The Magnificent 7 Tips to Make the Best YouTube Thumbnails

Want to create perfect YouTube thumbnails? From using text and photos to branding, here are 7 tips for making the best thumbnails.

Marketing design
July 9, 2020

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Want to make the perfect YouTube thumbnail? Here are 7 easy steps to get you there.

You’ve created and edited video content and are now ready to upload using YouTube studio. It’s clear that a sloppy automatically generated thumbnail won’t do but how can you make a good YouTube thumbnail that will draw viewers attention and accurately represent the purpose of your content?

Creating the perfect YouTube thumbnail isn’t difficult - in fact it’s something most people can do with a design software like Photoshop or Canva (for those with less design experience).

The technical part of making your YouTube thumbnail can be pretty easy, so long as you follow these simple guidelines.

Use the right thumbnail size

This one is kind of obvious. Using the right thumbnail size will ensure that your custom thumbnail looks good and fits the purpose: it is visible or legible and clearly shows what you want it to show.

If you're having trouble adjusting your visuals to the optimal YouTube thumbnail size, try converting it to a different format (e.g. png to jpg) or use an online conversion tool to help you decrease the file size without losing on quality (Google will provide several options you can try).

youtube thumbnail size guidelines.jpg

Include text in your YouTube thumbnail design

Text is not mandatory, however the best YouTube thumbnails usually include it. Whether you opt for the video’s title or a humorous or intriguing comment is up to you. The trick with the latter is to try and create some sort of emotional response (curiosity, joy etc.) that will make your videos clickable.

Let’s say you’re doing a cooking tutorial and the title of the video is “How to make an indulgent peach cobbler”. The text on the thumbnail might be something as simple as “Yum!” or something more intriguing like “Baking without sugar?”

Of course, remember to use the appropriate font: if the theme of your video content is something serious or educational, a very playful comic font won’t do. If you’re doing a makeup tutorial, an aesthetic, cursive font might be something that appeals to your target audience. If you’re not sure what would be fitting, check the fonts used by youtubers with similar content.

youtube thumbnail text guidelines.jpg

Use contrasting colors

Contrast is probably the simplest and most effective way to make your YouTube thumbnails clickable. Whether or not they like bright bold colors, people will notice them. That being said, remember that color contrast is not just about bright colors—pastels can work equally well and produce a more visually appealing finished product!

Don’t go overboard. If there are several elements in your YouTube thumbnail design and all stand in stark contrast to one another, it can give viewers an instant headache and put them off watching. More importantly, it might drown your message and fail to highlight what the content is really about.

You can create colorful visuals with online YouTube thumbnail makers like Canva, Adobe Spark or Snappa. They’re a great source of beautiful thumbnail templates that you can use instantly or tweak to fit your needs.

youtube thumbnail colors guidelines.jpg

Make sure photos are high quality

Although this might seem simple and intuitive, it’s probably the most difficult tip to get right. Of course, you shouldn’t use a grainy, unappealing photo in your thumbnails. But at the same time, excessive use of dull stock photos can make your YouTube channel seem unauthentic and cause people to lose interest.

At the end of the day, again, try to pick a high quality photo that matches the intent of your content. If you’re a travel vlogger, you might opt for a video thumbnail showing a breathtaking landscape. But if your video is sharing your own life experiences a smiley photo model that looks nothing like you probably won’t help you get those click rates up.

You’ll notice that the most famous youtubers all use their own photos in the custom YouTube thumbnails and usually don’t shy away from strong facial expressions. This helps to build a relationship with your audience and indicate the emotional response these videos will produce.

youtube thumbnails photos guidelines.jpg

Design for mobile devices

Around 70% YouTube videos are watched on mobile devices. This is why it’s important to make sure that your YouTube thumbnail image and text work well to draw attention in smaller sizes.

For example, consider using a close-up of a person’s face or object that’s the focal point of your YouTube thumbnail, rather than making people squint to figure out what’s in a picture. Again, text (and that’s any text) needs to be legible. If you’ve included a detail that won’t show up properly on smaller screens, consider removing it altogether.

youtube thumbnail mobile guidelines.jpg

Use screenshots from the first 15 to 30 seconds

No one likes clickbait, so it’s always important to use visuals and text that accurately represent your YouTube video. However, there’s also the potential danger of becoming clickbait without trying to.

Let’s say your thumbnail is of a person bungee jumping. The image is from a video clip that does appear in your YouTube video, however it’s only about 30 seconds long and comes up somewhere in the middle of your 20 minute video. The rest of it is just you talking about this experience.

When people see this thumbnail image and then load the video only to see a person talking in front of a camera, they feel tricked. Give them what they came for immediately or rather, pick a thumbnail image that they will recognize within the first 15 seconds of the video (or 30 for longer videos).

youtube thumbnail screenshots guidelines.jpg

Create good branding

Video marketing can be a huge asset in growing your business and doing it right means making sure your own thumbnails aren’t working against you.

Try to use your brand’s color palette and images (illustrations, stock photos, stickers etc.) that you would use elsewhere like website design or social media. If you want to take it the extra mile, make sure you’re also including your logo. Ideally as seamlessly as possible, otherwise people might think your video content is just advertising without providing any real value.

Finally, consider using a thumbnail template to keep your YouTube channel consistent. As you grow your audience and people start recognizing your content, a uniform appearance of video thumbnails can be a great way to keep click-through rates high.

youtube thumbnail branding guidelines.jpg

Need some YouTube thumbnail inspiration?

With the technical part of making a good YouTube thumbnail out of the way, you might be ready to create the perfect thumbnail for your channel.

Do a quick Google search and you'll find plenty of ready-to-use thumbnail templates or try to tackle the task yourself with a design tool like Canva. If you’re looking for something a little more elaborate, consider getting a graphic designer on board (or an affordable service like ManyPixels!).

Finally, if you’re not sure what kind of visuals would be the best fit for you, we suggest you check out our list of best YouTube thumbnails for 2020.

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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