Have you ever visited a website homepage to find a group of scrolling photos and related calls to action prominently positioned near the top? These scrolling elements are often made possible by WordPress carousel plugins.
Looking to create a similar effect for your website? There is no shortage of great plugins that will get the job done, but how do you know which is right for you?
- What is a WordPress Carousel?
- MetaSlider Review
- Slider Revolution Review
- Smart Slider 3 Review
- Slick Slider Review
- WordPress Carousel Review
- Carousel Slider Review
- Super Carousel Review
- The Results
- Which plugins offer the features I need?
- What are other users saying?
- Which will you choose?
We’ll review many plugins and features in order to answer this question. But first, let’s clear up some confusion.
What is a WordPress Carousel?
Carousels provide a means for website visitors to scroll back and forth between slides of website content. Slides that are part of a website carousel will often include uploaded photos, videos, or snippets from recent blog posts.
Sometimes a carousel will play automatically, while other times visitors will need to manually navigate from one slide to the next. Navigation is made possible with arrows, touch gestures, and with bullets or “breadcrumbs” beneath the carousel itself.
This practice saves precious screen real estate since inactive content is hidden offscreen until it’s manually or automatically navigated to. At that point, other content is pushed out of view in order to make room for the requested content.
WordPress Carousel vs. Slider
Site owners often use the terms “carousel” and “slider” interchangeably, but the two are not always the same. Carousels will usually show multiple columns of images or other website content at a time.
You can navigate left and right through both a slider and a carousel, but the ability to make multiple slides visible at once is unique to the latter. So while every carousel is a slider, the reverse is not true.
Understanding the difference between a carousel and a slider will save you time as you’re searching for the perfect plugin. Many plugins that are marketed as slider plugins do offer true WordPress carousel support, but not always. The reviews that follow will look only at plugins that offer multi-column carousel features.
With more than 800,000 active installs, MetaSlider is the most popular free WordPress slider plugin. It’s so popular, in fact, that NASA chose MetaSlider to display the carousel at the top of their STI WordPress website.
MetaSlider is actually four different sliders in one, but they all behave similarly. One of the key differences among the four slider modes, however, is the availability of true WordPress carousel support. The default FlexSlider mode is the only mode that offers this feature.
Keep this in mind as you’re laying out your carousels. Switching away from FlexSlider will remove the carousel option and will limit your sliders to a single-column layout. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve checked the “Carousel mode” checkbox in order to display more than one slide at a time. You’ll find this checkbox in your slider’s Advanced Settings panel.
Among MetaSlider’s most unique features is its built-in Unsplash support. Unsplash is a library of royalty-free images that you can use throughout your website and other creative materials. If you lack high-quality photos of your own, the ability to drop free Unsplash images into your carousel from the comfort of the WordPress admin panel is going to come in handy.
Basic MetaSlider features are free, but more advanced features are locked behind a $39 add-on pack. Users can lay out image carousels and add a lightbox to their photos without paying, while support for video sliders, blog post carousels, and raw HTML slides are available only after an upgrade.
Pros and Cons
Pros: MetaSlider’s Unsplash integration is a welcome addition to the plugin’s feature list. MetaSlider offers support for the modern block editor, but it is not the only WordPress slider to do so.
Cons: Many of the features that are free with other plugins are locked behind MetaSlider’s add-on pack. These offerings include sliders of the post, product, and raw HTML type.
Free Features: When compared to other free WordPress carousel plugins, MetaSlider’s feature set is lacking. You’ll need to look elsewhere if you hope to create anything more than a simple image carousel for free.
All Features: MetaSlider can easily compete with other plugins in its class after a purchase of the add-on pack. The pack grants access to the same post, product, video, and HTML slider types that are available to most of the premium plugins (and a couple of the free ones).
User Experience: MetaSlider offers a wide array of slider settings, but non-essential options are neatly tucked away as they should be. Online documentation and native block editor support make for a very smooth editing experience.
Free Features: 2/5
All Features: 7/10
User Experience: 7/10
Total Score: 16/25
Slider Revolution Review
Ask anyone who has worked with WordPress and they’ll likely argue that Slider Revolution is the king of carousel builders. You can think of it as the Photoshop of slider plugins. Its many tools and optional add-ons will allow you to create post carousels, impressive animations, and even entire websites.
If you’re thinking that a plugin with so many possibilities might feel overwhelming at first, you’d be right. Slider Revolution has an undeniably steep learning curve, but the bundled “live” guide serves as an inline tutorial of sorts and will walk you through more advanced features.
