How to Preview a Theme Before Activating It [No Plugins]

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Want to try a theme without activating it? You can easily preview it with WordPress.

There are actually two types of previewslive previews and… previews. Yea, it’s confusing.

In this post, you’ll learn about the two preview types and how to use them on your site.

Live Previews

Most likely, you are looking for a live preview.

A live preview shows you what a theme would look like on your site with your content. When previewing, you haven’t activated the theme yet, so none of your visitors see the changes.

How to live preview a theme

A theme has to be installed before it can be live previewed. You can find a free theme through the Appearance menu, or manually upload a zip file to install one.

Once the theme is installed, there are two ways you can preview it before activating.

The Appearance menu

First, you can visit your Appearance menu, and hover your mouse over any theme. You’ll see a blue Live Preview button you can click.

The live preview button in the Appearance menu

This will take you to the Customizer to preview the theme. You’ll be able to view the theme and access all the same customization options you would have if it was active. You can verify you’re previewing the theme by the “Previewing theme” text.

the preview text in the Customizer

The Customizer

Now that you’re in the Customizer, there’s actually a quicker way to switch the theme you’re previewing. Click on the Change button and you’ll be able to switch to any of your currently installed themes.

button for changing themes in the Customizer

Again, no one visiting will see these changes unless you press the Save & Activate button at the top of the Customizer panel.

While you can test out different themes and settings this way, you can’t save them without activating the theme. For that, you’d want a full staging site from a service like WP Stagecoach or WP Engine (hosting that includes staging sites for your domains).


So what are previews then?

In your Appearance menu, you can search for new themes. These are the same themes listed on WordPress theme repository. When browsing the repository, there is a Preview button on the theme pages that takes you to a live demo of the theme.

Preview button on

This same demo site can be viewed from within your WordPress dashboard without visiting

How to preview a theme

In your Appearance menu, click the Add New button at the top, and you’ll be taken to a page with the currently Featured Themes. You can browse through all the free themes here.

Every theme you find will have a Preview button if you hover over it.

preview button

If you press the preview button, it will load the same demo site you can find on It will not use your site’s content in the demo.

If you want to live preview the theme, all you have to do is press the Install button, and then you will have the option to live preview before activating.

Live Preview Any Theme

Live previewing is a great way to see how a theme will fit with your existing content. It’s also quick and easy to get a decent preview of any theme.

While the free theme previews from are okay, it’s easier to just install a theme first so you can live preview it with your real content.

Do you have any questions about theme previews? Post a comment below!

Ben Sibley
Ben Sibley
Ben Sibley is a WordPress theme designer & developer, and founder of Compete Themes.