5 Secret Rules: Better YouTube Thumbnails

Article last updated on:
April 08, 2024

We’re here to take you though the 5 essential rules to consider when creating a YouTube Thumbnail.

Aside from YouTube’s Guidelines, there are 5 secret rules.

This guide studies them.

By the end of this guide, you will:

  • Know the 5 rules for success
  • Learn how to design YouTube thumbnails
  • Grow your channel better.

There sure isn’t any time to waste, so let’s jump in.

5 Unwritten Rules for YouTube Thumbnails

Shortly, these are the 5 rules for great YouTube thumbnails: Size, Face, Text, Focus Point, Color. Let’s break them down!

1. Image Size

Rule: Thumbnails must be 1280×720 — JPEG or PNG.

Recommended size for YouTube Thumbnails is 1280x720
  • Ideal: 1280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall
  • Minimum: 640 pixels wide
  • Aspect Ratio must be 16:9

If your image doesn’t meet YouTube’s criteria, it’ll get automatically enlarged, possibly reducing its clarity.

Before finalizing your design, shrink it to 10% of its original size to get an idea of its thumbnail appearance.

2. Faces

Rule: A face should cover at least 40% of the thumbnail.

Thumbnail with a face - YouTube video comparing Spotify to Apple Music
  • Faces are inherently eye-catching. People are naturally drawn to looking at other faces, so a thumbnail with a face is more likely to stand out from the crowd.
  • Faces can convey emotion. A well-chosen expression can quickly communicate the tone and content of a video. For example, a surprised expression might be used for a video about something shocking, while a happy expression might be used for a video about something positive.
  • Faces can create a sense of connection. Seeing a friendly face can make viewers feel more likely to trust and engage with the video.

Overusing faces in YouTube thumbnails can backfire, and using overly exaggerated expressions can come across as cheesy or inauthentic.

3. Text

Rule: Short text, no more than 30 characters.

YouTube Thumbnail with Text Overaly - "2023, A Look Back" from Vox

Text grabs viewers’ attention and encourage clicks. Its effectiveness depends on how it’s implemented, but it can be a powerful tool when used strategically.

  • Highlighting Benefits: Text can emphasize the benefits viewers can expect from watching the video, such as “Learn 5 Easy Cooking Tips” or “Get Fit in 10 Minutes.”
  • Creating Intrigue: Text can pose questions or tease interesting information, sparking viewers’ curiosity and encouraging them to click.
  • Branding and Recognition: Consistent use of specific fonts, colors, or text styles can help viewers recognize your channel and differentiate your thumbnails from others.

Experimenting with different approaches and analyzing viewer engagement can help you determine what works best for your channel.

That’s why you should always A/B test thumbnails to find out which one’s best.

4. Focus Point

Rule: Use the Rule of Thirds to centre the object in the picture.

Example of a YouTube Thumbnail showing an iPhone 15

Having a single focal point in your YouTube thumbnail, like a single object, is crucial for grabbing attention and effectively communicating your video’s message.

Why a Single Focal Point Matters:

  • Attention Grabber: In a sea of thumbnails, a single focal point cuts through the clutter and instantly draws the viewer’s eye. It acts like a visual anchor, guiding them to the most important element in the thumbnail.
  • Clarity and Focus: With a single point of interest, viewers can quickly understand the video’s content without feeling overwhelmed by multiple elements competing for attention. This clarity leads to better comprehension and higher click-through rates.
  • Composition and Hierarchy: A single focal point helps establish a clear composition and visual hierarchy within the thumbnail. It guides the viewer’s eye through the essential elements, ensuring they grasp the key message before even clicking on the video.

Essentially, you’re just making things clear for the viewer.

5. Color tells Stories

Rule: Use just a few intense colors per thumbnail.

Colorful YouTube Video Thumbnail

Colors act as a silent siren that grabs viewers’ attention and entices them to click, and they’re important for quite a few reasons.

5.1. Stands Out from the Crowd:

  • YouTube thumbnails compete for attention in a sea of similar content.
  • Using bold, contrasting colors helps your thumbnail pop and distinguish itself from the predominantly white and red YouTube interface.
  • This visual separation increases the chances of viewers noticing your thumbnail among others.

5.2. Evokes Emotions and Creates Interest:

  • Different colors evoke specific emotions and associations in viewers.
  • Warm colors like red, orange, and yellow can generate feelings of excitement, energy, and enthusiasm.
  • Cool colors like blue, green, and purple can convey calmness, trustworthiness, and professionalism.
  • Understanding these color associations allows you to choose colors that align with your video’s content and tone, sparking viewers’ interest and curiosity.

3. Improves Readability and Clarity:

  • Colors can be used to highlight important information within your thumbnail, like text or specific elements.
  • Using contrasting colors for text and background ensures readability, especially on smaller screens.
  • This clarity allows viewers to quickly grasp the key message of your video.

Table: Requirements for a Great Thumbnail

Use this table when you’re in a rush and you need just the right guidance.

RequirementDescriptionEditor’s Tips
SizeUse a size of 1280 x 720 pixels. – Maintain a 16:9 aspect ratio.Larger size ensures better quality across devices.
FacesInclude faces, especially close-ups, to evoke emotion and connection with viewers.Use genuine expressions that reflect the video content.
TextKeep text concise and easy to read at a glance.Limit text to essential information like title or key points.
Central Focus PointHave a clear central element that draws the viewer’s eye.Avoid cluttering the thumbnail with too many elements.
ColorUse bright, contrasting colors to grab attention.Avoid overly saturated or neon colors that can be harsh on the eyes.


This guide just took you through the ultimate rules to making a great thumbnail.

Hope you found this helpful!

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.