No matter how cool and compelling your Youtube videos are, if the thumbnail design isn’t appealing or eye-catching, nobody’s gonna give a click about what you have to say.
Let’s start with the obvious: the perfect YouTube thumbnail needs to be custom rather than automatically generated through Youtube studio. It needs to be in high definition and the optimal Youtube thumbnail size (1280 x 720 pixels).
Of course, it also needs to relate directly to the purpose of your video content and the style of your channel (first, make sure you know how to create a YouTube banner). Finally, it’s really important to resist the urge to create clickbait thumbnails (we’ve all been there). This never works out in the long run and even if you get a few sucker clicks, you’ll fail to build an audience for your YouTube channel.
With these key principles in mind, let’s explore some great thumbnails in different styles to match your channel’s needs.
The YouTuber thumbnail: utilize the power of human expression
Remember that “I want you” Uncle Sam poster? Well, that design perfectly captures the power of a visual which includes a person looking right at you. And that one isn’t even a real person!
This type of YoutTube thumbnail design is especially popular with YouTubers whose channel is focused on their experiences (whether it’s lifestyle, gaming, fashion, etc.). It helps potential viewers immediately recognize people whose content they’re interested in and can help bump up those click-through rates!
This highly successful YouTuber is a great example to start with, as her video thumbnails usually don’t contain any text (which is pretty rare in this community). They’re incredibly simple—in fact, you may not think they look like custom thumbnails at all. However, when you view them together with the video title, you’ll see why they make such a strong impact.
In this first example, the video is titled “A Message” and you can see Jenna in a pretty casual look facing the camera, which immediately conveys a sense of honesty (it’s almost confessional and that’s a powerful sentiment to draw viewers attention). The second one is about bad makeovers and even without the title, the video thumbnail perfectly captures the silly and entertaining nature of the content.
Although this YouTube legend has a very diverse thumbnail design, one consistency is definitely him appearing in them. Whether he’s making a silly face, looking into the camera, or (presumably) at the screen, he’s now definitely reached the point where it’s enough for his target audience to just catch a glimpse of his face and click on the video immediately. The text found in his thumbnails uses bold fonts which helps further prompt emotional curiosity.
His YouTube thumbnails are a great example of how much impact a human expression can deliver. For those with an acting background, don’t worry about being subtle! Make it really clear what kind of reaction your video content is meant to produce (laughter, being emotional or embarrassed, etc.)
3. Neil Patel
If you head over to this digital marketing expert’s channel you’ll notice that he uses the same thumbnail image for several videos with just changing the title and sometimes tweaking the background slightly.
While you may think it lazy, this actually works very well for the type of video content he produces. First of all, he’s a fairly famous guy and his image can hook a lot of people immediately. And the consistency of thumbnail design gives his channel a more professional look which is important since people will watch his videos to learn something, rather than just be entertained.
So this one doesn’t exactly put this YouTuber’s face at the forefront, however, it’s obviously a conscious choice. Instead of seeing a smiley Adriene in every thumbnail, you can see her in different yoga poses. The well-lit images in a familiar space have a calming effect and the prominent titles help viewers quickly find the type of exercise that they’re after.
Video thumbnails with people are inherently intriguing even if the face appearing isn’t one of a celebrity. Cut has some wonderful thumbnail examples that showcase a truly diverse group of people and use their interaction as a way to draw viewers’ attention. There’s a genuine emotion behind many of these thumbnail images and the best part, of course, is that these great thumbnails live up to the moving and genuine video content featuring real human connections and relationships.
Beautiful thumbnail images to tempt your target audience
If you’re into travel or cooking videos, there’s arguably no better way to snatch those Youtube views than a beautiful photo. If your images are not high-quality you can always use Photoshop to tweak them. I would suggest to steer clear of stock photography though. Whereas it’s probably ok for travel videos, when it comes to DIY or cooking stuff, video marketing of something that’s not actually your work certainly counts as cheating.
On the other hand, while you may think a particularly stunning photo of the Eiffel Tower makes for an exquisite thumbnail or channel art, take a moment to consider how many times your potential viewers might have seen this picture already and if they will find it boring.
This travel blogger’s youtube channel is a wonderful source of inspiration for travel lovers in search of a more authentic experience. Instead of boring stock images, she often uses her own photos (sometimes a collage of several). While the photos are by no means flawless, they are authentic and show you that the person in the videos has actually visited the place they’re about to talk about.
Her channel page sometimes looks like a well curated Instagram profile: beautiful photos without that “trying too hard” element that might put some people off.
7. XO, MaCenna
It’s amazing what a good quality camera and proper lighting can do with DIY projects. This YouTube channel is certainly a testament to that. The thumbnails loo practically like a fancy catalog, with a beautiful and consistent color scheme and typography.
If you want to mimic the style of this DIY vlogger make sure that you’re using high resolutions photos (png is the preferable format), and if you’re not well versed in it yourself, consider getting a photographer on board in order to get such high-quality images (Photoshop can only take you so far if the images are bad).
If I had a dollar every time I watched one of Tasty’s videos on social media during a university lecture… Jokes aside, you’re probably familiar with these fun, dynamic videos often featuring very indulgent food.
As for YouTube thumbnail examples, this channel offers a lot of creative inspiration. Instead of the glossy and conventional photos of finished dishes, you’ll often find collages of different colorful meals as well as more “honest” photos of food (no fancy plating, etc.) that are still mouthwatering!
