you kickstart your very own WordPress theme!

What are the Requirements to Create a WordPress Theme?

WordPress Website

Before making a theme, you must first establish your own WordPress website. WordPress is an open-source content management system that lets you create, manage, post, and publish content on the internet. On that account, it is free to download and use. Nevertheless, paid plans are also available to give you the option to acquire more advanced functionalities.

There are two options for this – you can either download through or So, what’s the difference? allows you to build a website using WordPress software that is already pre-installed in a managed hosting system. On the other hand, is the site where you can only download WordPress software

Hosting Plan

A third-party hosting plan only applies to websites created via Remember, you only downloaded the software but not the hosting service. Many options are available for paid hosting providers,  like Bluehost, GoDaddy, Kinsta, Cloudways, and more.

How To Create A Custom WordPress Theme (Step-By-Step)

This process focuses mainly on WordPress theme creation via a STARTER THEME.

So, what is a starter theme?

A starter theme is the basic framework of a WordPress theme. It gives you the bare structure that will be the primary basis for building your theme. Through this, you can create without having to start from scratch. In addition, it requires very minimal coding skills, thus perfect for beginners. At the same time, it is also practical and cost-efficient.

Now, here’s how to create a theme using the starter theme:

Step 1: Setting up a local development environment.

Installing a development environment in your computer will act as the server wherein you can develop and manage your WordPress site locally. That allows you to configure and test the theme without affecting the live site.

You would need to download a local development environment tool for this step. First, make sure you choose one that is compatible with your computer’s operating system. Popular choices for this tool are XAMPP, MAMP, WampServer, Instant WP, and Local by Flywheel.

After downloading, configure the settings and wait for it to be ready in just a few minutes. Once done, your local environment will appear and work exactly like your live WordPress site.

Step 2: Starter theme creation and installation.

After the local environment setting, you may now select, download, and install your preferred starter theme. Again, there are plenty of choices you can choose from. Some of our favorites are Astra, Genesis, Underscores, UnderStrap, and Sage

The installation process is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is to fill out the details and customize the advanced options. In some themes, there are also options to incorporate SASS files. SASS or Syntactically Awesome Stylesheets are syntax extensions of CSS or Cascading Style Sheets. The SASS files allow you to use features, including variables, modules, nested rules, operators, etcetera.

Once everything is filled out, generate and download the .zip file of the starter theme. Then, use this file and install it in your local environment. 

Step 3: Familiarize the components.

Different components essentially make up the structure of the WordPress theme. Therefore, it is best to get familiar with them first so that you’ll understand their purpose and how they conform to each other.

Template files

Templates are pre-formatted files that serve as the theme’s building blocks. They are responsible for the layout and appearance of content on your website. Examples of these are headers, footers, and sidebars. 

  • header.php – It is a universal file that represents the header and navigation displays. By universal, that means these are the contents that are displayed consistently through the pages of your website. Examples of this are the menu and your brand/company logo. This template file contains the HTML code. 
  • sidebar.php – This template file manages how you display your sidebar. Sidebars are the vertical columns on the right and/or left portions of the main content. These sections often contain supplementary information like navigational links and advertisements.  
  • footer.php – This template file is what you would usually see at the bottom of the web page. It closes the HTML tags. This section usually contains the copyright notice, disclaimers, resource links, privacy policies, sitemap, contact information, etcetera.


The index file or index.php controls the total appearance of the website’s homepage. This file serves as the main template and, thus, the default start page option to display if no other file is available.

Single Post

The single post file or single.php pertains to the individual posts in your theme. So basically, when you click on the post title on the homepage, it will direct you to the content of that single post.


The page file or page.php gives you control over what your web pages will look like. You can create different pages, for instance, an about page, contact information, product or services, blogs, and more. WordPress also allows plenty of freedom for you to customize the style. Hence, you can give each page a distinct look to fit its purpose.


The purpose of an archive file or archive.php is to let you organize your posts according to post type, category (category.php), or tags (tag.php). This file lets you direct your visitors toward previous content that might interest them. In effect, it helps to promote a better user experience and improve the site’s SEO.

Step 4: Theme configuration.

Now the fun part begins! Configuring your theme enables you to customize it according to your preferred style. But more than that, it also allows you to enhance the site’s functionality. 

Here are some ways to do that:


Hooks are actually code snippets you can use to modify the template at a pre-defined area. This function allows you to insert styling, display information, or add features to PHP actions without altering the core files. 

  • wp_head() – Added to header.php. This hook is used to insert styles, scripts, and other info simultaneously as the page loads. 
  • wp_footer() – Added to footer.php. This hook is mostly used to incorporate codes for Google Analytics.
  • wp_meta() – Added to sidebar.php. This hook is used to insert scripts. 
  • comment_form() – Added to comments.php. This hook is used to present various comment data.


CSS or Cascading Style Sheets determine the overall appearance of your WordPress website. The application uses the style.css file. The starter theme you are using already has this by default. Nonetheless, it is often plain and basic. You can start from there and tweak specific details like colors, fonts, text sizes, spacing, etc. 

Step 5: Theme testing.

After finishing all the customization, you may now proceed with theme testing. Doing so ensures that your theme looks and works correctly as it should. Installing the theme unit testing data into your local development environment is the best way to do this. 

The theme unit testing data is a WordPress import fill that fills in your website with stub data. These dummy files allow you to test how your theme responds to various data. At the same time, it lets you check if it complies with the required standards

When testing your theme, visit all the pages and see if all the elements display properly. Try to check the test posts to see if the theme is formatting it in the layout you designed. Moreover, make sure that the content is readable enough for your target visitors.

In addition, you can also install and test out the widgets and plugins you probably would want to add to your actual theme. Double-check how the theme is affecting its appearance or functionality. 

Step 6: Export the theme file.

Once testing is complete and all good to go, the only thing left to do is to export the file. First, find the folder location. You can often find this in the Websites folder under the Documents directory. Go to wp-content, then themes folder.

Now, you need to compress the theme folder into a .zip file. Doing so will make it easier to transfer to other computers and minimize storage space. You can use compression tools like WinRar, WinZip, PeaZip, and 7-Zip.

Step 7: Installation of the theme.

We’ve come to the final stage! Your own theme is not ready to be installed on any WordPress website. The process is the same as you did with the starter theme. 

If you wish, you can submit and share your theme design to the WordPress theme directory for others to enjoy.


Is creating a WordPress theme suitable for beginners?

Yes, beginners can create custom WordPress themes too! You don’t have to be a tech wizard to create your own theme. We have already shown in this article how to do it despite minimal coding knowledge. You just have to be very clear on what you precisely want your theme to have. It also pays to do ample research and use these resources to guide you through the process.

Is it expensive to create your own WordPress theme?

Yes, creating custom WordPress themes can be pretty expensive. There are a lot of tools you need to acquire along every step. From creating a WordPress website to getting a paid hosting plan, starter theme, local development environment, etcetera. 

Nonetheless, you can also get some of the basic software for free like the compression tool. Also, the price range varies for each software. So, choose wisely which ones give you the best value to keep the cost more reasonable.

Can I upload my custom theme in WordPress for free? 

Yes, you can upload your custom themes to paid hostings. Also, allows it as well as long as your account is under the Business or E-commerce plan. 


Creating your custom WordPress theme is possible, even for users without expertise in complex coding. This article already offers you one foolproof way to do that using awesome starter themes. If you are a beginner or simply want to take things the easier way, this method will surely give you satisfying results. 

Sure, the steps can be pretty overwhelming, especially for a total novice. But you can learn anything you want if you have the patience and determination to do so. So take small steps at a time and just enjoy creating your own theme!

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