Designing a visual portfolio site is no easy task. You have to find a way to present your work clearly and orderly so that visitors can see what you do(and see you do it well!)
Thankfully you can save lots of time by using WordPress. This free platform has dozens of custom portfolio themes that’ll save you the hassle of designing a site from scratch.
And this platform has tons of extra functionality you can add into your portfolio in the name of plugins. With the right plugins anything is possible. And thankfully portfolio sites rarely need too many.
But I’ve curated my top picks for the absolute best WordPress plugins for any art & design portfolio. Whether you’re showing off motion graphics, icons, illustrations, photography or anything else… this list has something for your website.
Contact Form 7
First and foremost I have to include this massive contact form plugin. With Contact Form 7 you can quickly and easily add a usable contact form onto any page on your website.
The beauty of CF7 is that it works for both non-techies and techies alike. If you know your way through WordPress you can customize your contact form so it looks, feels, and works as a custom page element. Or you can just use the default and still get an incredible contact form.
All you have to do is install this plugin and change the outgoing “to” email address. Then you just copy/paste the CF7 shortcode into your contact page and voila! Instant easy contact without the mess.
Every website needs a contact form. And if you’re using WordPress then adding one to your site is basically a 2-step process.
This list wouldn’t be complete without some visual gallery plugins. I’ve listed a whole bunch for you to choose from, all of which have their own benefits and drawbacks.
However the one I really recommend is Huge-IT Portfolio. It’s released as a freemium plugin where you get some of the features totally free of charge, and the rest come with the premium version that costs money.
Thankfully you don’t need to upgrade since this free option comes with more than enough.
You can choose how the galleries are organized, how large the thumbnail photos should be, and how much info should appear in the project window. You can define project descriptions, outgoing links to websites, and even create galleries of photos attached to one thumbnail. Pretty cool!
No doubt the most complex gallery plugin offered at the bargain basement price of totally free.
Another plugin I really like is Gallery Manager. This one is also a freemium option where you can install the free version for life and never pay a dime, but there’s also an upgradeable choice for the premium plugin.
With Gallery Manager you can easily setup a grid-style portfolio with basic thumbnails. Nothing too fancy. But sometimes that’s all you need.
These thumbnails can be arranged on any page and they open up to larger views in a big slideshow player. This custom slideshow relies on its own JS script but is built into the WordPress plugin.
So really all you have to do is activate this and upload your images. Easy!
I’d say this works best for any type of art or design work other than web design. It doesn’t have an easy way to link out to websites so it’s tough to showcase your web work online.
Responsive Photo Gallery
Responsive Photo Gallery is one of the few WordPress plugins built on top of Bootstrap. It requires a theme running the same setup, or it requires the Bootstrap CSS/JS files to get this running properly.
For many people this can be an annoyance. For others this may be a huge relief since Bootstrap is by far the most popular frontend framework.
With a unique gallery layout, lightbox effects, and custom thumbnails you can really make this your own. The biggest hurdle is getting this to work outside a Bootstrap environment.
But give it a go if you have a BS3/BS4 WordPress theme. The design is superb and naturally this runs on mobile using responsive design techniques.
The freemium POWr Photo plugin works almost like a Pinterest-style gallery. This makes it ideal for any type of photo organization, even beyond portfolio entries.
But it also does work very well for portfolio items regardless of size. Everything from portrait-sized photographs to small icon designs can work well in this plugin.
You can install this for free but it has a killer premium version too. It’s pretty easy to manage but requires some custom effort to edit the fonts, colors, and grid styles from scratch.
If you have the tenacity to customize the design you can even get this working with a masonry grid. This means you can mix up different sized images into the grid and they’ll all fit perfectly(kinda like Pinterest).
It’s all fully responsive and touch enabled so it works on smartphones too. Worth a try if you like Pinterest’s layout and want to mimic that on your own site.
If you do a lot of different work you may want to separate your projects into categories. The 2J Gallery plugin lets you do this using albums, or custom sets of photos that all group together in one layout.
Using the gallery settings page you can change photo groups to include sub-groups and define how they behave. Users can browse through your photos using breadcrumbs and multi-tiered links for subcategories.
Each image naturally opens up in a responsive modal screen with descriptions and optional links. You can define the thumbnail pic for each photo and change the album cover photos if you have multiple albums.
I like this organization style because it’s unique and offers two ways to structure content:
- Organize albums based on medium(ie. web design, print work, icons)
- Organize albums with different projects(ie. website A, website B)
Give this a shot and see what you think. It’s easy enough to uninstall and if you hate it and there’s not much to lose.
It’s not as common for designers to need ecommerce shops. But you’d be surprised how much you can make by selling digital goods on the web.
Designers may sell custom icon sets, web templates, graphic designs or logos created as general templates. And artists often sell art prints or signed copies of their work, maybe even digital files like brushes or digital paintings as PSDs.
