How to create YouTube thumbnails that grab attention & help you stand out

In this article, we’re going to look at how to create YouTube Thumbnails (for free) that grab attention and help you stand out.

Often times the extra things that go into making YouTube videos get left out and get brushed over with some shoddy shortcuts. A common place where this occurs is in the thumbnail of videos. Which can lead to a great video, getting a horrible reception…

If you want your video to stand out from the crowd, you need to create a great first impression and that starts with your Thumbnail.

How to create amazing Thumbnails for YouTube

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Now don’t worry, if you’re like me and also use editing software like Photoshop, illustrator, etc. (or even free software like Gimp) I’m going to share with you 5 best practices and tricks to creating bold and attention-grabbing thumbnails easily.

How to create YouTube thumbnails that grab attention.

I use Canva and Photoshop for various graphics, I still prefer Canva for YouTube thumbnails though. The video tutorial below is a simple guide on how I implement the 5 best practices I am sharing with you today.

Canva is a web-based free graphic design tool. With powerful features, it’s a favorite tool for both professional and novice graphic designers… and it’s the perfect tool for YouTubers!

Related: How to set up your YouTube Channel

5 best practices for creating amazing YouTube thumbnails.

Once you’ve finished recording and editing your video, you should have a few ideas already on what your thumbnails should look like or what you may want to include… I.e. the basic outline of what your video is about & you should know any keywords you’re trying to rank for.

Once you’ve figured that out, it’s time to start designing. 😉

1. Check out the competition

When I say check out the competition, that doesn’t mean you should copy them. On the contrary, you’re looking for ways to make your thumbnail stand out from the rest of the videos on your topic.

The easiest way to do this is to search for the terms you want to rank for into google and then look at what is already ranking. Once you can see what is being used & how things are being used, you can implement contrasting colors to what is already there whilst using emotion & text to differentiate yourself from the rest of the results.

In the example used in the video above, the results for ‘travel in Paris’ provide thumbnails that all have a similar look and feel, with words that don’t stand out and busy images with greens and the Eiffel tower.

Sometimes it can be beneficial to include something to tie your thumbnail to the category, which is why I used an image of the Eiffel Tower as the main image, but I chose colors that were very different from the rest of the results which catches the eye and may result in my video being watched first opposed to the others.

2. Contrast

I touched on this slightly above, contrast-rich images grab attention more than flat pictures. By having an attention-grabbing image, you’re increasing your click-through rate automatically as people wouldn’t have even seen your thumbnail previously.

You can use contrast in adjusting the color of the image as I show you in the video above. A good rule of thumb is to boost up the contrast, saturation, and sharpness by approximately 25%. This may look off to you when viewing it at full screen, but when shrunk down to the size it is when a potential watcher sees it in their feed or search results, it will look fairly normal with an extra bit of pop!

Protip: Zoom out to 25% for a thumbnail size more similar to what your potential viewers may see. 😉

Related: How to optimize your YouTube videos today!

3. Bold & readable text

Text can be very important on a thumbnail if you’re doing reviews, teaching, etc. It helps show people what the video is about in a way that an image may not be able to do.

The same can be said though about other types of videos, where an image may be more than enough to capture people’s attention. This is something that you will have to decide on yourself though.

For a basic rule of thumb, vlog & personal-styled content is usually more image orientated, whereas business, review & searchable content tends to have more text on the thumbnail itself.

The best fonts are those that are legible (in most cases). If you use a script style as your brand font, however, and it converts & whilst still being readable, stick with that. Otherwise, use a legible, clear font.

I like to use block-style fonts with a heavier imprint, especially when bolded.

Use shapes behind your text to make them stand out further. This will make your fonts easier to read as there isn’t as much going on behind them to cause conflict & the colors will be solid (use contrasting colors, like red text on a white background, or yellow on blue, etc.).

4. Keep your words to a minimum

The size of a YouTube thumbnail is generally quite small when viewed on a mobile device or your desktop. It’s really quite rare that someone looks at YouTube thumbnails at their maximum resolution (normally when viewed on a large smart TV).

For this reason, pay more attention to what the majority of your audience will see. Which is the small screen… You’ll want to have your text as large as possible, with any other features prominently displayed within the small screen space.

Keep your words to a minimum & try not to write long sentences or paragraphs. Only include keywords or some attention-grabbing headlines to get potential viewers to watch your video. You can write as much as you want in the description (well almost, you can include up to 5000 characters in your YouTube descriptions).

By using fewer words, you’ll focus on more on your keywords whilst having more space to make the text or featured imagery larger.

Related: How to start a YouTube Channel on a budget.

5. Take intentional photos or pull frames from your video

How to create youtube thumbnails for free that stand out & grab attention

Sometimes you can’t find the perfect stock photo or the video you just filmed isn’t quite lighted well enough, or you don’t have a close-up you’d like to use, etc. There can be a number of reasons why you cannot find the right image for your thumbnail. This is why it’s generally better to plan to take a photo for your thumbnail either before, during, or after recording your video.

This will normally result in a better-quality image. Not just because of the higher pixel count, but also because you can change settings and edit for a one-off photo a lot easier than if you tried to edit a JPEG pulled from your video.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pull frames from your video though. As I mentioned earlier, there are some occasions where having no text could be better than including text, like with some vlogs. The same can go for taking intentional photos, sometimes the moment passes by so fast that you do not have the time to set up and capture it. In which case a frame from your video will do nicely.

These frames can also do another bonus of providing a form of proof of what the video contains, which can increase your click-through rate.


These have been 5 best practices on how to create YouTube Thumbnails that grab attention. You should play around and test which words & emotions get the best response from your audience & in your niche. Use these best practices along with those results to create more engaging and popping thumbnails.

Now I’ve got a question for you, which programs do you use to create your YouTube Thumbnails? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them below.