After spending time and resources on creating a great video for your company, how can you compel your target audience to click on and watch it?
A video thumbnail is an image that acts as the preview image for your video. Similar to a book cover, a movie poster or a magazine’s front page, thumbnails should entice people to see more and access your content. A platform might automatically generate a thumbnail for your video. But instead of a random blurry still, a custom thumbnail will make your content stand out.
In this article, you’ll learn just why you need to pay attention to video thumbnails. Then you’ll receive 6 actionable tips for creating and choosing thumbnails for your video in 2021.
First impressions are important. Thumbnails are often the first thing people see when they come across one of your videos.
And along with the video title, they’re one of the few things people have to go on when deciding whether or not to watch your video. So it makes sense that you would want to put effort into your video thumbnail.
On YouTube, you can either pick a thumbnail from the 3 auto-generated frames or manually upload your own. For the latter, the file size has a 2MB limit. It should also have a minimum 1280px x 720px resolution, and aim for a 16:9 aspect ratio.
When you upload a video on Facebook, you can 1) pick a thumbnail from one of the auto-generated suggested images, 2) manually choose a still frame from the video, or 3) upload a high-resolution custom thumbnail image.
For option 3, your image must be a JPG or PNG file; 16:9 ratio; recommended 1200px by 675px.
Vimeo gives you the same thumbnail options as Facebook. However, the requirements are slightly different:
JPG, PNG or GIF file (note: animated GIF files are currently not supported.)
Resolution: no more than 9600px wide or 5400px tall; match video dimensions
LinkedIn will automatically use the first frame of your video as the thumbnail. But you can also upload an image to use as a thumbnail. Your thumbnail should be a JPG or PNG image, match the aspect ratio and resolution of your video, and have a file size no larger than 2MB.
3. when you can't natively upload a thumbnail
Frustratingly, not all social media and content sharing platforms allow you to add a custom thumbnail to your video.
For instance, Twitter will automatically use the first frame of your video as the thumbnail. Instagram is slightly better in allowing you to choose a still frame from your video to use as a thumbnail. However, once the video is posted, you cannot change this.
But with these platforms, there IS a way to manually insert a custom thumbnail. Use the same tips below to create your thumbnail, and then edit your video so that this thumbnail appears for the first few frames.
4. video thumbnail creation tools
4.1 Canva (desktop & mobile app)
Canva offers hundreds of YouTube template designs to choose from (though there is also the option to start from a blank canvas).
You can then add, edit and adjust different elements, including colours, photos, shapes, graphics, frames and text. You can upload your own media, or use their extensive library of free-to-use images and graphics. Once your thumbnail is complete, download and use it on your video content.
4.2 TubeBuddy (google chrome extension)
TubeBuddy is a freemium Google Chrome extension. One of its key features is its thumbnail creator, which can be accessed without leaving YouTube.
Once you’ve installed and set up the TubeBuddy extension, go to the video editing screen on YouTube and scroll down to ‘Thumbnail’. There, you should find a ‘CREATE THUMBNAIL’ button. This takes you to the Thumbnail generator, where you can customise your background, add text, emojis and shapes, and preview your thumbnail before updating it.
Note: thumbnail frames and the option to create and use templates are only available for TubeBuddy Pro users.
5. best practices for video thumbnail creation
5.1 branding & consistency
Using branding across your thumbnails is one way to achieve consistency and thus make it easy for viewers to spot your videos.
An obvious example is to include your brand logo. On our video thumbnails, we often include our logo in the bottom left corner of the screen. We do this to help viewers to recognise who is producing these videos. Plus, it provides a sense of professionalism. You can also brand your thumbnails by sticking to your brand colours and choosing fonts that suit your brand.
Another way to achieve consistency is to create and use distinctive thumbnail templates. For instance, at Blueprint Film, we use the same photoshop template for all of our video showreel thumbnails, changing the background image and text to keep things fresh.
