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YouTube Tips Tips & Suggestions for Making Thumbnails (Beginner & Intermediate level)

MattCommand1

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In recent weeks, I've found myself being repetitive on the issue of thumbnails. So, I decided to put up my own thread on what tips and suggestions I would make to a beginner. Please keep in mind that my tips & suggestions that this is my opinion at this time based on my own observations, experiences, preferences, and biases. It is by no means an absolute guide. If you are a beginner and uncertain how to create thumbnails, this post can serve as a starting point.

I invite other tips & suggestions for thumbnails to this discussion thread because there may be points I missed.

1. Before making a thumbnail, study and observe other people's thumbnails and see what style attracts or repels you as a viewer. It will guide your style.

2. Before you make a video, do Youtube searches on the topic you are going to do a video on. This will give you an idea of what your video and thumbnail are going up against. For example, my research on air-conditioning repair, heating repair, and appliance repair videos have notoriously horrible thumbnails. It's not hard to stand out against them. However, that same standard/style of thumbnail may not work well with other genres like luxury products and luxury services. The point is one style does not fit all.

3. There are no absolute rules for thumbnails on YT but this one is about as close as they come. Thumbnails must be readable and viewable on mobile phones! Every thumbnail should be designed with mobile viewing in mind! The majority of video views nowadays come from phones, not someone sitting in front of a computer screen. A thumbnail that is viewable on a desktop monitor may not be readable or viewable on a phone! Common thumbnail misfires here are:
a. Too small font​
b. Too small face image​
c. Too small objects being shown​
d. Too much text​
e. Poor lighting and contrast​

We have some younger Youtubers with perfect vision who can read tiny lettering and see tiny images with no problems. But people over 45 start to have their reading vision diminish over time. There are Youtubers who will be okay with disregarding the over-45 audience. But they are also the people who have a lot of spending power depending on your topic and they tend to be less fickle in trend changes. If you want more views, you may want to be mindful of vision challenges that occur with 45-years old and up.

4. Make thumbnails that POP. This is somewhat subjective and lots of ways to make thumbnails POP. Some suggestions are:

a. Use high-contrast colors to differentiate one element from another. For example, Yellows are bright and pop against almost any color such as black, blue, violet, and red background.​
b. Use a background remover to put focus on a particular subject or object.​
c. Put a halo effect around the subject or object.​
d. If you are going to use a photo or video image in a thumbnail, boost the brightness, contrast, and color saturation. You are "exaggerating" the visual brightness and colors to make it stand out. It is generally NOT going to look natural. Again, this is not recommended in all contexts. If you are trying to show beautiful nature photography, you don't want to do this.​
e. Use LESS TEXT. Find the central theme and idea of your video and emphasize the word or phrase. Thumbnails should complement and enhance the title, not a substitution for the title. With less text, you can blow up the size more. Some people fill up the screen with a couple of central words.​
f. Use more FACE, less BODY. This one is context-sensitive. People are visually generally drawn to faces whether they be people or animals. FACEs are used by some of the most successful Youtubers because they work. Lots of people want to get in the shoulders and torso. Most of the time, the shoulders and torso don't do much. Netflix uses faces in their thumbnails. Netflix studies its viewership data intensely. For beginners, no need to reinvent the wheel. Use your FACE.​
g. Create energy & motion in your thumbnails. We can't animate thumbnails but we can tilt or flip text, elements, icons, objects, and images. We can incorporate high-contrast, swooping or swooshy arrows to emphasize things. Show fire, explosions, lightning, which imply energy. Again, this one is context-sensitive and not suitable for every style. I've seen some outstanding fonts and lettering effects to do a similar thing.​

5. Beware the 1-second rule. Will a viewer instinctively understand your thumbnail in less than 1 second? This one is REALLY REALLY tough. People will react and click instinctively without consciously knowing why. This is why SIMPLICITY & CONCISENESS and COLORS matter. This is why all my prior points were written. It is to fulfill the 1-second rule. People aren't going to thoroughly read or analyze your thumbnail. They will simply react by clicking or bypassing your thumbnails.

6. Understand the 3-zones of a thumbnail. Generally, the 3 zones of a thumbnail are the left, center, and right. People tend to read/see from left to right and top to bottom. AS you put up text, icons, images, and other elements, be mindful of the 3-zones. It is "natural" for people to focus on the central area so, a particular object might be placed in the center to draw attention to it. Faces are either in the center or off to the side depending on the emphasis.

