Video Thumbnail Guide: How to Inspire Clicks

January 29, 2020· ·6 min read

Your video thumbnail is the gateway to your content. Like a movie poster, it should convey everything a potential viewer needs to know in order to force them to watch.

You have put a lot of effort into planning, filming, and editing your video and you are confident that it will be great content that viewers will love. But what if they never get a chance to see it?

Your video thumbnail is the gateway to your content. Like a movie poster, it should convey everything a potential viewer needs to know in order to force them to watch.

Sure, your video platform will generate an automatic thumbnail for you. But would you be watching a movie if the poster was just a random (and possibly blurry) frame from the movie?

Perhaps it’s no surprise that 90% of the top performing videos on YouTube use a custom thumbnail. As viewers scroll through search results and recommended videos, your thumbnail needs to grab their attention and inspire them to hit the play button.

  1. content
  2. 1. What is a video thumbnail?
  3. 2. How to create thumbnails for videos
  4. 2.1Canva YouTube Thumbnail Editor
  5. 2.2 Adobe Spark YouTube Thumbnail Generator
  6. 2.3 How to change the thumbnail in a YouTube video
  7. 2.4How do I change the thumbnail in a Facebook video?
  8. 2.5How do I add a custom thumbnail on Vidyard?
  9. 3. Video thumbnail best practices
  10. 3.1 Eliminate interference
  11. 3.2 Focus on faces and emotions
  12. 3.3 Manage color and contrast
  13. 3.4 Try animation
  14. 3.5 Add your branding
  15. 3.6 Do not use a clickbait thumbnail (but use drama when appropriate).
  16. 3.7 Use a high resolution

What is a video thumbnail?

A video thumbnail is a single image that represents your video in search results, social media previews, and website embeds. The thumbnail’s job is to tell viewers at a glance what your video is about and why they should see it.

Get more views for your videosChoose the perfect thumbnail every time.

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How to create thumbnails for videos

There are many free tools online that you can use to easily create a custom thumbnail for your videos. Here are some of our favorite YouTube thumbnail creation tools. Of course, you can also use these tools to create video thumbnails for other platforms.

Canva YouTube thumbnail editor

With a library of hundreds of different YouTube thumbnail designs and options, Canva makes it easy to create a great-looking thumbnail with just a few clicks.

  1. Choose a template
  2. Add banners, symbols and other graphic elements or upload your own picture
  3. Choose your fonts and add your text
  4. Choose your colors
  5. Download your YouTube thumbnail and upload it to the video platform of your choice

Screenshot with Canva YouTube thumbnails

Adobe Spark YouTube thumbnail generator

Adobe Spark walks you through the process of creating a custom thumbnail for YouTube or Facebook. The templates are grouped by theme to help you find the right look for your project.

  1. Choose whether you want to create a thumbnail for Facebook or YouTube
  2. Upload a photo or choose from the free images
  3. Edit the text and change fonts and colors
  4. Download your thumbnail and upload it to the video platform of your choice

Screenshot showing examples of Adobe Spark YouTube thumbnails

Now that you know how to make video thumbnails, here’s how to add them to your videos.

How to change the thumbnail on a YouTube video

The recommended dimensions for YouTube thumbnails are 1280 x 720 pixels. To add one:

  • On a new video: On the video uploading screen, scroll down to Thumbnail View and click Upload Thumbnail
  • For an existing video: Select the video from your channel, click the blue Edit Video button, scroll down to Thumbnail View and click Upload Thumbnail

How to change the thumbnail on a Facebook video

The recommended size for Facebook video thumbnails is 1200 x 628 pixels. To add one:

  • On a new video: On the Add Video screen, click Thumbnail View in the right column, scroll down to the custom image, and click Add Image
  • For an existing video: Select the video on your page and click the three dots icon in the lower right corner. Then click Edit Video

How to add a custom thumbnail on Vidyard

Upload the highest possible resolution image for your thumbnail and Vidyard will automatically resize it to fit the player.

  1. From the Vidyard dashboard, click Content, then click Players
  2. Hover over a player and click Thumbnail View
  3. Click + Upload New

Video thumbnail options in Vidyard Free

The free version of Vidyard has four options for setting your thumbnail. Just click the option you want on the edit page to set the thumbnail.

