How To Make a YouTube Thumbnail – Easy & Free (UPDATED!)

Today we’re going to show you how to make an eye-catching YouTube thumbnail using our #1 recommended online thumbnail maker.

If you’re wondering how to get more views on YouTube, your thumbnails are an excellent place to start! YouTube thumbnails are one of the most important AND overlooked elements of YouTube optimization.

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Thankfully there are some awesome free thumbnail maker apps that will help you create a custom YouTube thumbnail design that gets the click! You don’t need to use complicated software like Photoshop to create professional looking YouTube thumbnail templates.

In this tutorial, we’ll cover how to make thumbnails WITHOUT Photoshop using a free & easy YouTube thumbnail maker app.

You’ll learn to create click-worthy YouTube thumbnails in no time!

Here’s exactly what we’ll cover:

Let’s get started.

Will a good thumbnail increase my YouTube video views?

Absolutely! You might have the world’s best YouTube video but if it doesn’t have a clickable video thumbnail, no one will click it and the video will get zero views.

That’s why you need to create stunning thumbnails that instantly grab your viewers attention.

How to take an eye-catching thumbnail image?

The first step to creating a clickable YouTube thumbnail is taking an awesome photo of yourself that can be used in your thumbnail picture.

Scrubbing through a video inside editing software
Don’t settle for a random freeze frame of you half smiling and not talking

Be intentional about taking a thumbnail image! You don’t want to scrub through one of your videos to try and find a freeze frame that looks half decent where you’re not talking and half smiling.

We’d recommend you leave the camera recording once you’ve finished filming a video and doing a few poses that can be used for your thumbnail then.

PRO TIP: Pull some funny faces, point or do something silly to really grab people’s attention.

Justin Brown posing for a thumbnail image
Try posing for thumbnail images after you finish filming

Then you just need to extract a still image from that recording. Most video editing software will let you do this. Or if you’re looking for a really fast and simple option, you can use a free tool called VLC Player.

It’s available on Mac and Windows. Just open your video file inside VLC, find the image that you want to capture, go to Video in the top menu and select Snapshot. Then the image will be saved to the Photos area of your computer.

VLC Player's Snapshot feature
You can take a snapshot in VLC Player that can be used as your thumbnail image

What is the perfect YouTube thumbnail size?

When selecting your YouTube thumbnail dimensions, we recommend going with a width of 1920 and height of 1080 pixels.

This is probably the biggest size you’d want to create your YouTube thumbnail in. The reason we recommend creating your thumbnail in a bigger file size is because then you can repurpose it in other places. So if you ask us, that is the ideal thumbnail size.

But if you want to go with something a bit smaller, you can use a width of 1280 and height of 720 pixels.

The ideal thumbnail dimensions
The perfect thumbnail size is 1920 x 1080

How can I make my own YouTube thumbnail templates?

You can create your own custom made YouTube thumbnail templates using our top recommended online thumbnail maker mentioned below!

What is our #1 recommended thumbnail maker app?

There are tons of great online YouTube thumbnail makers to choose from. The two best free YouTube thumbnail maker apps that we highly recommend are: Snappa and Canva.

Both of these options have great features and templates that make YouTube thumbnail design really easy for you.

But right now, our top pick for a free thumbnail maker is Canva. It has more templates and some awesome graphic design tools that Snappa doesn’t have just yet. So we’ll be running through this YouTube thumbnail tutorial using Canva.

PRO TIP: Canva’s not just a thumbnail maker, it also has a built-in YouTube Video Editor!

Inside Canva, you have two options when it comes to designing thumbnails: you can start with a customizable template or you can create a custom design from scratch.

To see the huge library of professional designed thumbnail templates, go to Canva and either log in or sign up for a free account.

If you type in ‘YouTube’ to the search bar, a bunch of options appear: YouTube banner, YouTube intro, YouTube thumbnail, etc.

Canva's YouTube thumbnail templates
There are tons of awesome YouTube thumbnail designs in Canva

Let’s select YouTube Thumbnails. You’ll see heaps of fully customizable options that you can use or even just look at for inspiration.

Keep in mind, anything that has a Crown icon in the bottom corner isn’t available on the free version. But there are so many options available on the free plan, you definitely don’t need to jump on a paid plan to find a solid template.

So it’s awesome that you have access to so many free templates in Canva but for this tutorial we’re going to show you how to create a totally custom thumbnail image.

How do I make a custom video thumbnail?

