YouTube Marketing

A Guide to YouTube Thumbnail Images (Dimensions, Best Practices, and Examples)

10 min read
Aug 3, 2021

Everyone loves free advertising, and that’s exactly what a strong YouTube thumbnail is. Use this guide to start designing thumbnails that capture more views.

Sierra RogersContent Writer

Whether you’re starting a YouTube channel as a personal passion project or as an additional marketing platform for your business, you’re still pursuing the same goal: views. And one of the best ways to ensure your videos are getting the views they deserve is to create compelling thumbnail images.

In fact, a good YouTube thumbnail image acts like a billboard for your video—it helps attract new viewers to your channel by giving them an idea of what your content is about. But unlike billboards, thumbnail images are typically free to make. Pretty sweet, right? 

If you’re ready to take your video content to the next level with custom thumbnail images, you’ve come to the exact right place. In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics of YouTube thumbnails, including ideal dimensions, tips for creating thumbnails that appeal to potential viewers, and free resources you can use to get started designing your own custom thumbnails.

What is a YouTube thumbnail image?

A thumbnail is a still image or graphic that acts as a cover photo for your YouTube video. They are called thumbnails because a small version of them will show up in the recommended videos or search results sections for related content. 

All YouTube videos have thumbnails that are either custom-created or automatically generated by YouTube.

Custom YouTube thumbnails designed for GetApp’s Contributor Network series

Custom YouTube thumbnails designed for GetApp’s Contributor Network series (Source)

While most creators design custom thumbnails to help their videos stand out, YouTube will automatically pick three frames from the uploaded video and let you choose one to be your thumbnail image if you don’t add your own. You can see an example of this below:

A thumbnail pulled from a frame in a video from GetApp’s Software Reviews series

A thumbnail pulled from a frame in a video from GetApp’s Software Reviews series (Source)

Compared to the thumbnails in the first example, the image above is much less descriptive and compelling; most viewers would have no idea what the content in the video is about if they were shown the above thumbnail. This is why most content creators prefer to design custom thumbnails that can catch the attention of potential viewers and get them to click on their video.

What is the appropriate YouTube thumbnail size?

Before you start designing a graphic for your thumbnail, you need to know the ideal dimensions. According to Google, the perfect YouTube thumbnail size is approximately 1280 x 720 pixels. The minimum width of your thumbnail image should be 640 pixels. 

Here are a few more details to keep in mind when designing your video thumbnail:

  • Your design should use a 16:9 aspect ratio

  • Your image file should be in a JPG, GIF, or PNG format

  • The file should be 2MB or less

Following these specifications when designing your custom thumbnail image will ensure that your graphic looks professional and aesthetically pleasing once uploaded.

7 tips for creating thumbnail images that will attract viewers to your channel

There is no exact science to creating an eye-catching YouTube thumbnail, but keeping these tips in mind while designing your thumbnail should help you capture more views. 

7 tips for creating YouTube thumbnail images that attract viewers

1. Make sure your graphic has the right dimensions 

If you don't use the right dimensions, your video thumbnail will look skewed in YouTube’s suggested videos section. So, design your thumbnail with a 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels.

If you use a template or thumbnail generator, your design should automatically have the appropriate dimensions and resolution. If you’re creating your thumbnail with a graphic design tool, set the canvas to the correct aspect ratio and resolution before you begin designing. Every tool is different, but most will have a crop or image size function you can use to do this.

2. Use strong visuals/photography

Strong visuals are essential to catch the attention of potential viewers. A great photo is the best choice, but you can also go with a custom design or illustration. If you choose to create a custom visual, use a color palette you’ll want to stick with when designing future thumbnails so that your channel has a cohesive feel.

One easy way to find a relevant photo to feature in your thumbnail is to pull a still from your video footage. Think about what kind of image would entice viewers to click on your video, such as a dramatic before and after picture or a still of a person’s emotional reaction. 

3. Add descriptive, catchy title text

Adding text to your thumbnail helps viewers understand what your video is about. The simplest approach is to feature the video title on your thumbnail. A good rule of thumb is to stick to six words or less on your thumbnail graphic.

An example of a thumbnail image with descriptive text from Shameless Maya

An example of a thumbnail image with descriptive text from Shameless Maya (Source)

4. Avoid misleading content

Tempting as it may be to create a clickbait thumbnail image, you should avoid adding anything to your thumbnail that is misleading or irrelevant to the content of your video.

Remember at the beginning of this guide when we compared a thumbnail image to a billboard? Your thumbnail is an advertisement for your content, so make sure it provides an accurate representation.

5. Choose a readable font

The text on your design should be legible, especially when it’s shrunk down to a featured thumbnail size. We recommend either a sans serif or serif font on your thumbnail design because script fonts can be hard to read. 

As with your color palette, choose a font that you’ll want to use over and over again on your channel.

6. Be consistent with the style of your thumbnail images

As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, the colors, font, and general style of your thumbnail images should be consistent from video to video. This is so that your content is easily recognizable to viewers.

In fact, we suggest taking it a step further and match your thumbnail designs to your YouTube banner as well. 

Of course, it’s okay to experiment or change the style of your thumbnail images over the lifetime of your YouTube channel, but consistency leads to better brand recognition over time.

7. Use a template or YouTube thumbnail generator 

By now, you should have a good idea of the best practices of designing YouTube thumbnail images. If you feel confident in your design abilities, you can get started with the help of graphic design software. Our graphic design software directory has over 50 tools to choose from, including some that are completely free to use. 

If you feel like creating a thumbnail graphic is going to take you as much time as recording the video itself, fear not. You can always start with a YouTube thumbnail template or use a thumbnail generator. 

A YouTube thumbnail template from Canva

A YouTube thumbnail template from Canva (Source)

Sites like Canva and Adobe offer free downloadable templates that come with everything you need to easily create your own thumbnails. In fact, there are many free thumbnail generators just a quick internet search away.

Discover more resources related to YouTube

Got an idea for a YouTube channel? Great! We’ve got the tools and resources you need to turn that idea into a reality.

First, check out the tools in our free video making and video editing software directories, where you can compare multiple tools’ functionality and usability, as well as read reviews from real users like you.

Find more resources to help you manage your channel

We hope this guide has prepared you to turn your content into a cash cow. And if you’ve found this article helpful, there’s even more resources for your YouTube channel on our site:

We also recommend taking a look at the tools in our video making and video editing software directories, where you can compare tools’ functionality and usability, as well as read reviews from real users like you.

About the author

Sierra Rogers

Content Writer

Hey there, I’m Sierra. I’m a Content Writer at GetApp. I bring you insights about the human resources industry. I studied at Baylor University and have worked in content for the past five years. Home base: Austin, TX; Things about me: I love fashion, baking, and growing my own veggies; The tech trend[s]/innovation[s] I think you should keep an eye on: Will offices of the future exist in virtual reality? If so, I hope the headsets are more comfortable.

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