7 Ways You Can Further Customize the Hugo Academic Theme

Out of the box, the Academic theme/framework is already highly customizable and just by adjusting the basic settings in params.toml, organizing and filling out your homepage widgets/about, and the assigning your fonts and theme colors of choice, you can already get it to look much more like your own, all without editing any code. Academic’s documentation is very thorough and helpful, especially when starting out and if you’re new to Hugo like I was. I could make a whole other blog post about why I love the Hugo Academic framework and why I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to create a website (because why not? It’s free!).

But if you’re like me and particular about how you want it to look, there may be more things you’d like to adjust that aren’t in the out-of-the-box settings. As I started to customize these things, I found that some were not that easy to find or figure out, so I thought I’d compile and share these settings in case anyone else would like to customize them as well.

An important thing to know before we begin is how Hugo uses template lookup. Basically, the theme files in /themes/hugo-academic tell Hugo how to build the site, but you can override this by placing folders and files of the same structure in your root folder. Here is an example from the Academic documentation:

For example, say we wish to add some HTML code to the navigation bar. Let’s copy the relevant file themes/academic/layouts/partials/navbar.html to layouts/partials/navbar.html (at the root of your site, not in themes/academic/), creating the layouts/partials/ folders if they do not already exist. Now you can add the HTML code you want to your copy of the file, which will override Academic’s version.

At the time of this post, Academic’s latest release is v4.8.0.

What I’ll be covering:

Full list of theme colors you can customize

If you won’t be using one of the themes provided by Academic, the documentation shows you how you can create your own theme and set the colors yourself. If you’re creating your own data/themes/my_theme.toml here is a list of parameters you can specify, just put in your preferred colors. Coolors is a great color palettes resource.

# Theme metadata
name = "my_theme"

# Is theme light or dark?
light = true

# Primary
primary = "#EF476F"

# Menu
menu_primary = "#F7F7F7"
menu_text = "#FCA311"
menu_text_active = "#0EAD69"
menu_title = "#118AB2"

# Backgrounds
background = "#F7F7F7"
home_section_odd = "#F7F7F7"
home_section_even = "#F7F7F7"

dark_background = ""
dark_home_section_odd = ""
dark_home_section_even = ""

link = "#D90429"
link_hover = "#118AB2"

About widget without a summary

About widget without a summary
If you only want to show your photo and social links in your about widget like I did, you’ll need to override Academic’s about.html located in hugo-academic/layouts/partials/widgets by putting in an html layout in your root layouts/partials/widgets/.
There are two ways you can approach this, by
(1 - recommended) using my about.html if you want it to be formatted exactly like mine is (centered, avatar & links only),
(2) adjusting the html yourself.

Here are the steps for each:

Using my about.html

You can find my about.html here.

  • Create your about.html (keep that file name so that you don’t have to adjust about.md) in your root layouts/partials/widgets/
  • Copy-paste the contents of mine into your blank about.html
    That’s it, your widget should update the next time that you serve it!

Adjusting the html yourself

  • Copy-paste the about.html located in hugo-academic/layouts/partials/widgets into your root layouts/partials/widgets/
  • Remove the entire summary section, from <div class="col-12 col-lg-8">, everything in between, til its matching </div>
  • Change <div class="col-12 col-lg-4"> to <div class="container centered"> as seen below:

Before & after

Removing box-shadows

With & without a box shadow
Removing the navigation bar’s box-shadows
Create assets/scss/custom.scss in your root if it doesn’t already exist. Paste the following into the file.

 .navbar {
  height: 70px;
  background: $sta-menu-primary;
/* this is the part that takes out the shadow & the only edit */
  box-shadow: none;  
  font-size: 18px;
  font-weight: 900 !important;
  position: fixed;
  top: 0;
  right: 0;
  left: 0;
  z-index: 1030;
  padding: 0 1rem;

Removing the card component’s box-shadows
Create assets/scss/custom.scss in your root if it doesn’t already exist. Paste the following into the file.

 .card-simple {
  background: #fff;
/* this is the part that takes out the shadow */
  box-shadow: none;
  border: 1px solid rgba(0,0,0,.09);
  border-radius: 3px;
  margin-top: 20px;
  padding: 15px 20px 15px 20px;

.card {
  margin-bottom: 1.5rem;
  overflow: hidden;
  text-overflow: ellipsis;
  background: #fff;
/* this is the part that takes out the shadow */
  box-shadow: none;
  transition: all 0.2s ease-out;

From ‘posts’ to ‘blog’

Since the writing of this post, I discovered a section in the Academic theme docs that shows another (easier) way to do this using permalinks. You can find it here under Example 2.