Inside Canva go to the top right corner and press Create a design. Select Custom size and enter in the thumbnail size details. Then click Create new design and you’ll be taken to the design area.

Canva homepage
Go to Create a design and select Custom size

Let’s start with a quick rundown of the Canva interface. The white rectangle is your blank canvas where your YouTube thumbnail design takes place.

In the left menu you can access:

  • Templates: If you decide to use a template for your thumbnail, you can select one here
  • Elements: This is where you’ll find graphic elements, stickers, shapes, stock photos & videos
  • Uploads: When you upload your own images and graphics, you’ll do it here
  • Text: Where you can add text, titles and view all the presets
  • Projects: You can access any previous projects here
  • Styles: Create your own style or access preset styles
  • Logos: If you’ve uploaded your logo, it will be stored here
  • Apps: Other apps that are integrated with Canva
Canva design tools and interface
Canva design tools and interface

Now let’s start designing.

In this tutorial we’re going to be re-creating the thumbnail you likely saw in the YouTube video above.

How to add a YouTube thumbnail background in Canva

The first thing we’ll do is add a YouTube thumbnail background. You can use your creativity here – maybe with a block color, pattern, gradient, etc. Start by going to Elements in the left menu.

One of the best features of Canva is the ability to search for whatever you’re looking for.

Search for Gradient in Canva's Elements tab
The ability to search for elements is super powerful

We want to add a gradient to the background so we just need to search ‘gradient’ in the search bar. Of course, there’s a ton of graphics to choose from so get creative with what you use here!

PRO TIP: Remember that anything with a Crown icon requires you to be on a Paid Plan.

Let’s select a gradient and drag it onto the canvas. You can resize it to fill the area by dragging the sides. Now we can get really customizable. You can adjust the two primary colors in gradient by selecting the Color icon in the top left of the canvas.

Adjusting block colors in Canva
You can easily customize the colors

How to add a thumbnail image in Canva

Once you’re happy with the background, the next step is to add an image.

Go to Uploads and either drop your image into the designated area or select Upload files.  

When the image is in the Uploads section, you can click on it to bring it into the canvas.

The Uploads section in Canva
You can upload any images, graphics, videos or other media

There are a couple of types of images you might want to include on a YouTube thumbnail.

We usually try to include an image of Justin doing something silly on the thumbnail to make it standout. It’s also a good idea to include an image of any products you’re talking about or a logo for a company you’re talking about.

Anything that will give your potential viewers a really solid idea of what your video will be about.

Primal Video's Streamyard tutorial thumbnail
Here’s an example of one of Primal Video’s YouTube thumbnails

There are often situations when you’d want to remove the background of your chosen image so you’re just left with the cut out.

There are lots of different ways you can do this. There are two top options we recommend: using the Background Remover tool in Canva (only available on Paid Plans) or using a free option available on iPhone.

To use Canva’s tool, make sure the image is selected and go to Edit image above the canvas. Select Background Remover and it will analyze the image before removing the entire background.

Canva's Background Remover tool
Canva’s Background Remover tool is super powerful

There’s also a really easy and free way you can do this using an iPhone. To do this:

  1. Open the image inside your Photo app
  2. Tap on the person in the image and you’ll see an outline around the figure
  3. Hit Share… and then Save Image
  4. You’ll see the image without a background in your Photo library
How to remove image background on iPhone for free
You can remove background for free on iPhone

Then you can share the image to your computer and upload it to Canva.

Both of these methods have the same end result, so it’s up to you which way you go.

An image of Justin with the background removed
Whichever tool you use, you’ll have the same end product

How to edit thumbnail image in Canva

Start by selecting the image you want to edit and then select Edit Image above the canvas.

From here you have a couple of options in the left menu:

  • Filters: These are the stock standard filters Canva has to offer
  • Photogenic: You’ll find more filters but these are a step-up from the regular filters (there are some great options here)
  • Adjust: These are your standard color correction tools – we recommend adjusting the Brightness, Contrast and the Warmth to start with but this comes down to personal preference
  • Other tools like Auto Enhance, Auto Focus, Auto Retouch, etc.
Image editing tools in Canva
There’s a range of tools you can use to edit images

How to add thumbnail text in Canva

For this thumbnail, we’re trying to make it look like Justin is holding a YouTube thumbnail within the thumbnail. So we’ll start by adding the thumbnail-shaped rectangle and then we’ll insert the text.

This is also something you can do in any type of thumbnail to make your text stand out. Adding a colored box behind your text can make it easier to read and more eye catching.

