11 of the Best WordPress Plugins for Taking Control of Visual Content

You’ve heard this argument before: WordPress websites that contain more visual content (that’s well-executed, of course) perform better. Specifically, research shows that articles that use images end up with 94% more views than articles that don’t. There was also a case study from EyeView that showed that landing pages with video receive over 30% more visitors than a page without.

Let’s be honest, visual content does some pretty rad things for a WordPress site:

  1. Text-only content generally results in 10% retention whereas visuals increase that to 65%.
  2. Images, videos, and other visual content give visitors more reason to stop and engage with your site.
  3. When optimized, images can improve a website’s overall search ranking.
  4. Images and videos that capture examples of your work, photos of your team in action, and so on give you an opportunity to humblebrag.
  5. User-generated content can be used as a form of social proof to boost credibility of your site and business.
  6. Dynamic visual content–like animations and page transitions–give you a chance to add engaging movement to an otherwise static site.
  7. Video content is particularly effective in explaining or demonstrating what you do or sell.
  8. GIFs, emojis, and memes can be used to appeal to a younger audience and add a fun or edgy vibe to your site.
  9. Even typography can be used strategically to give life to your site’s header text.

You’ve likely seen reverberations of these examples within your own work designing WordPress sites.

Of course, if you subscribe to the WPMU DEV blog, you’ve seen many posts cover how you can use plugins to enhance your site with slick visual features like pop-ups, colorful CTAs, and more. Since you already know where to go to create many of these types of visual content, what I want to focus on today are the tools that will give you control over editing and manipulating those visual elements right within WordPress.

11 Visual Design and Manipulation Plugins You Need for WordPress

Many of you are already well-versed in design tools like Photoshop, Sketch, and Canva that enable you to edit and optimize visual content. However, these tools require you to hop outside of WordPress in order to manipulate your content. If it’s not necessary to do so, then why leave WordPress?

In the following roundup, I’ll provide you with some WordPress plugins you can use to extend your visual content capabilities right from within WordPress.

Before we jump in, though, let’s take a quick look at what you can do with the default WordPress image editor tool included in the CMS. It’s not the most robust image editing solution. In fact, it’s similar to the basic editing capabilities you’d find in your native desktop software. But it’s still nice to know it’s there:

When you upload a new piece of media to your WordPress library, you’ll initially be able to add metadata and set a size for your content. Below it, however, you’ll also see an “Edit Image” link. Click on it.

Within this edit screen, you’ll have the ability to:

  • Rotate your image left or right.
  • Flip it upside-down.
  • Reverse it left-to-right.
  • Change the dimensions.
  • Crop the image.
  • Apply changes to all versions of the image.

If you’re unsatisfied with what you’ve done, you can also use this screen to restore the image to its original settings.

Of course, if you want more advanced editing capabilities or want to be able to create other types of interactive and engaging visual content within WordPress, then you can do so with the following plugins:

Visual Content Editing and Management Plugins

If you want just a tad bit more control over sizing, filters, cropping, and other minor content editing, use one of these visual content editing and management plugins:

  • Upfront

    The benefits of using drag-and-drop builders are clear: they’re intuitive, they streamline the process of building WordPress sites from-scratch, and they make it easy to infuse your designs with awesome visuals. While there are other drag-and-drop, front-end builders that work right from within WordPress, Upfront is the cream of the crop. It’s fast, intuitive, and smart. And it makes editing and manipulating your visual (as well as textual) content a breeze.

  • DigiWidgets Image Editor

    Let’s say you want more advanced design editing capabilities for your images, similar to what you’d do with image editing software like Photoshop. Although you can’t do much with the default WordPress editor, you can add a number of those advanced features with this plugin. Specifically, you can create layers of images and text, apply filters to images, add borders, and more. This plugin also tracks the history of the image, so you can return to previous versions if you’re unhappy with the changes made.

    Oh, and one more bonus for developers: you can create image “templates”. Basically, you’ll set the rules for how images are to be sized for specific parts of the site. That way, if someone new to the site (e.g. another designer, your client, or maybe even a writer) tries to add an image, it’ll automatically resize to the proper scale for that image type.

    Interested in DigiWidgets Image Editor?

  • TinyMCE Advanced

    Normally, I’d recommend this plugin when you want to extend your WordPress writing capabilities. However, there are some neat little features in here you can use to enhance your visual content that you might not be aware of or that might make it easier for your clients to add and edit visuals on their own.

