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A Perfect Video Thumbnail for YouTube and Beyond

Video is a powerful medium. But your video only succeeds if someone hits play. How do you convince someone to choose your video when there are billions at their fingertips? An engaging thumbnail image can help. Whether you’re posting to YouTube, social media, or your own website, these simple tips will help you make a perfect video thumbnail.

  • Create your own (avoid auto-select!)
  • Use text and a creative headline
  • Optimize your video for SEO

What Is A Video Thumbnail?

A thumbnail is a still image that’s visible before you click play. It can be a pre-selected frame from the video or a customized image that you upload to feature as the title frame. The thumbnail isn’t defined within the video file. Instead, it is selected either by you or by the hosting platform. We recommend choosing your own thumbnail image wherever possible.


This is your first impression. Don’t leave it to chance. Your thumbnail is your one shot to grab users’ attention so they can’t help but click. Don’t just upload your video and hope. Select (or make) a thumbnail that demands attention.

Choosing An Thumbnail for Animated Video

Choosing a video thumbnail for animation can be tricky. Some sequences look great when they’re in motion, but don’t stand alone as a static image. Animators also use techniques, like smear frames that look awkward out of context.

To choose a thumbnail from an animated video. Flip through frame-by-frame to spot the moment when the action is particularly captivating. You’re looking for tension or anticipation. Most often, this is the magic moment just before something happens.

Making Your Own Video Thumbnails

Sometimes the right video thumbnail will jump out at you. Other times it won’t. If you’re struggling to find the right image, you can always create your own. Free content creation tools like Canva or Adobe Spark can help you get started.

Just remember to stay true to the tone and style of your video. Your thumbnail image should feel like a natural extension of your video, giving viewers a sneak peek at what they’ll see if they click.

If you spend a few minutes on YouTube, you’ll notice that many creators use thumbnails with text overlay to help viewers understand what the video is about at a glance. I

Writing Video Thumbnail Headlines

You don’t have to use the full title of your video in your thumbnail image. Use text to make your thumbnail more informative, while still leaving some room for mystery.

Here’s an example of three different videos with text overlays in the thumbnail images. You’ll notice the headlines along the bottom of the video differ slightly from those on the thumbnail image, but they tell a similar story.

It takes some extra thought to condense your headline down to a readable length in a thumbnail, so don’t get discouraged if you have to spend some time on this. The key is to start with a short, snappy title. The recommended length for a YouTube title is 70 characters. But that might be too many for a thumbnail image.

Ted-Ed does a great job at overlaying bite-sized text headlines onto their thumbnail images.

Design-wise, all of these text overlays share similar features:

  • Bold fonts
  • Contrasting colors
  • Titles covering 50 percent or less of the image

Make sure your title text is relevant and large enough to read easily. Don’t let text overpower the image. Striking the right balance between imagery and text invites viewers to click.

Video Thumbnails And SEO

Videos can help improve your rank in search engines, increase engagement, and boost SEO. Pundits continue to debate whether click rate is one of the signals that Google uses to rank your content. Some put it among the most important factors while others claim it doesn’t play a role. But what we know for sure is that a good thumbnail invites more clicks, which means more people see your content.


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