The Easiest Way To Make A Custom YouTube Thumbnail

Matt Philie / July 27, 2017

If you want people to click on your video then you know how important it is to have an eye catching thumbnail that gets viewers attention. One of the best tips I have ever heard was from Monica Church who suggested creators plan their thumbnail and title before even recording their video. This not only helps narrow down the main idea but it gives you the ability to capture the perfect base image to use.


When I say base image I am basically referring to the photo you start with that you apply edits to as well as add overlays, etc. In most cases, creators end up taking a screenshot from their video to use. The problem with this is that most people are literally capturing a smaller resolution version which hurts the quality. If you plan on grabbing a still from your video, make sure you do it within your editing software to ensure you get the full resolution photo. There is nothing wrong with posing in your unedited video for a thumbnail as long as you properly capture the still.


Personally, I recommend you use an actual camera. Example: If you use a DSLR to record your videos then just simply put a timer on it and take some photos. You’ll have higher quality images to work with which will be helpful if you need to make any cuts or crop anything out. With a still frame, you are stuck with (in most cases) a 16:9 image that leaves little to no options for re-positioning.

Base Image

I will be using this image of Cinderella’s castle as my base image. My thumbnails purpose is to make viewers know my vlog is all about Disney World. Nothing too specific about Disney though, just that my vlog takes place there. Sometimes it is better to be more specific but for a place like this, it’s OK since it is so well known.

Once you have your base image ready to go, it’s time to open your preferred software or website. This part is completely up to you and what you are comfortable with. For some people, Photoshop is too expensive or complex and that is fine. You do not need any expertise to create the perfect thumbnail. You can easily choose one of the free online editors and you’ll be good to go! You can check Google for all of the different options out there but this example I will be using Canva.


When it comes to their thumbnail template, I would honestly avoid it only because thumbnails really have no structure so it’s not necessary and plus, they are using 1280 x 720 for the image size which is fine but now YouTube accepts even larger sizes. I recommend 1920 x 1080 as it’s the ideal size so your thumbnail will always look good, even when scaled down. If you see a template you like though, definitely use it!


To get started, click the Use Custom Dimensions button and input 1920 x 1080 px. From here, simply click Uploads and drag your base image in. Be sure to have something large in this image that will be the main focus, whether it be a person, an object, whatever it may be – just make sure it looks good when it’s resized all over YouTube.


Next step is important! Click the Filter button at the top left and play around with all the options, including Advanced Options. In most scenarios I suggest adding some contrast to help the image pop but each thumbnail is different. Sharpening the image also helps with detail when resized: to apply that, drag Blur to the left.


Now it’s time for the title! Rather than just using the Text tool, check out the Elements section. There are tons of colored and non colored options that are customizable that you can use. You may have actually seen a lot of creators use these exact templates for their thumbnails. Some elements don’t have text like shapes and lines and you can put these behind plain text to spice it up. A new trend seems to be placing emojis in your thumbnail that match the mood of your video but at times, it can seem a bit unnecessary.


It’s important to mention that text needs to be large in order to be easy to read but at the same time, you don’t want to take over the whole thumbnail and cover your base image. Try your best to find the balance. On the bottom right you can use zoom out to 10% to get an idea of how your thumbnail will look in most places on YouTube. If you think your text isn’t easy to read then keep making adjustments.


And just like that, your thumbnail is finished! Click the Download button on the top right to get your image. PNG files are better as long as it doesn’t exceed the maximum file size which is currently 2MB. It seems that Canva exports big file sizes though like the one for this tutorial which was 3.41MB total. You can use sites like to meet the file size requirement. Just confirm that you don’t see a big difference between the original and compressed image. My compressed photo is now under 1MB and looks very similar! You could also just save the image as a JPG via Canva to save yourself time.


Thanks to Canva and similar services you can quickly whip up some high quality thumbnails with ease. Every service has their pros and cons so be sure to research. If you want more control then try to watch some basic tutorials on Photoshop or similar programs like Gimp. You’ll be glad you did!


If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Photo in thumbnail: Oct 03, 2016. Copyright 2016 The Walt Disney Company.