YouTube Thumbnails: Explained By Pros (2024)

Article last updated on:
June 02, 2024

This is your No-BS guide to YouTube Thumbnails:

  1. Find the right size for your thumbnails.
  2. Increase all the metrics you really care about.

Forget all the other long & boring guides.

This guide is something we’d like to read ourselves if we were in your position — because we really were before!

Key Takeaways

Purpose & ImportanceThey influence your video’s click-through rates.
Technical SpecsSize: 1280x720px, Aspect ratio: 16:9, File size: < 2MB, Formats: JPG, PNG.
Design PrinciplesUse contrasting colors, bold fonts, clear visuals, and high-quality images. Spark intrigue with questions, expressions, and unexpected elements. Maintain brand consistency. Consider accessibility.
Content ConsiderationsAccurately reflect video content, tone, and key moments. Use text overlays sparingly and effectively. A/B test different thumbnails.
Advanced TechniquesConsider animation, motion graphics, and the psychology of color. Optimize for different platforms.
Bonus TipsShowcase successful examples, provide resources, and stay updated on trends.
Target AudienceTailor your guide to your specific audience (beginners, niche creators, advanced users).
Learning StylesOffer written instructions, video tutorials, or a combination.

In a nutshell, this table tells you everything to know about thumbnails. Let’s break down the sections you care about.

Best Size for YouTube Thumbnail

The best size for a YouTube thumbnail is 1280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall, with a minimum width of 640 pixels (and 16:9 for the resolution).

Recommended size for YouTube Thumbnails is 1280x720
  • Yes, 1920x1080p is not enough…
  • But that’s the wallpaper size for a regular-size screen!
  • Only make thumbnails 1278 x 720 — it’s your safest bet

According to Google: “Your custom thumbnail image should be as large as possible, as the image will also be used as the preview image in the embedded player.”

Image formats: JPG, PNG, or GIF. We suggest that you go for JPG.

The Basics

1. What it is & Importance

A thumbnail is a small, reduced-size version of a larger image or video, most commonly used online.

Think of it like a tiny preview that gives you a quick glimpse of the full content.

  • Thumbnails act as visual hooks, conveying information and influencing user behavior.
  • Whether browsing photos, searching for videos, or managing files, they play a critical role in enhancing online experiences.

2. Design Tips

Example of a great YouTube thumbnail
Very clear and self-explanatory video thumbnail

Link to the video above: Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari in 2025.

  • Clarity: Simple, uncluttered, easy to understand on small screens.
  • Color: Use contrasting, bold colors that align with your brand and video theme.
  • Text: Use text that’s short, clear, large enough to read (use readable fonts).
  • Imagery: High-quality, relevant to the video, rising curiosity or emotion.
  • Rule of thirds: Place key elements along imaginary lines dividing the frame into thirds for visual balance.
  • Branding: Include subtle branding elements like logos or color schemes.
  • Use of Faces and Emotions: The psychological impact of human faces and eye contact is huge.

3. Best Practices

  • A/B testing: Try different variations to see what performs best.
  • Intrigue: Create a sense of mystery or anticipation.
  • Urgency: Highlight limited-time offers or exclusive content.
  • Benefit-driven: Show viewers what they’ll gain from watching.
  • Consistency: Maintain a consistent style across thumbnails for brand recognition.
  • Mobile-friendliness: Optimize for how the thumbnail appears on mobile devices.

4. Avoid these Mistakes

Below are 3 of the most common rookie mistakes you have to avoid:

  1. Overcrowding the Thumbnail
    • What to Avoid: Cramming too much text, numerous elements, or complex graphics into a small space can make your thumbnail look chaotic and confusing.
    • Tip: Opt for simplicity and clarity. Use a single, clear focus point that conveys the essence of your video.
  2. Misleading Thumbnails (Clickbait)
    • What to Avoid: Thumbnails that promise something vastly different from the video content can lead to viewer disappointment and damage your credibility.
    • Tip: Ensure your thumbnails accurately reflect the video content. Authenticity builds trust with your audience.
  3. Inconsistent Thumbnails
    • What to Avoid: Changing styles, fonts, and color schemes across videos can confuse your audience and dilute your brand identity.
    • Tip: Develop and stick to a consistent style guide for your thumbnails to enhance brand recognition and cohesion across your content.

