The Ideal YouTube Thumbnail Size & Best Practices 2021

Sunday, October 17, 2021
Michael Scheiner
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The advent of video streaming services has changed a lot about how we all watch stuff. Even more so, it changes the way we choose what to watch.

YouTube is a great example of this. We are faced with video titles, descriptions, and a preview for each video; the youtube thumbnail image.

Think of the equivalent of book covers when you're browsing a library. Great thumbnails are key to making a video stand out.

If you upload videos to YouTube, or have a branded YouTube channel, then choosing the best YouTube thumbnail image is how you'll stand out among all the other videos and channels. 

This article will help you with thumbnail best practices. We'll go over the ideal YouTube thumbnail size and design elements. We'll also talk about custom thumbnails, some apps to help you make them, and YouTube thumbnail templates. 

Finally, we'll look ahead at what to expect with thumbnail trends in 2021.

 

How to Set a Featured Thumbnail Image on YouTube

Chances are you already know a bit about uploading your videos to YouTube. If, so far, you've been allowing YouTube to choose your thumbnail for you, then don't stop reading. 

Having control over your video's thumbnail is part of being a master YouTuber. It'll also give you that competitive edge when up against other videos in a search result list.

First, you sign in to your Google or YouTube account (both are owned by the same parent company, Alphabet). From there, go to your YouTube content in 'Your Videos.' This will open up YouTube Studio. It's a web browser platform to manage all your content.

Here's where you'll see all your uploaded YouTube videos. You'll see that YouTube has auto-generated some thumbnails for you. There will be three in total. These are screenshots from the video. Suppose you like one of those, no problem. Select it, and you're good.

If you don't like any of YouTube's auto-generated images, you can pick or upload custom thumbnails on your own. This feature is only available for YouTube verified accounts. You just use the uploader tool, which lets you select an image from your files to use as YouTube video thumbnails.

A bit more on this YouTube Studio app: As we mentioned, you can use this in a browser version. But, there are mobile apps for download too. They have iOS and Android versions. With the mobile Studio app, you can manage your videos easily while on-the-go.

 

Key points for setting a thumbnail image:

  • YouTube will auto-generate 3 screenshots from your video

  • You can also upload an image 

  • The YouTube Studio App manages your videos and thumbnails

 

Create a Custom YouTube Thumbnail

Sometimes you don't have the image in your files that you want. That's when you can create a custom thumbnail image. If you're not a graphic artist, you can use a lot of great apps to help you. 

Canva is an example of a free online graphic design tool. You can use Canva as a thumbnail maker for free with their web browser version. It's a very simple, visual, drag and drop interface. They have lots of text designs, which are great for video titles. Canva even has templates with all the necessary YouTube thumbnail requirements (more on those below). 

For those with more experience, the sky's the limit with graphic design platforms like Adobe Photoshop. You'll have to make sure to put in the right specs yourself (see below for specs). But you will have much more control over the graphics. 

There is also another Adobe Creative Cloud app called Spark. This is more geared to simple graphics and is great for thumbnails. They even have a free basic thumbnail maker on their website. 

Once you have your image, you can upload custom thumbnails to YouTube when you sign in to your account. You can also use the YouTube Studio platform.

 

Key points for creating a custom YouTube thumbnail:

  • You can create original thumbnails with apps like Canva and Photoshop

  • Upload these as thumbnails with Google or YouTube Studio 

 

Add or Change a Video Thumbnail

Nothing lasts forever. That goes for our tastes in pictures, even more so for deciding which picture best represents our YouTube videos. What this means is that sometimes you want to change or edit your YouTube thumbnail image.

We've already gone over choosing or uploading a thumbnail. When it comes to making changes, it's even simpler. When you are logged in to your YouTube account, select the video you want to edit. Then you can change the thumbnail. Again you'll see the three auto-generated options, as well as the upload custom thumbnail choice. 

Once you've made the change, make sure to hit the save button. Again, you can do this anytime and anywhere if you have the YouTube Studio mobile app. 

 

Key points for editing a video thumbnail:

  • Edit and change thumbnails with YouTube Studio

  • Choose from 3 auto-generated thumbnails or upload a new one

  • Be sure to save your changes

 

YouTube Thumbnail Best Practices

There are several things to remember when uploading or creating new YouTube thumbnails. You need to follow the YouTube thumbnail dimensions. The perfect YouTube thumbnail size should be similar to the dimensions of the videos.

