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An Introduction to Creating Great Video Thumbnails

Jourdan Aldredge

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of the thumbnail image for your videos — and how to choose, create, and upload one.

I know what you’re thinking: “An entire article on how to create thumbnail images for my videos? Who cares?” And while a video’s thumbnail image might seem like the most trivial of trivialities, in many cases, it’s actually the single most important element of your video’s success.

It all comes down to clicks. And for those who say that not all videos — or films — are meant for clicks or even online viewing, you’re right. However, at the end of the day, the film and video industry is unifying with digital content.

And when it comes to the bigger, online video platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook, your beautifully shot, tightly edited, award-winning video will only get views if it gets clicks. And when it comes to getting clicks, there are very few elements you can actually control.

Along with the title and description, an exciting, enticing, quality thumbnail image is crucial for getting clicks. It’s no coincidence that ninety percent of the top videos on YouTube all have customized thumbnails. So, let’s dive into how to choose, create, and upload the all-important thumbnail image for your videos.


Choosing a Thumbnail

Thumbnail Example

A good thumbnail draws the interest of the viewer, making them want to see more.

Don’t worry, unless you’re making a video series or some sort of template, you don’t usually have to start from scratch. And, if you’re in a rush and can’t make a custom image, just make sure you choose a good thumbnail when you’re uploading to your social video platform.

YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and Twitter all allow you (to a degree) to choose a thumbnail image from your video, either by scrubbing through the video or by randomly selecting a few (or several) for you to choose from. Your desired image will depend on the video’s style, message, and goal. Here are some general rules on what to look for:

  • Clear and easy to read
  • Includes faces, emotion, or action
  • Identifies the video’s topic
  • Bright, high-contrast, and colorful
  • Entices you to see more

Taking Screenshots

However, for the few platforms that don’t offer a way to scrub through a video to choose an individual frame, you can upload an image yourself. If you’re looking to edit (more on that below), this is where you can upload your final export, as well.

Without diving into the how (if you don’t know how to take a screenshot on your computer, here are some quick guides for Mac and PC), you’ll basically be looking for the same style. Also, consider intros or title cards if you have a nice static image from the beginning to choose from.


Editing and Adding Titles

Depending on your photo editing expertise (and platform of choice), creating custom thumbnails can either be quick and simple or as intricate and complex as you’d like. Your goal is to try to hit all the points listed above to create a thumbnail image that stands out.

After you’ve cleaned up any blurriness and worked with the contrast and colors, you can consider adding things like titles, logos, or other elements. Titles are definitely one of the most important features, and they can be tricky, as thumbnails are often very small on the screen.

The trick is to find creative ways to make the title pop off the screen. Using some image-editing tricks like drop shadows, outlines, or colors behind the text will help.

If you’re looking for some quick guides, here are a couple that don’t require in-depth Photoshop knowledge:


Uploading and Options

Finally, when uploading, you’ll need to be aware of some hard rules and rough guidelines for the various platforms. Here are the recommended file sizes and specs for YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook:

YouTube Specs:

  • 1280×720 pixel size
  • Minimum width of 640 pixels
  • Ratio of 16:9 is ideal

Vimeo Specs:

  • JPG or PNG
  • 1080×1600 pixel size
  • Same resolution as your video is ideal

Facebook Specs:

  • 1200×628 pixel size
  • Minimum size of 600×314 pixels
  • Ratio of 1.91 wide to 1 tall is ideal

Cover image via metamorworks.

For more film and video guidelines, tips, and tricks, check out some of these articles below.

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