The Best WordPress Gallery Plugins Compared: Envira Gallery, Jetpack Tiled Galleries, and NextGEN Gallery
There are dozens of WordPress gallery plugins available for creating image or photo galleries in WordPress. I teach a three-hour course in Boulder, Colorado, on how to work with WordPress photo gallery plugins, and in preparation I test new plugins and re-visit old ones. In the end, I return to the following three plugins and recommend them not as choices but as options to deal with different types of image management and display needs.
Why only these three? When comparing plugins, I evaluate the user interface, configuration options, and support. Many plugins do similar things but perhaps don’t have a great user interface. Others simply duplicate features from the plugins I recommend, but without as many options. Many aren’t well maintained, and some are just buggy.View All Three Galleries Live with Lightboxes!
Envira Gallery is a great WordPress gallery plugin for relatively simple image, photo, and gallery management. It provides a very easy way to create a beautiful collection of images on a page or post with only a few steps.
Envira provides essentially three different ways to display your images: in a thumbnail grid, in a thumbnail mosaic (see screenshot below), or in a slideshow. It comes with the Fancybox Lightbox, so you don’t have to install a separate lightbox plugin.
After installing Envira Gallery Lite:
- Edit a post or page on which you want to display a gallery.
- Scroll down to the Envira Gallery Settings area.
- Upload images or choose existing images from the WordPress Media Library.
- Set your configuration options (columns and thumbnail size) in the Config tab.
- In the post or page content area, place your cursor in the text where you want the gallery and click the Envira Gallery icon and choose the gallery from the current page.
- Update your post or page and view it to see the gallery.
Envira Gallery has many addons that allow you to configure various styling and feature options.
If you want to combine multiple galleries on a single page, create the galleries in the Envira Gallery galleries area in the WordPress Dashboard instead of on the page. Then, go to the page or post and insert the galleries into the content area using the Envira Gallery button in the toolbar.
Drawbacks to Envira Gallery:
- Each Envira gallery is actually a display configuration. The Envira Gallery is not organizing your images but allowing you to create a gallery display for a group of images. As a result, if you want to show the same images on a different page using a different display configuration, you need to create a NEW gallery.
- You cannot edit the thumbnail crop. The only plugin I know that allows you to edit the thumbnail crop is NextGEN Gallery. In fact, Envira Gallery does not create thumbnail images. It uses the full size images in the gallery and shrinks them to fit the configuration settings. As a result, the images in the gallery look great on retina devices, since you are really seeing the full size shrunk down.
- With Envira Gallery, images are uploaded to the WordPress Media Library. Thus, Envira does not manage your photos. Envira is simply managing the DISPLAY of your photos on a particular page or post. If you want to find photos to add to other galleries at a future date, good luck! All your photos will be in a long, un-categorized, unmanageable list in the WordPress Media Library.
Envira Gallery is great for low-tech people whose image management needs are relatively simple. I often set this up for bloggers, artists, nonprofits, and small businesses who need one-off galleries for exhibits, case studies, events, and travel. These users are typically not adding to existing gallery collections over time, nor do they revisit previously uploaded images. They just want to get a gallery inserted and published and move on to the next thing.
Envira Gallery in itself is not a photo management tool so is not very helpful for managing large numbers of images. However, what it does, it does very well and very reliably. Envira Gallery also has an addon for creating albums (groups of galleries) as well as import images from NextGEN Gallery.
Jetpack Tiled Galleries
Jetpack Tiled Galleries works with the WordPress default gallery but gives you options for displaying your galleries in circles, squares, or a mosaic grid. For details on using Jetpack, please see: http://askwpgirl.com/wordpress-image-gallery-lightbox-plugin/
Below is a screenshot of the Jetpack Tiled gallery:
Drawbacks to Jetpack Tiled Galleries:
- You cannot control the size of the thumbnails or columns. The sizes of the thumbnails and columns are dynamically calculated based on the number of images selected as Jetpack tries to create a symmetrical layout.
- As with Envira Gallery, Jetpack is relying entirely on the WordPress Media Library for image management, so it is also a display plugin not a management tool.
- Jetpack galleries do not have any central control, so they can only be created on a page-by-page or post-by-post basis. Envira Gallery at least allows galleries to be defined independent of pages and posts and used anywhere on the site.
