10 Best Tips For Designing Eye-Catching Thumbnails For Video Content

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Thumbnails are the first point of interaction between your content and a potential viewer. Platforms like Youtube can get impressions for your content, but if your thumbnails aren't enticing enough, you might not get enough clicks. To avoid this, you should design eye-catching thumbnails.

To design eye-catching thumbnails for your video content, you should use large headshots, 4 to 5 words that inspire curiosity without misleading the viewer, and bright colors to grab attention. It helps to eliminate distractions from the background as well.

In this article, you will learn more about designing eye-catching thumbnails for your Youtube videos as well as video content on other platforms. You will also discover the top five mistakes beginner content creators make with their video thumbnails, alongside the best apps to use when making thumbnails. So let's get started with the design advice.

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The Most Important Factor: The Thumbnail's Purpose

If you fail to realize what your thumbnail is meant to do, you will make mistakes that will compound and push down your click-through rate. Your video thumbnail isn't meant to be a work of art that is admired for its "properness". It is meant to be an ad for your video.

If it doesn't drive clicks, it will not matter how aesthetic it is. With that in mind, continue reading for the best tips for designing eye-catching video thumbnails.

Use Text To Inspire Curiosity

One way to make your thumbnail more inviting is to turn it into a puzzle. But if it is too confusing, it will get skipped. Text can be the best tool for inspiring curiosity instead of confusion. However, thumbnail text is often a missed opportunity because most people use it in one of the following ways:

  • Mistake #1 - Restating the title - If the title of your video says something, there's no point in restating it in the thumbnail. The thumbnail should inspire a click or make the viewer read the title.

  • Mistake #2 - Giving an answer - Educators often give away a tip with thumbnail text. This can inspire curiosity in "Top Tips Videos," but if there's only one lesson in your video and you give it away prematurely, then there's no point in clicking through to the content.

  • Mistake #3 - Premature call to action - "Watch Now" and other generic calls to action in the content can get a few clicks. However, this is a very suboptimal use of text.

You should use thumbnail text strategically. Grab the potential viewer's attention but don't satisfy their curiosity in anything except the content.

Choose A Bold Font

Aside from using the wrong words, the worst thing you can do with your thumbnail text is to set it in a bad font. If you've read our articles on the best subtitle fonts, you know that fonts are context-specific. A font that's great for a paragraph in a book is most likely a poor fit for a thumbnail.

Every brand has its font sets. And sometimes, no font in your font set is good enough for thumbnails. Forcing your brand fonts onto thumbnails when they aren't thumbnail material is a bad call. You should rely on sans-serif fonts with a heavy body that is visible on small screens.

Use Consistent Visual Language For Familiarity

While forcing your brand fonts onto thumbnails isn't ideal if your brand's font set lacks bold typefaces, you should aim for consistency with your thumbnails. Once you've selected the right font, you can use it regularly. You should also select a color scheme and stick to it.

Initially, you won't notice its positive impact. At best, it will give the impression that you're a small but professional creator. But once your videos start resonating with your audience, people will have your older content served to them, and if they're familiar with your thumbnail style, they will click and watch.

Leverage Preconceived Notions

A lot of people from different walks of life come with preconceived notions. And as a creator in a specific space, you know what the assumptions of your audience are. You can disrupt them or follow them. There is no room for nuance in thumbnails. For example, Youtube film critics that pander to an anti-Hollywood crowd use words like "Disaster" and crying faces on their video thumbnails whenever they discuss a movie that their audience hates.

Use Reaction Faces / Or Faces In General

The secret that no one wants to admit in video content creation is that reaction faces work. People judge creators who use pictures of themselves looking surprised or angry in their thumbnails. But people also click on those videos more often, incentivizing this practice.

If you cannot afford to make a reactive face, you can always do the next best thing: use any face. Potential viewers are more likely to click videos that have visible eyes in the thumbnail. For creators who don't show themselves in videos (video essayists), a good strategy is to use the faces of people whom the video talks about. Celebrity news YouTubers have the luxury of using celebrities' faces.