How thumbnails work on YouTube

1. Choose a type

Picture highlighting the Thumbnail section of a video in YouTube Studio
Custom Thumbnail vs Auto-Generated
  • Automatic vs. Custom Thumbnails: YouTube can automatically generate thumbnails for your video by grabbing screenshots at specific points. However, you can also upload your own custom thumbnail, which is generally recommended for better click-through rates.
  • Uploading Your Own Thumbnail: Uploading your own thumbnail allows you more control over what viewers see. You can choose a captivating image from the video or create a new graphic using photo editing tools.

Read more about this in YouTube’s official guide.

2. Why it’s important

  • Grab Attention on Search Results: Thumbnails are like tiny flags waving at viewers on search result pages and browsing menus. All viral thumbnails can convince someone to click on your video over others.
  • Convey Video Content: A good thumbnail should give viewers a clear idea of what the video is about. This could be through an interesting image or text that highlights the video’s topic.

Keep reading why thumbnails are important.

3. Making effective thumbnails

  • Visually Appealing: Use bright colors, clear images, and good contrast to make your thumbnail stand out.
  • Informative Text: Include short, easy-to-read text that gives viewers a clue about the video’s content.
  • Branding: Consider incorporating your channel’s logo or color scheme to build brand recognition.

Example of a visually appealing thumbnail:

Example of a YouTube Thumbnail with Text - Video By Donut Media

By understanding how thumbnails work and following some best practices for creating them, you can significantly increase the chances of people clicking on your YouTube videos.

How to know which Thumbnail is Better

If you’re struggling to understand which thumbnail is going to perform better, use ThumbnailTest to automatically A/B test 2 → 10 images at once.

In short, A/B Testing is a big life saver for both small + large content creators.

Illustration of thumbnail testing on YouTube

Here’s how you find out which thumbnail is better:

  1. Connect YouTube with ThumbnailTest
  2. Upload 2+ thumbnails for a video
  3. The system A/B tests your thumbnails
  4. When research is done, the winning image is set for the video

What A/B Testing Means: The software sends Thumbnail #1 to a few users, Thumbnail #2 to other viewers, and so on for all of your tested images.

It looks at the analytics, and after some time, the thumbnail with more CVR is set for your video.

Get Inspiration: YouTube Thumbnails

Yes, MrBeast is great inspiration.

But what he does may not work for everyone!

MrBeast - Latest Videos, as of February 2024
Keep it simple, just like Jimmy’s videos

To address that, we’ll tell you 10 channels that always have great, working thumbnails.

Look at their work and try to apply that to your situation(s):

  1. Peter McKinnon
    • Style: Cinematic and high-quality, focusing on photography.
    • DIY Tips: Use high-quality images, play with lighting and shadows, and add a touch of drama or action to mimic his style.
  2. MKBHD (Marques Brownlee)
    • Style: Clean and minimalist with bold tech imagery.
    • DIY Tips: Use bold colors, keep the background simple, and make the product or main subject the focal point.
  3. Casey Neistat
    • Style: Personal and story-driven, often featuring himself.
    • DIY Tips: Include your face making an expressive emotion, add some text to hint at the story, and keep it authentic.
  4. Good Mythical Morning
    • Style: Fun, quirky, and often includes both hosts.
    • DIY Tips: Use bright colors, add some humor or exaggerated expressions, and make sure both subjects interact in the thumbnail.
  5. Unbox Therapy
    • Style: Product-centric with a focus on the unboxing experience.
    • DIY Tips: Highlight the product, use a clean background, and add a curious or surprised facial expression.
  6. NikkieTutorials
    • Style: Bold and glamorous, often close-ups of makeup looks.
    • DIY Tips: Use close-up shots, play with vibrant colors, and make sure the makeup is the star.
  7. MrBeast
    • Style: Eye-catching, colorful, and often includes text or numbers.
    • DIY Tips: Use bright and contrasting colors, add intriguing text or numbers, and create a sense of action or challenge.
  8. Tasty
    • Style: Focus on the food, making it look delicious and tempting.
    • DIY Tips: Use high-quality close-up shots of the food, make sure it’s well-lit, and possibly add a hand or utensil to add action.
  9. The Futur
    • Style: Clean, educational, and often includes text overlays.
    • DIY Tips: Keep the background simple, use bold text to convey the message, and include icons or simple graphics related to the topic.
  10. Linus Tech Tips
    • Style: Engaging, with a focus on tech and often includes Linus’s expressive reactions.
    • DIY Tips: Feature tech gadgets, add an expressive facial reaction, and use bright, eye-catching colors.


This is all you need to know about YouTube Thumbnails.

Thank you for reading this,
Thumbnail Test

About the author

David is the head of the editing team at ThumbnailTest. With his help, the editorial team is able to provide you with the best free guides related to YouTube thumbnails and A/B testing.