First of all, the thumbnail quality should be as high as possible. That's because even though it is small as a thumbnail, it expands when it is used for the preview of the next video. It’s always better to scale down than to scale up when it comes to image quality.

Next is the question of aspect ratio. This describes the relationship between the width and the height of an image or video. Since YouTube videos are more landscape than portrait, thumbnails should reflect this. The ideal aspect ratio for a YouTube thumbnail is 16 by 9. That's pretty standard for movies, television screens and computer monitors.

The best YouTube thumbnail size is a resolution of 1270 by 720. This image size looks great as a video and a thumbnail. No matter what, the width of the thumbnail image should be no less than 640 pixels.

Finally, you need to respect YouTube's image file types. The proper image formats for thumbnails are the following: JPG, GIF, or PNG. Some say BMP also works, but it isn't highly recommended. Then there is file size. Your image can not be larger than 2 MBs.

 

YouTube video thumbnail guidelines:

  • Use high quality 

  • 16x9 is the aspect ratio

  • 1270x720 is the ideal resolution

  • 640 pixels is the minimum width

  • 2 MBs is the maximum file size

  • The accepted formats are JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP

 

YouTube Thumbnail Mistakes to Avoid

Hey, to err is human, right? But skipping over reading about our Dos & Don'ts for YouTube thumbnail selection is an inexcusable act of neglect. 

1. Stills over grabs

First of all, the YouTube auto-generated images will be screen grabs from your video. Avoid this if possible. No screengrab from a video will look as good as a still photo image. Here's a tip: If you make your own videos, snap some still photos while on set for the thumbnail.

2. Don't overcrowd the image.

Very busy thumbnail pictures aren't a great idea. Remember, a lot of people will be looking for videos on their smartphones. Be conscious of all screen sizes and especially the smartphone YouTube player.

3. Don't discount whitespace

Whitespace might be considered boring by amateurs. That's because it can be so effective you hardly notice it's there. But the way a thumbnail's whitespace blends with the whitespace-y design of YouTube makes these thumbnails pop.

4. Avoid the clickbait

It's a bad idea to use any picture or image you think will attract attention if it doesn't represent your actual video content. It's one thing to get a lot of clicks. But this clickbait strategy will result in dislikes and few subscriptions. You want thumbnails to entice, not deceive.

5. Don't be too random

Branding is all about consistency. It works less if you go for completely original images for every video thumbnail in your channel. Have some common elements. It could be an outline, or the position of the video's title. Even a logo in the corner helps brand continuity.

6. Mind the rules

Avoid any kind of objectionable content. Be aware of the YouTube community guidelines. It's a shame if, after so much work, a YouTuber's video would get taken down because of a thumbnail misunderstanding. And if you're not sure if something breaks the rules, just err on the PG safe side.

7. Don't neglect your channel page

You might only be thinking about your thumbnail's look when seen among a YouTube search result list. But don't forget about how the thumbnail images will look on your branded YouTube channel. Ask yourself: Will it compliment the channel art in your YouTube banner? 

 

YouTube Thumbnail Templates

We've already talked about thumbnail maker tools with apps like Canva. Now let's dig into some of the YouTube thumbnail template options in more detail.

YouTube thumbnail templates are generally in the category of social media posts. You'll find them alongside Facebook ads and Instagram templates. 

A Canva YouTube thumbnail template, like many others, is already 16x9 and is optimized for YouTube. Templates are often grouped into themes. 

Some common YouTube thumbnail templates are based on themes Like:

  • Music videos

  • How-to videos

  • Product reviews

  • Influencer posts

  • Personal vlogging

  • Live podcasts

  • Cooking shows

  • Travel videos

  • Exercise videos

  • Gaming walkthroughs

  • News shows

  • Best of / Top list videos

  • Comedy sketches

  • 1st-person “GoPro” clips 

  • Panel discussion shows

These templates are created by artists and designers. They do so with an eye for what makes a thumbnail stand out, and what aesthetic works best for what genre of video. For example, some fonts are more playful or serious than others. Some colors are meant to be inviting, whereas others might be shrouded in mystery.

Using thumbnail templates can save you a lot of time in managing your YouTube brand. Of course, templates are also customizable. And any changes you make to a template can be easily reused when making a new thumbnail.

 

What Should My Thumbnail Image Be in 2021?

People are always looking for the next trend or hot commodity. And that goes for finding the right thumbnails for your YouTube videos in the coming year. What's going to be hot and viral? And how can you ride those cultural waves when promoting your videos and YouTube channel?

