How to Create an Enticing Thumbnail for Your Video

11.05.2022 Social Media Video
Molly Howe

So, you’ve uploaded a masterfully produced video to your Youtube channel, but it’s not getting the attention you think it deserves. Could it be because your thumbnail is not attracting the right audiences, or any audiences at all? 

You could have one of the most brilliant videos ever made, but without the right thumbnail, your target audience may not be tempted to watch it.

In this article I am going to take you through how to create the perfect thumbnail for your videos, but first…

What actually is a thumbnail?

A thumbnail is a compressed, preview image that is used as a placeholder on hosting sites like Youtube. Think of them like book covers, they are a fairly similar concept. You aren’t supposed to judge books by their covers, but I can bet you that audiences will almost certainly judge your video by its thumbnail.

Thumbnails are undoubtedly one of the most important features of a video’s release. Like titles, thumbnails contribute hugely to whether or not someone will watch your video. 

A great thumbnail not only grabs the attention of your desired audience but also distinguishes your video from others on a clogged promotional platform. If higher video clicks, views, and conversions are what you desire, you need a great thumbnail.

Thumbnail examples
Thumbnail examples


As a powerful visual asset, thumbnails are likely to directly impact several aspects of your SEO, especially the organic click-through rate. When looking at the growing rate of image SERPs. (search engine result pages), it becomes obvious that optimised image thumbnails are key to building traffic from google. 

Click-Through Rate

The click-through rate (CTR) can be used to gauge how well your videos are performing. 

CTR is the number of clicks that your video receives divided by the number of times it is presented to viewers.

Clicks ÷ Impressions = CTR

If your video is suffering a low CTR because of a weak thumbnail, Youtube may think the video is irrelevant or poor quality. This likely will mean that the site will not list your video highly in its search results or include it in any recommended video feeds. 


Clickbait is a marketing manipulation technique that aims to demand attention from audiences by any means necessary even if it puts the authenticity of your brand at risk. 

Clickbaity thumbnails, often combined with sensationalist headlines, are designed to encourage clicks, seeking to increase a video’s CTR. They typically do not typically denote useful, meaningful content. Viewers who click and are disappointed by misleading or underwhelming content are likely to retain a bad impression of your brand and will be put off watching any further content. 

Clickbait thumbnail
Clickbait thumbnail

Are clickbait thumbnails all bad?

The use of clickbait thumbnails in a marketing strategy can be justified as long as they are designed to drive engagement, not just increase CTR. For this, the content behind the bait has to be worthwhile. As long as you remember to be ethical it is definitely worth capitalising on some minor clickbait techniques. 

Clickbait thumbnail 2
Clickbait thumbnail 2

The purpose of thumbnails

Thumbnails should:

  1. Get audiences excited about a video
  2. Draw attention to themselves on a busy page
  3. Always seek to accurately portray content

According to Youtube, 90% of their best-performing videos utilise custom thumbnails. Many of which are created following a very similar formula. I will take you through this formula in the next section of this article. 

I am going to call the next section The Rules of Thumb, no pun intended of course. 

The Rules of Thumb(nails)

thumbs up
thumbs up

Choosing thumbnail image

The image chosen to represent a video through a thumbnail is, in many ways, the most important component of the design. Most importantly, of course, this image should reflect what the video is about, however, it is also beneficial to consider its quality and effectiveness

The best thumbnails have people in the frame, even better if they are up close and give direct eye contact to the camera. This is because we have evolved to be instantly alerted to eye contact, almost like we are being summoned to watch the video. 

So where is the best place to find these images?

1. Pulling frames

It is a great idea to pull frames from your video, as they will most accurately represent the content of your creation. Make sure to check your B-roll too, even if some footage doesn’t make the video it could be perfect as a thumbnail. 

Trawl through your video for an exciting or informative moment, grab that frame, and use it in your thumbnail.

Kartoffel Films - Health Commercial Film (1)
Kartoffel Films – Health Commercial Film (1)

2. Photos

It’s always useful to take photos on set during the production process of your video. Not only does this provide reference content for any future work you are doing but it can also be used for your thumbnail. These pictures are likely to be taken at more specific and appropriate angles, or at a higher resolution than pulling frames from a video. 