5.2 composition - rule of thirds & white space
Using the rule of thirds is an easy way to produce dynamic and eye-pleasing thumbnails. Aim to place the main subject of your thumbnail on one of the four intersecting points where two grid lines meet. Because these are the points that get the most viewer focus.
Another aspect to consider is the space between elements in your thumbnail. A thumbnail that is too chaotic or cluttered can confuse viewers or put them off watching your content.
To give the different elements of your thumbnail space to breathe, consider negative space. Negative space (also known as whitespace) refers to the area around and between the subjects of an image. When used effectively, it can produce a clean and professional design.
5.3 avoid clickbait
Clickbait refers to material that misrepresents the content of your video. Using clickbait can be tempting – but it is rarely worth it.
For one, it leads to lower average view duration and audience retention. Viewers will click on your video, only to realise it wasn’t what they expected and click off. This, in turn, can negatively affect how your video ranks in viewer recommendations or on search engines.
Not to mention these types of thumbnails can be annoying for users. Indeed, several browser extensions have been developed to remove and replace clickbait thumbnails for users when browsing YouTube.
Sites like YouTube also discourage sensational thumbnails. This includes imagery or language that is shocking, offensive, indecent or unnecessarily violent.
5.4 Relevant & engaging imagery
How should you decide what image to use for your thumbnail? When making thumbnails for videos on the Blueprint Film YouTube channel, we always use an interesting still image from the video that we are posting. After all, it accurately represents the video content and saves us from having to find another image from elsewhere.
If you don’t want to use a still from your video, you can either use one of your own photos or find a relevant, free-to-use image. For this, we recommend sites such as Pexels or Unsplash. Whatever you do, do not use an image that you do not have permission to use, as this can get you in trouble.
Additionally, make sure the image you use is high-resolution. A poor-quality thumbnail image will give viewers a negative impression of your video content.
Here’s some ideas for the type of image to use:
Close-up of your subject: easier for users to view on smaller devices (see Example 1)
Photo showing a face: our brains naturally focus on faces, and including a human face creates a sense of familiarity and connection
Image portraying emotion: encourages the viewer to engage and connect with the story of the video
Action shot: dynamic, generates excitement
Before and after comparison shot: makes viewers curious about what happened/how the result was achieved (see Example 2)
5.5 bright & contrasting colours
Our eyes are naturally drawn to bold, bright and saturated colours. So using these will help get more eyeballs on your video.
As an example, take a look at the thumbnails used on the TED-Ed YouTube channel, which currently has over 14 million subscribers. Each thumbnail features an image with bold colours, with the text in a contrasting colour. This creates a visually appealing effect whilst also being easy to read and take in. It also means each video thumbnail can look distinctive while also sharing a similar tone and feeling.
Consider using imagery and graphics with complementary and contrasting colours – A.K.A. colours that are opposite one another on the colour wheel. Interestingly, the colour yellow is particularly effective at drawing attention. You can use image-editing software like Canva or Adobe Photoshop to increase the colour saturation and contrast of a photograph.
5.6 adding & formatting text
Adding text to your thumbnails can provide context, helping viewers to identify faster what your video is about.
The primary text should be large and easy to read – especially since so many people are using smaller screens to watch videos. When it comes to formatting, capitalised words in bolded fonts are the easiest to read.
Most video channels use a shortened version of the video’s title as their thumbnail text. Alternatively, you could use a short, snappy quote from your video. We suggest limiting any text to 2-5 words, so that it doesn’t take up too much of the screen space.
What font should you use? The most important thing is to make sure the font you pick is easy to read. Cool-looking fonts are great, but useless if people are going to have trouble reading your text. Also, aim for a font that fits the tone of your video, channel and brand.
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Gemma joined the Blueprint Film team in 2021 as our marketing coordinator. She takes care of our social media, email marketing and advertising campaigns. Her strengths lie in following trends, conducting research and writing compelling copy.