YouTube thumbnails are one of the most important elements of YouTube optimization. You could have the world’s best video, but if no one selects the video in the search results or suggested feed, you’ll get no views and zero traction!
Luckily, it’s possible to use a free YouTube thumbnail maker for quick and easy thumbnail creation.
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Using our recommended tool for making a custom YouTube thumbnail is a great way to instantly grab your viewers’ attention, drive more clicks and views to your content, and improve your YouTube ranking.
In this guide, we’ll run through a full custom YouTube thumbnail tutorial, giving you complete insight on how to create thumbnails for YouTube – for free! This works with both Mac & PC, so no matter which platform you’re using, you’ll learn how to make a YouTube custom thumbnail the quick and easy way!
How to Make a Custom YouTube Thumbnail: Step-by-Step Guide
Before getting into the steps for how to make custom thumbnails, it’s important to stress that you don’t need access to complicated apps or software. If you’re well-versed in tools like Photoshop, then go for it, but there are easier and faster ways to create your YouTube thumbnail.
One of our favourite tools for creating thumbnails is Snappa. Canva used to be our go-to choice, but we’ve found that Snappa has more powerful design options. Best of all, it’s easy to use and completely free!
Snappa makes it easy to create thumbnails like these for YouTube
We also recommend Placeit, a service that’s great for creating logo animations, animated text, video intros, and – you guessed it – custom thumbnails. If you’re already using Placeit or you’re interested in creating animated graphics, this is an awesome place to do it.
But for now, we’ll be referring to Snappa for this tutorial and covering the following steps on how to make thumbnails for YouTube videos:
- How to Take a YouTube Thumbnail Photo
- How to Take a Snapshot from a Video for Your Thumbnail
- How to Make a YouTube Thumbnail on Snappa
- How to Create a Thumbnail from Scratch on Snappa
- How to Make a Transparent Background for Your Thumbnail
- How to Add Text on a Thumbnail in Snappa
- How to Add Logos & Pictures to a YouTube Thumbnail
- How to Add a Thumbnail to YouTube
Even if you’re using another tool for creating your thumbnails, feel free to follow along with the steps below. For the most part, the same process applies across the board, so if you’re ready to learn how to make a YouTube thumbnail, let’s get started!
How to Take a YouTube Thumbnail Photo
The very first thing you’ll need to create a custom YouTube thumbnail is a photo. The photo contained within your thumbnail needs to help your viewers make a snap decision on whether or not the video is for them.
If you’re going to be the main attraction of the videos, using images of yourself is a great starting point. For product reviews, the photo could be of you pointing to or holding the product you’ll be reviewing.
Taking photos of yourself – like the one here – is a great way to capture a viewer’s attention
It’s best to take several shots with different facial expressions and gestures, so pose for a few quick photos before jumping across to the computer to create the thumbnail. You can also use video footage and take snapshots, which we’ll cover next.
How to Take a Snapshot from a Video for Your Thumbnail
If you’re collecting your photos from a prerecorded video, it’s time to move on over to your computer and open up VLC Player. VLC is a media player that’s free for both Windows and Mac. Using this tool is a super simple way to get some snapshots from a video.
VLC Media Player is a great tool for capturing photos from your existing video footage
With your video footage open in the VLC media player, find the frames containing the poses you want to use. Pause VLC on a specific pose, choose Video on the menu bar, and select Snapshot. This allows you to save out video footage as images to use in your thumbnails.
Once you’re happy with the snapshots you’ve collected, decide on the one that you want to use as your thumbnail photo.
How to Make a YouTube Thumbnail on Snappa
Now that you’ve got your photo all figured out, head to Snappa.com and either log in to your existing account or create a new one. If you visit the pricing page, you’ll see that there are paid versions of Snappa, but for our purposes, the free version works great.
With a free Snappa account, you’ll get access to 5,000+ templates, tons of graphics, and 3 downloads per month
Once you’ve logged in, here’s what to do to start creating your thumbnail:
- Click on My Dashboard located at the top menu bar, which will take you to the Create a Graphic page
- Select the YouTube Thumbnail option located under the Social Media Posts category
- You’ll be redirected to a page with tons of high-quality thumbnail templates – yes, that means you don’t have to start your thumbnail from scratch!
- If you prefer to use a premade template, select one that you feel will work well for your channel/brand.
- Start editing and customizing the thumbnail template. Snappa makes it easy to change the colors, fonts, sizing, text, etc.
If you want to use a template for your thumbnail, click YouTube Thumbnail under Social Media Posts
How to Create a Thumbnail from Scratch on Snappa
Even though using a template is an amazing way to save some time (you can create a thumbnail in mere minutes!) making a thumbnail from scratch might be a better option for you.
Ideal Sizing for a YouTube Thumbnail
One of the perks of creating a thumbnail from scratch on Snappa is that you have more control over the image sizing.
To select the higher quality size, go back to the Create a Graphic page. Instead of selecting the YouTube Thumbnail option, which has a resolution of 1280x720p, you can input your custom pixel count. We recommend selecting 1920x1080p under Custom Graphic Size. Then go ahead and click Create.