Look What's Working In Your Space

As mentioned earlier, the choice of faces in specific genres can differ. To optimize your video thumbnails for your niche, you must watch what's working for those who are more successful than you. For example, your own emotive face wouldn't do as well for a celebrity news channel as a picture of a celebrity with photoshopped teary eyes.

Overoptimize For Small Screens

Optimizing your content for small screens is something you can never overdo. Over 80% of Youtube's viewers consume its content online. So, ensure that readability is top of mind when you begin working on a thumbnail's text. Also, use large headshots instead of full-body pictures unless your niche requires something else.

For instance, the fashion genre often requires full-body shots in thumbnails. But a fashion commentator can still include their face in the thumbnail, reacting to an outfit.

Study And Stand Out

Most people do the first part but fail to do the rest. Studying your space is important when you want to grow in a specific market. But where most creators go wrong is that they start doing what others are doing. You're likely to get the best results if you study not to blend in but to stand out. Being different for the sake of being different can have diminishing returns.

First, you should figure out what the audience wants. With a little empathy and logic, you can put yourself in your audience's shoes. Once you know what makes them tick, you can figure out what makes them click.

Bet On Brighter

Generally, brighter thumbnails outperform dim ones. Big YouTubers like MrBeast make their thumbnail images brighter than their video content. If you're having trouble picking colors for a background or font color for the foreground, you can always go with a feasibly brighter option.

Remove Distractions That Don't Drive Clicks

As you know by now, different elements work in thumbnails. Some of them include emotive faces, bright colors, and bold text. But if you try to put too much into a single thumbnail, you'll create decision fatigue and confuse your potential viewers.

Less is more in thumbnails, so make sure that the overall image is clean. Make your thumbnails by removing distractions from the background and using fewer words. As mentioned in the first tip, you have to make the potential viewer curious without confusing them.

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Beginner Thumbnail Mistakes To Avoid As A Video Content Creator

Aside from the video content itself, thumbnails are perhaps the most important aspect you can focus on. However, beginners often overlook it and consequently stunt their growth on platforms like Youtube. Here are the key mistakes you must avoid when creating a video thumbnail.

Mistake #1 - Using A Screen Grab From The Video

The option to pick a still as your thumbnail is present on platforms like Youtube. But it is so ineffective that Youtube should probably disable it altogether. Big YouTubers can get away with using stills in their video thumbnails. When it comes to smaller channels, the thumbnail must be designed carefully to offset the skepticism that comes from low views.

People tend not to click on videos with under 1000 views. Your thumbnail should act as an advertisement for your video. And it must be so enticing that it makes people click even though they can see that your content doesn't have enough views.

Mistake #2 - Using A Standard Template

What won't get clicks is a generic template-based thumbnail. Most beginners look up "Youtube thumbnail generator" and use platforms like Canva to drag and drop their images into pre-built templates. While templates can be helpful in several contexts, they are suboptimal when it comes to thumbnails.

Thumbnails have to be different, and what's familiar always fails to catch the eye. The larger your channel gets, the more "like others" your thumbnails can be. But initially, your thumbnails must be designed to catch the eye in a sea of video results.

Mistake #3 - Putting A Sentence In A Thumbnail

The creators who try to fit an entire sentence into a thumbnail must think about the last time they read an entire sentence in a video thumbnail. People don't come to video platforms to read. Words work in thumbnails, but going beyond phrases is asking too much from your viewers.

Understand the role of words in your thumbnail. They are meant to make potential viewers more curious. Avoid using more than 5 words in a thumbnail if you're a small content creator. Even big channels don't use more than 8 words.

Mistake #4 - Using Irrelevant Click-Bait

Something that big channels might do, which you should avoid, is using misleading clickbait thumbnails. When you use exaggeration in your thumbnail design or use a misleading title, you can get initial clicks, but the clicks don't count as much as the watch time.

To boost the watch time of your video, you have to use thumbnails that attract the best audience for your video. There was a time when video platforms used to measure views as a recommendation metric. The videos that got the most clicks would go the most viral. Nowadays, all social media platforms track engagement.

