Try these tips for designing eye-catching YouTube thumbnails and entice new viewers to click on your channel and keep on clicking.

Thumbnail images are clickable previews of Youtube videos, which appear on a user’s home feed or while browsing the site. The humble thumbnail might be small, but if designed with care it will be the hardest-working tool on your channel. Its job is to entice clicks and encourage browsers to watch even more of your content.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Clickable Channel Art
Your thumbnail will be your first impression on potential viewers.

Learn how you can make the most of your Youtube thumbnails with a considered design approach.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Consistent Branding with Art
Include your thumbnail designs in your channel branding.

What are Youtube Thumbnails?

Thumbnails allow viewers to see a quick snapshot of your video as they’re browsing YouTube. They are small, specially-designed images or a default screen-capture that appear in a Youtube user’s home feed or down the side of (on desktop) or below (on mobile devices) an open video. 

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — What Thumbnails Do
On mobile devices, thumbnails appear on a user’s home feed, your channel page and below active videos. Image by contributor ART PAL.

Technically you can pick from three thumbnail options that YouTube automatically generates. Or, you can achieve a more branded or unique look by designing your own thumbnail.


Why is the Design of Thumbnails Important to Get Right?

Thumbnails are small but mighty. They are a powerful tool for enticing potential viewers to click and watch your video. So, it pays to consider their design as much as banners or actual video content. 

Sure, you might be thinking that thumbnails are teeny-tiny and as a result have less visual impact than other channel art features, such as the channel banner. Not so!

Remember that your thumbnail is the first point of contact with your channel for most viewers. 

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Getting Thumbnails Right
Your thumbnails will be competing with dozens of other suggested videos—a well-designed thumbnail will help your video to stand out from the crowd. Image by contributor Artem Mashchenko.

Most viewers will discover your channel through videos related to your content. For example, say a viewer is looking at a beauty tutorial. Youtube will then suggest your beauty-themed video to them in the Youtube sidebar. Whether they click on your video or on a different suggested video is almost completely down to their impression of your thumbnail image. 

Effective thumbnails entice in new viewers. Then, after viewers click on that first thumbnail, other well-designed thumbnails will encourage them to keep watching other videos on your channel. This leads to an increased likelihood the viewer will subscribe or see your videos appear in their recommendations. 


What Size Should a Thumbnail Be?

Youtube recommends an image size of 1280 x 720 pixels, with a minimum width of 640 pixels. This is to ensure your thumbnail will look crisp and clear even on large TV and desktop screens.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — What Size Should a Thumbnail Be
Remember that viewers will see your thumbnails on a variety of screen sizes.

Keep the file size under 2 MB, and you can upload the image as a JPG, GIF, or PNG file.


How Do I Design a Clickable Thumbnail?

You can create your Youtube thumbnail images using any 2D design software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, or Affinity Photo.

The Save for Web function in Photoshop is particularly useful for optimizing the size of your thumbnail. However, there are also plenty of free online image compression tools, such as TinyPNG.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Designing a Clickable Thumbnail
You can resize and optimize your thumbnail images using Photoshop’s Save for Web function (File > Export > Save for Web).

I created the designs pictured here using Adobe InDesign, which allows you to exercise control over typography and images easily. I then exported and resized using Photoshop’s Save for Web function. 

Discover top tips for designing clickable thumbnail images, from the perfect color palette to recommended styles for photos and fonts.


Photos and Illustrations

You’ll notice that most Youtube thumbnails use photos rather than illustrated content. Unless the video is an animation, most thumbnails will feature a snapshot of the video in action. However, instructional videos, slideshows, and content aimed at children may benefit from an illustrated image instead of a photo. 

Many aspiring Youtubers will have an individual-focused theme to their channel, be it day-in-the-life vlogs, makeup tutorials, or cooking sessions. In that case you are the face of your channel. You will want to ensure that a photo of yourself (or the person(s) starring in the video) is the main feature of the thumbnail design. 

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Choose a Main Feature
Your face (or the face of your channel’s star) is also the face of your channel.

The face of the person should be the focal point of the image. A positive, enthusiastic facial expression communicates a sense of enjoyment to a potential viewer. Plus, direct eye contact helps to engage with browsers. Pointing towards the title also provides an additional visual cue for viewers to click. If you have the equipment on hand, a fisheye-style headshot also helps the image to feel like it’s jumping out of the thumbnail, making the design feel assertive and immersive.

