Ultimate Guide to Irresistible YouTube Video Thumbnails

YouTube Tips

Face it…People judge a book by its cover and a YouTube video by its thumbnail.You can either kick, scream and complain about the unfairness of it all…Or you can roll up your sleeves and design thumbnails that catch the viewers by their eyeballs and make them watch your videos.In this article, I’ll show you how.

Your Video Thumbnails are like billboards on the YouTube highway.

Boy! That highway is busy. In fact, the latest report says that there are more than 400 videos uploaded each minute on YouTube. Millions of new viewers are entering the highway each month. Your video thumbnail is a small billboard you put up on the busy YouTube highway to attract the browser-by.If that billboard doesn’t stand out, your video gets ignored. It’s that simple.Cruel. But, true.That’s why successful YouTube Video creators spend loads of time crafting their Thumbnails. Just see the thumbnails snapshots of some of the successful YouTube Channels below:

Here is another example…

Did you see that?

Notice how the photos, the fonts, the color scheme and the designs work together to create magic.

That’s what it takes to flag the heavily distracted audience – off the YouTube search page and onto your videos.

But then, the question is…

What makes a Video Thumbnail stand out?

Mm… it’s not so easy to answer.

But, the first step to create one a Video thumbnail is to realize that…

An effective Thumbnail is an irresistible tango of image and text.

The image draws the viewers in. The text creates the intrigue.

It’s fascinating.

Now, let’s see how to nail the two vital components (image and text) one by one.

Choosing the right image for your Thumbnails:

To start with…

Let’s get the basics sorted out.

There are 2 ways you can choose an image for your Video Thumbnail on YouTube.

  1. Choose one of the three autogenerated image options created by YouTube
  2. Create your own Custom Thumbnail

A word about YouTube’s auto generated thumbnails:

Let’s admit it. Not everyone who posts a video on YouTube wants to generate loads of views and garner subscribers.

People share videos of their ‘House warming ceremony’ or their kid singing ‘Humpty Dumpty’ – to show off to their friends and family.

For that, they don’t need their thumbnails to look slick and sexy. As long as they can tack a thumbnail onto their videos – quick and easy, their job is done.

That’s why, YouTube generously offers 3 blurry looking autogenerated thumbnail options – on the video upload page.

You may just pick one and get going.

In fact, while you’re reading this article, YouTube is busy working on improving the quality of their autogenerated Thumbnails using the power of deep neural nets. More about this here.

Kudos YouTube.

But the fact remains…

No matter what they do, the autogenerated options can never be good enough for you to rely on to generate consistent views across all your videos.

If you want to give your content the best chance to gather views and subscribers – you should always create your own custom thumbnails.

A Quick Side Note:

You must verify your account first, before you’re allowed to create your own custom thumbnails. But, don’t worry. It’s a simple, painless process.

How to verify your YouTube account by Phone?

Here is a short video by YouTube for your reference

Got your account verified?


It’s time to create Custom Thumbnail for YouTube.

Dimensions of YouTube Thumbnail:

  • Your Thumbnail needs to be in 16:9 format
  • The dimensions should be 1280 X 720 pixels (1920 x 1080 pixels is better)
  • The format should be PNG or JPEG
  • The image size should be less than 2MB
  • Keep your video titles concise so they don’t get cut off in suggested videos, search results or on a mobile screen

Now with our basics in place, let’s turn our attention to the next important thing.

Attractiveness vs Appropriateness of your Thumbnail image:

I’m sure, it’s quite tempting to make your thumbnails so attractive that a browser-by can’t help but click on the image to see what’s inside (Wink. You know what I mean!).

But if your content fails to deliver on the promise made on your thumbnail – you’re toast.

Nothing kills your viewer’s trust instantly and permanently than a click-baity, misleading thumbnail.

Let me ask you this…

Why would you want to use deceiving thumbnails?

For views?

Huh! Forget it.

