WordPress Gallery Plugins

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

https://enviragallery.com/

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:

  1. Edit a post or page on which you want to display a gallery.
  2. Scroll down to the Envira Gallery Settings area.
  3. Upload images or choose existing images from the WordPress Media Library.
  4. Set your configuration options (columns and thumbnail size) in the Config tab.
  5. 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.
  6. Update your post or page and view it to see the gallery.

envira-gallery-add-images

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.

WordPress Gallery Plugins - Example of an Envira Gallery display with variable height images

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.
To manage your images in the WordPress Media Library, install the Enhanced Media Library plugin. This plugin allows you to create Media Categories or use your blog categories and assign them to images. You can’t create categories on the fly, but you can define them in advanced. Then, when you you upload your images, you can check the category you want them to be in. Later, you can find images easily in the Media Library via the Media Category select list. It’s so cool!

Overall recommendations:

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

http://jetpack.me/support/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:

WordPress Gallery Plugins - 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.

Overall recommendations:

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

https://wordpress.org/plugins/nextgen-gallery/

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:

  1. Edit a post or page on which you want to display a gallery.
  2. Click the Green box icon in the top row of the Visual Editor.
  3. Click the Add Gallery/Images tab and enter a name for your new gallery or select an existing one.
  4. Click Add Files and choose the files to upload.
  5. Click Start upload. The files will be uploaded to the gallery.
  6. Click the Display Galleries tab.
  7. Choose your display type. I recommend the Plus version of the plugin for more display type options.
  8. Customize the display settings and sort the images as desired.
  9. Click Save.
  10. 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!

NextGEN Gallery Display

Screenshot of  NextGEN Pro Masonry gallery:

WordPress Gallery Plugins - NextGEN 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.
View All Three Galleries Live with Lightboxes!

Angela Bowman

Front-end WordPress developer since 2007 building highly custom websites for nonprofits and small businesses. Experienced in nonprofit administration, grant writing, and technical writing. Love high altitude hiking and backyard chickens.

View all posts by Angela Bowman

20 comments on “WordPress Gallery Plugins

  1. Resize on Upload is required for Retina because we use the processor in the resize feature to create the dynamic images required for retina display. We’re considering a simplification of just forcing it for all users, but that’s a tough decision to make for over a million people.

  2. I’m a photographer using NextGen Pro and although I agree with most of your positive comments re. features and custom options I do take issue regarding what’s been said here about Retina optimisation.

    To suggest using larger images is a lame solution in my opinion. If I want to have images of 1024px wide displayed I would have to upload images 2048px wide to maintain quality on retina devices. This will then result in them also being displayed twice the size desired on a non retina screen. They will be significantly larger in file size and cause unnecessary slow down for non retina display.

    I also agree with Greg that “Talk of retina support seems to get quietly closed down, or dismissed with disingenuous excuses. Retina/HiDPI displays aren’t going away. If anything, they are taking over. Someone has to figure this out, and I’d rather it be NextGEN”

    Why don’t Imagely take this seriously? Too complicated? Too expensive? Or just plain complacent? Why not set the benchmark and design a proper solution instead of sweeping it under the carpet. I’m very disappointed with their stance on this.

    Most working photographers wouldn’t want to display their images any larger than 1100px wide, a reasonable size for most non retina displays, tablets, laptops, mobiles etc. Any larger and the temptation for people to steal increases dramatically. Watermarking images is not an answer to this either. The whole point of retina optimisation is to serve the the right image at the right size according to the detected device. Forgive me for saying but your suggestion is lazy and inefficient and shows a lack of understanding regarding photographers needs.

    • Imagely implemented retina support for thumbnails in 2015 – https://www.imagely.com/retina-support/. The thumbnails in NextGEN Gallery did look horrible on retina devices before this feature was added last year. Other plugins like Envira don’t have retina support per se, but they simply show the full size images in their grid, e.g. they don’t have thubmnail images.

      WordPress added responsive image support in version 4.4 via the img srcset html markup. So for images in the main body content and featured images, WordPress will pick the appropriate image size to serve dynamically. This is highly depending on the image sizes available to choose from via the sizes auto generated by the theme and the four default WP image sizes. More info about srcset here – http://alistapart.com/article/responsive-images-in-practice

      There are some interesting issues regarding image sizes as a whole. We have a push/pull with more media and larger media but not necessarily greater bandwidth to serve that media. So, we have these retina devices where we want to upload 2x images, but not the bandwidth to practically serve those. Image optimization becomes hugely important. It’s this crazy balancing act.