Alternatively, an activity-based video such as a workout class or city guide will benefit from an image that represents the person doing the activity. This gives viewers an insight into what they can expect from the full video. 


Color

Abide by a these simple color guidelines to enhance the legibility of text and logos on your thumbnails.

To ensure that text is legible even at small thumbnail size, aim for the highest level of contrast against your background. Against most busy photos and backgrounds, white text will appear the most legible. Meanwhile black will work best against paler photos. 

Eye-catching neon colors can work in the right context. However, be aware that bright colors are not always as effective or clickable as simple black-and-white. Monochrome text is readable but also draws the eye to the image without distraction.

Unless you are using a black-and-white photo on your thumbnail, it’s likely your photo will feature plenty of vivid colors. So, aspire for simple contrast in the color of your text to create a balanced thumbnail image.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Choosing Your Thumbnail Colors
Play around with text color as much as you like, but remember that legibility is your goal.

Finally, increase the color saturation of your photo to make the image appear more vivid and engaging. A strong color palette in your photo, such as wearing a red shirt against a pink background, will also help to make your image stand out from the crowd.

Certain colors are also more likely to catch and hold a browser’s attention. Red is aggressive but eye-catching. Meanwhile, yellow is bright and sunny, emitting more light and giving the thumbnail a sense of optimism. 


Type

Be as creative as you please with your thumbnail typography, so long as your font is clear and legible. This is especially important when you are designing an image that will be viewed at a small size.

While serifs and display style fonts can look attractive and engaging, sans-serif fonts set in all caps and/or a bold weight are the easiest to read. They are also the most accessible type style for users with visual impairment.

Try Gilroy or Open Sans for readable and stylish title text. 

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Using Type in Your Thumbnails
Sans-serif fonts increase the legibility of your text.

Layout

In terms of the hierarchy of text to photo to logo, make sure that your thumbnail is balanced. Viewers are less likely to click on thumbnails that prioritize either photo or text in a combined layout, so it’s important to design your thumbnail around the idea that the text supports the image and vice versa.

However, there is an exception if you have a mainstream, recognizable logo or brand name. In this case, it’s possible to use an image alone in combination with the presence of a logo or brand name.

Generally, most Youtube channels will need to work from the ground up to gain widespread recognition of their brand. So if you’re not a big corporation, you’re going to need to design your thumbnail knowing most users won’t have heard of you or your brand before.

Although a thumbnail is a small layout size to work with, there is some flexibility in how you can position the elements on your layout.

Be aware that the duration of the video appears at the bottom-right corner of the thumbnail while viewers are browsing. That means you want to avoid putting any key content, such as a logo or text title, in this area.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Understanding Layout
Keep balance at the forefront of your thumbnail design.

Below are two suggested options for structuring the layout of your thumbnail.

In this example, the title and image are equally balanced, with the main subject of the photo clear of the edges of the thumbnail. The title is flushed to the top left half of the layout and enjoys equal prominence to the size of the image. The logo or brand name is placed in the bottom-left corner so it won’t be obscured by the time caption.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Layout Example
Include pertinent information about your video without crowding elements.

In the second example below, the logo is more prominent in the design. This is a good choice if the brand is more established and recognizable. Rotating the logo ninety degrees and placing a black band behind it increases its size and visibility without taking up too much space on the layout.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Example Revered for Variety
Play up your logo or brand name to make use of its reputation.

The photo and title still remain balanced alongside each other, with the position of each reversed. The bottom-right corner is still free to allow for the time caption.


Conclusion: Designing Clickable Youtube Thumbnails

The humble thumbnail is the unsung workhorse of a successful channel identity. It entices new viewers and also keeps users clicking across to more of your video content.

In this article we’ve looked at key tips for making the most of your thumbnail designs, from styling photography, type, and color to make your design more engaging, to promoting a finely-tuned balance between the elements on your layout.

Once you’ve created a winning formula for your first thumbnail, you can save your design as a template. That way it’s ready to reuse and tweak for future videos. It’s simple to give your layout a quick update by swapping in text and photo content in Photoshop or InDesign.

Create Captivating Thumbnails for Your YouTube Channel — Include Thumbnails as Part of Your Whole Channel Design
Save your design to use in later videos and give your channel a consistent look.

Looking for more top tips for creating a Youtube channel? Don’t miss this comprehensive article on how to brand your Youtube channel with channel art. Plus, check out other top tips and tutorials below:

Cover image by contributor GaleanoStock.