Instead of your posts having the default slug your-site.com/posts/your-post, you can change it to your-site.com/blog/your-post by doing the following:

  • Rename the posts folder in your root content/ to blog, or create a folder in content/ called blog
  • Copy themes/hugo-academic/layouts/section/post.html to your root layouts/section/
  • Rename the new file located at layouts/section/post.html to blog.html

Changing displayed post dates

You’ll need to override Academic’s page_metadata.html located in hugo-academic/layouts/partials/ by putting in an html layout in your root layouts/partials/. Copy the one in Academic’s and paste it to yours so that this is its path: layouts/partials/page_metadata.html.

We’ll be editing your copy. This is a snippet from the original (in your text editor, find “article-date”):

  {{ if not (in (slice "talk" "page") $page.Type) }}
  <span class="article-date">
    {{ $date := $page.Lastmod.Format site.Params.date_format }}
    {{ if eq $page.Type "publication" }}
      {{ $date = $page.Date.Format (site.Params.publications.date_format | default "January, 2006") }}
    {{ else }}
      {{ if ne $page.Params.Lastmod $page.Params.Date }}
          {{ i18n "last_updated" }}
      {{ end }}
    {{ end }}
    {{ $date }}
  {{ end }}

We’ll replace that with:

  {{ if not (in (slice "talk" "page") $page.Type) }}
  <span class="article-date">
    {{ $date := $page.Date.Format site.Params.date_format }}
    {{ if eq $page.Type "publication" }}
      {{ $date = $page.Date.Format (site.Params.publications.date_format | default "January, 2006") }}
    {{ end }}
    {{ $date }}
  {{ end }}

Explanation: The new code uses the Date instead of Lastmod & removes the else argument in the if statement that uses last_updated.

Adjusting post font size & page width

Create assets/scss/custom.scss in your root if it doesn’t already exist. Paste the following into the file & adjust the max-width and font-size to your liking.

.article-container {
  max-width: 850px;
  padding: 0 20px 0 20px;
  margin: 0 auto 0 auto;
  font-size: 20px;

Customizing the alert notes & warnings (div tips)

If you’re using an R markdown document, site, bookdown book, Distill site, or blogdown .Rmd post, check out this awesome post by Desirée De Leon who presents an easy way to do this with Pandoc style custom divs. My instructions are for those using .md for their posts.

All of the options to edit the formatting of the alert notes and warnings can be found in themes\hugo-academic\assets\scss\academic\_root.scss under this heading, which you can use your text editor to find:

 *  Article Alerts (Shortcode) and Asides (Mmark)

Create assets/scss/custom.scss in your root if it doesn’t already exist and copy from that code snipped above until the end of the file; these are all of the style settings for the alert boxes.

Choose which parts to edit to your liking. For example, these are the parts I edited to make the alert box above:

.article-style aside p,
div.alert > div {
  position: relative;
  display: block;
  /* I made the font size smaller & adjusted the margin-left */
  font-size: 0.8rem;
  margin-left: 1.7rem;
  margin-top: 0;
  margin-bottom: 0;

/* I also changed the color of the icon & its top & left positions */ 
.article-style aside p::before,
div.alert > div:first-child::before {
  position: absolute;
  top: -0.3rem;
  left: -2rem;
  font-size: 1.4rem;
  color: #0EAD69;
  font-family: 'Font Awesome 5 Free';
  font-weight: 900;
  content: '\f05a';
  width: 1rem;
  text-align: left;

/* You can edit the borders and backgrounds here */
.article-style aside,
.alert-note {
  color: #26547C;
  background-color: #F7F7F7;
  border-color: #0EAD69;

.alert-warning {
  color: #cd0930;
  background-color: #fff5f7;
  border-color: #ff3860;

That’s all for now!

I know that this tutorial involves a lot of file and code creating and copying and can be confusing, especially if you’re not familiar with how Hugo works, so if you have any questions don’t hesitate to DM/tweet me or comment below 😊 if there are any other customizations you noticed I did on this site that you’re interested in trying but I didn’t cover it, I’ll be happy to tell you how I did that as well. You can find the source code for this site here.

If you want to see more of what Academic is capable of, check out Alison Hill‘s personal site. Before seeing hers I didn’t know that it was possible to do so much with Academic & it’s what inspired me to try it out myself (thank you Alison!). As I was building this I also referred to her code to figure out how to adjust things. She has several blog posts about how to set up a Hugo site using RStudio (which is what I did) and how to use and customize it as well! They’re great resources that you should check out if you haven’t already, especially if you’re using RStudio.

Isabella Benabaye
Isabella Benabaye
Data and Reporting Analyst in Los Angeles, CA
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