Video Editing

How to create a YouTube thumbnail that gets clicks

Updated November 23, 2023
Written by Darren Buser

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An image of a YouTube video thumbnail.

Do you want to make it impossible for viewers to scroll past your YouTube videos? Boost views and click-through rates by communicating with your audience before your video starts with eye-catching YouTube video thumbnails. 

Read on to learn how to create YouTube thumbnails in the right dimensions, best practices to stand out, and how to upload personalized thumbnails for your YouTube videos. 

Why custom YouTube thumbnails matter

A custom thumbnail is your video's first impression, and it can really help you get more clicks. Making a custom thumbnail shows you've put in extra effort and helps people recognize your videos. A great thumbnail tells your video's story fast and makes it stand out. Simply put, a good thumbnail helps your channel grow.

Here's an interesting fact: YouTube says that 90% of the top-watched videos have custom thumbnails. This shows us that making your own thumbnail can really help your video get noticed and watched by more people.

Understand your audience

Knowing who watches your YouTube channel and videos is very important. When you know how your viewers feel and what they want, you can make thumbnails that grab their attention. This is called emotional marketing, and it's all about connecting with people's feelings.

Think about what makes your viewers happy, sad, or excited. What problems do they want to solve? When you know this, you can create thumbnails that speak to them.

Viewers are naturally drawn to human faces, a reason why many YouTube thumbnails prominently feature them. As advised by renowned YouTuber Mr. Beast, it's important to strike a balance in expressiveness. Overly dramatic facial expressions can sometimes be off-putting rather than engaging.

Thumbnails are like signposts. They tell your viewers what they can expect from your video. If your thumbnail shows the emotion or information that your audience is looking for, they're more likely to click and watch.

YouTube thumbnail design elements

Making a thumbnail that looks good is like putting together a puzzle. You need to ensure the most important part stands out— this is what is called visual hierarchy. Use contrasting colors, clear fonts and spacing to direct the viewer's attention to the most important elements at a glance.

YouTube thumbnails also need to be made in the correct size and dimensions to avoid awkward cropping or losing parts of the image, and other display errors. 

These are the latest YouTube thumbnail specifications which are suitable for desktop and mobile viewing:

  • 1280 x 720 pixels with a minimum width of 640 pixels

  • 16:9 aspect ratio is recommended 

  • Under 2MB

  • JPEG, GIF or PNG image format 

Make your own YouTube thumbnail

Choose thumbnail text and typography

When using text on a thumbnail, try to make it compelling enough to draw viewers in and give them a clear idea of what to expect from your video.

When it comes to typography, clarity is king. Choose fonts that are bold and easy to read, even at a glance. Sans-serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica are often a good bet for their readability on various screen sizes. 

Contrast is also your ally; ensure your text color stands out against the background without design elements clashing. When incorporating contrast, consider those with visual impairments. Utilizing high contrast between text and background not only enhances readability for all viewers but also ensures accessibility for individuals with color vision deficiencies.

Professional designers know the devil is in the details. Small errors in spelling or grammar can distract and take away from your message. It can also reduce the perceived quality of your YouTube video before it's even played. Just proofread your text, or better yet, have someone else check it to catch mistakes you might have missed.

Create differentiation with branding

Your thumbnails must stand out from the crowd to truly shine on YouTube. Begin by studying your competitors' thumbnails. What colors, fonts, and styles are they using? Look for patterns, and then break them. This is where your creativity comes into play. If everyone is using blue, you might want to use orange. If their thumbnails are calm, be bold. It's about finding the gap and filling it with something uniquely you.

Consistency is key to building a brand. Your thumbnails should have a common thread that ties them together, whether it's a consistent color scheme, a recurring logo, or a signature font. This doesn't mean they all have to look the same; rather, they should all feel like they come from the same family. Over time, viewers will recognize your thumbnails without even reading your channel name. 

Here's how you can create a look that's all yours:

  • Develop a color palette that resonates with your brand and stick to it.

  • Use a specific font or set of fonts that align with the tone of your videos.

  • Include your logo or a consistent visual element that viewers can quickly identify.

