YouTube Thumbnails: Why They’re Called That (2024)

Article last updated on:
April 02, 2024

You’re likely here because you:

  • Know what a thumbnail is
  • Don’t need an explanation or visual for what it is
  • But you don’t know why it is called that way

And we’re here to explain.

Why is the cover of a YouTube video called a “thumbnail”?

YouTube thumbnails are called “thumbnails” because they’re small images representing larger videos, much like a thumbnail is a small version of a finger.

History of Thumbnails

The word “thumbnail” has been around for centuries, even before YouTube existed.

  • It was originally used to describe a small drawing or sketch that was about the size of your thumb.
  • Pretty obvious, huh?
  • Over time, the term came to be used more generally for anything small and abbreviated, like a short biography.
Online dictionary giving the old definition for the word: Thumbnail
Old meaning of “thumbnail”, as per Etymonline

In Arts: The term “thumbnail” has been also used in the art and publishing industries long before the digital age to describe a small illustration or sketch that gives a preview of a larger piece.

In the 1980s: With the rise of computers, “thumbnail” became the term for a small image preview of a larger image or file.

This perfectly describes the function of a YouTube thumbnail.

  • It is a tiny image for every video
  • And it gives you a quick glimpse of what a video is about.

Here’s a an example of an engaging thumbnail:

Carwow's Example of the one-question format for YouTube Thumbnails

So, even though YouTube thumbnails might not be literally the size of your thumbnail, the name stuck around because it accurately reflects their small size and function as a preview


1. What is a thumbnail on YouTube?

A thumbnail on YouTube is a small, clickable image that acts as a preview for a video. Thumbnails are super important for catching attention and giving a hint about the video’s theme or content.

2. Why does YouTube call it thumbnail?

YouTube calls it a “thumbnail” because it’s a small image meant to represent a larger video, similar to how an actual thumbnail is a small part of a hand.

When digital platforms like YouTube started using small images to give a quick glimpse of video content, the term naturally carried over.

Thank you for reading this,

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.