To find more great plugins, check out Torque’s free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Plugins. Download it here.
Lightboxes are one of the oldest and most popular functionalities of plugin-extended WordPress media management. Whether you’re a freelancer trying to make your portfolio more appealing to clients, or a restaurant owner trying to entice new customers with sumptuous pictures of your delicacies, your website can benefit from a lightbox plugin.
Due to their popularity, there’s a seemingly never-ending list of lightbox plugins at the WordPress.org plugin repository (and even more premium ones outside of it). If you’ve been inundated with more lightbox plugins than you can handle, then you’re in the right place.
Here’s a quick list of 5 of the top free lightbox plugins: both in terms of plugin quality and popularity. I guarantee that at least one of these plugins will work for your site.
Plugin names just don’t come any more straightforward than this. Simple Lightbox is a straightforward lightbox plugin, which, despite its name, comes with a significant amount of customizability.
To play around with the appearance of your lightbox, you can use custom themes (with a set of mobile-responsive plugin themes already included in the package). You also have the option to get multiple add-ons that increase the punch packed by Simple Lightbox.
Keyboard navigation, page type filters, metadata display, group image links (displayable by post) are also included in the plugin’s functionality. With over 550,000 downloads, Simple Lightbox is incredibly popular and well rated at 4.4 stars.
Responsive Lightbox by dFactory is a mobile-optimized lightbox plugin that enables you to add overlay effects to your WordPress images and picture galleries.
5 different lightbox scripts are included – SwipeBox, prettyPhoto, FancyBox, Nivo Lightbox, and Image Lightbox – and you can choose which one of them you’d like to use on your website.
Not only does this plugin have the ability to add the lightbox effect to images, but it can also apply to YouTube and Vimeo video links as well.
Custom jQuery triggers, multisite support, and filter hooks for custom conditions (page type, post type, category, user id, etc.) are further evidence of Responsive Lightbox’s desirable capabilities. A 4.9 rating and 333,000 downloads have been accumulated thus far.
WP jQuery Lightbox is a simple alternative to more complex lightbox plugins. With lightweight functionality and minimized scripts, WP jQuery Lightbox is faster and better-built than many other available options.
Founded on the lightbox-to-jQuery port by Warren Krewenki, this plugin provides translation-ready files, a thorough options panel, and optional auto-boxing for your image and gallery links.
Keyboard navigation, automatic maximization of the display area, and the display of a download link for each media item are available for use as well.
370,000 users will attest to the plugin’s fine performance, as will its proficient 4.3 star rating.
Lightbox Plus Colorbox is a result of a cross between Jacob Moore’s MIT-licensed Colorbox and Dan Zappone’s lightbox plugin. The two make an efficient duo: in one plugin, you get all the functionality of a colorbox plugin (image expansion with Ajax), plus that of a nifty lightbox plugin (overlay lightboxes for images, galleries, videos, forms, and external content).
The jQuery multi-tool has a super-simple user interface. Within a few months, Dan Zappone plans to update the plugin with a full rewrite in line with WordPress’ coding standards (don’t worry though, the current version works fine with the latest WordPress version as well).
With more than 1 million downloads, Lightbox Plus Colorbox is the most popular plugin of the bunch and sports a satisfactory 4.2 star rating.
Of all the plugins we’ve looked at in this post, CSS3 Lightbox is by far the least popular with only 17K downloads.
Don’t let its (currently) small user base fool you, though – the plugin’s full 5 star rating (after 7 reviews) tells you just how good it really is.
Clearly, this plugin is in its infant growing stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sharp spike in downloads shortly.
In the end, then, my personal choice would be CSS3 Lightbox. It’s lightweight, it’s fast, it’s regularly updated, it packs all the functionality I need without getting too complex, and I expect great things from it.
Which plugin will you using to create gorgeous overlay lightboxes on your site? Voice your choice in the comments below!
Jonathan John is a WordPress enthusiast and freelance blogger. He loves comparing WordPress plugins and themes, sharing the latest Automattic news, and helping non-techies get the most out of the world’s favorite CMS.