      The issue about stealing is always a problem, even with web optimized images. The advice I got from a professional photographer is to copyright all your images and register them, then use a third-party service to find and charge people for infringements. Photographers are making a pretty nice monthly sum of money charging people for using their images without permission.

      In terms of using srcset in NextGEN Gallery plugin for the full-size images, I imagine it’s a matter of priority. I work with a commercial photographer. On his website, we are loading a LOT of images on each gallery. I sized each image at 1600 x 1200 with JPEG 60 Quality using Photoshop Save for Web feature. I came to this dimension and JPEG compression by doing many tests and viewing the images on my 15″ retina MacBook Pro and my 23″ Apple Cinema Display. I tried larger and smaller images. At the 1600 wide size, I was able to maintain the quality he wanted and didn’t notice any difference if I went to 1800. The site is hosted on WP Engine. With over 42 images loading per gallery, the pages load in 1.28 seconds, because both WP Engine is awesome and NextGEN Gallery does such an amazing job at managing page load for their galleries. What it comes down to then is deciding how large to load those individual images and that’s going to keep evolving as our devices and bandwidth evolve.

      I hope Scott weighs in on the conversation. I appreciate your writing.

      • Hi Angela, thanks for the reply.

        I agree that it’s a difficult balancing act but still I think serving unnecessarily large images to non retina devices is not the solution. It’s just not smart, eating up bandwidth and slowing everything down regardless.

        Stealing for web use is only one part of the equation, theft by downloading for print is another, and it can’t be stopped or traced. An image at 2048px wide will render a decent size print, part of my business (and most photographers) is selling prints, people can and will steal them at that size.

        Interesting to read your observations regarding the 1600 x 1200 jpegs. Were all the images on his site the same 4;3 aspect ratio then? I’m a landscape photographer and I don’t have a single image at 4;3 unfortunately, they’re all 3;2 or 2:1 or square. 1600px width is still bigger than I want to display but maybe I’ll experiment to see if there’s a compromise.

        I’ve looked at the thumbnail retina option in NextGen but not implemented it as yet. I’m not clear about what it will do to my images if I select the ‘resize after upload’ option? What should images be resized to? Or is this where you set the thumbnail size? It’s really quite vague I think.

        I look forward to hearing from Scott too if he chooses to comment.

        Thanks Again

        Paul

        • Hi Paul,

          It sounds like there are a couple issues here:

          1 – Stealing of images for which you want to use lower quality in the hopes that they won’t be used for any sort of print reproduction I’m assuming. Web use can definitely be traced and monetized if you wanted to purse that route. Send me a private message, and I can email you slides from the presentation we had at our Meetup group about how to do that.

          2 – Serving up higher res images on Retina devices (presumably not worrying too much about whether they are stolen) and smaller images on other devices will be the future. I think it’s just a matter of time before that is implemented. In the meantime, the thumbnail gallery was the most important thing to use the high pixel density because the thumbnail galleries did look noticeably bad on retina devices. I would test out the large images on some retina devices to see what you think works best. For high quality photographs, I tend to use Photoshop > File > Save for Web JPEG with 60 quality. I would play with between 1600 and 1920 wide images. Since NextGEN handles page load quite well, then the larger images don’t seem to slow down the site.

          3 – The thumbnail option in NextGEN won’t alter your original images, but it will make the thumbnail grid look 2x better! Lol. The thumbnails in NextGEN are dynamically generated. NextGEN is quite amazing actually when it comes to how it handles thumbnail generation.

          4 – I usually don’t use the Resize After Upload option, because I like to control the image quality via the Photoshop > File > Save for Web options. However, if you do use the resize after upload feature, NextGEN has a backup of the original, so you can always go back to the original image if you don’t like the results. You can set the compression quality. Photoshop and Lightroom are going to have much better compression algorithms than NextGEN, so I think the resize after upload is best for people who aren’t savvy with Photoshop or Lightroom.

          I hope this helps a little. If you want to send me a private message via my contact form, I’ll email you my class notes for NextGEN. Web images have become so much more complex. I was just in a discussion group about this. Retina devices, device sizes, etc. are all impacting how we are thinking about images and image needs, and then having to balance that with performance is like balancing a bag of sand. And, the bag of sand is constantly changing size.