Some style tips for the new year

Here's some advice at the level of form. Text in a thumbnail should be minimal. But if you do use text, big bold letters are better. In other words, fewer words, but bigger fonts. If you can go text-free, that's also hot right now. 

What's better is creating original logos and icons that your fans can recognize. This is communicating with images, more powerful than any string of graphemes.

Animated graphics seem to be more and more part of how we see the world. They're friendly and super inclusive. Maybe it's time we drop the vanity and stop using our own pictures to promote ourselves. Cartoons are catchier.

Regarding typography, there are a few things we can guess. Traditional serif fonts are due for a comeback. There's a sense of honesty and dependability in them that people are in need of right now. 

Depending on your channel, the color palette is also important. First off, don't neglect that whitespace. If not, take your time to consider color. Anything harsh or chemical-looking should be avoided (looking at you, Chartreuse, sorry).

Pastels are looking to be really in next year. They are great for education, ecommerce, edutainment and influencer channels. They are inviting and warm but also simple and non-threatening. 

On the other end of the spectrum are dark, high contrasting colors and neon schemes. These work well for web series, ARGs, and other creative experimental video production.

The right message for things to come

As for the content, well, 2021 just has to be better than 2020, right? Messages of hope and perseverance are going to be sorely needed. 

The image of the rainbow has been very strong as a symbol of hope. Children in cities and countries around the world have been painting them and hanging them in windows, for there will be light at the end of the storm. Candles will also be a strong image—the flame of hope. 

On the more technical side of things, it's likely 2021 will still have a lot of explaining to do for 2020. Data visualization will be important. Graphs and charts will remain part of our visual understanding of the world. Now is not the time for science to lock itself up in its ivory tower. So the message here is simplicity. If you use some sort of data visualization for your YouTube thumbnail, keep it minimal.

 

Conclusions: You Can Judge a Video by its Thumbnail

This might seem like a lot of information about something that amounts to a small image standing in for what's really important: your video content. Yes, we are aware of the saying: "don't judge a book by its cover." 

That can just as well be: "don't judge a video by its thumbnail." But that adage just doesn't cut it anymore. With so many videos on YouTube, and over 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, the importance of picking the right thumbnail is a crucial factor in getting those views, likes and coveted channel subs.

Of course, it's easy to follow the YouTube thumbnail best practices. Those are a matter of plugging in the correct specs for aspect ratio (16 x 9), resolution (1270 x 720), file format (JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP), and file size (2 MBs max). And heeding the YouTube community guidelines shouldn't pose too much of a problem.

After that, it's up to you how best to utilize the thumbnail to represent your videos and channels. We're sure there are some invaluable tips in this article regarding style, effect, text and colors. However, these are not supposed to be rigid rules.

One thing worth re-emphasizing: Remember that more than 70% of people watch YouTube videos from their smartphones or other mobile devices. So think small screens. Try out your thumbnail on your own phone to see how it looks.

In the end, consistency is king. However you decide to design your thumbnails, make sure all your decisions are intentional and purposeful. Your thumbnail selection shouldn't ape any random popular style and shouldn't hop from the latest trend to trend.  

That about wraps it up. We hope your YouTube game just got upped with all this hot knowledge about lil ol' thumbnails. Who knew such small images could be the gateway to YouTube success!

 

FAQ

What is the YouTube thumbnail size 2021?

The ideal size for a YouTube thumbnail is 1270 x 720 pixels. This maintains the aspect ratio of 16 x 9, which is perfect for YouTube thumbnails. No matter what, the width should be no less than 640 pixels. Less than that will result in poor image quality.

How do I change the thumbnail size on YouTube?

You cannot change the thumbnail size on YouTube. This is because YouTube has control over the shape and size of the image for how viewers will see it on the site. What you can do is upload a new thumbnail with a larger size that YouTube scales down.

Can YouTube thumbnails be 1920x1080?

A YouTube thumbnail image can have a resolution of 1920 x 1080, which is a high-definition resolution. However, as a thumbnail, it can be hard to see the quality of a 1920 x 1080 image. And you risk creating a file size larger than the 2 MB limit.

How do you get a full-size thumbnail on YouTube?

To get a full-size thumbnail on YouTube, make sure you follow the thumbnail best practices. Aspect ratio is the most important thing here: It should be 16 x 9. A ratio of 4 x 3 will not cover the total width of the screen.

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