Twenty Twelve – Three Column Layout Tutorial

Creating a three column layout with Twenty Twelve theme. Part one of a five part series on Modifying Twenty Twelve theme.

We’ll be editing 3 files to create out three column layout, functions.php, style.css and sidebar.php.
I’ll explain how to add a new widget area, add a new body class and how to style the new sidebar for 3 different style layouts. Left and Right sidebars, Two Left sidebars and Two right sidebars. Each layout will also contain styles for IE8 and the layouts will keep the responsive structure of Twenty Twelve theme.

I’ve updated the blank child themes to also include an empty functions.php file since it’s commonly used in child themes.

Start off by downloading the Free Blank Twenty Twelve Child Theme I’ve supplied (at the bottom of that page). Open the style.css and change the information at the top to whatever you like. Upload it to your website and activate it.

Next we’ll need a copy of Twenty Twelves sidebar.php file, so download that from your server, or download a new copy of Twenty Twelve from, upload it to your child theme.

Your child theme should now contain a style.css, functions.php, sidebar.php and screenshot.png.

Add a New Widget Area

First thing we’ll do is register a new widget area, this will be our second (left) sidebar. Open functions.php and add this to it

Notice the sidebar uses the ID sidebar-4, this needs to be unique. Other widget areas in Twenty Twelve use the ID’s sidebar-1, sidebar-2, sidebar-3, last two are for the homepage template footer widgets.

Save and close functions.php

Add Sidebar to the template

If you check Appearance > Widgets you should see a new widget area, if you do then great, but it won’t actually display anything if we add a widget but go ahead and add a new widget it to it anyways.
I usually add the Calendar widget when working with widget areas as it’s the widest default widget and is great for picking up any issues with the sidebars.

Now open sidebar.php and under the current sidebar code add the following

This displays the new widget area. Any place that get_sidebar is used, will display the main sidebar and our new sidebar. Save and close sidebar.php and view your website.

You should see the new widget area (if you’ve added a widget) but it will probably display directly under the default sidebar.

Increase Twenty Twelve Site Width

Twenty Twelve was designed to display only one sidebar, the default width is 960px or 68.571428571rem, we’ll be increasing the width of Twenty Twelve theme to 1000px or 71.42857rem. To figure out what the rem value is simply divide the px number by 14. Thanks to VooDooPress for helping me understand this and more, take a look at their article on Modifying the Width of Twenty Twelve Theme.

Open functions.php and under the sidebar code we added earlier, add the following

This decreases the content width to 500px, and increases the full page content width to 1000px which will be our new widths with both sidebars displaying.

Since we’re changing the content width, we also need to add a new thumbnail size so our images are not stretched or squished to fit in the new content side. Add this to functions.php

This creates a new image size of 500px wide and unlimited height.

Tip An easy way to figure out the needed image size is after the sidebars are in place in FireFox, right click on the image and go to “View Image Info” it should say something like “651px × 406px (scaled to 500px × 312px)” The 500px width is the width we need to create a new image size for.

The last thing we need to add is a new body class. We’ll use this body class to target every page but the full width page template and the homepage template. Add this to functions.php

This adds the body class .custom-layout to your theme. This saves us from reverse styling the full width template and the home page template of Twenty Twelve after we add our three column layout CSS.

If you look at the body class in FireBug you should see this.


Save and close functions.php

Three Column Twenty Twelve Styles

Now that we have all of our functions and template changes complete, the next step is adding the CSS to display everything how we want.

I’ll explain something before we begin. Twenty Twelve theme uses a mobile first layout. This means that it was created to display properly on media devices (cell phones tablets) first, then by the use of @media conditionals it was made to display properly on desktop screens.
This is why for every layout you’ll see something similar to @media screen and (min-width: 600px). This tells the theme to use the CSS between these tags if the screensize is greater than 600px.

You’ll also notice the use of .ie This is a conditional class added to Twenty Twelve to specifically target Internet Explorer 7 and 8 because they don’t understand media queries (@media). It’s also why any .ie conditionals are not also used between @media screen and (min-width: 600px).

Open style.css of your child theme. The first thing we’ll do is change the site width to 1000px as mentioned above, so add this.

Notice the .ie conditional, the regular code added between @media tags and the last part adjusts the footer area to reflect the new width.