If any of this sounds kinda cool then check out the Product Catalog plugin. It lets you list all your items on one page connected through the WooCommerce system(also free).
You can add custom widgets to your sidebar or even onto your homepage showcasing your latest products. This can include price, total quantity, and even the release date or how soon you expect to sell out.
Thankfully this plugin can work directly with any existing theme that runs on WooCommerce. Typically that means a premium portfolio theme built to run the WooCommerce engine, usually from a site like ThemeForest.
But there are plenty of ecommerce themes you can find that you can customize into a portfolio too.
If you still aren’t sure what to think have a look at this demo video. It goes over all the features in this plugin so you know exactly what to expect.
Customer testimonials are a strong social cue to new visitors. If you have great testimonials on your site they can really help sell the idea that you produce kick-ass work.
The Strong Testimonials plugin is worth looking into for anyone who wants to add social proof onto their portfolio. The setup is pretty simple and this comes with a shortcode that works on any page. Really the only difficult part is getting those awesome testimonials.
If you do kick-ass work and have some clients who would vouch for you then you can pick up a few testimonials easy-breezy. All you have to do is send them an email asking for a quick write-up on your quality of work.
Let them know you’ll be adding testimonials onto your website and you’re hoping to get a unique perspective from each person. This way your testimonials won’t read as drab or repetitive. Cause that’s a great way to leave people bored.
Also this plugin lets you change the overall format and style of your testimonials with just a few buttons. Turn them into sliders, columns, masonry grids, whatever you want. This means you can match the style to suit your website no matter how it looks.
Overall a fantastic plugin assuming you have the clientel to share awesome reviews. If not then spend time landing awesome clients first.
Feed Them Social
Social feeds are a great way to add content to your site. Especially if you’re building a visual portfolio where you won’t have a ton of stuff to write about.
Feed Them Social is a personal favorite and it’s simple to setup. The best part is that it supports all major social networks and lets you add pretty much any feed you like. So if you have a personal Instagram + a professional one you can choose which to add(or even add both).
All the feed widgets are fully responsive and work great on mobile. Plus you can edit the colors, fonts, and sizes so they can fit anywhere. Doesn’t matter if you want these in your page header or in the sidebar, this plugin has it all.
There’s also support for Vine but very few designers use that platform. Either way this is a beautiful way to add social widgets to match your layout.
Custom Twitter Feeds
If you’re a big Twitter user then you may like the Custom Twitter Feeds plugin instead.
It’s super lightweight since it’s only built to add custom Twitter feeds, not to mention it gives you a lot more room to restyle for any design.
All tweets are embedded into your page with semantic HTML. These tweets can even be indexed so if you share content via Twitter and people search for it online your website might show up in Google.
Plus with the “load more” feature you can build an entire page dedicated to your social channels. This way visitors can browse through your tweets nonstop right from your website. Granted, I’m not sure who would have time to do this… but it’s an option!
Biggest value from this is an increased following on Twitter and more engagement with your tweets. Certainly not a bad thing if you have the room for it.
Instagram Feed WD
Looking for a kickass Instagram plugin for your portfolio? Then Instagram Feed WD should be your go-to choice.
It’s totally free and been around for a couple years so many of the bugs have been worked out. Not to mention it’s got overwhelmingly positive reviews making it one of the better social plugins out there for WordPress.
Have a look at the demo page if you wanna see how this works on the frontend. This plugin is damn simple but it’s not the simplest design. In fact it borrows a lot of UI elements from the main Instagram page.
This means you can easily display photos and galleries with just a few clicks in the WordPress admin panel. Note this does come with a premium version so the one you get from the WordPress plugins directory is the freemium option. But it comes with so many features that I can’t imagine ever paying for the pricier choice.
You get unlimited hashtags, custom account feeds, sorting options, lightbox displays, and the ability to display the original image or a shortcode alternative.
No doubt the coolest Instagram plugin available & the free version packs quite a punch.
Be sure to visit the main demo page or watch their preview video to see more.
GS Dribbble Portfolio
Lastly I wanna throw in the GS Dribbble Portfolio plugin. It’s not something that’ll appeal to every designer. Really it’s only useful to those who use Dribbble as a portfolio.
But with this plugin you can embed Dribbble shots right into your WordPress portfolio site. Real easy setup and it’ll auto-pull your latest shots from Dribbble’s API.
It’s also a freemium plugin so there is an optional pro upgrade. But like most of these plugins, I really think the free version is all you need. GS Dribbble Portfolio lets you add columns of shots with titles, descriptions, and links to the original page. All with a single shortcode.
Granted this is a newer plugin and still in version 1.0 so there’s room for growth. But if you wanna be one of the first to use this plugin have at it!
You can see a great sample in this video recorded by the plugin developer, or check it out live via this demo page. Certainly a treat for anyone who loves & swears by Dribbble to showcase their portfolio work.