  • Play with layouts until you find the right composition, then use that as a template for future thumbnails.

These steps are not just about making things pretty—they're strategic moves to ensure your thumbnails aren't just seen but remembered.

Make accessible YouTube video thumbnails

Designing with everyone in mind means your thumbnails can reach and resonate with a broader audience. Accessibility in thumbnails ensures that viewers with visual or cognitive disabilities can also engage with your content.

Start by choosing color combinations that have high contrast. This isn't just about making your thumbnails stand out; it's about ensuring everyone, including those with color vision deficiency, can appreciate the visuals. Tools like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can help you check your design for sufficient contrast.

Text clarity goes a long way in accessibility. Avoid using overly stylized fonts that might look fancy but are hard to read. Instead, opt for larger, bolder fonts that are easily legible even when the thumbnail is scaled down for mobile screens.

Avoid thumbnail design pitfalls

Navigating the do's and don'ts of thumbnail design can mean the difference between a hit or a miss. Remember, your thumbnail promises the value your YouTube video will provide.

One common trap is overcrowding your thumbnail with too much information, which can confuse and overwhelm viewers. A cluttered image dilutes the impact of your message and can turn potential viewers away. Aim for simplicity: one clear visual, a brief title, and minimal text.

Secondly, clickbait YouTube thumbnails are a fast way to gain more views, but publishing misleading thumbnails can lead to viewers clicking off your videos faster, decreasing your YouTube channel watch time. Ensure that your thumbnail gives an honest preview of your video's content. The goal is to set and fulfill the right expectations, foster trust and increase your YouTube watch time.

Use analytics to refine your YouTube thumbnail strategy

Understanding YouTube analytics can be like having a treasure map to what your viewers like most about your content. Pay close attention to the click-through rate (CTR) of your videos. If a thumbnail gets many views, that's a sign it's doing something right. If not, it might be time to change your approach.

A/B testing is a fantastic way to fine-tune your YouTube thumbnails. This means you create two different thumbnails for the same video and see which one viewers click on more. Maybe one has a different color, text, or image. You can manually change video thumbnails after a certain period and compare the results. Alternatively, YouTube announced its own A/B testing tool. It's available right now for those who sign up for beta access.

You can also check out YouTube analytics of your competitors to see what’s working for them. Remember, even small changes can lead to big improvements. Use what you learn from analytics to make better thumbnails over time.

How to add your custom thumbnails to YouTube

Ready to upload your customized YouTube thumbnail? Before we jump into the step-by-step tutorial, make sure you have verified your YouTube account. 

New video uploads

1. Log in to your YouTube Studio

2. Click on the Create button in the top right corner, then click Upload a video 

3. Select your video file 

4. Under the Thumbnail section, upload your custom YouTube thumbnail

Existing uploaded videos 

1. Log in to your YouTube Studio

2. Click on the Content tab on the left sidebar

3. Click on your uploaded video

4. Under the Thumbnail section, click on the Options (three dots) button, then click Change

5. Upload your new custom YouTube thumbnail

Frequently asked questions

Is there a limit on how many custom thumbnails a channel can upload?

Yes. There is a limit on how many thumbnails can be added to your channel daily. If you see an on-screen error reading “Daily custom thumbnail limit reached,” try again in 24 hours. This will vary by country, region, and channel history.

Can I use a YouTube thumbnail template?

Yes. A ready-to-use YouTube thumbnail template is excellent for beginners and keeping your channel consistent. 

Can I edit my videos YouTube thumbnail once it’s published?

Yes. Creators can change a YouTube video's thumbnail after publishing a video in YouTube Studio. 

Create catchy thumbnail designs for YouTube

YouTube is a platform saturated with content, so here’s hoping this guide helps you design YouTube thumbnails that stand out on the scroll.  

If you need more help attracting viewers to your YouTube videos, check out our ultimate guide to YouTube tags and explore monetizing your content with our guide on how to get sponsored on YouTube.

And to create your YouTube videos, try Clipchamp for free or download the Clipchamp Windows app to get started.

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