Brilliant Admin Themes to Freshen Up Your Dashboard

Brilliant Admin Themes to Freshen Up Your Dashboard

Whether you’re building a website for a new client or working on a project for yourself, customizing the WordPress admin makes the day-to-day business of working on a website behind the scenes a more personal one.

Customizing the backend of WordPress with an admin theme is a simple way to give your install a new look that’s different from the black and gray admin theme we’re so used to seeing (if you haven’t already changed the admin colors, that is).

If you develop sites for clients, installing an admin theme allows you to not only re-brand the backend but in many cases also simplify it so it’s easier for them to use.

In this post, we’ll look at some great free and premium WordPress admin themes. If you haven’t used an admin theme before, you’ll be interested to know that they actually come as plugins, not themes.

Free Admin Themes

  • Slate Admin Theme

    The Slate Admin Theme doesn’t go to town in terms of reimagining the back end but concentrates instead on making what’s already there that little bit slicker and easier to navigate.

    An appealing dark grey color scheme is easy on the eye, and prominent accent colors mean picking out relevant navigation and action items is a breeze. There’s also an attractive focus on content in the post editor, where the default implementation is considerably less cluttered than the default admin.

    Interested in Slate Admin Theme?

  • Branda


    Our very own 5-star rated Branda plugin has customization options for everything in the backend of WordPress. Though she’s a free plugin, she’ll do more than many of the premium options (that I’ll be covering soon).

    You can transform your dashboard with amazing customization of everything from login screens, logos, and color schemes. Plus, you can add customized system emails, coming soon and maintenance mode landing pages and other features to enhance your user’s experience.

    For a free plugin, Branda is definitely worth trying out for yourself before purchasing a premium option to get your backend of your WordPress in perfect condition.

  • Admin Color Schemes

    Need to add some color? The Admin Color Schemes plugin adds nine new color schemes for your WordPress admin.

    It’s a simple and easy to use plugin that can add some new colors that may fit your brand and admin better than the default color schemes.

    Interested in Admin Color Schemes?

  • Grey Admin Color Schemes

    With the Grey Admin Color Schemes plugin is used to get a grey color scheme for your WordPress admin.

    It features colors such as modern grey, classic grey, post-modern grey, and a blue highlight.

    Interested in Grey Admin Color Schemes?

Premium Admin Themes

The free options we’ve covered above give you simple ways of freshening things up on the back end and, in some cases, easy ways of quickly branding the user experiences for clients.

The next solutions we’ll look at are all premium. They all offer various solutions to your backend customization that you may prefer over a couple of the free options we covered.

  • WPShapere

    WPShapere is available for a very reasonable $23 and gives you a considerable degree of flexibility when it comes to kitting out the back end of WordPress.

    You’ve got options for completely rebranding the login page, full control over admin menu sorting and appearance, and an intuitive options panel to tie it all together.

    With support for white label branding, Multisite support and compatibility with WooCommerce and other popular plugins such as Contact Form 7, this is an extremely powerful and attractive option at the price point.

  • First

    The First admin theme is also priced at just $20 and gives you a stripped-down set of back end customization options to play with.

    You’ve got the ability to customize the admin bar at the top with your own logo, control over footer text, and nine color schemes to choose from. It’s not the most fully-featured premium option out there but solves a number of common problems at a reasonable price.

  • Legacy

    Legacy is a white label WordPress admin theme that ships with 20 different built-in variants to choose from along with the ability to create your own fully customized theme. The plugin gives you full control over menu contents and layout, helps you create beautiful custom login screens, and enables you to fully white label the back end for clients.

    Legacy is available for $23 and works smoothly with BuddyPress, Multisite setups in general, bbPress, WooCommerce and Gravity Forms.

  • Ultra WordPress Admin Theme

    The Ultra WordPress Admin Theme takes a similarly comprehensive approach to Legacy and serves up 30 pre-built theme options to choose from, along with the ability to define your own.

    You’ve also got full control over the top admin bar and all left-side admin menu items, in addition to the ability to customize your login pages and easily integrate custom branding throughout.

    Ultra Admin is available for $23 and integrates smoothly with BuddyPress, bbPress, and WooCommerce.

    Interested in Ultra WordPress Admin Theme?

  • Material WP

    Based loosely on Google’s material design guidelines, Material WP gives you a genuinely different-looking backend for either your own or clients’ sites, and makes customization a breeze.

    We’ll close out our list with MaterialWP, which is available for $69 per year.

    Based loosely on Google’s material design guidelines, the plugin gives you a genuinely different-looking back end for either your own or clients’ sites and makes customization a breeze. Individual admin elements can be changed at will and features such as drag-and-drop admin menu reordering enable you to get things set up nice and quickly.

The Future of Admin Themes

As with many parts of WordPress, the area of admin themes is certain to change enormously in the next 18 months – largely as a result of the REST API finally fully making its way into core. We’re likely to see completely separate applications emerge that deliver entirely new takes on what it means to administer a WordPress site.

Automattic’s desktop app Calypso is the first one of these out the door and it’s a highly significant development. It’s still probably too early to make hard and fast predictions about exactly which direction admin customization will go in, but a number of points are reasonably safe bets:

  1. JavaScript-powered applications using the REST API will present a serious alternative to the current plugin ecosystem, and the currently somewhat underserved area of custom admins will be a hot area for developers to explore.
  2. Custom admin interfaces targeting particular site verticals are likely to emerge.

It’ll be some time yet before we see the next wave of WordPress admins arrive, and the collection of plugins we’ve highlighted above should give you plenty of options for fine-tuning the WordPress admin experience for both yourself and clients in the interim.

If you’re particularly interested in the client customization side of the equation, be sure to check out our piece on creating the perfect client CMS for even more options.


Do you use an admin theme? Do you use any of the options we've mentioned in this article? If you have a favorite we missed, let us know in the comments below.
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Aileen Javier
Aileen Javier A past writer for WPMU DEV