YouTube Thumbnail Design – The Ultimate Guide

Your thumbnail’s #1 job, which it shares with your title, is to put a burning question in the mind of your viewer.

Not just a question, but a burning question. A question that must be answered.

This is what will cause a person to click.

I used to spend time staring at my thumbnails, convincing myself that specific elements of that thumbnail were important. I’ve since learned: If you have to convince yourself that a part of your thumbnail is compelling, other people will not care.

A thumbnail’s imagery should hit you like a ton of bricks immediately. Your audience is scrolling through dozens of thumbnails at a time on the home page.

Your thumbnail must catch their eye and create a burning question in a split-second.

  • Thumbnails are like stamps and flags; they are normally viewed at quite a small size. Make sure everything in your thumbnail is clear and easily recognizable.
  • Don’t mirror your title text in your thumbnail. If the thumbnail is going to contain text, make it complement the title text. Mirroring the text is a missed opportunity.
  • Don’t use too many words in a thumbnail if you are going to use text. Try to keep it under 5 words; otherwise, things get crowded and people won’t stop and take the time to read your text.
  • Faces are extremely powerful in thumbnails.
  • Recognizability + novelty = the winning combo. (Why do you think franchise movies and sequels are so successful? It’s something you’re familiar with, along with an injection of novelty.)
  • Make many variations of your thumbnail. Your best ideas often won’t come out until you’ve executed on a few crappier ones.

Run all your thumbnails through ThumbsUp:

Thumbs Up – Standard

This tool shows you what your title and thumbnail will look like at all the different sizes on YouTube – Home Page, sidebar, mobile app, etc.

Too YouTubers make the mistake of designing thumbnails on huge monitors. They fill their thumbnails with tiny details that no one will notice when the thumbnail is shrunken down the the size of a postage stamp.

About the Author

My name is Thomas Frank, and I'm a Notion-certified writer, YouTuber, and template creator. I've been using Notion since 2018 to organize my personal life and to run my business and YouTube channel. In addition to this formula reference, I've created a free Notion course for beginners and several productivity-focused Notion templates. If you'd like to connect, follow me on Twitter.

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Fill out the form below and I’ll answer as soon as I can! ~Thomas

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Fill out the form below and I’ll answer as soon as I can! ~Thomas