Furthermore, the plugin’s template gallery provides users with a massive collection of ready-to-use carousel templates. If an existing template suits your needs, you can use it as a starting point then customize as needed. Multiple templates exist for any type of slider or carousel you’d want to create, and the quality of the gallery’s templates is unmatched.
But if what you want is to display a few scrolling logos on your homepage, Slider Revolution will be overkill. It costs $29, and the WordPress repository includes many plugins that will allow you to build simple logo carousels for free. You’ll find more than one of them ahead.
Pros and Cons
Pros: The included template gallery and live guide can help new users create stunning WordPress carousels and sliders. Although Slider Revolution’s team does not offer a free version, the plugin is one of the more competitively priced premium sliders.
Cons: The advanced user interface is difficult to master. Expect to invest a lot of time if you have very specific needs that an existing template cannot meet.
All Features: What Slider Revolution lacks in free features it more than makes up for in paid features. If you can imagine it, you can build it with Slider Revolution. Paying customers can use it to create image sliders, video carousels, post sliders, and everything in between.
User Experience: Limitless possibilities come at a cost. Although the interface is polished, it can also be very overwhelming. Familiarize yourself with the provided documentation and live guide if you hope to get the most out of your sliders.
Free Features: 0/5
All Features: 10/10
User Experience: 4/10
Total Score: 14/25
Smart Slider 3 Review
Consider Smart Slider 3 the free alternative to Slider Revolution. It doesn’t offer the same depth of features, but it’s far more accessible and even includes a stripped-down template gallery of its own. The free version includes roughly a dozen templates, while an upgrade to the paid version unlocks another 100 or so.
The free version’s templates and features will allow you to create image, post, and raw HTML sliders with ease. This makes the free offering especially attractive to photographers, bloggers, or anyone else with images or blog posts to highlight. Granular control over colors, fonts, and sizes enable users to create unique sliders all their own.
Additionally, the plugin’s WYSIWYG editor allows webmasters to place text overlays, buttons, and more on top of WordPress carousel slides. Smart Slider 3’s editor isn’t as powerful as Slider Revolution’s, but it’s much easier to use and available at no cost.
The plugin’s free version does fall short when it comes time to lay out a logo carousel. You’ll need to pay $35 for the pro version if you hope to display multiple logos or images in a single slide. That’s not to say that you can’t add multiple images to a single carousel, just that your website visitors will need to navigate from slide to slide to skip from one image to the next.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Smart Slider 3 is a pleasure to build with. The template gallery features many well-designed sliders, and a powerful editor makes quick work of font, color, and size adjustments.
Cons: Multiple columns or true WordPress carousel mode is locked behind a paid upgrade. Likewise, you’ll need to upgrade to the pro version if you hope to create a WooCommerce product slider. You can, however, create standard post sliders with the free version.
Free Features: Smart Slider 3 supplies for free what a majority of the alternatives charge for. You can build a WordPress slider with HTML slides, create a video slider, and import select templates without ever paying a cent. More importantly, the plugin’s signature editor and most of its best features are provided at no cost.
All Features: An upgrade to the pro version introduces more than 100 new templates and a traditional carousel mode. The upgrade will unlock WooCommerce product support, Facebook sliders, Instagram carousels, and additional editor features as well.
User Experience: Considering all of the features that Smart Slider 3 has to offer, the plugin’s interface is surprisingly simple. Most tools are where you would expect to find them, and any advanced features are well documented on the Smart Slider 3 website.
Free Features: 4/5
All Features: 9/10
User Experience: 8/10
Total Score: 21/25
Slick Slider Review
Slick Slider has the potential to be a great plugin for those wondering how to display scrolling photos with WordPress. It’s completely free and is built on top of the very popular Slick carousel by Ken Wheeler.
Unfortunately, this WordPress adaptation of Slick has not been updated to work with the modern block editor. If you hope to build a logo or photo slider with it, you’ll need to install and activate the WordPress Classic Editor plugin as well.
Building with Slick Slider is pretty straightforward as long as you’re working with the old WordPress editor. The plugin hooks into the platform’s gallery tool, and checking a single box will create a touch-friendly slideshow of any images you’ve chosen.
You’ll need to bump your Slick slider’s “slides to show” value up from the default of one if you want to create a WordPress carousel with multiple visible images. Since the default “lazy load” setting of “on demand” can create temporarily broken images, you might need to switch to the “progressive” setting instead.
