Video thumbnail guide

/ Max Thorpe

Maximizing your video thumbnails

We’ve all heard the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Whether you do or not is your prerogative, but when it comes to YouTube, everyone judges a video by its thumbnail. Custom video thumbnails are essential if you want your content to get clicked-- sometimes the three samples provided by YouTube just won’t cut it. This article will serve as a video thumbnail guide, providing you with best practices, as well as how to implement them on a budget. So without further ado, here’s your video thumbnail checklist to help you boost views, likes and shares. 

1. Accurately portray your video content in your video thumbnail

Don’t mislead your audience by using a thumbnail that has absolutely nothing to do with the content in your video. For instance, if you’re creating a product review video about the latest GoPro camera, don’t use a thumbnail of a bikini-clad model in the tropics. This will frustrate your viewers and make them less likely to watch your content in the future. Furthermore, these shady tactics can actually lead to your video getting penalized in search rankings or even cause your YouTube account to be removed altogether.

How to implement: 

Rather than trying to capture a screenshot of a certain point in your video, opt for taking a separate picture that’s related to the content. This will help you avoid settling for a blurry screenshot. If you’re in the video, take a good picture of yourself and use that. Otherwise, take a picture of your subject, preferably in front of a plain background to make it easy to replace with a brighter digital background. 

example of a bad video thumbnail

2. Include a face in your video thumbnail (when relevant)

Including a close-up of a face in your thumbnail has proven to increase the click rate if for no other reason than that it’s harder to say no to a person’s face than it is without. A facial expression conveying emotion and eye contact helps your viewers who are scrolling through thumbnails feel a connection. It humanizes the content and provides a preview of what the viewer can expect to feel after watching the video. 

While we do recommend including a face in your video thumbnail, there are certain videos where doing so would conflict with step #1 - (accurately portraying video content). For instance, if your video is a cooking recipe guide or a video game walkthrough, you’re better off featuring the subject in the thumbnail (i.e. the final recipe, or a close-up of the video game character). 

How to implement: 

Use your smartphone’s camera to capture a facial expression to incorporate as your video thumbnail. If you don’t have someone to take the image for you, a simple selfie will work just fine given that the picture should be a close-up. 

Include a face in your video thumbnail

3. Use bright background colors in your video thumbnail

Make your thumbnail stand out with bright colors and differentiate your content from the competition. The human eye is most sensitive to the color yellow-green because it takes two cones to perceive, stimulating our vision more than other colors. So consider incorporating them whenever possible. That said, be careful not to go overboard with the bright colors as your thumbnail can come off as cheap and tacky. If a bright background isn’t feasible without coming off gaudy, consider inserting a bright outline for your subject(s) in your thumbnail. 

How to implement: 

Most of the thumbnails that have bright backgrounds on YouTube are created in post-production (as opposed to taking a selfie in front of a bright-colored wall). They are created by removing the background around the subject and then putting a bright background layer behind it. The tool of choice to do this is Adobe Photoshop. However, that may not be feasible for everyone, so the free alternative is to use a free background remover instead. Another option is to use WeVideo’s chroma key feature to remove the background color and then export the image. After you have you’ve removed the background you can upload your image into Canva, a free graphic design tool website. 

Use bright background colors in your video thumbnail

4. Incorporating text into your video thumbnail

Using text in your video thumbnail can often be helpful in generating clicks, but do it poorly and it will do the opposite. For starters, you need to be conscious of how much real estate you have available for text. Avoid overlapping text on top of the face in the thumbnail. Secondly, make sure your font size is big and bold enough to easily read on a mobile device. To minimize the amount of space your text takes up, you can often shorten your title and leave out excessive words. For example, in our blog post, 5 Ways to boost your video engagement on social media, we shortened the text in the thumbnail to Boost social engagement. 

How to implement:

Tools like Canva, Photoshop or even Paintbrush or Microsoft Paint can make it easy to add text to your thumbnail. 

Incorporating text into your video thumbnail

5. Design the layout of your video thumbnail

After you have all of the elements to create a great video thumbnail, it’s time to present it in a way that appeals to your potential viewers. One thing to note when designing your thumbnail layout is that the bottom and top right-hand corners will be covered up. The bottom right corner of YouTube thumbnails will have the video duration, and the top right has buttons to view later or add to queue when you mouse over the thumbnail. A good method popular among graphic designers is to incorporate the rule of thirds. This is when you divide your canvas into thirds horizontally and vertically. At the points of intersections is where the viewer’s eyes will naturally be drawn to (see image). 

How to implement:

YouTube’s official directions for custom video thumbnail specifications are:

  • Resolution: 1280×720 (with a minimum width of 640 pixels)
  • Image formats: .JPG, .GIF, .BMP, or .PNG
  • File size: under 2MB
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9

Design the layout of your video thumbnail

6. Include branding on your video thumbnail

A logo or small watermark is a great way to polish your video thumbnail. It quickly tells your scroller that the video is from a brand they trust and is a way for viewers to find more of your content when the video is shared on social media. Not every popular YouTube channel will have a logo on the thumbnail, but they will often have a consistent style to them that is a branding of its own. This can be just as simple as committing to a set of colors and layout scheme or just always including the same face. For instance, Justin Brown from Primal Video will use a variety of different colors in each thumbnail, but he always includes a headshot. On the other hand, Dee Nimmin uses the same font and color scheme to brand his videos. Lastly, Home Depot opts to stay consistent by incorporating their logo somewhere in every video thumbnail. 

How to implement:

Experiment with your logo placement, layout and color scheme until you find something that suits your channel. Once you do, it’s important to stay consistent. 

How to create great video thumbnails

Follow these steps and your video thumbnails are sure to be great. However, that’s only part of the battle. Your video’s title and content also play a crucial role in the number of views and shares. For more information on how to write a great title, check out our article on YouTube SEO. And for great content, check out WeVideo. Get started creating amazing videos today for free!

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