a photo of a woman posing for a thumbnail photo

How to make an eye-catching YouTube thumbnail

november 14, 2023

After hours of filming and editing your latest YouTube video, you’re ready to start racking up the views and expanding your social media presence. A lot goes into what makes a video resonate with an audience, but first, you’ll need to convince viewers to click on your video. Boring or poor-quality YouTube thumbnails work against you and lay to waste your effort making and marketing your videos. Creating eye-catching YouTube thumbnails differentiates your content, which may improve your views and boost your channel’s growth.

What is a YouTube thumbnail?

Successful YouTube thumbnails grab searchers’ attention and turn them into viewers. These static preview images appear on the YouTube home page, the platform’s search results, and in the sidebar of every video. When searching for videos outside of the YouTube ecosystem, YouTube thumbnails appear integrated into the search results page. When you upload your first YouTube video, you can choose from a collection of thumbnails automatically generated from your video footage or upload your own custom thumbnail design.

Custom thumbnails give you more control over how you promote your videos and can give searchers a better idea of what to expect from your content. Engaging and attractive thumbnails can lead to a higher click-through rate—one factor that YouTube considers when ranking videos in search results or distributing them in Recommended Videos suggestions. Take the time to design and upload a custom thumbnail for each video on your channel.

Creating a custom thumbnail for your YouTube video

Start by selecting a clear, evocative image that represents your video’s content. Using grainy or poor-quality images counteracts your editing efforts and just plain looks sloppy. You can export still images directly from your video or create a title card that reflects your brand identity.

The quality of your YouTube thumbnail also depends on your image size and resolution. For the best-looking thumbnails, follow these guidelines from YouTube:

  • Choose images with a resolution of 1280x720 and a minimum width of 640 pixels.
  • Upload your thumbnail in image formats like JPG, GIF, or PNG with a file size under the 2MB limit.
  • Use a 16:9 aspect ratio for your thumbnails, as it's the most used in YouTube players and previews.

Respect community guidelines as you work on your YouTube thumbnail design to prevent video removal or account termination. Like video content, thumbnails should not include nudity, hate speech, violence, or other harmful or dangerous material.

Tips for YouTube thumbnail design

Thumbnails make or break the performance of your video and the trajectory of your channel’s success. Create custom thumbnails with thoughtful design and the clicks will follow.

Use your own images

It’s tempting to reach for stock images to quickly turn around a custom thumbnail, but using your own images telegraphs brand authenticity and helps you stand out from the sea of unoriginal thumbnails. Screenshot or export still images directly from your video or try using a high-quality photograph you’ve taken that’s related to the topic of your video. Using images with a face or person improves click-through rate by making viewers feel more personally connected to you as a creator.

Create simple designs

Create eye-catching, engaging thumbnails using simple and thoughtful designs. Most high-performing thumbnails include a relevant video title within the image, although this text can include different information or phrasing from the video title that appears below your thumbnail. Edit your images with thumbnail makers or editing apps and tools to add text and visual elements.

Choosing an easy-to-read font that fits with the theme of your video allows people to quickly decide if they want to watch your content. Large, simple fonts like sans-serif fonts clearly convey your message even on small mobile devices. Create a contrast between your image background and text using contrasting colors that complement each other. Use a background color that pops off the screen without straining the eye or distracting from the text.

The image you choose for your thumbnail should be simple, focus primarily on one object or subject, and follow the rule of thirds, if possible. The rule of thirds refers to how an image separates equally into nine parts using imaginary horizontal and vertical lines. Make your image engaging and dynamic by placing the most important part of your image on one of the intersecting points where two of these imaginary lines meet.

Avoid clickbait

Video thumbnails sometimes utilize clickbait—misleading content used to attract clicks. Although you may be tempted to entice people using clickbait, using deceptive images or titles may backfire. YouTube recommends videos partially based on the length of engagement from your viewers, and clickbait causes viewers to exit your video quickly—often as soon as they realize the bait-and-switch. Attracting viewers who care about your actual content can lead to a higher conversion of single-video viewers to loyal subscribers.

Test a few versions

Whether you’ve just started uploading videos to YouTube or you’re a seasoned pro, every thumbnail you create might not succeed. If you find that some of your videos don’t perform as well as well as others, changing your custom thumbnail may help improve your click-through rate. If you notice certain aspects of your thumbnails improve their click-through rates, try incorporating those elements into future designs.

How to upload your thumbnail to YouTube

Uploading a new video with a custom thumbnail to your YouTube channel is a short and easy process. While uploading your video, you’ll see a Thumbnail section below the Description box. To add your custom thumbnail, select Upload thumbnail and choose your image file.

If you want to add a custom thumbnail to a video you’ve already uploaded, edit the video in YouTube Studio.

  1. Select Content from the left menu.
  2. Choose the video you’d like to update by clicking its thumbnail.
  3. Under the Thumbnail section, select Upload thumbnail.
  4. Upload your custom thumbnail image file.
  5. Click Save.

Once you’ve uploaded your custom thumbnail, keep an eye on your YouTube analytics to track how it affects your video’s performance. Save and backup your thumbnails in case your video gets removed and you need to reupload.

Creating custom thumbnails can help you improve your click-through rate, reach a larger audience, and increase your views. A thumbnail that engages searchers will entice them to click through. As you continue to make videos for your YouTube channel, keep in mind which thumbnail designs perform best for your content so you can iterate upon them and put your best thumbnail forward.

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