Video thumbnails: size & how to make them

Thumbnails may be small, but they are mighty marketing tools.
Bar graph being selected as a thumbnail image for upload on the Biteable video maker digital interface.

In this guide, we’ll break down how to create a video thumbnail, how to change a YouTube thumbnail, and best practices for using video thumbnails to attract viewers to your content. Read on to see how simple it is to make a video thumbnail!

What is a video thumbnail?

A thumbnail is a small image or video that exemplifies larger content such as a video or article. Unsurprisingly, the term comes from the image being reduced to roughly the size of a human thumbnail. Viewers can surf through thumbnails and click on each postage-sized preview to expand the image or view the video. Thumbnails make for smaller, more easily viewable pages and allow viewers to better control what they want to see.

A screenshot of the youtube homepage featuring a variety of video thumbnails, including movie trailers, music videos, and educational content.

The best thumbnails hint at the contents of an article or video and draw the viewer in. Even if an internet user doesn’t watch the video, thumbnails add important context to the page by enticing searchers to click and find out more. Things move fast in today’s world; when viewers decide in a matter of seconds whether your video deserves attention, thumbnails are more important than you may have guessed.

Custom Video Thumbnail Maker

Many video channels will automatically select a thumbnail when you upload your content, but random selections can often be unsatisfying. A lot of the time, you can also select your own, so next we’re going to show you how to make your own thumbnail and/or change your YouTube thumbnail easily.

How to Make a Video Thumbnail

Making a video thumbnail is relatively straightforward. You can take a screenshot from your video that best explains its contents, or you can use a tool like Photoshop or Canva to overlay text or icons on the image. To make a screen capture on a PC, use the Windows Snipping Tool. For Mac users, hit Command+Shift+4 to select the part of your screen you want to capture. Pause your video on the image you want to capture, then copy and save it.

Keep in mind what you’re trying to accomplish by using a custom thumbnail. Your screen grab should be an image that will hint at the premise of the content and compel viewers to click to discover more. While it can feature text or branding, the most important thing to consider is whether it will look good on any device’s screen – mobile, desktop or tablet.

There are a few best practices to keep in mind when creating a video thumbnail. Size matters, so check the requirements for the platform you’re creating the thumbnail for, or it will look stretched, or will have white or black strips at the edges. Also, make sure your image is as large as possible within the guidelines.

YouTube Video Thumbnail Size & Aspect Ratio

The recommended Youtube thumbnail size is a resolution of 1280×720 pixels, and the file should be under 2MB. Otherwise, use a 16:9 aspect ratio, as it’s the most frequently used ratio for YouTube players and previews (1280×720 pixels is 16:9 aspect ratio).

How to Change a YouTube Video Thumbnail

Now that you’ve got a video thumbnail that matches your content, here’s how to change a YouTube thumbnail to the one you’ve just created.

1. Log in to YouTube and click on the “My Channel” section:

Partial screenshot of youtube interface showing menu options like 'home', 'my channel', 'trending', and 'subscriptions'.

2. Click on the “Video Manager” button located on the top of your YouTube profile. You’ll see it next to your view count.

A screenshot of a youtube channel page highlighting the "video manager" link with a mouse cursor.

3. Select the video you want to change the thumbnail for and then click the “Edit” button below it.

Screenshot of a video library with two videos listed, highlighting tutorial content and an event video.

4. Click the “Custom Thumbnail” button just below the auto-generated thumbnail options.

A screenshot of a youtube video editing page showing an instructional video titled "when to shoot in slow-mo on your smartphone" with various video details and editing options displayed.

5. Upload your custom thumbnail from whichever folder holds your new thumbnail image, and then click Open. This will upload your custom thumbnail to YouTube.

A screenshot of a computer interface showing a file dialog box with the "all files" option highlighted.

6. Don’t forget to click Save!

If you’re not sure if your new thumbnail is the best, you can always do a little A/B testing to make sure you’ve found the perfect screenshot.

Some Video Thumbnail Tips For Extra Clicks!

Regardless of your level of customization, always think of your thumbnail as a movie poster. Would you want to watch your video, based on this one image?


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