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Creating Eye‑Catching YouTube Thumbnails

Learn how to design YouTube thumbnails that will boost visibility for your brand and get you more views.

From cat videos and movie commentaries to baking tutorials and corporate webinars, there’s usually something for everyone on YouTube. Not only is it one of the most-visited websites on the internet, but it also serves as a never-ending library full of content that entertains and educates viewers from all over the world.

The YouTube algorithm can feel a bit unpredictable where some videos get sprinkled into users’ suggested video mix and eventually go viral—while others don’t take off at all. However, a significant way to get more views is to have an engaging YouTube thumbnail that will instantly grab attention.

What are YouTube video thumbnails?

YouTube thumbnails are small preview snapshots that represent your YouTube video. When you go to YouTube’s site, you’ll see dozens of video thumbnails with varying graphics, backgrounds, filters, icons, photos, and other images that are intended to capture your attention straightaway.

In the same way that people tend to judge a book by its cover, viewers will also judge your video by its YouTube thumbnail. So, it’s up to you and your Marketing team to make sure that the design elements in your YouTube thumbnail will entice your audience enough to click on your video.

Why custom YouTube thumbnails matter for your business

When you’re uploading your YouTube video, you can choose from a variety of thumbnail options that YouTube automatically generates for you. But these options aren’t guaranteed to drive engagement or views. That’s why custom thumbnails are so important.

There are plenty of benefits to having exciting YouTube thumbnails—such as reaching new audiences, driving website traffic, and educating viewers.

Reaches new audiences

The YouTube algorithm is a black box, meaning that users don’t know what data YouTube uses to generate recommendations. While this randomized process may feel overwhelming, it can actually serve as a great way to reach new audiences. Your YouTube video could reach people who might have otherwise never interacted with your company, and with millions of people visiting YouTube every day, an eye-catching YouTube thumbnail is sure to appeal to some new and prospective customers.

Drives traffic to your website

With an effective YouTube marketing strategy, you can drive traffic from your YouTube videos to your website (or wherever else you want viewers to go). Once a creative YouTube thumbnail catches your audience’s attention, you can include links in the video description that encourage them to learn more by visiting your website or purchasing your product or service.

Educates your viewers

Millions of people like using YouTube to learn something—whether it’s fixing, crafting, cleaning, cooking, or building. For businesses, YouTube is a great platform to showcase product demos, tutorials, and Q&A sessions. In order to tap into this “how-to” side of YouTube, an engaging thumbnail is critical. It needs to not only be engaging enough but also informative enough to encourage a viewer to click on your video instead of someone else’s.

How to create a video thumbnail in 4 steps

Creating a YouTube thumbnail is actually a lot easier than you may think. The following steps cover the process of creating a thumbnail from start to finish. 

Step #1: Brainstorm video thumbnail ideas

Before you get started with your YouTube thumbnail, think about what you want to visually communicate when someone sees your thumbnail in their suggested feed or search results. Keep in mind that a YouTube thumbnail is not much different from creating a display ad or social post. Ultimately, it’s about using engaging, creative ways to get someone to click on your video and watch it until the end.

For example, if your video is a product demo for a new cleaning product, think about the value you want to highlight. Is your product of better quality than a competitor? Is it less expensive? Once you have an idea of how to appeal to your audience, think about how you’d incorporate those ideas in your thumbnail’s design elements.

Step #2: Upload a photo or choose a template

Once you have some design ideas for your YouTube thumbnail, the next step is to start actually creating one! If you’re skilled in Photoshop, Adobe software, or graphic design, you can start creating your own thumbnail in any design platform you choose and move ahead to the next step.

However, if you’re not a designer or you’re just looking for an easier route to get started, try using a template from an online YouTube thumbnail maker. There are thousands of professional YouTube thumbnail templates out there, and many of them are free too. That way, you won’t have to worry about starting from a blank canvas.

Step #3: Customize and edit the thumbnail

Now that you have a YouTube thumbnail template, it’s time to start customizing. If you’re using a YouTube thumbnail template maker, you’ll have the freedom to edit the text and design elements such as the backgrounds, fonts, and graphics.  

Many YouTube thumbnail templates allow you to upload stock images, and most will also let you include your own images as well. This is especially important if you’re looking to display a picture of someone engaging with your product or if you have a specific logo you want to showcase.

Step #4: Download YouTube thumbnail

Finally, once you’re finished creating your YouTube thumbnail, all you need to do is download it and save it as a PNG or JPG—that’s it! Be sure to give your thumbnail a file name you’ll remember when it comes time to upload it to your YouTube channel.

Tips on creating an engaging YouTube thumbnail

Before you get started with your YouTube thumbnail design, check out these tips to make the most out of your YouTube marketing strategy.

Use an online YouTube thumbnail maker

One of the best ways to quickly start designing is with a YouTube thumbnail maker, as mentioned above. While there is no best YouTube thumbnail maker out there, many websites have the right tools and platform flexibility you need to create a well-designed thumbnail. They’re also easy to use for those without a design background.

Companies like FotoJet, Canva, and Adobe Express offer free YouTube thumbnail templates without a paid subscription. However, these services also offer premium versions with extra features, such as additional stock photos, fonts, brand kit guides, and animation controls. If you’re considering heavily leaning into a YouTube marketing strategy, it may be worthwhile to invest in a premium subscription.

Read up on YouTube’s thumbnail requirements

Before you start uploading your video to your YouTube channel—and even before you start using a YouTube thumbnail maker—you should take a good look through YouTube’s custom thumbnail requirements. Most sites have these requirements embedded in their thumbnail templates, but it’s good to keep in mind what they are.

Regarding image size and resolution, YouTube thumbnails require the following:

  • Resolution: 1280x720 (minimum width of 640 pixels)
  • Format: JPG, GIF, or PNG
  • Size: 2MB for videos and 10MB for podcasts
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9

YouTube can also issue a strike on your account if it contains imagery that goes against their community guidelines, such as hate speech or violence. For repeated thumbnail offenses, YouTube will also remove custom thumbnail privileges for 30 days. While it’s unlikely a business’s YouTube channel would face these consequences, it’s important to keep them in mind so as to hold onto your custom thumbnail benefits.

Get creative, but stay consistent

Lastly, get creative! Any YouTube thumbnail template you choose is sure to have plenty of designs and styles to work with. Lots of businesses tend to use a solid-colored background with a basic text overlay. While this clearly states to the viewer what the video will be about, it may not entice them enough to click on it.

On the other hand, try not to get too carried away. YouTube thumbnails can easily represent your brand’s identity, so make sure that you maintain a consistent style so all your thumbnails present a cohesive visual tone. This may include having a specific color palette or a selected group of fonts. Either way, collaborate with your Design and Marketing teams to make sure you design each YouTube thumbnail consistently.

Expand your brand with a captivating YouTube video

Your YouTube thumbnails are like a first impression, so make sure you take the time to strategically think about the design of your YouTube thumbnails. Once you’re able to capture your audience’s attention, you’ll be able to use YouTube as an effective way to drive engagement, boost visibility, and reach new audiences.

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