It’s worth noting that the block editor compatibility issues are not a shortcoming of the Slick carousel that the plugin is built on top of. More full-featured plugins successfully integrate Slick with the new editor, and you’ll find one of those just ahead.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Slick Slider is free and is built on top of a solid foundation. If you’re comfortable with the old WordPress gallery tool, you should feel right at home with this plugin.
Cons: Slick is an image-only carousel and does not support any other slide types. It doesn’t support responsive “breakpoints” either, so the same number of images will be visible in a single slide regardless of screen size. The lack of block editor compatibility is a real bummer too.
Free Features: Slick Slider offers only one real feature: the ability to convert WordPress photo galleries into sliders. This can be seen as a positive for site owners who just want to build simple photo or logo carousels.
User Experience: Since Slick Slider serves only as an image slider, its interface is simple and its settings are few. Unfortunately, those settings are not well explained by the plugin’s author, and you’ll need to install the Classic Editor plugin in order to find them.
Free Features: 2/5
All Features: 4/10
User Experience: 5/10
Total Score: 11/25
WordPress Carousel Review
WordPress Carousel is built on top of the same Slick foundation as the previous plugin. But unlike that one, WPC is compatible with the block editor and can be used to create sliders of many types. Users can create image, post, and product sliders for free, but video and HTML sliders are locked behind a pro upgrade.
WordPress Carousel is actually one of the few slider plugins in the WordPress repository that defaults to true “carousel” mode. In this mode, your sliders will show five images in a slide to desktop visitors, but the plugin offers complete control over these figures with breakpoint settings.
At $39, the pro version of WPC is one of the most expensive options featured here. In addition to the video and HTML slide types, an upgrade will unlock a ticker mode, slide filters, and support for Google Fonts.
Pros and Cons
Pros: The ticker mode will create an automatic scroll effect that is perfect for WordPress logo carousels. The same WooCommerce product slider type that other authors tend to charge for is free with this plugin.
Cons: The WordPress Carousel upgrade is on the pricey side. You can add your sliders to the block editor via shortcodes, but the plugin lacks a dedicated block element that similar plugins offer. Fortunately, this omission will add only a step or two to your site maintenance routine.
Free Features: You can create any number of image, post, and product sliders with WPC without ever upgrading. The free version’s limited style settings offer control over image sizes, slide borders, and post slide element visibility.
All Features: The plugin’s $39 upgrade unlocks ticker mode, filters, advanced font options, and additional slide types. Your purchase will introduce support for an image lightbox and custom slide link URLs as well.
User Experience: The WordPress Carousel interface and all of its tools are clean and intuitive. You’ll need to copy and paste shortcodes in order to add carousels to your posts or pages, but again, this is more of a nitpick than a legitimate complaint.
Free Features: 3/5
All Features: 8/10
User Experience: 7/10
Total Score: 18/25
Carousel Slider Review
While Carousel Slider lacks a lot of the polish that alternatives offer, it packs a strong feature set. Best of all, every feature that the plugin supplies is made available to site owners free of charge. You won’t find a premium version of this particular WordPress carousel plugin anywhere.
Carousel Slider enables the layout of image, post, product, video, and hero sliders. The hero type allows for the input of arbitrary text and markup, so think of it as a raw HTML WordPress slider type.
Like the previously reviewed plugin, Carousel Slider provides complete control over visible slide counts for various screen sizes. You can also adjust the color and visibility of navigation arrows and breadcrumbs.
The plugin doesn’t support a template gallery of any kind, so further customization is limited to these simple toggles and any familiarity with CSS that you might possess. That being said, your carousel’s appearance is dictated almost entirely by the contents of its slides and not the arrows or breadcrumbs that surround it.
If you plan on building a photo carousel for your WordPress website, you’ll be happy to hear that Carousel Slider provides lightbox support along with its other free offerings. Similar photo slider options include the ability to link images to custom URLs and to display captions beneath your images.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Carousel Slider is 100% free and its feature set rivals that of many premium picks. Sliders default to a true carousel mode, and you can adjust slide counts at various breakpoints to suit your needs.
Cons: The interface leaves a lot to be desired. You may run into a few minor bugs when building with the plugin, including an inability to add slides to a hero slider before publishing it. Limited style settings and the lack of a template gallery will restrict navigation customizations.
Free Features: Many of the features that alternatives charge for are included with Carousel Slider at no cost. Your sliders can contain content of almost any kind thanks to the inclusion of the image, post, product, and hero types.
User Experience: Small quirks and a bland interface cost Carousel Slider a few user experience points. Fortunately, none of these shortcomings will impact your ability to create sliders or your visitor’s ability to view them.