And when it comes to video, no engagement metric is senior to the average user's watch time. So make sure that people don't get annoyed and skip your video after a few seconds of watching it because they feel betrayed by the thumbnaill.

Mistake #5 - Making False Claims

Clickbait in thumbnails can work if you make it specific to your audience. But no matter how audience-specific you get with your thumbnail, your viewers will not forgive false claims in your thumbnail.

To understand why thumbnail clickbait is such a hit or miss, you must know that there are 3 types of clickbait:

  • Irrelevant clickbait - This is the clickbait that attracts clicks from all types of people, including irrelevant ones. It could include a picture of a scantily clad celebrity, for instance. If people click through to find a sweaty middle-aged man after clicking a thumbnail with kim kardashian's head, they might skip the video. However, the YouTuber might be talking about Kardashian, and those interested in the commentary might stick around.

  • Relevant clickbait - Relevant clickbait attracts clicks from a relevant audience only. It has a relatively high retention rate. If a popular political candidate is a front-runner, simply adding words like "WILL HE LOSE?" alongside a sad face can get clicks. Most people who click on the video might not click away.

  • Misleading clickbait - Finally, there's clickbait that features false claims. This is the worst type of clickbait and triggers dislikes and hateful comments. False claims hurt your credibility and can lead previous followers to unsubscribe. Avoid this at all costs.

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Top Thumbnail Maker Apps For Video Content Creators

The thumbnail design tips covered earlier can be used in any thumbnail creation interface. You can literally use a signboard and your own face to shoot a thumbnail without an editor. But the following apps make it easier to create consistent-looking thumbnails that build familiarity.


Canva is the number one design app for the masses. It is more accessible and easier to navigate than Adobe Illustrator. You can use it to create your own template or to alter a pre-existing one in the app's library. The problem with Canva is that it makes generic thumbnails very easy to create.

You can simply change a few words and drop your own image into a section in its template to create an "okay" thumbnail. But it will look like plenty of other peoples' templates. So make sure to alter Canva templates significantly and follow the advice in this article when doing so.


Pixlr allows you to easily create the reaction-face type of thumbnails. It is a photo-editing, lighting, and design app rolled into a single interface. The drawback of Pixlr compared to the mass-accessible apps is that starting out with it is slightly more challenging. After watching a few youtube tutorials with enough dedication, you can get proficient enough to create eye-catching thumbnails for your videos with Pixlr.

Adobe Express

Adobe Express seems like Adobe's attempt to regain the market it lost to Canva. The company behind Adobe Illustrator, the world's largest professional design program, has created Adobe Express to make its design features more accessible. It is different from Canva and forces you to be more creative with your designs. But at the same time, it isn't as tough to navigate as some of Adobe's high-end programs.

You can use Adobe Express to create a specific aesthetic for your thumbnails. It can also be used to create backgrounds, which can be exported to other programs/apps for further editing.


Snappa allows you to create minimalist and straightforward graphics. Its design features can be used to create Youtube thumbnails though the app doesn't seem to target video content creators specifically. There are no outright drawbacks to using Snappa for your video thumbnails, except that some people might find this app difficult to navigate. It isn't objectively complicated, but it is not for everyone, either. You'll never know unless you give it a go.


Fotor is a photo-editing app with overlay features. It can be used for natural-looking thumbnails that don't seem to be edited into oblivion. If you are an educator who uses a plain background for his videos, you should use Fotor to brighten up your thumbnail pics and add text. Fotor is easy-to-use but might take some getting used to if you use an alternative app.

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Final Thoughts

Thumbnail designing is a profession for many full-time graphic designers. And there's a good reason for that. Thumbnails can inspire clicks and, with enough watch duration, can lead to higher discovery. For major Youtubers, creating Thumbnails on the fly isn't worth the risk. They treat thumbnails as ads for their videos. You might not be on a level where you have to hire a full-time designer for your video thumbnails, but you can use the advice in the post above to create eye-catching thumbnails for your video content.