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YouTube thumbnails are the book covers of the online video world. Our decision whether to click on a video often comes down to its thumbnail: an eye-catching image draws us in, while a boring or blurry one puts us off. So what does it take to create a thumbnail that seals the deal?

YouTube’s default thumbnails

When you upload a video, YouTube gives you three thumbnail choices once the video has finished processing. Unfortunately, they’re pulled randomly from your video, so you have little control over the choices—and often, they’re not so pretty. Exhibit A:

badthumbnail
Is this really what you want viewers to see on your channel?

Easy-breezy custom thumbnails

Custom thumbnails can really boost viewership. If you want to keep things simple, just manually choose a still from your video. Here’s how:

  • Pick a frame: In your operating system of choice (or on YouTube), open up your video and scrub to the specific still in your video that you’d like to use for a thumbnail.
  • Take a screenshot: Some video editing applications let you save still images—or you can use your operating system’s shortcut:
    • Mac: Command + Shift + 4, then use your mouse to drag a frame around the area you wish to screenshot. The image will save to your desktop.
    • Windows: Windows key + Print Screen.
  • Upload: Once you’ve chosen a still image, upload it to YouTube via the Edit Video page.

Even the simple step of choosing your own frame is a big improvement.
screenshotthumb

Making it pop

If you’re good with image editing software like Photoshop, try a few more things to make your thumbnail stand out.

  • Size it properly: Design your thumbnails at standard video sizes. 1280×720 or 1920×1080 are pretty standard—any smaller and your thumbnails may look blurry.
  • Add text: Many viewers look at a video’s thumbnail before they read the actual text title. Try including the video title on your thumbnail to help drive views.
  • Add a border: A border around your thumbnail can also catch viewers’ attention. Just don’t make it too thick, or it’ll limit what you’re able to display in the thumbnail.
  • Change the background: Many top video creators change their thumbnail backgrounds to solid colors to catch viewers’ eyes and bring attention to the main subject.
  • Test it first: Remember that your thumbnail will often be displayed at a small size. When you’re designing, zoom out to make sure your thumbnail still looks good when it’s sized down.

Fullscreen’s Thumbnailer

Want an even easier solution? Fullscreen creators can use the Thumbnailer feature on our Creator Platform app for iOS to choose a great still image for your thumbnail, add text, filters, borders, and more! If you aren’t a Fullscreen creator yet, join today.

Now get started on your next thumbnail and watch the views roll in!

Follow Howard @Pinsky on Twitter!