Free Features: 4/5
All Features: 8/10
User Experience: 5/10
Total Score: 17/25
Super Carousel Review
Like Slider Revolution, Super Carousel is only available from the CodeCanyon plugin marketplace, but the similarities end there. Super Carousel foregoes a complex UI in favor of one that is far more user friendly. You also can’t build entire websites with it, but why would you want to when you have the WordPress platform and its powerful block editor to manage that?
Being that Super Carousel is a CodeCanyon offering, you won’t be able to test drive a free version of it. You can, however, purchase it for less than any of the other premium plugins on this list. It costs $21 at the time of writing, and it’s bundled with many of the same features that other paid plugins provide.
All of the popular slider types are supported, including photo, post, video, and HTML types. A powerful custom post slide type is supported as well. Use it to build a carousel of WooCommerce products, calendar events, and much more.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Super Carousel includes a handful of features that are tough to find elsewhere. Among these is an “autoscroll” option that functions like WordPress Carousel’s ticker mode. Moreover, Super Carousel is one of the most cost effective premium slider plugins you’ll find.
Cons: Without either a free version or a live demo, it’s impossible to experiment with Super Carousel ahead of your purchase. The same can be said of Slider Revolution, but at least its many features are better documented on its website and YouTube channel.
All Features: Super Carousel offers all of the features you would expect from a premium WordPress plugin. In addition to the many supported slider types, the plugin’s relatively low price will grant access to a photo lightbox, a handy autoscroll option, and more.
User Experience: The premium plugin’s user interface is on par with other best-in-class plugins on this list. An “expert mode” gives coders complete control over a carousel’s HTML and CSS, while bundled templates can ease the setup pains of everyday users.
Free Features: 0/5
All Features: 7/10
User Experience: 8/10
Total Score: 15/25
Most of the contenders fared well, but total scores earned a single plugin the top spot. The rankings are as follows:
- #1 – Smart Slider 3 by Nextend
- #2 – WPC by ShapedPlugin
- #3 – Carousel Slider by Sayful Islam
- #4 – MetaSlider by Team Updraft
- #5 – Super Carousel by originalweb
- #6 – Slider Revolution by themepunch
- #7 – Slick Slider by Philipp Bammes
Based on these very subjective reviews and scores, Smart Slider 3 is the best overall slider plugin for WordPress. Its many free features, a clean interface, and its powerful slide builder all contributed to this decision.
Super Carousel and Smart Slider 3 actually would have tied for first place if free offerings were not scored. Take this into account if you have room for a premium plugin in your budget.
But numbers don’t tell the whole story. As you’ve likely gathered from the preceding reviews, each plugin has its own unique strengths and feature set.
Which plugins offer the features I need?
Reviews and ratings are great for webmasters looking for the best general purpose WordPress carousel plugin. But what if you have a very specific need and want the one plugin that can address it most effectively?
The following list aims to showcase the very best plugins for the most common use cases. Free plugins and premium plugins with free trials will be highlighted whenever possible.
WordPress Carousel with Text Overlay
Many slider plugins will allow you to place overlays on top of a large hero image. Smart Slider 3 is one such WordPress carousel with text overlay support. This feature is not locked behind the Smart Slider 3 pro upgrade, so users of the plugin’s free version can take advantage of it.
For the uninitiated, the hero image trend is one that exploded onto the web design scene a few years back and has been going strong ever since. The hero image or hero section of a page typically features a large photo whose purpose is to highlight content or to motivate visitors to take action.
Sometimes these sections include nothing more than an image, but more often than not, webmasters will place a text overlay and buttons on those images as well. Wise webmasters will group multiple hero images into a single WordPress carousel in order to showcase multiple items with less screen real estate.
Your slide’s overlays can include text, buttons, raw HTML, and even other images. Use any combination of these elements to build slides that direct visitors to your most important pages or contact forms.
Top Plugin for Thumbnails
The majority of carousel plugins will allow visitors to scroll through smaller versions of your website images. Smart Slider 3 takes this a step further by providing an option to superimpose thumbnails on top of larger versions of your photos. This feature is especially popular among photographers building with WordPress.
The thumbnail feature is a part of the Smart Slider 3 carousel plugin’s free and pro versions. Webmasters can position thumbnails above, below, or beside larger images and can choose to hide or show thumbnail captions. With Smart Slider 3, site owners can customize the fonts applied to carousel thumbnail captions as well.
These options and a handful of others are located in the Thumbnails tab of your slider’s admin screen. This tab sits in the second options panel and between the Text Bar and Shadows tabs.