          • Thanks for your reply Angela.

            How are you generating retina thumbnails without using the ‘resize after upload’ ?

            Imagely guide says: To use the new retina feature, turn on “resize on upload” and “backup originals” within Other Options. Then NextGEN will dynamically create your retina thumbnails and display them to viewers using retina devices.

            I’m confused lol

          • I don’t know about the “resize on upload” being mandatory for the retina support of thumbnails. Maybe Scott can chime in.

    • We definitely take it seriously. Every update we make, every feature we release, is 100% based on customer requests.

      The function is already in place, because we have it built for thumbnails. We just need to turn it on for full size images.

      It comes down to customers wanting it, and not just one or two. That feature needs to be one that is a popular request by many customers. Otherwise we’re putting in development time for something very few want.

  3. Hi !
    Based on the speed, performance, ease of use, and over all features the wordpress gallery plugins shared here are very much effective and tonic for the specific work as i see ..
    Mainly this is one of the best sources for wordpress gallery plugins . I thank you author for sharing here such useful plugins . And i would like to share here https://www.gsamdani.com/ , the another best source for various useful and the best plugins overall

  4. Hey,

    Choosing gallery plugin is not that easy these days…some are free, and some are quite expensive. Driven by the thought that ‘more money=better’ I have been considering NextGen. It’s really awesome, one of the most complete plugins on the market. But Envira is quite OK, too. but browsing further, I’ve come across this one: http://codecanyon.net/item/gocha-focuson-parallax-responsive-gallery/5928028?s_rank=1
    It is in the same price field and it looks quite versatile. Maybe worth trying it out? Demos look great.

    • Hi Rafal, Yes, that looks very cool. I agree that Envira is very good for simple WordPress galleries, and that is usually my first approach when people need a simple solution. I use NextGEN if the person has to manage many images, because Envira does not have any sort of image management features.

      The plugin you linked to is interesting, but a few things will cause me to pause:

      1 – It only has 111 sales. Not enough to convince me that the plugin developer will continue to support it.

      2 – It hasn’t been updated since last September. I try to look for plugins that have a lot of downloads and recent updates to know it will last and any bugs or security issues will be dealt with swiftly.

      Thanks for reaching out! I always think more things can be done with galleries in the future. You might want to check out the Plus version of NextGEN Gallery. It has a lot of very cool gallery display options.

      ~ Angela

  5. This post is almost a year old, but I just found it today. Thanks for one of the most honest reviews on WP gallery plug-ins I’ve ever seen.

    I want to use NextGEN Gallery but there is no support for retina (HiDPI) displays. Yes, they’ve finally added retina thumbnails, but I’m talking about the full-size images that appear in the lightbox. I don’t think anyone has cracked this one, and it never appears in the wishlist on the NextGEN site. Any talk of retina support seems to get quietly closed down, or dismissed with disingenuous excuses. Retina/HiDPI displays aren’t going away. If anything, they are taking over. Someone has to figure this out, and I’d rather it be NextGEN. But I’ll keep looking for a solution.

    • Thanks for commenting, Greg. I usually try to keep my posts up to date and write posts that have some longevity, so hopefully much of this still applies.

      Luckily, Erick Danzer, the founder and CEO of Photocrati (owners of NextGEN Gallery) lives in my town, so I reached out to him and Scott Wyden Kivowitz their Community & Blog Wrangler. Here’s what Scott has to say:

      ‘Large images really don’t NEED to be retina as they’re already large, if the person creates large enough images for the front end display. For example, all of my photos are at 2048px at the longest length. That’s quite large for all screen sizes including a 27″ Mac.’

      I would totally agree with Scott. Large images were never the issue with the retina support. It was thumbnails that looked like hell. Now that those have retina support, go ahead and upload your large images at 2048, and you should be fine for retina support. I don’t know of any other gallery plugin that will handle those differently. Let me know your thoughts.

  6. Thanks for the comparison. I’ve tried some different gallery plugins, and stopped on Gmedia Gallery so far. There are 14 modules overall, and three – with3D feature. You can also play music & videos within plugin. It’s responsive on all devices and SEO-friendly. And it’s FREE. https://wordpress.org/plugins/grand-media/

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for the feedback. I have looked into Grand Media plugin before. There was something about the interface that made not like it at the time, but I’ll check out the updated version. If it seems like something I wouldn’t mind recommending, I’ll add it to this list. I appreciate your bringing it to my attention again.