Thumbnail image
Thumbnail image

3. Royalty-free images

Whilst not the best option, the use of royalty-free images can be enrich a thumbnail in some instances. Really they should only be used when other options are not appropriate as they are not unique to your brand. 

You can find royalty-free images on websites such as Pexels and Unsplash.

Lady smiling
Lady smiling

4. Illustration

If your video is animated, see if your animator can design a still illustration for use in the thumbnail.

Crafting custom thumbnails

There are numerous online sites that can be used to create custom thumbnails. I have checked them out and they seem fairly simple, you definitely don’t need a ton of graphic design experience to produce some quality thumbnails. Most even offer templates and suggested text, further simplifying the process.  

A fair few of these sites are even free! Here is a list of ones to check out:

  • FotoJet
  • Canva
  • Adobe spark
  • Crello

If you are feeling more confident in your creative abilities, Photoshop is great for creating eye-catching thumbnails. 

Demonstrate the theme of your video

It is important when crafting your thumbnail to reflect the theme of your video accurately. If your video is designed for corporate use, make sure the thumbnail looks professional and polished. If your video is for children, make sure to use bright colours, even silly characters.

We recommend using live-action thumbnails for live-action, and animated thumbnails for animated videos. This is to ensure that the thumbnail accurately reflects the content within the video. Further to this, to avoid accusations of clickbait, make sure your thumbnail represents the first 15 to 30 seconds of your video. If it does not, consider remaking the thumbnail or re-shifting the content of your video. 

Convey emotion

Throughout our evolutionary history, humans have built associations with different visuals. The brain connects these queues to certain feelings to protect us. Red, for instance, suggests danger.

When we are aware of these nuances, thumbnails can be crafted to elicit specific emotional responses. 

Largely this relies on common sense, if a video is intended to convey a sad emotion to the audience then the thumbnail should be crafted to reflect this. Neutral blue tones will be more effective at conveying sadness rather than bright hues of yellow. 

Along these lines, it is also important to remember that if you are promoting a product it is essential that the figures in the thumbnail look intrigued or excited and not disgusted or bored. 

Emotional video thumbnail
Emotional video thumbnail

Use bright backgrounds

If your video marketing campaign is intending to draw in the most amount of viewers possible, then a brightly coloured thumbnail is essential. In theory, the brighter the colour, and higher the contrast against the white of Youtube, the more chance your thumbnail will stand out from the rest of the competition. 

Pinwheel effects draw the viewer’s eyes back to the vanishing point, which is best placed directly behind the subject’s face. This will draw eyes to the subject, making the emotion of the thumbnail even more overt. 



Unless you are attempting to get the attention of children, don’t go overboard with the colours featured in your thumbnails. Using too many luminous colours can make your video come across as cheap and gaudy. This is especially important to consider when launching high production value or corporate films. 

Be consistent 

Your thumbnails should have a consistent design theme, especially if the content is part of a series or playlist. 

Layouts, font size, style, colour scheme, and branding should run consistently throughout your selection of thumbnails. This helps audiences to immediately recognsise your videos, increasing click rate and engagement. 

Using a consistent theme helps your hosting site to remain neat and uncluttered, providing viewers with a simple and easy-to-navigate experience. 

Mobile optimisation

It has been calculated that 63% of YouTube viewing time worldwide comes through mobile devices. The majority of people choose to watch their daily dose of video content through their mobiles, avoiding larger computer screens or televisions. 

For this reason, thumbnails must be optimsed for viewing on a smaller screen. There are several ways to do this:

  • Uncluttered template
  • Large text
  • Large icons 
  • One or two people in the frame


Like a little peephole into the exciting world of your content, a thumbnail aims to convince potential audiences that your video is worth watching. Not only is a video thumbnail a major SEO booster, but it also increases click-through rate, engagement, and brand recognition. 

Not quite at the thumbnail stage yet? Simply want to create some great video content, contact us at Kartoffel Films to kick off our creative partnership.

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