How to Create the Best YouTube Thumbnails

Video content is ruling the internet. By 2022, videos will constitute 82% of the global internet traffic, Cisco predicts. The reasons for the popularity of videos are clear. Videos provide a multi-dimensional experience which has a lasting impact on the human mind. That’s why videos have a better retention and recall rate than plain text or static images.

Since videos are so effective, 81% of brands leverage video marketing. And, YouTube is their choice of platform for its sheer simplicity and huge user base. The world’s second-most popular website, YouTube, is visited by 1.9 billion people monthly. For marketers and influencers, YouTube offers a wealth of opportunities. You can boost your brand awareness and sales through video marketing on YouTube.

Think With Google surveyed YouTubers and found that 90% of people discovered new brands and products on YouTube. 50% of respondents said that videos shaped their final purchase decisions. 500+ hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute, as of May 2019. The number is only poised to increase in coming times. 

For all of these reasons, the competition on YouTube is fierce. For your videos to stand out and shine in this ocean of content, you need to create eye-catching thumbnails for them. The thumbnails will decide if a viewer decides to click on your video or scroll past it. Often, your thumbnails decide the fate of your videos.

YouTube Thumbnails:

What Is a YouTube Thumbnail?

A YouTube thumbnail is the small clickable picture that displays next to a video. It is the first thing that people see when they are browsing through the platform. 

A good first impression lasts a long time. Your YouTube thumbnails give viewers the first impression of your videos. They can either compel viewers to click on a video or simply ignore it. There are several other reasons why YouTube thumbnails are important. 

An attention-grabbing thumbnail can get many eyes on your content and get it initial traction. They also give a hint about the context of a video. 

Thumbnails, though a small component of your entire video marketing strategy, can boost your branding in a big way. If you use a signature style in your thumbnails, viewers can start associating your brand with it. By creating repeated impressions through thumbnails, you can improve your brand’s recall value. Check out the thumbnails created by celebrated photographer, Matthew Komorus aka Matt Komo. Note the consistent styling, bold typography, and earthy palettes he has used in all of his thumbnails. 

The pictures not only give a glimpse of the stunning locales Matt covers in each video but also establishes his personal brand. Even a viewer who is not familiar with Komo will be tempted to click on his videos and a big part of that is due to his eye-catching thumbnails.

That’s how important YouTube thumbnails are.

How Can You Create Great YouTube Thumbnails?

You can create a thumbnail for your video while uploading it on YouTube. 

Step 1

After logging in to the platform, click on your avatar in the top-right corner of the interface. Select the YouTube Studio option from the menu that appears.

Step 2

On the Channel Dashboard, click on the Upload Videos button.  

Step 3

Select the videos that you want to upload and publish.

Step 4

Enter the details of the video and wait for the video to complete processing.

Step 5

Once the video is processed, you will see a selection of three auto-generated thumbnails at the bottom of the interface. You can pick one which appeals and proceed to the next step by clicking on the Next button. 

Step 6

If you want to upload a custom thumbnail, you will be asked to verify your account through email or registered phone number.

Regrettably, YouTube does not have a built-in tool for designing video thumbnails. But you can use photo-editing tools like Canva or stock photos to design your own thumbnails. 

The good news is that YouTube allows you to change thumbnails, even after you publish your videos. However, you shouldn’t need to do that if you follow the best practices recommended below.

Best Practices for Creating Custom YouTube Thumbnails

Creating custom thumbnails is not as easy as taking a picture and uploading it to YouTube. There’s more to it. Follow these best practices if you want to design click-worthy thumbnails.

Get the Thumbnail Size Right

According to YouTube guidelines, the ideal dimensions for thumbnails is 1280 x 720 pixels, with an aspect ratio of 16:9. The width should not exceed 640 pixels.

If you have a number of picture options lined up, opt for one that is not too small. Scaling up a picture often distorts its resolution. Bear in mind that the same thumbnail will appear when you embed the video in your emails and social posts. So, keep the size as close to the recommended size as possible.

Pick a Great Picture as Your Thumbnail Background

Your thumbnail should have a super-attractive background to catch viewers attention. It should not be bland or generic. Check out Refinery29’s YouTube thumbnail for their video titled, “The Truth About Where Hair Extensions Come From.” 

The video is top-ranked for the keyword “where do extensions come from.” And you can see why. The picture of a woman staring squarely at the camera while her hair is snipped off looks striking and dark, much like the topic of the video. The other videos are nowhere near Refinery29’s video in terms of views. Most of them have thumbnails that are just stills captured from the videos. They don’t capture the viewer's imagination and curiosity. So, they don’t garner views.

A thumbnail is like a teaser of your video. Viewers should be able to guess the context of your video by taking one glance at your thumbnail. At the same time, you don’t want to give away too much. The Infographics Show piques curiosity through their thumbnail headlines. The brand is popular for presenting scientific facts in an interesting way. They apply the same principle to their thumbnail headlines and earn millions of views.

Annotate Your Thumbnails in Style

However, compelling your background picture might be, including a headline in your thumbnail will add value to it. For one, it will provide more context. For instance, if your video is a tutorial, its thumbnail should convey this to viewers. 

Yoga With Adrienne is a top YouTube channel that posts yoga demos and tutorials. Check out their thumbnail headlines. 

Without looking clunky, they provide enough information about what viewers can expect if they click on the videos.

Note how the font variations break the monotony and lighten the appearance. For thumbnails, your aim is to make a quick impression and convey important information in it. So, keep the fonts easy to read and bold. If you have a series of videos, it makes sense to use numbered thumbnail headlines. Adrienne has 30-day yoga challenges on her channel.  She uses “Day 1” through “Day 30” in the thumbnails so that viewers know which video they should consume next just by looking at the thumbnails.

Brand Your Thumbnails

As stated, thumbnails provide an opportunity to boost your visual branding. Include your brand logo and use consistent colors schemes and styling. This will also set apart your content from that of competitors.

Home Depot nails their YouTube thumbnails. They use their signature orange and brown color scheme and sneak in their logo on one corner. The color contrast makes their headline pop on a busy background.

Get a Good Thumbnail Maker

You can try online thumbnail makers for hassle-free designing of thumbnails. Tools like Canva, Adobe Spark, and Snappa have great collections of presets and user-friendly editors. 

Most of these tools have libraries of royalty-free stock pictures. Some tools like Snappa have add-on capabilities for creating Facebook cover photos and Instagram Highlights covers. You won’t have to worry about picking the right colors, fonts, or sizes for your thumbnails.

Don’t Use Clickbait Tactics

Baiting viewers by using misleading headlines and images in thumbnails will do you more harm than good. Not only will viewers leave your video in a huff, YouTube will not view high bounce rates favorably. Your search rankings on the platform can suffer.

If you’re short on ideas, use the best frame of your video or a relevant stock photo as a thumbnail. It will provide context to viewers and keep your brand reputation intact. If your content is good, it will get traction eventually. You just have to be patient and persistent.

Are You Ready to Create the Best YouTube Thumbnails?

We can’t overstate the importance of thumbnails on YouTube. They can literally make or break your videos. They can boost your channel’s ranking and complement your branding efforts in a big way. Use the tips, examples, and resources mentioned in this post to eliminate the guesswork from thumbnail creation and create super-successful thumbnails.

About the Author
With over 15 years in content marketing, Werner founded Influencer Marketing Hub in 2016. He successfully grew the platform to attract 5 million monthly visitors, making it a key site for brand marketers globally. His efforts led to the company's acquisition in 2020. Additionally, Werner's expertise has been recognized by major marketing and tech publications, including Forbes, TechCrunch, BBC and Wired.