Next part is the layouts. For this tutorial I’ll be using the left and right sidebar layout, I’ll also give the CSS to display a two left sidebar and two right sidebar layout, you can chose whichever one you want.

Add this to your style.css next

Notice the .custom-layout body class that we created in functions.php is being used.

Now for the .ie conditionals, add this directly under it

The .ie conditional is basically the same, but it’s not added within the media queries. Sometimes a margin will need to be adjusted for Internet Explorer, sometimes it’s fine as is. Anyways, if you notice something looks out of place just in IE, you can use this conditional .ie to correct it.

Save and close style.css and refresh your website. You should see two sidebars, one on the left, one on the right. Resize your browser, both sidebars should drop below the content and display full width.

Check out the Homepage page Template, and Full Width page templates, they should look normal.

Here’s what your website should look like.

The last thing I recommend doing is once you’ve decided on a layout, run Ajax Rebuild Thumbnails plugin to create the new image sizes for all of your previously uploaded images. Run it once, then deactivate it.

As promised, here’s the code for the Two Left sidebars and Two Right sidebar layouts.

Two Left Sidebars

Two Right Sidebars

You can replace the Left and Right sidebar layout CSS with either of these.

Check back soon for the next part of Modifying the Twenty Twelve theme where we’ll be adding three footer widgets to our theme.

Thanks for reading, let me know how your new layout turned out by leaving a comment!

102 thoughts on “Twenty Twelve – Three Column Layout Tutorial

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the tutorial. I am having some issues. One the homepage the new column (doing the two right columns) is displayed below the new post column, rather than alongside it. On other pages it just shows up below the main sidebar.

    I thought taking an image would be easier:

    Any advice? I followed your instructions above.

    1. I should also note that in the admincp I see this:

      ERROR: The themes directory is either empty or doesn’t exist. Please check your installation.

      I am using the theme though, the theme directory isn’t empty and does exist…

      1. I can’t tell what’s causing the problem with a screenshot, but it looks like the content width isn’t right. Go back and check to make sure you’ve added each section of code properly, if you haven’t included the custom body class it could explain why the content width isn’t right.

        As for the error, try switching to twenty twelve, then back to your child theme in Appearance > themes.

    2. Hey Zeaks, thanks for the reply. I figured it out. Turns out part of the problem was I modified the header and/or some CSS that conflicted with the changes. I got it sorted out now.

      Thanks again.

  2. Hello!
    This is awesome! Thank you!
    I have a sticky article in which i put a slider.
    Could it be possible to divide the space after this first article?

  3. Thanks for providing this tutorial! I have installed the theme and made the necessary modifications on 2 sites. One site works flawlessly, the other one has one big problem: On “pages” the left sidebar is displayed under the main column (posts works fine). The code is the same for the 2 blogs… I have re-controlled the code, I have even downloaded the theme again and added your modifications, uploaded it and activated it. Still, the column is below the main one. Any thoughts?

      1. Hi Marie, I don’t see the sidebar under the content on any page of either site. What browser are you viewing it in? Could you take a screenshot, maybe open a forum post so I can help you easier too please.

  4. Hello,
    I have now the new sidebars in all my wordpress.
    Could it be possible to unactivate it for specific pages using id, or url beginning for example.
    Thank you!

  5. You can use display: none; to hide the sidebars on certain pages using the body class
    .page-id-3948 #extra-sidebar { display: none; }

    You can also use an if statement such as

    Using CSS would be easier though.

    1. Thank you!
      And when i disable them, my main box is surrounded by two empty sidebars. how could i make it spread to the empty sidebars??

      1. Using CSS and the same body class, increase the content width and remove the margins for those particular pages.

  6. Hi I just implemented your code and the right column wont display any widgets. The new left column displays them perfectly. I am using a child of twenty twelve and this is the only modification ive made.

    1. Hi Pix, check Appearance > Widgets and ake sure the widget areas are there. If they are add widgets to them, if it’s still not showing up then go over your code in case you missed something. If you can’t figure it out, open a forum post, link your site and use to show me your code.

  7. Thank you!!!
    I am absolute noob in programming, i can’t speak english well, but this tutorial is clear and easy so i success!
    Once more thanks :D

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