What makes an effective YouTube thumbnail?
James Cresswell gravatar avitar

What makes an effective YouTube thumbnail?

Author: James Cresswell | Posted on: 16 September 2021

First impressions are always important, and yet – when releasing a video – it’s very possible to overlook one of the first things that a viewer will see when engaging with your content. To someone who is browsing on YouTube or scrolling through social media, a thumbnail image could be the thing that drives them to click and watch your video.

So, what are a few of the key considerations to keep in mind when designing a thumbnail for your video?

YouTube thumbnail

Keep it consistent with your brand

Creating a sense of continuity across your video thumbnails can be a great way of asserting your brand’s visual identity. Looking at the thumbnails in our “Latest Videos” YouTube playlist, for example, you can see that they’re all essentially variations on a theme – there’s a large text title, a central image illustrating some key aspect of the video, and some smaller text stating the type of video in a lower corner. It’s a simple design that gets important information across without any visual clutter.


This is particularly effective because, as you build a library of content, your audience can instantly recognise a new video from you. It’s also very easy to implement: when working on branded elements for clients, we’ll request assets and information about preferred colour schemes, and – from that – we can design a template in PhotoShop that can easily form the basis for new thumbnails.

Make it eye-catching

Because the thumbnail is often the first thing the user sees, it’s important to think about how you can catch the eye with your design. What this doesn’t mean is using “clickbait” tactics that use sensationalism or misleading information to attract viewers: as YouTube themselves note in their Creator Academy:

“This sort of stuff can turn away viewers and hurt your chances of being recommended to new viewers. [...Even] if your video has these things and [don’t cross Community Guidelines], it can still live on YouTube. However, the video may be less likely to be recommended to new audiences, and it may rank lower into recommendations and other areas.”

Instead, the key should be to find an image that encapsulates the content of the video. For example, look at the thumbnail below for a video that we worked on with Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery. The top-down image presents a broad look at the work being produced by the School’s students – highlighting the precision, care, and attention to detail that is required of them.

School of Jewellery thumbnail

Get the specs right

Of course, when doing all of this; it’s important to make sure that you keep to the optimal specifications. As outlined on the YouTube Help Centre, these recommended specs are as follows:

  • An image resolution of 1280 x 720

  • A file size under the 2MB limit, in a standard image format (JPG, GIF, PNG)

  • A 16:9 aspect ratio, as is the most-used in YouTube players and previews.

One final key consideration should be to ensure that it looks as good on a small mobile screen as it does on the computer you’re using to edit the thumbnail image. When editing, it’s a good idea to zoom the image out so you can see whether the information is still clear and coherent in a shrunken down form.

As well as shooting and editing video, we are also well-equipped for designing images and graphics for video thumbnails or as assets for animation projects. If you’d be interested in working with us, or learning more about how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via our contact page.

Author: James Cresswell

James Cresswell gravatar avitar
James is our copywriter and social media manager here at Ember Television. He joined us after studying an MA programme in Film and Television: Research and Production at the University of Birmingham.
What makes an effective YouTube thumbnail?



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