Is Smart Slider 3 the Best WordPress Slider Plugin?

Is Smart Slider 3 the Best WordPress Slider Plugin?

I rarely write plugin reviews, and I never write about sliders. But today I’m making an exception for Smart Slider 3.

It’s not just the best slider plugin available, it’s also an example to all free and premium plugin makers of how a plugin should be made.

So let’s take a look at why I think Smart Slider 3 is fantastic.

Note: This is not a paid review. I genuinely liked the plugin so much I wanted to share it with you. There is a premium version of Smart Slider, but I’ll primarily be talking about the features that are included for free.

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What is Smart Slider 3?

Smart Slider plugin
Smart Slider plugin.

Smart Slider 3 is a plugin you can use to create sliders, which you can then place anywhere on your website.

You can put together anything you want with its powerful builder interface, fine-tuned animations between slides and—with the pro version—create layer item animations to get things moving within sliders.

I’ve seen plugins that can do this before, but not like this.

Smart Slider looks and feels like Sketch 3. When I started using Sketch instead of Photoshop, my feeling was: “Why has this not been done before?!”

Smart Slider brings the interface and ease of use of Sketch (layers, property inspector, previews) to slider creation.

The slide editing interface.
The slide editing interface.

A Bit About Sliders

Before we delve deeper into the plugin, I have to lay the groundwork: I hate sliders.

I hate them in the way that some people hate baby photos, food photos, or selfies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these, but a constant onslaught can be overwhelming.

There has been a lot of research into sliders and how they are detrimental to conversions and SEO. I think the biggest problem is that almost all premium themes have a slider on the front page. It is great eye candy so when someone buys a theme they just start using it without thinking, which is a problem because there is only one thing worse than an unnecessary slider―and that’s a badly made slider.

However, I do think that a big contributor to lower conversions is when the sliders are poor quality. I’ve noticed in my own browsing behavior that I’ll stay on websites longer to view slider content that is visually striking.

In the end, I have to admit that I think sliders do have their place. If you use them smartly (no pun intended) they can be a valuable asset to your site. If you use them poorly, however, they will lower your conversions and hurt your SEO – just like any other subpar element on your page.

In addition, Smart Slider allows you to create visuals that aren’t slides. You can create a single slide slider with animations, allowing you to create elements that look like static images with small subtle animations to catch a visitor’s eye.

A Bit About Premium Plugins

Now that I’ve vented most of my anger at sliders, let me release the leftovers on premium plugins.

I’ve noticed that a lot of available premium plugins are simply not good, particularly when you take into account that people are making money with them. This is especially true for a plugin that tackles extremely difficult UI concepts like sliders.

Plugin authors seemingly tend to not care about user experience and all they want is a quick buck. When you buy a premium app like Evernote or Sketch, you expect the interface and additional features (like the help system, settings management, etc.) to be just as polished as the rest of the product; you expect quality.

Smart Slider delivers on this as well. From the initial introduction video to the website, icon, templates, help system, and general user interface, you can see that someone sat down and thought about it all and applied the spit and polish needed to make a proper product—as opposed to something that looks like your neighbor threw together in a few hours.

Sliding into Your DM (Dashboard Modal)

Initially, you’ll be greeted with a Welcome/Get Started video. It’s brief, and well-done. I suggest watching it. However, you can go right to the dashboard if you prefer.

Your initial slider options are on the top, while a graphic with features of the pro version is at the bottom.

With the free version, you’ll have access to 2 slider types, 6 layers, and 14 slider templates.

The pro version will give you that, plus access to a library of 120+ pre-built slider templates, along with animations & effects, and personal support.

A Quick Walkthrough

Looking at the tutorial slide below shows the attention to detail I immediately like about this plugin.

Note how all of the action buttons that you use to add a slider are green, secondary importance action buttons are blue, and the rest are gray. Very intuitive.

Slider tutorial.
Slider tutorial.

Adding a Sample Slider

When starting a new project, you can design completely from the ground up, or select a premade template.

From the Smart Slider dashboard, click on the big green New Project Button. From here, you can choose to create from scratch, or start with a template. Alternately, you can also import your own files.

Create a slider.
Create a slider.

A look at the huge library of premade slider templates in Smart Slider.

At some point, it would be a good idea to fiddle around in the various settings and menus. This will help familiarize you with the many options. There’s also a large documentation section on Smart Slider’s website, should you need some assistance.

Slider Options

So once we’re into the creation screen, there are two sections, divided into top and bottom.

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Smart Slider editing window
Smart Slider editing window.

The top section has the selections for what you’re working on; very visually based.

The bottom section has various menus for editing, separated into tabbed sections: General, Size, Controls, Animations, Autoplay, Optimize, Slides, & Developer.

For example, if you click on the Size tab, you’ll see the numerous options available: width, height, orientation, breakpoints, and more.

Smart Slider Settings > Size.
Smart Slider Settings > Size.

