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.
The last time we checked out the admin theme market was back in 2014 and since then many fantastic options have become available.
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
Blue Admin doesn’t bring an enormous amount of extra functionality to the table, but it does provide you with a clear, crisp blue design that offers a stylish alternative to WordPress’ default admin and login sections.
Along with nicely implemented drop-downs and submenus, the plugin also enables you to add custom navigation menus to the top toolbar.
As with our first choice, 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.
The Fancy Admin UI theme keeps things nice and clean with a blue and grey default color scheme that you’re free to customize further via the Settings panel.
The plugin also minimizes default WordPress branding, making it an excellent option to build on if you’re looking to present branded experience to a client.
As with most of our free theme selections, there’s not a huge emphasis on additional functionality here, but heightened contrast, clean typography and some subtle transparency effects combine to make it an attractive alternative to the default admin.
The last of our free selections, White Label CMS is more obviously a plugin than anything we’ve covered so far. Developed by Video User Manuals, the plugin gives you comprehensive options for completely rebranding the back end with a view to presenting to clients.
You’ve got simple options for adding custom logos, the ability to create multiple welcome dashboards for clients, and can choose from three handy CMS profile presets (website, blog or custom) to help set up which menus are available to users.
If you’re looking for a completely free way of quickly branding sites for clients and customizing their experience, this plugin is an excellent place to start.
Premium Admin Themes
The five 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 six solutions we’ll look at are all premium and kick things up a notch with more powerful customization options.
WPShapere is available for a very reasonable $15 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 Visual Composer and Contact Form 7, this is an extremely powerful and attractive option at the price point.
The First admin theme is also priced at just $15 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 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.
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 $22 and integrates smoothly with BuddyPress, bbPress, and WooCommerce.
The somewhat unimaginatively named WordPress Admin Theme further ratchets up the number of built-in color schemes, with an impressive 43 options to choose from (several of which are shown in the video below).
Available to buy for just $15, the plugin more than covers you for white labelling purposes and integrates nicely with both WooCommerce and iThemes Exchange.
We’ll close out our list with MaterialWP, one of the most impressive admin plugins around which is available at a bargain price of $15.
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.
A full demo version is available for you to take for a spin, and the plugin works smoothly with BuddyPress, WooCommerce, and bbPress.
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 WordPress.com 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:
- Custom admin interfaces targeting particular site verticals are likely to emerge. Early implementations such as Pickle and Happy Tables show one direction the market may well be heading.
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.