Go to Elements in the left menu. We’ll select a square shape with rounded corners and click to add it to the canvas. You can adjust the color by clicking the colored box just above the canvas.

Some other things you can customize here include:

  • Adding a border
  • Adjusting border weight
  • Changing corner rounding
Adjusting border weight on a rectangle
There’s so much you can customize inside Canva

Now that we’ve added that in, let’s add some text.

Go to Text in the left menu. Here you can choose from:

  • Regular text box
  • Heading
  • Subheading
  • Body text
  • Tons of really cool customizable presets
The Text tab in Canva
You can choose from a bunch of text and title options

It’s a good idea to use your brand fonts in your thumbnail to allow for brand consistency across your YouTube channel. There are tons of thumbnail fonts built-in but if your brand fonts aren’t available, you can upload your custom fonts when on the paid plan.

Click on Add a text box to add the title to your thumbnail. Then you can customize this up. You can adjust the:

  • Font
  • Size
  • Color
  • Bolding
  • Alignment
  • And more!
Text customization tools in Canva
Customize the text until it matches your branding

Once you’ve created one styled text box, you don’t need to start again from scratch. Just select the text box and hit the Duplicate button.

PRO TIP #1: To adjust the font size, you can either use the numbers in the top menu bar or you can click and drag on the text box.

PRO TIP #2: If you’re adding a colored box behind your text, it’s a good idea to group both elements together. This way if you need to move them, you don’t need to fiddle around with getting them in the right spot again. To do this, select one element and hold down Shift on the keyboard while you click on the other element. Click the Three Dots icon and select Group.

Canva's Group tool
Grouping elements together is super handy

How to add graphics to thumbnails in Canva

You can get really creative with your YouTube thumbnail design by adding graphics and elements. One thing we have in a lot of our thumbnails is a row of small dots. This has no purpose other than to make the thumbnail look more interesting!

To do this, you can start by adding one dot, resizing it and then hitting the Duplicate button. Continue doing this until you’re happy with the number and layout of the dots. Select them all, press the Three Dots icon and select Group.

Using Canva's Group tool to group the dots together
You can use the Group tool for any elements you want to remain together

Another thing we could do is add some right angles around the thumbnail to make it stand out. There is a Right Angle graphic available on the Paid Plan but you can easily recreate this using free graphics.

Go to Elements and add a basic line to the canvas. Position it where you want, make it the correct length and adjust the line weight until you’re happy with it.

Then Duplicate and position the second line at a 90 degree angle to the first one. Group the two lines together and then you duplicate the completed right angle for use across your thumbnail.

The final thumbnail design in Canva
This is the final product!

How to save thumbnails in Canva

Once you’re happy with the thumbnail, it’s time to save it.

In the top right corner select Share and then go to Download. You can choose a JPG or PNG – we like to go with JPG. Then select Download again. It will begin downloading, then specify where you want it to save and the thumbnail will be saved to your computer.

Downloading the thumbnail from Canva
Once your thumbnail is complete, download it to your computer

How to upload YouTube thumbnails?

Open YouTube and go to your YouTube Studio. Select Content in the left menu and click on the video you want to add it to.  

Scroll down to the Thumbnail section and select the Three Dots icon. Then press Change and you can select your newly designed thumbnail.

Changing the thumbnail on YouTube
Then you can add the thumbnail to YouTube

What is Canva’s pricing?

If Canva sounds like a good fit for your YouTube thumbnail design needs, you can check out the different plans below:

  • Canva Free
  • Canva Pro: $12.99/month (for one person only)
  • Canva Teams: $14.99/month (for 2-5 people)

You’ll save 16% if you go with the Yearly option instead of Monthly.

Canva pricing
The different Canva pricing plans

If you ask us, it’s incredible what you get access to in Canva for completely free!

While you do have access to a ton of stuff on the free version, you’ll be able to use even more powerful tools like the background remover, extra YouTube thumbnail templates and more storage if you jump on a paid plan.

You can see more about Canva’s pricing options here.  

Now you know how to make a YouTube thumbnail image that looks amazing and gets clicked!

Hopefully you can see why we think Canva is the top recommended online YouTube thumbnail maker right now. It allows you to quickly and easily design a custom thumbnail template that can be used for YouTube video thumbnails.

If you want to learn more about how you can get your videos showing up and performing on YouTube consistently, check out our FREE YouTube Ranking Guide.


Recommended Gear & Resources

Check out an up-to-date list of all the gear, software & tools we use and recommend right now at Primal Video on our resources page here!

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