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Getting the WordPress Block Editor to Look Like the Front End Design

November 4th, 2020

I’m a WordPress user and, if you’re anything like me, you always have two tabs open when you edit a post: one with the new fancy pants block editor, aka Gutenberg, and another with a preview of the post so you know it won’t look wonky on the front end.

It’s no surprise that a WordPress theme’s styles only affect the front end of your website. The back end posy editor generally looks nothing like the front end result. We’re used to it. But what if I said it’s totally possible for the WordPress editor to nearly mirror the front end appearance?

All it takes is a custom stylesheet.

Mind. Blown. Right? Well, maybe it’s not that mind-blowing, but it may save you some time if nothing else. 🙂

WordPress gives us a hint of what’s possible here. Fire up the default Twenty Twenty theme that’s packaged with WordPress, fire up the editor, and it sports some light styling.

Getting the WordPress Block Editor to Look Like the Front End Design

This whole thing consists of two pretty basic changes:

  1. A few lines of PHP in your theme’s functions.php file that tell the editor you wish to load a custom stylesheet for editor styles
  2. Said custom stylesheet

Right then, enough pre-waffle! Let’s get on with making the WordPress editor look like the front end, shall we?

Step 1: Crack open the functions.php file

OK I was lying, just a little more waffling. If you’re using a WordPress theme that you don’t develop yourself, it’s probably best that you setup a child theme before making any changes to your main theme. </pre-waffle>

Fire up your favorite text editor and open up the theme’s functions.php file that’s usually located in the root of the theme folder. Let’s drop in the following lines at the end of the file:

// Gutenberg custom stylesheet
add_theme_support('editor-styles');
add_editor_style( 'editor-style.css' ); // make sure path reflects where the file is located

What this little snippet of code does is tell WordPress to add support for a custom stylesheet to be used with Gutenberg, then points to where that stylesheet (that we’re calling editor-style.css) is located. WordPress has solid documentation for the add_theme_support function if you want to dig into it a little more.

Step 2: CSS tricks (see what I did there?!)

Now we’re getting right into our wheelhouse: writing CSS!

We’ve added editor-styles support to our theme, so the next thing to do is to add the CSS goodness to the stylesheet we defined in functions.php so our styles correctly load up in Gutenberg.

There are thousands of WordPress themes out there, so I couldn’t possibly write a stylesheet that makes the editor exactly like each one. Instead, I will show you an example based on the theme I use on my website. This should give you an idea of how to build the stylesheet for your site. I’ll also include a template at the end, which should get you started.

OK let’s create a new file called editor-style.css and place it in the root directory of the theme (or again, the child theme if you’re customizing a third-party theme).

Writing CSS for the block editor isn’t quite as simple as using standard CSS elements. For example, if we were to use the following in our editor stylesheet it wouldn’t apply the text size to <h2> elements in the post.

h2 {
  font-size: 1.75em;
}

Instead of elements, our stylesheet needs to target Block Editor blocks. This way, we know the formatting should be as accurate as possible. That means <h2> elements needs to be scoped to the .rich-text.block-editor-rich-text__editable class to style things up.

Showing the block editor with a light yellow background, a heading that reads Holly Dolly, and a heading 2 with DevTools open to the left in dark mode and a block-editor-rich-text-__editor class highlighted in red.
It just takes a little peek at DevTools to find a class we can latch onto.
h2.rich-text.block-editor-rich-text__editable {
  font-size: 1.75em;
}

I just so happened to make a baseline CSS file that styles common block editor elements following this pattern. Feel free to snag it over at GitHub and swap out the styles so they complement your theme.

I could go on building the stylesheet here, but I think the template gives you an idea of what you need to populate within your own stylesheet. A good starting point is to go through the stylesheet for your front-end and copy the elements from there, but you will likely need to change some of the element classes so that they apply to the Block Editor window.

If in doubt, play around with elements in your browser’s DevTools to work out what classes apply to which elements. The template linked above should capture most of the elements though.

The results

First of all, let’s take a look at what the WordPress editor looks like without a custom stylesheet:

Showing the WordPress block editor without any custom styling, which is a plain white screen with black text including a heading one paragraph, a blockquote and a black rounded button.
The block editor sports a clean, stark UI in its default appearance. It’s pulling in Noto Serif from Google Fonts but everything else is pretty bare bones.

Let’s compare that to the front end of my test site:

Showing a webpage with the same heading, paragraph, blockquote and button, but with styles that include a red-to-orange gradient that goes left-to-right as a background behind the white heading, a typewriter-like font, the same gradient to style the blockquote borders and text, and to style the button.

Things are pretty different, right? Here we still have a simple design, but I’m using gradients all over, to the max! There’s also a custom font, button styling, and a blockquote. Even the containers aren’t exactly square edges.

Love it or hate it, I think you will agree this is a big departure from the default Gutenberg editor UI. See why I have to have a separate tab open to preview my posts?

Now let’s load up our custom styles and check things out:

The same look as the custom styles on the front end but now displayed in the WordPress block editor.

Well, would you look at that! The editor UI now looks pretty much exactly the same as the front end of my website. The content width, fonts, colors, and various elements are all the same as the front end. I even have a fancy background against the post title!

Ipso facto — no more previews in another tab. Cool, huh?

Making the WordPress editor look like your front end is a nice convenience. When I’m editing a post, flipping between tabs to see what the posts look like on the front end ruins my mojo, so I prefer not to do it.

These couple of quick steps should be able to do the same for you, too!

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