YouTube is not so naive anymore that they promote, and suggest videos based only on view count.

Their algorithm is so sophisticated that YouTube considers more than 18,000 parameters before deciding on the videos to bump up the hierarchy.

And the chief among the parameters is your video’s watch time.

Which means…

Even if you get your seductive thumbnail to somehow attract bazillion viewers to click on your video, it’s no use, because…

The audience retention curve would show an instant dip right after the start (with the disappointed viewers closing the videos quickly).

That my friend, is a red alert for YouTube and Google. Which means, your video will quickly be buried into oblivion before you even realize what hit you.

For your handy reference, here is a link to YouTube’s community guidelines.

For a quick brush up of YouTube’s Thumbnail policy please click here.

So, whenever you design your YouTube thumbnails, keep this basic rule in mind:

Got that?

Now, let’s understand how to…

Design Irresistible Thumbnails the right way:

Over the years…

In the process of uploading more than 530 videos on YouTube, I experimented quite a bit with different Thumbnail designs.

Some tweaks increased the view count. Some didn’t.

Here’s what I found to work well.

The images you choose for your YouTube Thumbnails make the biggest impact in attracting views to your videos.

Before choosing images for your thumbnails, make sure that your images…

  • Are High Definition (Blurry images are a strict No-No)
  • Have high contrast, saturation and visual depth (much like the images you use for your Instagram posts)
  • Use background colors that contrast the white background of YouTube search page

The kind of images that seem to work well for Thumbnails are:

Close up of faces:

This is especially impactful when the person on the Thumbnail makes an eye contact with the camera. Afterall, humans understand each other’s emotions, by looking for cues on the face.

Let’s see some common ‘Close up’ photo types that work nicely.

  • Photos of you facing the camera.

  • Close up photos of well-known celebrities (where relevant). Here is an example of a thumbnail with Steve Jobs – from our own YouTube channel:

  • Photos of Before- After images for videos that promise a transformation:

Here are some results I found, when I searched for “Lose weight with Jump ropes”:

  • Tease the end result of your tutorials on your Thumbnail

Take a look at the thumbnail of one of our tutorial videos from Presentation Process channel:

If the result looks interesting, your audience would automatically click on the video to learn the tutorial.

As you can see, the kind of images you use, can dramatically improve the click through rate of your thumbnails on YouTube.

Here are 5 practical ideas for collecting your own close up photos for your video thumbnails:

  1. Do you travel regularly? Then, start clicking selfies of yourself in different locations, and store them in a folder. They’ll come in quite handy when you design your next video thumbnail. The backgrounds provide visual interest to your viewers
  2. Every time you complete a video recording session, shoot a few pictures of yourself – in different action poses
  3. Use the ‘Snapshot’ feature in your video editing software to extract high resolution images of different frames in your video.
  4. Use your favorite graphic design software, to create a library of ‘isolated photos’ of yourself. These can then be inserted on different custom backgrounds to create interesting thumbnails. Watch Roberto Blake using the technique:

5. In the worst-case scenario, play your video in full screen mode. Pause the video and take a screenshot to design your Thumbnails.

Once you keep your mind open, you’ll start noticing new opportunities and new ideas to click interesting photos for your Thumbnails.

Compose your Thumbnail layouts like a pro

It’s one thing to have a collection of high-quality photos, but a totally different thing to know how to compose your thumbnail layouts attractively.

 Here are some quick tips for well-composed thumbnail layouts:

  • Leave room for your titles. Though this sounds quite basic, it is surprising to see the number of video creators who forget this basic principle (All of Pat Flynns examples below – he is in the center so… )
  •  Overlay titles with really large fonts with clear contrast. Watch Pat Flynn showing you how:

  • Highlight key areas on the Thumbnail to develop curiosity:
  • The above example is from our YouTube channel – Presentation Process. Notice how the hand drawn arrow and circle draw the viewer’s attention.