WordPress Carousel with Lightbox
Most premium slider plugins include lightbox support, but Carousel Slider is one of the few plugins that supplies it for free. To add a lightbox to your images, just check the “Show Lightbox Gallery” box in your slider’s Image Carousel Settings panel.
Like the thumbnail feature, the lightbox feature is great for photographers. With the lightbox option enabled, a click or tap of a slider image will enlarge it, allowing the image to fill the visitor’s screen. With a photo enlarged, visitors can explore its finer details and even navigate from one image to the next without closing the lightbox.
MetaSlider provides lightbox support as well, but you’ll need to install two additional plugins in order to take advantage of it. Those who are interested in paying for a premium plugin can unlock lightbox support with Slider Revolution, Super Carousel, and with WordPress Carousel’s pro version.
Best Plugin for Links
By default, most carousel plugins for WordPress will not allow you to link your image slides to a custom URL. That’s because many plugins assume that the click or tap of an image slide is the first step in a swipe gesture, which would result in a shift forward or backward to a neighboring slide.
Carousel Slider is smarter than that. Sure, you can still swipe through the sliders you’ve created with it, but you can also perform unrelated actions after the click of an image slide. In addition to triggering a lightbox as outlined above, you can also instruct your WordPress carousel to direct visitors to a custom URL depending on the slide they’ve clicked.
To link your photos to custom URLs, click a single item in the gallery popup of your slider’s admin screen. With the image selected, locate and fill the “Link to URL” textbox to the right. After saving your changes, review the “Image Target” dropdown of the admin screen’s Image Carousel Settings panel to ensure that your links will behave as expected.
The caveat here is that this trick only works with image slides. It’s also worth noting that your custom URLs will not work if you’ve also enabled lightboxes for your carousel.
WordPress Carousel for Logos
Super Carousel is especially capable as a tool for building WordPress carousels with logos. The plugin offers both an autoscroll feature and an infinite loop mode, and when both are enabled, your carousel will shift from one logo to the next without pause.
While the plugin isn’t free, it is one of the least expensive paid sliders available. WordPress Carousel provides features that are comparable to Super Carousel’s autoscroll and infinite loop modes, but only as part of its $39 pro upgrade.
The developers of WPC actually make a separate Logo Carousel plugin for this very specific use case. It’s worth a look if you do not intend to display anything but images in your sliders, but you would still need to pay more for the plugin’s smooth scrolling ticker mode than you would for Super Carousel’s comparable features.
What are other users saying?
Both CodeCanyon and the WordPress platform’s repository of free plugins have their own feedback systems in place. Users and paying customers are encouraged to rate and review plugins after spending time with them.
It’s always good practice to browse reviews and take recurring observations, especially if you plan on parting with money. So what have the masses had to say about the available slider plugins?
Best Free WordPress Carousel Based on User Ratings
With an insane 4.9 out of 5 stars, Smart Slider 3 is one the best free WordPress carousel plugins according to its users. The popular slider plugin has maintained this near-perfect score even after receiving hundreds of reviews.
These ratings align with the score that we assigned to Smart Slider 3 as part of our review. We never had to reach out to the plugin’s team for help, but those who have commend them for their high level of support.
Smart Slider 3 ratings below three stars currently account for less than 2% of all ratings. Those that have left these reviews commonly complain of usability issues. Ease of use is subjective, but we will say that Smart Slider 3’s interface felt more intuitive than any of the others we tested.
Best Premium Plugin According to Customer Feedback
Like the WordPress platform itself, CodeCanyon allows users to leave feedback regarding their experience with a plugin. The big difference here is that reviewers are permitted to leave feedback only after they’ve paid for a plugin. This approach makes it harder for fanboys and trolls to influence a plugin’s rating and should result in a more honest score.
Of the premium plugins we reviewed, Slider Revolution is the most popular among its paying customers. We preferred Super Carousel ourselves, and that was mostly due to Slider Revolution’s complex UI. Let this serve as further proof that ease of use is completely objective.
While most reviewers appear capable of navigating Slider Revolution’s many tools, the plugin has received its fair share of negative feedback. Recent negative reviews take issue with the move to the plugin’s latest version and long carousel load times.
Which will you choose?
There you have it. We tested more than a dozen plugins and managed to narrow our list down to a small handful of favorites. We then ranked those and compared our findings with reviews from other users and past customers.
Now which will you choose? Will you start with a free carousel plugin or will you skip straight to a feature-packed premium offering from CodeCanyon? Either way, the WordPress ecosystem is vast, so you’re sure to find a plugin that meets your website’s unique demands.