7. Beware the bottom right corner of a thumbnail. The "length of video" display often blocks the bottom right corner of a thumbnail. I see text blocked by this pretty frequently because creators aren't being mindful of this YT blocked area.

8. Beware the thumbnail edges. Because thumbnail space is so limited, it is tempting to push text, icons, and other elements right to the edges. Unless it is a background image or you are intentionally doing it for effect, you generally want to avoid placing text, icons, and elements at the edge of a thumbnail.

9. Sometimes the best thumbnail is just one well-taken photo! In this long quagmire that I just wrote, sometimes it is appropriate to simply use a well-taken photo for a thumbnail. No text, no icons, no enhancements, etc. Sometimes, the simplicity of one strategic well-taken photo is the best choice. The reason why this works is because of its SIMPLICITY. The image could say everything you need to get someone to click your video. Not every thumbnail requires elaborate design work. I would venture to say that the one well-taken photo might be the hardest one of them all. But I know there are videography and photo enthusiasts that might want to use this thumbnail style because of their innate talents.

10. Remember, change on YouTube is constant. Youtube continues to evolve and creators evolve. Culture, styles, and design preferences change. The YT of 5-years ago isn't the same as today. Going back 10-years and even 15-years, it was even more different. I know, I was there. But I had to throw what little I knew out and get with TODAY's YT sensibilities. We as creators are part of that. Be prepared to change or evolve your thumbnails in the next few years if you want to keep your library relevant.

I may add or edit this in the future. But for now, It pretty much covers everything I have to say on thumbnails. Credit to Derral Eves and his community for being a strong influence of my current thumbnail preferences.
 
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Stanley | Team TB

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This is exquisite and very important information. You can not over-stress the importance of thumbnails. And so often people think that 'good' means 'skilled' or 'talented.'

It doesn't.

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Look at the example above. One of these thumbnails took hours for a graphic artist to put together. They pushed the limits of what they were capable of by layering as many different layers into the thumbnail as possible. The other thumbnail is simply a photograph.

Regardless of niche which one of these creates more intrigue? Which one do you want to know more about? When we talk about 'improving thumbnails' we don't mean improving your photoshop skills (though that can help). What we mean is that you need to learn to develop intrigue. You need your thumbnail to compel someone to click.
 
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MattCommand1

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You provided a good example from gaming channel thumbnails. Although I really don't follow gaming channels and weren't thinking about gaming channels, your example checks off so many boxes of most of my suggestions for thumbnails.

1. POPs with color and high contrast.
2. Not too much text
3. 3-zones
4. A character "face"
5. Mobile viewable
6. Avoid edges and lower right.
7. Prominent elements
 

ScarTV

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Amazing writeup! Thank you so much for this :) One thing to always remember when making a thumbnail, it never hurts to get opinions from others. Just because you think something looks amazing doesn't mean it is. Likewise, if you think a thumbnail you make isn't great, still get opinions on it! You might be stressing too much and overthinking it, and that thumbnail that's "bad" to you is actually great. If you don't know where to ask for feedback, the #yt-thumbnails channel in the TubeBuddy Discord is a great start.

In case someone has an image where they need the background removed, but don't possess the best Photoshop skills to do it (like me), you can use the background remover from PhotoRoom. I've used it for a while and it's so useful.
 

Christina White

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Very helpful! Super thx for sharing :D Rly inspire me (the YT newbies) a lot. Taking a look at these tips before editing is a wise decision :)

People truely prefer to use YT on mobile phones much these days XD.

Btw, I plan to use Fotor to create YT thumbnails and remove background. Perhaps the tool helps others as well.
 

LeylaMango

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I am the beginner right now, and I can say, this is great advice.
Oh, and if I had to give some of my own advice to someone newer than me? I would say "there's tons of great photo editing software out there. Make sure you find a good one that won't limit you."
 

Jamessmithbloger

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Amazing information! Thank you so much for this. The points mentioned are helpful for making thumbnail such as to make images

  • Viewable on mobile
  • Use Background Remover
  • Use Appropriate Font Size
  • Use Eye catching colors
  • Avoid Edges
For professionals they can use photoshop or illustrator. If you are not aware of such tools i would highly recommend to use freebackgroundremover for removing the background and canva for small edits.