Theming Your WordPress Dashboard: Slate Admin Theme

Customizing the WordPress Dashboard can greatly improve your experience with your website. This series, by our friend Russell Aaron, covers a wide variety of tools that help you do that.

When you are first learning about WordPress you learn the difference between themes and plugins. A WordPress theme controls the overall look of the front-end of your website. But are there themes for the back-end; meaning the WordPress Dashboard?

In my research, 95% of WordPress themes leave the back-end style alone. I started to ask myself if there are themes or plugins that change the look of the admin dashboard in WordPress. Since the release of WordPress 3.8, admin color schemes and finer admin controls were introduced alongside the latest redesign of the WordPress admin dashboard (called MP6).

After playing around with a couple of the admin color schemes, I started to wonder what other kind of options were out there in the WordPress Plugin repository. At the time of this article, there are 258 WordPress admin color scheme plugins and even more that can customize the actual controls and features of the admin.

After trying more than 50 of these kinds of plugins, I’ve put together this series to share my top 10 admin customization plugins and themes. Welcome to “Theming your WordPress Dashboard with a Plugin.” I’m Russell Aaron and I’ll be your in-flight director. Grab a seat and buckle in. It’s going to get bumpy.

Notice: Before you install a plugin, or make any kind of changes to your live WordPress website, please make a backup of your site first. We also recommend testing new themes and plugins on a staging or local environment first — like with DesktopServer.

Slate Admin Theme is the first plugin I want to talk about.

Most of these plugins are going to be set it and forget it. There won’t be a ton of options to go through in order to change the admin color scheme. That’s actually one of the selling points of the Slate Admin Theme plugin. You simply install, activate, and move on.

What’s cool about admin color schemes

Just like the front end of your WordPress website, changing the look of your website may intrigue users to interact with your website a bit differently. It’s worth trying if it gets you a few more hits a month. Of course, if you’re selling a product and it happens to be in a red white and blue bottle, your website should relatively match the color scheme of your product’s bottle. That’s just called being smart. However, your users do not care about the back end of your website. That’s where the admin color schemes come into play. You can change everything about the back end around while leaving the front end of your site alone.

You may also discover that by changing the admin color schemes, you feel a bit refreshed. I know that there have been times where I needed a pick me up to finish an article by the deadline. Changing a wallpaper on my desktop usually helps. I usually write in the distraction free mode inside of WordPress. What do you do when even that gets old? You change things up again by installing a plugin.

Slate Admin Theme details & photos

If you do not want to see the pictures and read the descriptions, let me give you a quick idea of what this plugin does. This plugin is changing the background color from white to a light gray. It’s also dividing the page / post editor from the sidebar. The sidebar is in a darker gray color and has a little less padding. The layout of the admin dashboard also changes. It does make WordPress feel a bit different in the sense that things visually have changed and you’re wondering if things have been rearranged. They have not, by the way.


I mentioned before that this plugin is a set it and forget it type. Immediately, after activating the plugin, you’ll notice a change in the layout of the WordPress Dashboard. This plugin does not change the actual color scheme, it changes the layout. If you head over to your user profile, you’ll see the available admin color schemes. Change yours from the default scheme, or whatever is already set, to a different color scheme and you’ll see that the layout stays the same, but the colors change. Now, de-activate the Slate Admin Theme plugin, and you’ll see that the layout has changed again. Pretty cool right?

Ok, re-activate the Slate Admin Theme plugin and let’s take an adventure. Head over to your posts section. That would be in Posts > All Posts.


You can see that the Slate Admin Theme plugin adds a pretty significant amount of padding around the “Posts” section of WordPress. This also goes for pages and any custom post types sections as well. The plugin also removes the white and gray admin color schemes, from the table that the post reside in. The plugin is basically changing the background color of this page and adding in a little extra padding. Besides that, the dashboard is pretty much the same. Just the color and layout have changed. Nothing else was removed or added. That’s really all that this plugin does. It adds some extra padding around the sides of each page. It removes the white background and replaces it with a light gray.

There is a pretty significant look to each editor page. The sidebar, inside the post editor, is in its own section. It’s still on the same side as it has always been, it simply has a darker gray background and some dividing lines.

Another nice touch is that because Slate is primarily just adjusting the overall layout of the admin you still can use any of WordPress’s default admin color schemes, plus use any of the other color scheme plugins (which we’ll cover in a future post) in addition to Slate.

Slate Admin Keeps Color Schemes

In Conclusion

The Slate Admin Theme plugin does not really change or provide more admin color schemes. It simply changes the style the layout of the WordPress Dashboard by adding in some extra padding and separation lines. It’s a simple plugin that slightly changes the look of your backend. It definitely gave me a little bit of energy to finish some blog posts and that’s all that I was after.

11 thoughts on “Theming Your WordPress Dashboard: Slate Admin Theme

  1. Slate is cool. I tried it out and I really like the adding white space overall, plus the ability to keep the default admin color schemes as well. Thanks for sharing Russell! Looking forward to this series.

    1. I really enjoy the separation between content, meta boxes and custom fields from the sidebar in the post editor. Thank you Matt!

  2. Heavily customizing the WP Admin is like skinning a hippo. It can be done, but do you really want to do it? Also, is it born to die a quick death as the current admin may be obsolete in only a few short years. Slate is smart… add some padding and basic bgs but don’t do anything too crazy.

    1. It’s a simple little trick to get you into a different mind set. I’ve been challenging myself to write more. I’ve noticed that I need to change things up from time to time. That’s where this series idea came from.

  3. I didn’t know I needed this until I read this post. I think people really underestimate how much the area AROUND where you write affects HOW you write. We see nothing wrong with changing the music or moving to a different physical location before we start writing posts, but you talk about changing the background of your computer (or the super-ugly admin panel), and it’s like "WHOA! Gear it down big shifter!" This post kicks ass—thanks for the great info Russell!

      1. Yeah, super helpful—and I feel like most people in the business of digital would want to do something like that anyway, make WordPress their own.

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