Strong imagery is a must for any website, but even more so if you have a commercial need to promote your work or sell your products online. One of the best ways to showcase your images is using WordPress themes with sliders.
WordPress themes that integrate with sliders – and vice versa – provide an ideal way to display multiple images fluidly and in an eye-catching way that grabs your visitors’ attention the moment they land on your site.
But before you go downloading that theme you like with its shiny built-in slider, there are a few things you need to know first…
The Problem with Bundled Slider Plugins
What you might not know is that themes that offer slider functionality usually provide it via a third-party plugin. Here’s how it works:
- The theme author buys an extended license for a slider plugin from a plugin developer, and
- This extended license allows the theme author to include the slider with a theme they sell.
A popular example of this is Slider Revolution, which is by far the most popular slider plugin for WordPress. How did it get so popular? It is bundled with hundreds of themes in the hugely popular ThemeForest marketplace, including Avada, the best-selling theme of all time on the site.
You might be thinking, bundling plugins with themes makes sense. After all, if a theme author designs a theme to include a hero slider header, they should provide the functionality to achieve it. Plus, bundling plugins makes it easier for users to get a site up and running quickly since they don’t have to buy additional plugins to use with the theme.
Yes, it does make sense. But it’s important to be aware of a few traps. Specifically:
- Bundled slider plugins can only be used under the same license as the theme they came with, i.e. you can’t use the slider plugin with a different theme;
- If you need help using the slider plugin, you’ll need to get in touch with the theme author you purchased from during your support period – you can’t access support directly from the slider plugin developer; and
- Bundled plugins can only be updated when a new version of the theme they are attached to is released. Unless you buy the slider plugin separately, you’ll have to wait until the author of the theme provides the latest version of the bundled plugin with their next theme update.
When users purchase a theme bundled with a slider plugin and later realize the plugin they thought they had also purchased is completely useless with other themes, well… let’s just say it’s caused confusion and later frustration amongst ThemeForest customers:
Look, I’m not out to bash Slider Revolution here. I think it’s a fantastic plugin. It’s just unfortunate that the licensing around bundled plugins – especially themes bundled with slider plugins – is confusing. Users aren’t getting what they thought they paid for.
Which is why I think the solution is to use standalone plugins.
Why Standalone Plugins Are Best
A standalone plugin is a plugin that you download or buy on its own, i.e. it doesn’t come bundled with another product. You can download standalone plugins from the official WordPress Plugin Directory and from marketplaces like CodeCanyon (which is part of the Envato company umbrella that ThemeForest also falls under).
When you download a standalone plugin, you get all the benefits of a regular license, including:
- You can use the plugin independently with any theme;
- You can update the plugin whenever there are new updates available from the developer – you don’t need to wait until your theme can be updated; and
- You get access to support.
If you’re launching a new website or planning a redesign and know that you’ll need a slider, it’s best to download or buy it separately from a trusted slider developer. This way, you’ll know that the plugin will work with any theme and if you need support you can count on a quick response from the very people who built it.
Smart Slider 3: The Highest Rated Slider Plugin for WordPress
When it comes to slider plugins, yes, Slider Revolution is the most popular premium option. But did you know Smart Slider 3 is the highest-rated slider plugin for WordPress? With 430 five-star reviews and 200,000 active installs recorded in the WordPress Plugin Directory, you can’t go wrong. Plus, it’s free to download.
There’s a pro version of the plugin, which I’ve compared with Slider Revolution here. But really, the free version is all you need to get started adding a beautiful slider to your website.
Let’s take a look at themes that integrate nicely with Smart Slider 3, along with ideas for how you can feature sliders in your theme.
Best Free WordPress Themes with Sliders
Since Smart Slider 3 is free, you might want to pair it with a free WordPress theme:
Neve is one of the most popular free theme in the WordPress Plugin Directory with 20,000 active installs. It also features a nice, big hero header for displaying images, which is pretty handy if you want to display a hero header slider.
Fortunately, ThemeIsle, the team behind this theme, have put together a handy guide to replacing the “Big Title” section with an image slider. In Smart Slider 3, you just need to copy your slider’s shortcode or PHP code and paste it into Neve’s big_title.php file as instructed.
OceanWP is a free multipurpose WordPress theme that’s easy to adjust for responsive design, ensuring it looks great on any device. There are 13 free demos to choose from, which all feature different layouts.