If you click on the Controls tab, you’ll have access to the UI elements created by the slider: arrows, bullets, text bar, thumbnails, & shadows.

Smart Slider Settings > Controls.
Smart Slider Settings > Controls.

Slide Setup

Most of your time will be spent within the slide editor, assembling your slide. While Smart Slider is responsive, the interface is best at high resolutions.

To view or edit your layers, you need to click a slide template on the top portion of the screen.

Hover over any layer to see it highlighted in the preview area. Click on a layer to bring up its details, where you’ll be able to modify them in the panel editing popups.

You can use the visual editor to reposition the layer by dragging and dropping, or by using the positioning options in the layer tab. Another little detail: undoing with CMD+Z (Mac) or CTRL+Z (Win) works just fine… a nice touch.

To add a new element, just click the green plus+ icon on the left sidebar menu. Free users can choose from six elements: heading, text, image, button, Vimeo, and YouTube. Pro users have an additional nine elements to choose from: list, icon, caption, transition, iframe, video, HTML and area.

The Slide Editor.
The Slide Editor.

Clicking on an element will add it to the layer list and the preview. Start editing right away and see everything in real-time in the preview. Each element has a bunch of further options you can tweak to your heart’s content.

Another area where Smart Slider shines? Take a look at the font settings for an element:

Font Manager.
Font Manager.

Not only can you set colors, line heights, spacing and other items, you can also add extra CSS, and preview it directly in editing mode You can even save your settings as a new preset, which will minimize the time you need to spend on your elements if you have a bunch of similar ones.

Above the preview area you can find settings for the slide itself. A name, description, and link can be set, in addition to background, animation, and other options.

The preview area itself has some handy controls. You can turn snapping on/off, display a dark backdrop, set alignments, hide layers and more.

Even more useful are the controls to view your slide in desktop, tablet, and mobile views. By the way, right-click on any element in the preview, and you can take any of the following actions: parent, duplicate, hide (on desktop/tablet/mobile), copy layer, or delete .

Animating Layers

The pro version gives you advanced animation options to get your layers moving. The result is best displayed on one of the sliders on the Smart Slider home page.

Smart Slider Animations

When creating animations you can set in/out/loop animations, and handle events like click, mouse enter, mouse leave, play, and more. You can place your animations on a timeline that supports dragging and dropping.

This essentially turns Smart Slider into something similar to a video editor. The process is essentially the same, you place events on a timeline which tells you when an event starts, how long it takes, and when it ends.

Animating layers is a complex process, but Smart Sliders UI makes it a smooth and enjoyable one.

Animation Timeline
Animation Timeline.

Once done, each slider can be inserted via a shortcode using the Smart Slider icon in the post editor, or using PHP code. You’ll see everything you need to use these above the general options in the slider.

Why Smart Slider Is So Great

Smart Slider is now in my top three favorite plugins. Big call, but it is the best example of what a premium plugin should look like.

It has a user interface that has obviously been split tested and informed by user input. Elements like checkboxes, radio buttons, selectors and other fields don’t seem out of place; the whole experience is fluid and unified.

The pro activation process is extremely simple. You don’t even need to go to a special activation page. I first bumped into the need for activation when I wanted to import a test slider. I got a little window telling me what’s what with a text field right there. I pasted the code, pressed “OK”, and boom―it was activated and I was taken to the test sliders.

Another amazing aspect of the plugin is how fast its JavaScript is. In saying that, creating JavaScript that lets you handle everything from slider creation to animation, displaying it and live previewing it; to say it is complex is a gross understatement. Ensuring that user interactions in the admin and slide display in the front-end is nothing short of a miracle.

Let it Slide

Smart Slider is what I want all plugins to be, and what I think all plugins should aspire to be.

Would you be okay with Airbnb or Evernote being subpar just because they’re free? I know I wouldn’t. It seems, finally, WordPress plugin development is reaching the quality that desktop and mobile applications have spoiled us with.

If you need to create sliders or want a single image with subtle animations on your website, Smart Slider 3 provides the solution, no matter what you want to accomplish. I can heartily recommend the free version. It already provides more functionality than any other slider plugin—even many premium ones.

If you need the power of the premium features or want to support the development of amazing software, take a look at the pro version, you won’t be disappointed.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for accuracy and relevancy.
[Originally Published: May 2017 / Revised: April 2022]

Have you used Smart Slider 3? Do you agree with my review? Or do you think there are better slider plugins out there? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Daniel Pataki

Daniel Pataki Daniel is the CTO at Kinsta and has written for many outstanding publications like WPMU DEV and Smashing Magazine. In his spare time, you'll find him playing board games or planning the next amazing office game like the not-at-all-destructive Megaball.

Janette Burhans

Janette Burhans Janette Burhans is a blog writer, WhiP & Roundup contributor, and content creator at WPMU DEV. Her professional career as an author and artist spans over two decades, half of those in the world of WordPress. Her writing has been featured in Glamour magazine, and her personal blog, Platinum Pink. Connect with Janette on Twitter & LinkedIn.