    Specifically, while I will cover data visualization plugins below, I think the table’s functionality in TinyMCE is a nice touch if you just want to present simple data sets within your content. It’s nothing too flashy, but it works if you want a quick and easy table design. There are also easier video and image embed options for clients that don’t know how to do it with code.

    Interested in TinyMCE Advanced?

  • Post Thumbnail Editor

    While it’s great to have a WordPress theme that anticipates your needs–like creating a blog and including high-quality thumbnails with each post–it’s always disappointing when you encounter one that doesn’t know what to do with those thumbnails. Rather than leave it up to chance, you can use this post thumbnail editing plugin to make sure each one is perfectly framed and no strange cropping or stretching of the photos occurs after publication.

    Interested in Post Thumbnail Editor?

  • Ultimate Image Filters

    Want to make your images shine with Instagram-like filter effects? The Ultimate Image Filters plugin has over 40 different filters available. If you feel like getting really creative with it, you can adjust the filters for your own customized style, too.

    Interested in Ultimate Image Filters?

  • Enable Media Replace

    Have you ever uploaded an image into WordPress, optimized the metadata, sized it properly, and then realized it was the wrong image or the wrong version of it? (I know I have.) Rather than go through the process of deleting the image from your library (because unused content should always be deleted) and then re-uploading the correct image and repeating the process, you can use this plugin to easily replace it.

    Interested in Enable Media Replace?

Grid and Layout Plugins

When it comes to displaying visual content on your site (that includes blog thumbnails and their summaries), a slider or gallery isn’t always what you want. For those of you who want more grid layouts to experiment with, try these plugins:

  • Essential Grid

    This grid plugin isn’t just for giving more layout options for blog posts. You can use this for pretty much any type of visual content you want to lay out in a clean and dynamic format, things like e-commerce products, photo galleries, and client logos. It also comes with awesome customization features, so you’re not relegated to using out-of-the-boxes styles.

    Interested in Essential Grid?

  • Media Grid

    Here is another grid plugin for WordPress, this one is fully responsive and comes with a builder tool to simplify the process of creating layouts. With Media Grid, you won’t be forced to choose what type of visuals you want to display within your layout as it allows you to mix and match content types: video, audio, and images. It’s also SEO-friendly, so it’s easy to optimize all your content within the grid.

    Interested in Media Grid?

Data Visualization Plugins

For websites that publish research and surveys, visualizing that data is great not just for enhancing the design of a website, but also for making something otherwise dry seem more intriguing.

  • TablePress

    For when you want to add a cleanly-designed table of data to your WordPress site, but don’t want to resort to creating something in Excel, screenshotting it, and then uploading as an image (which you shouldn’t do), use this. It’s flexible in terms of how you get the data into your site–including manual options, importing from a URL, or uploading a CSV file. And the results look really nice, including a built-in search option and pagination.

  • WordPress Charts and Graphs Lite

    If you’re looking for a free plugin you can use to build data visualization elements like charts and graphs, give this plugin a try. You can customize it with your brand colors, animate the graph data, and then the plugin takes care of the rest. It’s also responsive, so you don’t have to worry about these data graphics not showing up well for mobile users.

    Interested in WordPress Charts and Graphs Lite?

  • wpDataTables - Tables and Charts Manager for WordPress

    Here is a premium plugin that will enable you to create tables, charts, and graphs (there are currently 35 different types accommodated) for your WordPress site. Upload the data, pull from a URL, use a MySQL query, or manually enter it–however you want to get the content in there, it’s easy to do. And the results are beautiful.

    In addition to creating professional-looking data visualization content, this plugin adds some sweet features like expanded data upon hover, data filtering, print/export/copy options, conditional highlighting, and more.

    Interested in wpDataTables - Tables and Charts Manager for WordPress?

While the tools above might not totally replace the web design, wireframing, prototyping, or mockup phases of a project, they’ll cut down on the time spent moving back and forth between tools later on.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are a number of ways in which you can edit and manipulate your site’s visuals right from within WordPress. Of course, if you go to the trouble of creating these high-quality visuals for your site, be sure you have a plugin like Smush Pro installed to take care of the optimization aspect. Your site needs to be both beautifully-designed and high performance.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: Which visual design plugin do you currently use the most of in your workflow and why?