      Angela

  7. NextGEN Gallery tends to get a lot of heat within the WordPress developer community. Many times when there’s articles about how “bad” NextGEN Gallery is, there’s no legit facts to back up the comments. Haters will be haters.

    But there’s no doubt that NextGEN Gallery is popular among the community overall. Especially from its users and paid customers.

    Every so often I come across a gem that is so awesome, and so honest, that it is a must share.

    I have no doubt that NextGEN Gallery is not for everyone, but I am 100% positive it’s perfect for its target market, photographers and other imaging professionals who need such an extensive plugin.

    So I want to say thank you for this amazing article, as it is a rare treat to see something so honest put out there.

    • Hi Scott, I’ve been using NextGEN Gallery since 2008. At the time, there were no other nice gallery plugins to use. It wasn’t very pretty, but I knew CSS, so that didn’t matter as I could make it look anyway I wanted it to.

      When people compare NextGEN to Envira, what they don’t realize is that they are comparing apples to oranges or Mercedes SUV to Kia Rio. If you need high-clearance, four-wheel drive, and the ability to seat 7, you aren’t going to be in the market for a small car. How are you going to fit 7 people in a Kia unless you strap them to the roof rack (which it doesn’t have either)?

      The primary issues with NextGEN are these:

      1 – User interface – lots of options but some options only apply in certain configurations or at certain steps in the process. For example, you can’t practically sort your gallery AFTER it’s been inserted on a page. Technically, yes, you can sort it in the first tab of the lightbox. But it’s impossible to do so because you can’t see much in that space, so it’s supremely frustrating. I’ve had people instead sort their galleries in Manage Galleries, then reinsert the gallery on the page.

      2 – Extensibility/developer friendliness (including shortcodes, templates, hooks) — WooCommerce does this well. The Events Calendar does this pretty okay. You need to look to the leaders in terms of being a friend of developers in WP community rather than proprietary like EventEspresso. It’s two different business models.

      3 – The placeholder image is silly and confusing. I like shortcodes. Not everyone does. But, I think people understand those and can work with them.

      4 – The default galleries are ugly. So, if you’re looking for a gallery plugin, you’ll probably use Envira, because it’s pretty out of the box. What NextGEN is losing in terms of market share is that group of people who can live without robust image management. For photographers who must have the image management too, they are happy to pay the $39 for prettiness and functionality.

      The issue is like Mercedes. Lots of options. Complicated to learn and fix. But, hey, it’s a Mercedes! It seats 7! Shut up and drive!

        • What really helped with my griping about NextGEN Gallery 2.x was meeting Erick Danzer, the CEO and Founder of Photocrati, in person. Erick is one of the sweetest most receptive developer I’ve ever met. It made me re-embrace NextGEN and really embrace the Plus version. One thing that people don’t realize is that without a business plan and a profitable product, NO PLUGIN is going to survive. Having a business model for plugins is essential to good plugin development. Everything can’t be free.

          Erick has been attending our local Meetups and even came to my last galleries class. I’d say that it seems your team has really tried in earnest to create a product that photographers love.

          One thing that can be an issue for anyone taking over a popular plugin is backwards compatibility and creating a developer-friendly API of sorts — both for front-end CSS/templating folks like me as well as other plugin developers. I love this talk by @pippinsplugins at LoopConf: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8ncBPdDwVE related to backward compatibility.

          Having friendly faces like yours and Erick’s really makes a difference behind perceptions. With such a hugely popular plugin, there are so many places to go wrong with a major upgrade like you guys did, and it opens you up to all sorts of criticism based on expectations of millions of people. Had you started FRESH with this plugin, there wouldn’t have been those expectations.

          At any rate, I do love NextGEN Gallery. MaxGalleria is the only thing like it, but they are missing a few things. They are also now following me on Twitter. They might be sad I didn’t mention them in this post. Funny that no one picks on them! But, they cost a lot more to get the same functionality; they offer no e-commerce; and, last time I checked, you could not edit the thumbnail crop.

          Better to love NextGEN and work with future development wishlists than complain. 🙂

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