    • Design for the small screen.

    Around 70% of YouTube videos these days are watched on Mobile phones. So, make sure that your thumbnail looks clear and readable on different screens of different sizes.

    A simple trick to test Thumbnail readability is – to zoom in and out of your thumbnails, while working on your PC or Mac.

    This test is all the more important today, because your YouTube thumbnails are likely to be shown on the first page of Google search results (since Google owns YouTube) – if you’re lucky.

    If the readers can’t read your title overlay in such small resolutions, they are most likely to skip your video and watch someone else’s video.

    • Don’t include anything on the bottom right corner of your videos

    In case you haven’t noticed, YouTube places it’s timestamp on the bottom right corner of your videos. So, if your title overlays or any other key elements of your video extend to the bottom right corner of your thumbnails, they are more likely to be hidden by those time stamps. So, watch out.

    • Ensure consistency in branding and design

    Consistency in the look and feel of your video thumbnails enhances brand recognition. For example, take a look at the video thumbnails of Brian Dean from Backlinko:

    When you make your thumbnail design consistent, you make it easy for your loyal fans to identify your videos quickly. So, your videos get viewed even if there are a heap of competing options for a given search query.

    Not only that. When your viewers are trained to identify your thumbnails, they automatically jump to your next video from the ‘suggested videos’ option. This dramatically improves the ‘watch time’ of your videos.

    For example, take a look at the thumbnails of our videos at Presentation Process YouTube channel:

    We try to keep the look and feel consistent so our viewers can identify our tutorials quickly.

    There are a number of ways you can bring an element of consistency among your video thumbnails. One way is to include your channel name on the side of your thumbnails as shown below:

    Or, you may choose to include your logo on every thumbnail, like the way guys at National Geographic do:

    The underlying point is to be intentional about your color and font selection while designing your thumbnails.

    For example, watch the clever use of fonts (in large sizes) and image styling by Wendover Productions YouTube channel:

    A simple trick to make your thumbnails standout is to type the keyword you want to rank for on YouTube. Watch the results. Design a thumbnail that is different from the options available, while maintaining your signature style.

    The last thing is to…

    Keep refining your thumbnails based on YouTube Analytics:

    Designing YouTube thumbnails is not a onetime process.

    You need to constantly experiment and refine your thumbnails based on the results you see on your channel’s analytics page. When you focus on continuous improvement of your design, you’ll automatically enable increased view count and subscriber count for your channel. 

    Here are a couple of specific things you can do:

    • Check the match between what is promised on your thumbnail and what is delivered inside the video:

    This one is fairly easy.

    Go to ‘Creator studio’ in your YouTube channel -> ‘Audience retention report’ and watch the graph.

    Is there a sudden dip within the first 30 seconds of the video?

    Then, it means there is a serious mismatch between what you promised on your thumbnail and what the viewers are getting to watch in your video.

    Solution: Either create content that matches the promise and upload a new video. Or, change the thumbnail, so that there is a match between the promise and the delivery.

    If you don’t, your content may get buried along with the rest of the forsaken content in YouTube’s graveyard.

    • Look for keywords from your YouTube search report:

    Go to the ‘Traffic sources’ option and find YouTube search report. Check the keywords that your viewers are using to find your video.

    Are there a couple of keywords that are predominantly used, which are not already part of your title?

    Rework your title to include the keywords and watch the views soar.

    It’s a simple thing to do and the results will surprise you. Try it.

    In conclusion:

    Your YouTube Thumbnails determine whether your videos get discovered on YouTube or not.

    The time and effort you invest in designing your Thumbnails is a high ROI activity. So, be intentional about it.

    Follow the tips and techniques suggested in the article to see a measurable difference in the view count and subscriber count of your YouTube channel.

    By the way, what are your favorite channels for their YouTube thumbnail design? What aspect of their design makes you want to watch their videos?

    Please share your views in the comments below.