If you’re new to the world of publishing on YouTube, there’s a lot of precision that must go into every detail of your video, including the title, description, and (perhaps the most importantly) the thumbnail. An alluring and engaging thumbnail can be what gets your video all those views you’re after.
Rule of thumb
Image via Ben Brown.
Customizing your thumbnail is an essential part of the YouTube content creation process. Whether you’re aiming for clickbait, sticking with the general motif of your channel, going for a minimal appearance, or adhering to the guidelines of your clients, the appearance of your thumbnail is very important. Take the image above for example; this was clearly just for the thumbnail, as this does not appear at any point in the video.
YouTube recommends a thumbnail size of 1280×720 pixels with a minimum width of 640 — and you should try to keep it under 2MB. YouTube accepts JPEG, BMP, and PNG files, but I’ve found JPEG works best and uploads more quickly. Like all content on the video platform, the content of your thumbnail must meet their community guidelines. There’s a general rule that your thumbnail needs to accurately represent your video, so it can’t be something totally un-related and clickbait-y. However, this rule doesn’t always get enforced (see any big YouTuber’s channel).
Screenshot your video
Image via Casey Neistat.
A good preview for your audience is a screen shot of a particular moment in your video or during the editing process. To take a screen shot, simply hold down Shift+Command+4 (Mac) or Windows Key/Alt + Print Screen (PC). This approach is perfect if you didn’t think to take a picture or plan the thumbnail prior to shooting. It also looks good on your end because nothing about your thumbnail (sans the title) is deceiving because the image is truly from the video. To upload this screen capture, click the “custom thumbnail” button right next to the suggested pictures in YouTube.
As you can see, YouTube will auto-generate a few images for you to choose from. For a video editing tutorial like this one, the specific image doesn’t really matter that much. However, if you’re creating a tutorial or any instructional video that is basically one static shot throughout, you’ll want to throw some text or graphics over the image.
Importing a separate photo
One piece of advice when shooting your video is to plan the shot for your thumbnail. So, if you’re making a travel video, be sure to think about the best possible landmark or frame to grab so the thumbnail is everything you want it to be. After you’ve chosen the right image to use, open up photo editing software like Photoshop or Shutterstock Editor, and tweak or add effects however you’d like.
Using stock photography is another acceptable route to take if your video is geographically specific and travel-based There are seemingly endless ways to mix up your thumbnail. The type of content you put out for different demographics will perform differently — so kids react differently to travel vlogs than adults. It all comes down to your content and which audience you appeal to best.
If you’re including titles or text in your thumbnail, remember to scale the text to a reasonable size. Unless the video is your “channel preview” video, the thumbnail will be small, so any small text will be virtually unreadable.