  • Static preview image—Vidyard will automatically set a still image from your video as the video thumbnail
  • Animated preview image—Vidyard will automatically generate an animated GIF of a clip from your video, which will be used as the video’s thumbnail
  • Custom thumbnail: Upload– Select an image from your computer to set it as a thumbnail (Vidyard will automatically resize to your player).
  • Custom thumbnail: take a photo– Launch the Vidyard Chrome extension to take a photo with your webcam as a thumbnail. (Note: this works best for webcam video as it ensures that the thumbnail matches your video content.)
  • Select From Video– Either select a single static point in the video as a thumbnail or select a short clip to be used as an animated GIF

Use your videos for Vidyard, the platform that lets you create, host, manage, and share your videos – and set the best possible thumbnails. Sign up for free.

A screenshot with video thumbnails in VidyardA screenshot shows how to select a video thumbnail from the video in Vidyard

Video Thumbnail Best Practices

1. Eliminate interference

Use an image that is simple, clear, and easy to see and understand. Use the rule of thirds to organize your content effectively. The quickest way to understand the rule of thirds is to turn on the grid lines on your phone camera. Try placing the important content along the lines or where the lines meet.

Here is a good example of the Rule of Thirds in action by Binging with Babish.

Try to use only one or two faces or subjects. Zoom in so you can see facial expressions or the fine details of the product. When adding text to your thumbnail, stick to a few words that are easy to scan and easy to read on-screen fonts.

2. Focus on faces and emotions

Facial expressions give a preview of the emotions your video will evoke. If you can suggest that the content of the video is shocking or drastically changes the viewer’s current perspective, this is a bonus. But only if it’s really true! (See No. 6.)

Little vloggers Vlad and Nikita (and their mother Natch) use facial expressions to arouse interest in their videos.

Take some still pictures while filming to make sure you have great face pictures for your thumbnail. This way you avoid that weird “You caught me talking” face in your thumbnail while still having images that match the look and feel of your video.

3. Manage color and contrast

A dark image is difficult to see and is hardly noticeable. Use bright and high-contrast colors to make your thumbnail pop.

If your video doesn’t have light backgrounds or themes, you can change the thumbnail’s background color using image editing tools like those mentioned earlier in this post. See how Yoga with Adriene uses bright colors and white banners to create a bursting textual look for her videos.

Examples of video thumbnails that showcase the power of color and contrast

For a quick test, try looking at your thumbnail while squinting. Can you still say what it’s about?

4. Try animation

An animated GIF is a great, eye-catching way to spruce up your video and even give a hint of the action your video is offering. You can use an animated thumbnail image with a video marketing platform like Vidyard.

Inbound marketing agency IMPACT used a GIF thumbnail on their Elite Update email newsletter to grab readers’ attention.

This unique type of thumbnail stands out from the crowd. It can be especially powerful when used in your email marketing.

5. Add your branding

Add an icon or picture to make it clear that the video belongs to your organization to increase the trust of your viewers. The history channel has its logo on all thumbnails of the video, so you can see at a glance that the content is from a credible source.

Examples of video thumbnails from the History Channel with their branding

Consistent watermarks and branding are also a quick and easy way to identify a series of videos as a series. When creating a video series, create a thumbnail template and use it to visually stitch your videos together while saving yourself time.

6. Don’t use a clickbait thumbnail (but use drama when appropriate).

Your thumbnail must relate to the content of your video. It is pointless and can even be harmful to get viewers to watch the first few seconds of your video. If people often leave your video right after you click it, your video will become less discoverable.

That said, if there is something really dramatic or shocking in your video, don’t be afraid to call it out. Use your thumbnail in combination with your title to create excitement, then make sure you fully deliver on your thumbnail’s promise.

This video from College Humor delivers the shocking premise of the thumbnail: Everyone should eat bugs (and you already do).

7. Use a high resolution

Yes, thumbnails are usually small. However, your thumbnail will be shown at full size if your video is embedded in a website that can be viewed on a large monitor or even on a television.

Don’t lose your view as your thumbnail will look blurry or pixelated when you enlarge it.

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Get more views for your videosChoose the perfect thumbnail every time.

Sign up for freeChristina Newberry

Christina Newberry

Christina Newberry is an award-winning writer and editor whose greatest passions are food, travel, city gardening, and the Oxford comma – not necessarily in that order.