The first thing any YouTube viewer sees when they find themselves on the platform is a series of thumbnail images. These thumbnails give a preview of what’s coming, playing an important role in helping people decide what to watch. So if you have a YouTube channel of your own and want to grow your audience, the power of a good video thumbnail can’t be overstated. 

In this post, you’ll learn how to create and customize YouTube thumbnails that perfectly capture the content you’re publishing—so that the right viewers find you and become regular visitors to your channel. 

We’ll also share more about online thumbnail makers you can use to take your videos to the next level. 

What Is a YouTube Thumbnail?

Let’s start by answering a key question: What is a video thumbnail, and how does a YouTuber use them effectively for their channel? 

As you can probably gather from the word “thumbnail,” these images are small, still graphics that serve as the preview image for a video, like the ones posted on YouTube. 

Thumbnails typically feature a combination of images and text. Some creators will pull a single still image from their video to use as a thumbnail. Others will use images from outside the video, and still others will make a collage using several images for an extra impact! Text and other graphic elements can then be laid over the images. 

Making high-impact thumbnails for YouTube can be simple—and it doesn’t need to be expensive. 

YouTube Thumbnail Creators

Here are two common YouTube thumbnail makers—one of them free!—that you can explore as a starting point for making your own thumbnails.


Some YouTube thumbnails are not video stills. 

Looking for a free YouTube thumbnail maker? Canva is a great choice. While there are paid upgrades, it’s free to download, and it’s a popular option for many YouTubers. Making YouTube thumbnails in Canva is an easy process, even for graphic design newbies, because the platform comes with so many customizable templates. You can use Canva to make thumbnails that feature video stills, stylized text, split-screen effects, and more. 


This YouTube thumbnail includes a still photo from the video itself. 

Adobe Photoshop is a slightly more advanced platform than Canva, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to navigate it, even if you don’t have a graphic design background. Creating YouTube thumbnails in Photoshop has plenty of benefits, chief among them being that Adobe products offer additional functionality and endless creative control. With practice, you can use Photoshop to create unique fonts and effects for your thumbnails that will really help your videos stand out. 

Make Your Thumbnails Work for You 

How to Create Engaging YouTube Thumbnails

How to Create a YouTube Thumbnail

Since Canva is a free thumbnail maker, let’s start there. Here are the basic steps to making a YouTube thumbnail using this free platform

Step 1: Select “YouTube Thumbnail”

canvas templates
Source: Canva
Canva offers plenty of templates to get you started.

When you launch Canva, you’ll be prompted with a handful of project suggestions. Select “YouTube Thumbnail” to ensure that you’re working in the correct image dimensions. 

Step 2: Choose Your Background

This gradient background definitely has eye-catching potential. 

You always have the option to use a screenshot from your YouTube video as the background for your thumbnail, but using Canva, you can also get a bit more creative. Try pulling up potential backgrounds in the menu on the left side of the Canva workspace. Play with different parents, textures, and colors until you find something you’re happy with. 

Step 3: Add Text 

Canva gives you the opportunity to try many different fonts and text colors.

Text is a great way to give potential viewers more information about what they can expect in your video. Canva allows you to experiment with a variety of text styles. 

Selecting the Text option in the menu on the left side of the Canva workspace will call up a text box, in which you can add the verbiage you’d like to include in your thumbnail. From there, you can test out different fonts, colors, and placements. (You can also upgrade to a paid version of Canva for access to even more options.) 

Once you’re happy with the look of the text, move it around until you feel satisfied with the overall effect. 

Step 4: Add Other Visual Elements

Perfect your thumbnail with other pops of visual interest.

Using the Elements and Upload options in the menu on the left side of your Canva workspace, you can add other things to your thumbnail, including clip art-style images, borders, and images from your computer. If you’d like to incorporate a still image from your video, save it to your desktop and then upload it.

When you get to this step, the sky’s the limit! Play with Canva’s tools until you love the finished product.

Focus on Visual Interest

When it comes to making video thumbnails using an online thumbnail creator, the key to engaging your audience on YouTube is adding as much visual interest as possible. Think powerful images, pops of color, and unique text treatments. As you practice making thumbnails of your own, you’ll learn the tools of the trade and may even surprise yourself with what you’re able to create. 

Just wait until you see how much a polished YouTube thumbnail can increase engagement and interest on your channel! 

Grow Your YouTube Audience

YouTube Audience Growth: Grow a YouTube Audience Fast 

Written by:

Alli Hoff Kosik