The first time I looked at the Essential Grid plugin page it was a little unclear to me what it actually did. Was it a gallery plugin? A drag and drop page editor? Maybe something for creating grid-based pricing pages?
Well it turns out the Essential Grid Plugin from ThemePunch includes a little bit of everything I just mentioned, but it strives to make your life much easier without sacrificing on the frontend design. If you make blogs for a living or you have one website that sells your services, this might be worth your time.
What’s the Point of the Essential Grid Plugin?
The last time I put together a grid-based layout on one of my websites was for my own freelance writing portfolio. I had bought a theme that pulled portfolio components and allowed me to slightly tweak the images that I uploaded to the portfolio.
It wasn’t bad, but a few problems arose. I hated the fact that I couldn’t just drag around the portfolio pieces to make my own designs. I was stuck with the way the theme developer decided to layout my portfolio. I also had to set certain dates in order to make the portfolio order the way I wanted.
No, that doesn’t tell you what the point of Essential Grid is, but it gives you an idea of how it helps solve some of these common design problems.
Essential grid is for quickly creating, rearranging and managing grid-based layouts for items like:
- Product sliders
We’ve all seen plugins out there for generating sleek grids and galleries and sliders, but the idea behind Essential Grid is to deliver incredible customization (such as animations, unique grid item colors and media implementation like video and images) for beginners who don’t want to spend money on a plugin and then have to learn a complicated new system.
The plugin also claims to have it all in terms of customization for advanced users, since you can create your own skins for the little grid modules instead of using the ones that come prepackaged with the plugin.
So, this may sound a little confusing, but in short, this plugin helps you pull items from your current website (portfolio pieces, WooCommerce products, images, videos) and organize them neatly into a grid. Theme Punch takes it a step further by washing away those preset design elements you typically find on grid-based systems (aka my portfolio theme I talked about earlier) and offers you all the customization features you need.
Choosing Sources (The Content You Want to Show Up in the Grid)
The first step with your Essential Grid plugin is to think about what types of content you want to pull from your website and serve up in your grid.
This all depends on the type of stuff you offer on your site, so if you sell items through an eCommerce website you might think about choosing all of your WooCommerce products. If you take a look at the screenshot below you can see that the Source tab is where you go once you create your first grid.
It provides the list of Post Types to choose from on your site, so I don’t even have the option to pull WooCommerce posts since I’m not currently working with an eCommerce website. That said, you may see items like Posts, Pages, Coupons, Contact Forms or Portfolio pages.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what if serving up a grid filled with your most recent posts isn’t your style? What if you want to generate a completely unique grid in just one of your posts, maybe utilizing videos and links and images?
That’s no problem, since a Custom Grid option is available (see screenshot below,) where you can basically incorporate any original content you want.
Just remember to select your Source Order, since for some reason the plugin pulled Wistia Video and SoundCloud for me by default. I’m not saying people won’t use these options, but it had me wondering why my video and image previews weren’t showing up. The defaults seem unorganized and improperly assigned, which is always fixable, but certainly confusing for a beginner.
Anyways, this Set Source Order feature is actually an interesting function, where you designate which source you want to system to search for first. So, if you make a grid with your blog posts you could have Essential Grid grab the featured image first, then if the post lacks a featured image it will look around for a video or audio clip in the post.
In my screenshot below you can see that I decided to pull blog posts as my source, so it really depends on what the size of the featured image is, but in general they look fine. This is a drag and drop editor in the dashboard, allowing you to move around the grid modules and edit them if needed.
I came to two solid conclusions at this point in the plugin.
Although ThemePunch claims that any beginner can generate a beautiful grid layout, this is not really the case. If you get lucky, yes, but half the time my images looked a little rough in the grid and the customization options are far from rudimentary.
I also concluded that the backend previews in this plugin are amazing. It seems like each settings page in the Essential Grids plugin includes a backend preview, allowing you to save, refresh and delete. I think this is where the beginners will find the plugin intriguing, since dragging and dropping cuts down on the time you spend.
That said, if you don’t get lucky with your images, videos and links pulling in perfectly, it gets a little complicated.
Killer Skins (Grid Module Designs) Included
Once again, I have to say that I wasn’t entirely sure what Theme Punch meant when they were talking about “skins,” because to me that might have been a reference to page skins or the overall grid skins. However, it turns out the skins are designed for the smaller modules in the entire grid.
So, the first step to take on right after pulling the content for your grid is to pick a skin for the little modules inside the grid. For example, I clicked on the Skins tab and could see some interactive examples (it’s absolutely wonderful that you don’t have to leave the dashboard to preview the skins.)