Adding a hero slider header is as easy as inserting the shortcode for your slider into OceanWP’s settings, which you can learn more about here. Depending on your design, you could display your latest posts as a slider, or stick with a hero slider header.
Here’s just one example of a free slider template from Smart Slider 3 that you could easily insert into your theme and edit to match your branding.
GeneratePress is a fast, lightweight WordPress theme with a modular structure that makes it easy to customize.
Adding a slider to this theme is straightforward. Whether you want to add a homepage slider, testimonial carousel, or post showcase, you can simply add your slider shortcode into the “Content” section of the page header metabox (if you’re using the Page Header add-on).
Otherwise, if your homepage is your blog, you can go to Appearance > Blog Page Header and insert your slider shortcode into the content section of that page (also using the Page Header add-on). You can learn more here.
For a free theme, Astra is gorgeous – the team who built it obviously have an eye for design.
Astra works great with the Elementor page builder plugin, which allows you to customize your pages via drag and drop. With Elementor, you can add sliders anywhere on your site by inserting your slider shortcode into your theme. WPCrafter.com explains how to work with Astra’s headers using Elementor in this instructional video.
The Startup Blog theme is a beautiful, minimalist WordPress theme you can get for free. It features a nice looking post slider at the top of the page, immediately encouraging visitors to check them out. Since it’s a free theme, it doesn’t have a built-in page builder. But the good news is, Startup Blog plays very well with Elementor. Did you know that at the moment Elementor has more than 2 million active installations? It’s safe to say this is the most popular free page builder plugin in 2019. By the way, the theme is also Gutenberg compatible.
Startup Blog isn’t just Elementor and Gutenberg but Smart Slider 3 friendly as well. You can put the slider’s shortcode to any post or page and the slider will show up there. If you would like to replace the header slider with Smart Slider 3, you’ll need to modify the theme. But the developers coded Startup Blog so well that this will be very easy.
Need help to get started? Startup blog theme has a very detailed documentation. It teaches you everything from the basics to the more advanced settings. All steps are explained in detail, with pictures. Thanks to this, you’ll be able to set up this beautiful theme in no time!
Best Premium WordPress Themes with Sliders
When you’re ready to take your website to the next level, a premium theme can provide you even more features. Here’s a select list of themes that work great with WordPress sliders.
As I mentioned above, Avada is the best-selling WordPress theme in the ThemeForest marketplace with 425k+ sales. It comes bundled with 3 premium sliders – Layer Slider, Slider Revolution, and Fusion Slider. But again, when you use one of these plugins it means you’ll only get a limited feature set, no support, and you won’t be able to update the plugin..
With Smart Slider 3, you can easily add a slider to any page or post using the theme’s Fusion Page Options or Fusion Builder Elements. For example, say you wanted to add a static slider to the Avada theme using Smart Slider 3. You could easily insert the free template slider below – or any one of Smart Sliders 100+ templates – using Fusion’s features and make further customizations to suit the style of your site.
With more than 330 pre-built templates, BeTheme is a hugely popular option for users who want to build a stunning WordPress site with ease. Like other popular premium WordPress themes, it comes with page building functionality – Muffin Builder 3 and WPBakery Page Builder.
With these page building tools, all you need to do is insert your slider shortcode into any post or page to display a beautiful slider, whether it’s a product slider like this:
With X Theme, you can achieve virtually any look and layout for your website using one of the 4 pre-built “stacks” (i.e. starter themes), which you can then customize using Cornerstone. The team behind X Theme developed the Cornerstone page builder to give users the freedom and flexibility to make front-end customizations and create any design you want.
X Theme comes bundled with Slider Revolution, LayerSlider, and Soliloquy. Again, with a free standalone plugin such as Smart Slider 3 you’ll get full slider functionality. Just like the other slider plugins, all you need to do is copy your shortcode from Smart Slider 3 and, using Cornerstone, paste it on your site where you want to display your slider/s.
For example, say you wanted to add a slider section to the band theme demo above. With Smart Slider 3 you could create a section displaying your latest posts, like so:
When it comes to WordPress themes with sliders, your choices are endless. The truth is, you don’t need to download or buy a theme with a “built-in slider” because there’s no such thing – themes with sliders use third-party plugins in order to provide that functionality.
So why not cut out the middleman and download a free slider that’s better than any bundled slider plugin? Smart Slider 3 can help you create any kind of slider you want, from homepage hero sliders to testimonial carousel, post showcases, fullscreen sliders, and even simple hero blocks. You’re only limited by your imagination.