Navigating the world of YouTube content creation requires more than just producing great videos. Before users become loyal subscribers, they need to click on your video thumbnail. How will you convince them to take this valuable action?
The thumbnail–that small, clickable image that viewers first see–isn't just a preview, but a powerful call to action (or CTA). This guide will provide practical, straightforward strategies for crafting YouTube thumbnails that stand out.
83% of small to medium-sized business owners with YouTube channels agreed that the platform helped them reach new audiences and grow their customer base, according to the YouTube Impact Report.
From selecting the right visuals to incorporating engaging text, we'll cover all the essentials to transform your thumbnail into a compelling invitation to your audience. Let's get started.
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What's the purpose of a YouTube thumbnail?
Essentially, a YouTube thumbnail is a static image that serves multiple crucial purposes:
- Attracts attention: In the vast digital expanse of YouTube, a thumbnail is a vital tool for drawing viewers to your video amidst others. It's what makes someone stop scrolling and consider clicking on your video.
- Conveys content: A good thumbnail gives a snapshot of what your video is about. The thumbnail should succinctly suggest the video's subject matter, whether it’s a how-to guide, a vlog, or an educational piece.
- Sets expectations: It sets the tone and expectation for the video. A well-designed thumbnail can indicate the quality and style of the content viewers are about to watch.
- Branding: For creators and brands, thumbnails offer an opportunity to reinforce brand identity with consistent use of colors, fonts, and style.
- Boosts engagement: Thumbnails also affect your video's click-through rate (CTR), influencing how often it's shown in YouTube's algorithm.
YouTube automatically generates a selection of thumbnails from your video content that you can use as a preview. But if you want more control over the look and feel, you can design and upload a custom thumbnail image.
The custom thumbnail option enables you to use professional-looking thumbnails with branded colors, images, and fonts. This means you can keep your branding consistent across your channel.
Key considerations when creating a custom thumbnail image
You need to consider a few technical and aesthetic factors to ensure your custom thumbnail designs are effective and adhere to YouTube's guidelines. Here's a rundown of these key considerations:
Resolution and aspect ratio
For optimal clarity and compatibility, YouTube recommends using a resolution of 1280 x 720 px, with a minimum width of 640 px.
This resolution ensures that your thumbnail looks sharp and clear across various devices. An aspect ratio of 16:9 is ideal, as it's the most commonly used format in YouTube players and previews.
Keeping to the size guidelines ensures your thumbnail displays correctly without any cropping or distortion.
File format and size
The thumbnail image should be in a web-friendly format such as JPEG, GIF, BMP, or PNG files. Keeping the file size under 2 MB is crucial to ensure quick loading times and compatibility with YouTube's upload guidelines.
This balance ensures your thumbnail is of high quality without being cumbersome to load.
This is where creativity comes into play. Using bold and contrasting colors can help make your thumbnail stand out.
Including close-up images or faces can create a personal connection with potential viewers, as our brains are wired to respond to facial expressions. This can evoke emotions and curiosity, prompting users to click on your video.
When creating thumbnails for a brand or a video series, you need to maintain consistency in style, colors, and fonts. This not only helps in building brand recognition but also gives your videos a professional and cohesive look.
By adhering to these considerations, you can create YouTube thumbnails that are not only visually appealing but also optimized for performance and viewer engagement.
Remember, a thumbnail is like a book cover. Think of how you can use it to attract and invite viewers into the story you're telling in your video.
Are you ready to jump into our step-by-step tutorial for creating engaging thumbnails? Let's get to it.
Step-by-step guide to making a YouTube thumbnail design
With Linearity Curve, the design process becomes intuitive and enjoyable. For this tutorial, we'll customize a Curve design template on an iPad.
Create a new document
If you have a specific vision in mind, begin with a new blank document. Open Linearity Curve on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and tap or click the + icon in the top right corner.
Choose New document to create a blank document, and choose the YouTube Thumbnail document size.
Now you have a clean canvas to design your custom thumbnail.
You can also tap + and select the Import option to open an existing file instead of creating a new document.
For this tutorial, we'll select the Templates option to browse through Curve's YouTube thumbnail templates and download one.
Once you've downloaded the template file, tap on the file in your downloads tray. It'll automatically create a new document in Curve.
Customize the YouTube thumbnail template in Curve
Tap on your new document with the preloaded template design to open it.
We'll create three YouTube thumbnails for a travelog series, so they need to look good next to each other.
Go to your Layers tab, long-press the design layer until the options dropdown appears, and tap on Duplicate. This will create a copy of your template design as a new layer next to it.
Repeat this action so you have three layers next to each other.
Choose a color scheme
Our template currently has a dark blue color scheme. We're going to use a linear gradient fill with warm colors that pulls through all three designs to create visual interest and cohesion.
In the Layers tab, select the first thumbnail and tap on Fill. Switch from Solid to Gradient, and select the first and second colors of the gradient in the Color Picker.
Do this for the other two designs, using the second gradient color from the previous design as the first gradient color in the next one.
We're going to add each episode's destination underneath the title.
To do this, select the Text Tool in the Toolbar on the left. Drag your text box more-or-less over the area where you want your text to appear.