All the skins have their own random names like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. It seems like Theme Punch just named them after presidents, but they don’t have any meanings, so I had to scroll over them to see what they did. Some of them have different colors, animations, fonts, and more. Some of the skins offer links and shadowbox features, while others leave these out. It all depends on what content you pull from the step before.
Choosing a skin is just about the easiest part of the plugin, interactivity and settings included.
The premade skins and unlimited customization options are where Essential Grids starts to beat out other grid layout plugins such as Content View Pro and the WP-Types Views engine.
Shortcodes Work to Expedite Publication
After you design the most stunning grid you’ve ever laid eyes on, it’s time to publish that grid for your customers or readers to interact with it. How does this work? Shortcodes run that part of the system.
Let’s say you created a variable column layout with filtering options for your users, like the one in the screenshot below. The grid looks nice on the backend, and you’re thinking about dropping it on your homepage to send your readers to some of the most important articles on your website. Maybe those images are direct links to your portfolio pages that you want your potential clients to look at.
This sleek design doesn’t just automatically get published on your frontend, but with shortcodes you can’t ask for anything quicker. As seen below, the backend automatically generates a shortcode for every grid you create. Your past and current grids sit in a list (similar to the way your blog posts are laid out in the dashboard).
All you have to do is copy this shortcode and paste it anywhere on your website. I tried using the shortcode in a column widget with little luck, but any page or post is fair game. The shortcodes are usable more than once, and I really enjoy that I didn’t have to go digging for the shortcodes like I have to do with so many other plugins (not just grid building plugins–it seems like every plugin with shortcodes makes it tough to find where they are.)
Grid Layouts for Some, but Not Everyone
When you start selling products on your website, the Essential Grid plugin comes in handy, since you can stack a few products next to each other and showcase their best features and images. The pricing tables are solid–I mean really solid. Nothing moves around or looks finicky when you start viewing them on other devices.
The layout below works well for displaying which clients your company has served in the past. Once again, if grabbing a skin goes smoothly and you use the proper overlaying logo size and transparency, everything looks stunning. It takes a minute to figure out what you need though.
I uploaded a 300 x 200 logo to overlay on my clients grid, assuming the plugin would resize it automatically, but it just covered all of the grid modules, making it look like every grid module was just a logo with no cool background image.
The grid example below is one of my favorites, since it includes links and images to load more content when people click on the modules. It also plays videos right from the grid, mashes the modules together nicely and really looks stunning on the frontend. These layouts, when customized properly, look visually pleasing and they move around well for responsiveness; however I can’t imagine bloggers using this just to showcase a few of their posts.
The ideal market for this plugin comes into play for small businesses who want to feature their past clients. I also like the idea of eCommerce stores implementing this on homepages to share hot products or recent deals.
Theme Punch Support Is Always Up to the Task
Theme Punch provides a wide array of products such as Slider Revolution (by far the best slider plugin on the market,) the Showbiz Pro Responsive Teaser plugin and a few themes that are rather powerful. They are a legitimate company with a quality customer support system.
You can find the support documents and tools below. Just keep in mind that if you use the Essential Grid plugin you’re in good hands if anything goes wrong or if you have any questions.
Is the Price Worth It?
If you purchase the Essential Grid plugin from CodeCanyon it comes out to $25 total. This gives you the Regular License for a single site when the end product is not being sold. This licensing means that if you don’t plan on selling the plugin as some sort of other online tool you should be fine.
You can use it on a site where you sell products, as long as the plugin isn’t part of that product. Extended licences are also available if the grid system is used in a product you sell.
Is $25 worth it? Absolutely, if you need a portfolio, pricing table or a nice way to show off products on an eCommerce site. Showcasing testimonials and past clients is also a decent reason to buy this plugin.
The Bottom Line
The Essential Grid plugin from ThemePunch preaches that it’s designed for beginners and advanced users alike. I agree with the advanced users, since the plugin has all the customization tools you need. If you’re a designer who creates portfolios and sites with testimonials, it’s a wonderful plugin.
The skins are the saving grace since they give you a starting point for designing beautiful grid layouts. Unfortunately, if you don’t get lucky with the preset formatting you will have to dig in with the Theme Punch settings. That’s not to say that these settings are that difficult to figure out, but there are a ton of settings and customization tools. It’s easily intimidating for the average user.
Overall, Essential Grids is not for everyone, but it brings together striking designs if you don’t mind a little tinkering. If your site needs testimonials, a portfolio, product pricing tables or just a nice grid that leads to other content, this is a gem if you don’t mind flexing your design muscles a bit.
Drop a line in the comments section below if you’ve tried out the Essential Grid plugin before. Let us know if you have any questions about this Essential Grid review.