Tutorial: How to Create Custom Thumbnails for YouTube Videos

We’ve already learned how to create a custom header for our YouTube channel, now let’s learn how to create custom thumbnails.

Why is this important? If you share on YouTube, the thumbnail is important. If someone is looking at your channel on their mobile, all they may see is the thumbnail. You can customize these in Canva.

Below I share some sample thumbnails and 10 tips to make great thumbnails.

This video is the most popular I've ever created amassing tens of thousands of views this year! I reworked the thumbnail. Let's see what happens.

Technology Fear Factor in education is the most popular video I’ve ever created amassing tens of thousands of views this year! In this thumbnail, I used a custom image to invoke fear. (Click the picture above if you want to watch it.)

10 Top Tips for a Great YouTube Thumbnail


  1. Pick high contrast colors. It should be easy to read even if it is very small. Bright backgrounds stand out.
  2. Use text but not too much. If it is a nonfiction or how-to post, you may want to create a large text title for your post. (On a mobile phone, this may be all the person sees.)
  3. Size it correctly. I use 1280 x 720 but you can also use 1920 x 1080. These are standard sizes for thumbnails. On Canva, just click custom dimensions as I share in the video.

    Thumbnail for exporting

    I use a template but change the color based upon the software.

  4. Add a border. I’m playing with this one, but some experts think that adding a border makes the thumbnail jump out.
  5. Accurate. Your thumbnail must accurately share what is in the content of the video. Be honest if you want to be trusted. Be trusted or be busted. Period.
  6. Use close ups of faces. If you have faces in your video, use a close up. Some experts say the faces should be making eye contact with the viewer. Strong emotions on those faces will also intrigue possible viewers.
  7. Use branding. I’m working on this for my channel next. The little “bug” usually shows in the bottom right corner of your channel and on the thumbnail. You’ll see, however that many don’t use the bottom right hand on YouTube because sometimes YouTube covers that up with a “watch later” or the time of the video. For now, I’ve opted just to use my Twitter handle but this will likely change in the future.

    The must use extension for Google Chrome.

    This is the template I used for 2 minute tip videos. I just tweak the settings each time I have a new 2 minute tip video.

  8. Create templates. I use templates for different types of videos. You can see the template for my 2 minute tips and my how-to videos. I use the same fonts on all of them. You’ll want to work to get your templates established so you can just tweak the words or graphics. A consistent look is important as it is part of your brand.
  9. Emulate the best. As you’re starting, find a couple of YouTube channel experts who you like. Note the things about their thumbnails that you like. Tweak your template until you find something you like and can repeat.
  10. Fix the older videos. I’m working through the videos on my channel to create a consistent look. With 100 videos, it will take some time, but if I want to level up it has to happen.
How to Join a Twitter chat thumbnail

This thumbnail is the cover for a tutorial about how to join a Twitter chat. Many educators have used this to teach how to join and participate without being overwhelmed.

Disclosure: I have written lesson plans for Canva’s design school website, however they have not sponsored this post.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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