- Adding images to an existing gallery on a page is not intuitive. Here’s what I find myself repeating a dozen times: “Click the gallery in the content area of your edit page. See the pencil icon? Click the pencil icon, then click Add images to gallery.” But, it doesn’t stick. People still end up adding images to the page BELOW the gallery rather than to the gallery. Sigh.
My recommendations for Jetpack are similar to Envira Gallery. The plus side to using Jetpack is that the Tiled galleries are served from the WordPress.com cloud servers, so using Jetpack helps improve page load time. I also really love the layout of the Jetpack Tiled Mosaic Gallery, don’t you?
NextGEN Gallery is the most robust WordPress gallery plugin and comes in three flavors:
- A free version which is available on WordPress.org. The default thumbnail gallery display is not pretty like Jetpack Tiled Galleries and Envira Gallery.
- A Plus version for $39 (sale price) per year has many amazing gallery display options, including beautiful thumbnail grids, filmstrip, masonry, slideshow, and a full-screen lightbox that allows commenting and social shares per image.
- The Pro version for $79 (sale price) per year includes all of the Plus features as well as e-commerce for selling photographs.
NextGEN Gallery comes bundled with several lightbox options. It is a full-featured photo management tool which allows you to set image sizes in bulk, add watermarks, cross-reference images using tags, edit thumbnail crops, create albums, and much more.
After installing NextGEN Gallery:
- Edit a post or page on which you want to display a gallery.
- Click the Green box icon in the top row of the Visual Editor.
- Click the Add Gallery/Images tab and enter a name for your new gallery or select an existing one.
- Click Add Files and choose the files to upload.
- Click Start upload. The files will be uploaded to the gallery.
- Click the Display Galleries tab.
- Choose your display type. I recommend the Plus version of the plugin for more display type options.
- Customize the display settings and sort the images as desired.
- Click Save.
- A placeholder image will be put in the content area. Update the page and view it to see the gallery.
Note: NextGEN does not add images to the WordPress Media Library. Instead it uploads the photos to separate folders on the server (wp-content > gallery > [name of your gallery]). NextGEN allows you to organize and manage your images as well as create beautiful galleries!
Screenshot of NextGEN Pro Masonry gallery:
Drawbacks to NextGEN Gallery:
- To have the same beautiful thumbnail grid or thumbnail mosiac/masonry layout with NextGEN as you do Envira Gallery, you need to purchase the Plus version ($39/year).
- The steps for adding a gallery to a page or post are similar to Envira Gallery, but the interface is more confusing to new users because it has so many options.
- Due to the numerous options available with NextGEN Gallery, it takes time to learn. It can be easy to confuse the management options of NextGEN with the display options. For example, if you sort your gallery in Manage Galleries, this sort order will not apply to the gallery if it’s already been inserted on a page.
Overall recommendations for WordPress Gallery plugins:
If you are a photographer with hundreds of photos to manage, you need to use NextGEN Gallery. If you need to bulk edit images, modify the thumbnail crop, or cross-reference images, NextGEN is the best solution available.
If you set up NextGEN for a client, be sure to set all the defaults for them. Then, you can easily teach them how to add/remove images and galleries without worrying about the display configuration for each and every one. If you are a photographer setting NextGEN up for yourself, keep these things in mind:
- Your images exist separate from the pages they are displayed on. (Gallery > Manage Galleries.) Many photographers get confused because they think their WordPress page IS the gallery. No. The gallery displays on the page, but the gallery could be displayed on ANY page even if you created and uploaded the images on this page. This is they key difference between NextGEN and Envira. Envira’s galleries are ONLY available on the page the gallery was created on. Envira galleries can be created distinct from pages, but that requires an extra step wherein you need to create the gallery in the Envira Galleries area, then edit the page to insert the gallery on the page. NextGEN enables you to do this in one step, but because it is one step, people don’t realize that the galleries truly are independent of the page you created/inserted them on.
- The way your images display on a given page are unique to the settings on that page. If you insert the gallery on a different page, you can use different display options. Envira Gallery does not do this. With Envira, you have to create a separate gallery for each display configuration you want. Again, this is because Envira is not managing your images. Envira is simply managing how your images display.
- You can display your images across your site in a variety of ways without having to create new galleries or re-upload images. Tags are a great way to associated related images in separate galleries together. I’ll write a blog post on that soon!
- Configure one gallery, then go to the Gallery Settings and Other Options areas in the Gallery central management area to set your default parameters, so you don’t have to configure these every time you insert a gallery on a page.