You can adjust the font and size in the Style Tab.
To change the color of your font, select the text and tap on Fill then choose the color.
Add your own images
Linearity Curve allows you to add extra layers of creativity with images, shapes, icons, and lines. These elements can be used to emphasize important aspects of your thumbnail or simply to add artistic flair.
Because we started with a pre-made template, our design didn't need much tweaking. But we want to customize the image in each thumbnail of our travelog series.
You can do this by first selecting the Shape Tool and drawing a rectangle over the airplane window image.
Next, add 100 px rounding on the corners of the rectangle to recreate the shape of the airplane window.
Now, you can go to the Library (+) tab on the far right and tap on the Photos icon to insert your travel images.
We want to put each photo into the airplane window frame we created with the Rectangle Shape Tool. To do this, you can create an image mask.
Tap on the Selection Tool and choose Multi Select Mode. Select both the rectangle shape and the travel image.
The Quick Actions toolbar will appear underneath your selection. Tap on the Mask icon to instantly create an image mask. We love how easy this is with Curve.
Repeat this action for your other two thumbnails, using a unique travel image for each one.
Move your masked images underneath the curved lines by rearranging them in the Layers tab.
Export and upload your final designs
You might want to do a few more tweaks here and there.
Once you’re satisfied with your stunning thumbnail images, you can export your designs in the recommended format and size.
Open the File dropdown and tap on Export. Select a suitable image option, such as JPEG.
This is the last step in our tutorial. All you need to do now is upload your eye-catching YouTube thumbnails onto the platform when your video content has been processed.
Your next step up: custom-branded video thumbnails
We hope you enjoyed following this easy tutorial on creating a set of three travelog YouTube thumbnails. With its professionally designed templates and intuitive interface, Linearity Curve makes it super easy to level up your YouTube game.
Our powerful vector design platform enables you to create social media assets, web design elements, printed marketing materials, and more. It offers all the tools you need to create bespoke designs and illustrations for almost any industry.
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Frequently asked questions
What's a YouTube thumbnail?
A YouTube thumbnail is the first visual representation of your online video that viewers encounter. Think of it as a mini-poster or a digital billboard for your content. Thumbnails appear in search results, on the homepage, in the suggested video section, and next to other videos on YouTube.
What's the ideal size and resolution for a YouTube thumbnail?
The ideal YouTube thumbnail size is 1280 x 720 px in a 16:9 aspect ratio. This ensures clarity and quality across various devices. Check out our complete YouTube size guide for more.
Are there any size limitations when uploading thumbnail images to YouTube?
While Linearity Curve can handle various image sizes, it's important to consider YouTube's maximum file size limit of 2 MB for thumbnails. Ensure your final design meets this requirement.
Which file formats are best for YouTube thumbnails?
YouTube supports thumbnails in JPEG, GIF, BMP, or PNG formats. Choosing a format that maintains image quality while keeping the file size under 2 MB is essential.
Can I use Linearity Curve's image library for my thumbnails?
Yes, Linearity Curve offers an extensive library of high-quality, royalty-free icons and images. You can choose images from this library for your thumbnails or upload your own images to personalize your YouTube thumbnail designs.
How can I ensure my YouTube thumbnail stands out?
Use bold, contrasting colors and clear, legible text in your custom YouTube thumbnail image. Incorporating close-up images or faces can also create a more personal and engaging visual.
Consistency in style, especially for a brand's YouTube Channel identity, aids in recognition and user engagement.
Is it necessary to have design experience to use Linearity Curve?
No, Linearity Curve is user-friendly and suitable for both beginners and experienced designers. Our platform offers pre-designed templates and intuitive design tools, making the design process accessible to everyone.
How can I make text more readable in my thumbnail?
Play with different font sizes and styles, and use contrasting colors for your text against the background. Keeping the text concise and to the point also helps maintain readability.
What should I do if my thumbnail appears differently on YouTube than in Linearity Curve?
If your custom thumbnail looks different once you upload it to YouTube, this could be due to compression or format changes. Ensure you export the design in a YouTube-compatible format and check the resolution before uploading.
You can use an online compression tool to keep the file size under 2 MB.
Can I edit my thumbnail after uploading it to YouTube?
Yes, you can update or change your thumbnail on YouTube at any time. Simply create a new thumbnail in Linearity Curve and export it. You can then edit your YouTube video and upload your new thumbnail.
Note that it may take some time for the new thumbnail to appear on your video.
What's the difference between a YouTube thumbnail and a banner?
A YouTube thumbnail is a small image preview of a specific video, acting as a visual summary that entices viewers to click and watch. It's designed to be eye-catching at a smaller scale.
In contrast, a YouTube banner, also known as Channel Art, is a large background image displayed at the top of your channel page.
This banner is crucial for branding, as it's one of the first things viewers notice when visiting your channel. It's typically used to convey the overall theme, personality, or content type of your channel, and is displayed much larger compared to thumbnails.
Sharné is a contributing writer to the Linearity Blog. She has 10+ years' experience in graphic design and marketing and holds a Master's degree in Art Education.