This is another YouTuber you’ve probably heard of, and sure enough her thumbnail style is primarily focused on putting her recognizable image at the front. Nevertheless, compared to similar channels, Zoella’s video thumbnails do stand out in terms of their aesthetic appeal.
The pictures she chooses are usually quite beautiful and (recently) a little more candid than is the usual practice. She uses filters and other modifications to give visuals a softer, almost retro look. These thumbnails often combine photographs or screenshots from the actual video along with a nice frame or little details that give these visuals a photo album kind of look.
10. Red Bull
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this channel does a terrific job of conveying a sense of energy and adventure. You’ll see some amazing high-quality photographs paired with bold dynamic fonts (they use a wide range of them too).
Although you might not get all the fine details of these awesome photos in a smaller file size, these photographs are still impressive enough to give viewers a good idea of what kind of adventure the video is going to be about.
Minimalist and professional Youtube video thumbnails
If your Youtube video content is aimed at teaching small business owners and entrepreneurs on how to improve their business ventures, you’ll probably want to create a simpler, more professional thumbnails or channel art.
You can probably use online Youtube thumbnail makers and successfully mimic the style of some of these examples. Make sure you pick a color scheme that matches your brand to create a stronger sense of brand identity.
If you are looking for custom thumbnail inspiration that’s both professional and pretty, I suggest you check out Hubspot’s channel. Their thumbnail design is simple: probably something most people could easily to themselves in a DIY design software like Canva.
You’ll see lots of people on their thumbnails (and some of the faces are familiar), although they usually aren’t extremely prominent. Everything is tied together very well with their signature color (coral) paired with other bold contrasting colors (like yellow or dark blue). You’ll often see even simpler custom thumbnail images that just feature the video’s title (often a simple, straightforward question or value proposition).
This online selling platfrom’s YouTube channel is actually their help center meant to answer some frequently asked questions. In that respect, they always keep it to the point: the thumbnail image is just the video’s title on a YouTube thumbnail template that they have created for the channel.
Sure it’s not the most eye-catching or appealing visual, but it serves its purpose perfectly. If you google Shopify and then go to the videos section, you’ll find heaps of content produced by this platform’s customers (people who sell stuff over Shopify).
That’s why it was important for the platform itself to develop a consistent brand identity and steer clear of over- or underrepresenting any of their customers by using real-life examples in the video thumbnails.
You might be familiar with this task management system’s colorful palette, and sure enough, it’s what will instantly help you recognize their channel.
When it comes to video thumbnails, you’ll notice a variety of styles (from people to the actual content of the video). However, they maintain great design consistency and practically always find a way to incorporate their logo into the thumbnail design, which helps build a strong brand identity.
If your YouTube homepage features different types of content suitable for different target audiences, it’s a good idea to label your videos clearly to make it easier for people to search and find what they are interested in.
Hootsuite did a fine job with this using labels like getting started, advance and enterprise (that also might refer to the type of users paying for their social media management dashboard). They make terrific use of white space to accentuate the theme of the content. In the last few months, their videos have a more corporate look with a very simple YouTube thumbnail template (and again the use of appropriate labels for a bigger topic).
Beautiful custom thumbnails to set you apart from the rest
Anyone can slap a big bold title on their video thumbnail, but it takes real skill and talent to create a thumbnail that’s both effective in getting people’s attention and truly unique. These kinds of thumbnails are displays of sound graphic design, in the sense that they are not too busy, use colors effectively (whether it’s bold contrasting colors or a mellow color scheme to match the brand), and the text to best match the video’s content and intention.
15. The Futur
This online education platform’s YouTube channel is a real treasure chest of inspiration. Their designs are very modern, sharp and ever-evolving. You’ll see different backgrounds (solid colors, patterns, or scenography) as well as great use of mostly bold colors.
They never overdo it with text, but use it as a focal point of the thumbnail and a way to convey clearly either what the video is about (or who is in it) or what the main theme is.
It’s no surprise that this design tool has a pretty great channel page. Their Youtube thumbnails are another reminder of how simple graphic design can make a huge impact. You won’t see cluttered visuals or heaps of details. All it takes usually is just a few elements—a picture, solid background and maybe a few other design elements like lines or shapes.
Perhaps it’s the kid in me, but if I’m looking to brush up on history via YouTube, I’ll almost always choose a video with an illustration in its thumbnail. Listening to a piece of educational material while simultaneously seeing it visually represented through beautiful animation is in my book one of the best and most fun ways to learn something.
I really recommend checking this channel out—they feature a variety of illustration styles and give and can give you a great idea of just how versatile this type of design is.
This is another learning channel that really harnesses the power of graphic design. From illustrations to interesting pictures to entice potential viewers to learn something through their fun, engaging videos.
The style of the thumbnails fits very well with the rather eclectic approach to learning. As the name of the channel suggests, expect to find anything from bitesize biographies of literary legends to philosophical observations on the “human condition”.
Although the thumbnails don’t have a uniform design or color scheme, the use of just one font gives the thumbnail a much more cohesive and curated experience.
19. Big Think
If this hasn’t become clear already, here’s the message plain and simple: if you want to use it as a platform to teach people something, make sure your custom Youtube thumbnails are really distinct and able to draw people’s attention!
Big Think is another awesome source of inspiration. From famous guest speakers to intriguing topics, they manage to get people to stop and notice these videos.