How to Make the Most Effective YouTube Thumbnails

The most important thing to keep in mind while designing a thumbnail is that its main purpose is to incite curiosity in the contents of the video. Even if the design of the thumbnail is ‘poor’ if the concept is solid it can be extremely effective.

A lot of designers make the mistake of thinking that min-maxing the hue saturation and levels on the thumbnails will make the thumbnail more effective and sure it can help but it can also be incredibly detrimental in properly portraying the story behind the thumbnail and thus the clickbait's efficacy.

What we've found is that people don't really care about how pretty a thumbnail looks unless it's a specific niche where the beauty of the thumbnail is the clickbait:

 
李子柒 Liziqi The Stay At Home Chef


To clarify, it is not 100% thumbnails that drive CTR (click-through rate). Titles are just as important at inspiring curiosity in the person viewing your thumbnail and being able to synchronize the title with the thumbnail well is incredibly important but that's a whole different topic and would require another post to cover. Let me know if you guys are interested in that.

Our Thumbnail Philosophy

Would it be more effective to target people that already know the person that you're making the thumbnail for or are you targeting unique viewers? For example, you've got a huge opportunity to make a video really appeal to a lot of people because Destiny is talking to Ben Shapiro and you know this video is going to get a lot of eyes. How do you capitalize off this?

Well firstly, where is the surplus of audience going to be coming from? Most likely from Ben Shapiro's followers or people that know Ben Shapiro since he has a relatively larger audience as of right now. So we can assume that in the best case scenario, most people that watch this video are going to have 0 clue who Destiny is. Therefore, we can assume that having him in the thumbnail isn't going to be a large contributor to the traffic on this video. Sure, it increases the likelihood that Destiny's audience would click on a video like this but those aren't the unique viewers we're looking for to drive growth.

 
Thumbnail #1 Thumbnail #2 Thumbnail #3

Of course, you also have to take into consideration the conversion value of Ben Shapiro's audience. Even if the audience is 10 times bigger, it does not mean it will convert 10 times better. In this case, given the relatedness of the two audiences (both focused on politics, both have similar demographic followings, etc) we can assume that we'll have decent conversions targeting his audience.

Aspects of Thumbnails

Background

Not much to say here. You can grab a relevant image, blur it, distort it, drop RGB separation on it, etc. Since the viewer is not going to be squinting to try and see what’s going on behind the 2 biggest subjects in your composition, the most important thing will come down to the colors being used here.

Proportion & Composition

Lots of resources on this online. This is perhaps one of the most important things to learn in order to create huge advances in your thumbnail design immediately. We recommend sticking to the rule of thirds most of the time. It'll force you to position and size things in an appropriate way.

Composition is usually made out of primarily 2 things: the subject and the text. This isn't always the case especially with certain niches (cooking, wilderness, aesthetic-focused things, etc.) but it's usually the case.

These are your primary selling points on the thumbnail, you want the viewer to see them first. So, they should be sized in a way to leave as little negative space (the background) as possible.

Sometimes the 2 main objects alone aren’t enough to fill the negative space. In these situations you can use sub-objects to fill in and balance the composition.

A few things to note in this thumbnail:

  • Overlapping the text over the main subject to increase the size.
  • Use of relevant subjects to fill in the negative space above the text.
  • The background can be anything, what’s important is the texture and color.
  • The main subject, is positioned 2/3rds above and 2/3rds to the right (from the middle of the eyes).
  • The subject is sized such that his face is clearly visible and is competing with the text for thumbnail real estate.

Rule of Thirds - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMjvvltQpmw

Here is a thumbnail that features common proportion mistakes we see often and how we'd fix them.

 
Before After

Colors

For colors, I would stick with only using primary and secondary colors in a complementary harmony with the main subject. That is, colors that are across from each other on the color wheel. I would only stick with complementary harmony until you begin to experiment a lot and see what works with what. Using sites like these https://www.sessions.edu/color-calculator/ is super helpful in both learning which colors work best with which and inspecting why certain color layouts work on thumbnails.

Complementary harmony example:

Split complementary harmony example:

    Typography

    The two most important things to focus on here are the font and colors used.

    Usually thumbnail designers like to use boxy font. That is, the width of the text will be equal to or almost equal to the length.

    Highlighting certain words and phrases with complimentary colors can be an extremely effective way to bring attention to critical information.

    I’d recommend using Montserrat primarily to start but you can pick out any sans serif font you like. https://www.dafont.com/ is a good resource for getting new fonts.