By increasing the resolution of your custom thumbnail, you’re able to create a higher-quality image than if you were to use Snappa’s premade templates
Create Your Thumbnail’s Background Image
Once the thumbnail size has been set, it’s time to move on to the background image. Your thumbnail will start as a blank canvas, so this step is all about adding some color and depth to the background.
A great option for your backgrounds is a screenshot of your YouTube channel. This is something we’ve done with heaps of Primal Video thumbnails. Of course, if you have an image that would work better – go for it! To go with the screenshot option, head to the video page of your channel and take a screenshot.
Adding in a custom background photo is an important step to start branding your thumbnail
If you’re using a Mac, take your screenshot by holding down Command + Shift + 4, and for Windows simply use the snipping tool. Once you’ve taken your screenshot, here are the exact steps for setting it as your thumbnail background:
- Open the Graphics tab in Snappa, select Uploads
- Click Upload an Image and select the screenshot you want to use
- Once uploaded, select the image to drop it into the blank thumbnail canvas
- Scale the image up to cover the entire canvas area
- Use the rotate tool at the top of the image to find the perfect position for the screenshot to serve as the background (just make sure that it covers the entire canvas area so that there’s no dead space on your thumbnail)
- Select the image and lower the opacity using the Opacity tool on the left-hand side
- Use the additional tools within Snappa under the Background tab such as the preset photos or patterns and color grading options
The background image should be faint so that it doesn’t distract from the rest of the thumbnail
Using a screenshot of your YouTube channel is just a suggestion – feel free to use one of Snappa’s preset templates if this is better for you!
There are a lot of additional effects you can use to create the perfect thumbnail background. Take some time to play around with these – there’s Darken, Blur, Saturation, Hue, Brightness, and Contrast.
Using these effects is an easy way to change up the look and feel of your thumbnail
Input Your Thumbnail’s Main Image (the Photo of YOU)
Your background is now perfect! Now it’s time to upload that original photo you took of yourself. To do this, select the Graphics tab again, choose Upload an Image, and select the photo you want to use from your computer’s library.
Before you drop the image into the thumbnail canvas, you’ll probably need to crop it a bit.
In this photo, there’s a lot of unusable space that needs to be cropped out
To do this, hover over the image and you’ll see a crop icon. Select that icon, and cut out all of the extra stuff you don’t want to appear on the finalized thumbnail. Click Apply, and now you’ll have a new cropped image to drop into the canvas.
How to Make a Transparent Background for Your Thumbnail
Even after cropping your thumbnail image, chances are there are still some parts of the original photo that you’ll need to cut out. Snappa makes this really easy with a new feature.
With a click of your mouse, you can easily crop out yourself from the rest of the image – no Photoshop needed!
Simply select the image and turn on the Remove Image Background feature. This feature will analyze the photo and remove the photo background, leaving only YOU as the final image.
You can then scale the image up or down and position it wherever you’d like this image to appear on your thumbnail.
How to Add Text on a Thumbnail in Snappa
To add text on a thumbnail in Snappa, here’s what you do:
- Select the Text option from the menu bar and click on Add a Heading
- Position the text box where you’d like it to be on the thumbnail
- To edit the text, double-click the text box and start typing
- Adjust the text features (font, size, etc.) by selecting the text box and making changes on the left-hand side of the screen
- To create multiple text boxes containing the same font, color, and size text as you’ve already created, click on the Duplicate icon found at the top menu bar
- To make the text stand out from the background, you can add a colored box behind the text – simply click on the Shapes option, select your shape, and position and resize it around the text
PRO TIP: When playing around with the font and color of your thumbnail text, make sure you keep in tune with your original branding!
Be sure to move the shape behind the text (so that the text is on top) by using the Move Layer Back tool at the top menu
How to Add Logos & Pictures to a YouTube Thumbnail
Graphics and logos are a great addition to give your viewers a better idea of what your video will cover. You can use Google to do an image search for simple logos and graphics, but make sure you’re legally allowed to use whichever images you select.
After downloading additional thumbnail images to your computer, head back to the Graphics tab, click Upload an Image, and upload the logo/graphic you want to add. Drop the image into the canvas and play around with the size and placement.
A branded YouTube logo like this one tells our viewers that this tutorial is all about creating thumbnails for YouTube
How to Add a Thumbnail to YouTube
Once you’re pleased with how your thumbnail looks, head to the top right corner and click Save. You’re now ready to add it to your YouTube video! Select Download and download the thumbnail as a Web optimized JPG.
Next, head to your YouTube channel dashboard and select Videos. You’ll see a full list of your uploaded videos. Select the video you’ve created this thumbnail for and click the Details icon.
Click the Upload Thumbnail button in Video Details on YouTube
There will be a button labeled Upload Thumbnail, click on that and select the thumbnail you just created. Now that the thumbnail has been uploaded to the video, click Save – and you’re done!
Now You’re Ready to Create Your Own YouTube Custom Thumbnail!
There you have it – the complete tutorial on how to make a thumbnail for YouTube videos. In this guide, we covered everything from our recommended thumbnail maker to the exact steps for creating a YouTube thumbnail from scratch.
For more info on how to improve your channel, check out our FREE YouTube Ranking Guide. In this guide, we cover the 3 most powerful tools and ranking strategies to increase your YouTube traffic by 10x!
When available, we use affiliate links and may earn a commission!
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!