Twitter is primarily about text and links. But in recent years they’ve also been adding more visual elements directly into the core Twitter service, and there are now several ways you can use photos and images directly in Twitter without resorting to third-party extensions, as you used to have to do. There are several places where you can use images on Twitter, including the header photo banner, your profile picture, thumbnail previews for links, and sharing images directly in the feed.
Twitter’s current layout gives some different options for displaying images. I’m focusing here on display in web browsers. The Twitter mobile app is more of a controlled universe with less room to move in terms of image layout. But any of the size recommendations here hold true for the mobile app as well.
Twitter’s web interface is designed to be responsive, which means it fluidly adjusts for different displays, and it’s flexible enough to deal with desktops as well as mobiles. But while there are some specific guidelines in terms of dimensions to use, it’s also a bit trickier than it might seem at first. So here are some recommendations for making the most of your Twitter header photo and profile picture. Starting with the header photo . . .
Twitter Banner Size
If you just want the quick version, upload a header image that is 1500 pixels wide by 500 pixels tall for the cover photo or Twitter banner. These are the dimensions that Twitter officially recommends.
Twitter Header Photo Size: The More Accurate Version
That seems easier enough, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. Those 1500px by 500px images will generally work well, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to work perfectly in every case. That’s because of the way Twitter displays the header photo. The overall dimensions work well, but the placement of elements within the frame can be a bit trickier because of the way that the banner fluidly adjusts to different browser window sizes.
There are two issues. The first is that with browser windows at certain sizes, it can shave some off from the top and bottom edges.
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Here’s a practical example of what I mean. This is the original image. Each of the bands of color is 50px wide.
Displayed on a narrower desktop browser, it looks like this, with narrow strips of around 25px shaved from the top and bottom:
On a wider browser, it shaves off the entire width of the band:
They’re only thin strips that are shaved off, but it does mean that you won’t want to be including any important visual information within about 55px from the top or bottom of the image. Whether that’s text like a phone number, part of a company logo, or faces in a group portrait, you’ll want to make sure that there’s some space from the edge of the frame.
The upshot is that there’s a safe area focused on the middle of the image, and there are some thin strips at the top and bottom that will always be invisible to at least some users. So don’t include any vital information in those edges.
The second issue is that the round profile picture obscures some of the cover photo. But unlike the straightforward way that Facebook used to do it, where the profile picture was locked in position relative to the banner image, on Twitter’s new layout the precise positioning of the profile picture moves, adjusting for the responsive display. It slides a little left or right depending on the width of the browser window.
Here’s a practical example of what I mean. This first screenshot is with the browser window at the minimum width:
But if you stretch out the browser window, in this case full-screen on a 27-inch display, you can see that the profile picture has moved relative to the cover photo. So you can now see a red kayak that was always there but that is hidden behind the profile picture in a narrower display.
So you don’t want to include anything important in that bottom left portion either.
Retina and High-Density Displays
Twitter’s images don’t factor in retina or high-density displays on the desktop view. So uploading an image that’s twice the size doesn’t end up with a crisper result.
Image File Formats
You can upload JPG or PNG files. They’ll be compressed and converted to JPG automatically.
Twitter Profile Picture Size, Shape, & Dimensions
The profile picture is the smaller image at the bottom left. It’s usually a photo of the person or a logo. It’s now displayed as a circle with a white rim.
For displaying on a desktop browser, it uses what’s called intrinsic CSS sizing, which basically means that the image fits within a container. In this case, the container is 400 pixels by 400 pixels. It’s cropped to a circle automatically.
The recommended sizes to upload are:
Profile picture: 400px by 400px. It’s displayed as a round image with a thin white border. If you upload an image that’s not a perfect square, you’ll be given the option to reposition the image when you go to change it.
When the browser window resizes, the profile picture size stays constant.
Twitter Feed Images
There are a couple of different ways you can include images on your timeline.
If you manually add an image to a post, the image is displayed to fit within a square box that’s 506 pixels wide and 506 pixels high.
If you add an image that’s in horizontal orientation (ie. landscape orientation, or wider than it is tall), it will display the whole image and scale it down to 506 pixels wide. Here’s an illustration using a wide panorama:
If you add an image that’s vertical (ie. portrait orientation, or taller than it is wide), it will fill the width but crop equally from the top and bottom of the image to fill a square. Here’s an example using this image:
It displays on the Twitter timeline like this:
In both cases, all of the corners are rounded automatically with a border radius of 12px.
Link Thumbnails via Twitter Cards
You can include an image as part of a link to a post. If you (or, more precisely, the site you’re linking from) is set up with Twitter Cards, it’ll pull in an image automatically and display it constrained within a Twitter Card container. Those images display at 506 pixels by 254 pixels, like this:
The top corners are rounded automatically with a border radius of 12px.
Twitter Image Quality Issues
When you upload, Twitter applies some very heavy JPG compression to your images. They do this to make the website as fast as possible for users and to conserve bandwidth.
The effects are particularly noticeable with the Profile Header image. The upshot is that the image that gets displayed might not look as good as the one you uploaded.
There are some things you can do to minimize the effect of that and reduce the chances of unsightly JPEG artifacts.
Firstly, upload an image with little or no compression. Every time you save a JPG image, you lose quality. That gets compounded the more times you do it.
If you’re saving an image from something like Photoshop or GIMP or any other imaging software, use the highest setting you can (e.g., a quality setting of 10 or 100%). Twitter is going to crunch whatever you send anyway. Starting with the highest quality version will help. You can even upload a PNG-24 if you want (although JPG is usually a better bet).
Secondly, because of the way JPG compression works, images with lots of different tones and smooth gradients are going to get hit especially hard. A rule of thumb is that images with fewer colors and fewer gradients suffer less from aggressive JPG compression.
Text, Logos, and Watermarks on Twitter Profile Images
The heavy JPG compression applied to the images you upload does some pretty ugly things to text, logos, and watermarks. Here’s an example, a 100% crop from one image with a logo that I experimented with. You can see the very noticeable JPG compression artifacts surround the letters as well as some clear banding in the natural tonal gradient of the blue sky.
Again, to minimize the problem, aim for simple. Clean, high contrast lines and fonts are going to be less of a problem than subtle, complicated lines and fonts with things like partial transparency and drop shadows, etc. Sans-serif fonts will often work better than serif.
And if you’re putting your logo or other text on the image, don’t put it at the very edges of the image where they’re likely to get cropped off in some browser displays. The safest zone of Twitter’s new profile header image is the center. The closer you can keep it to there, the less chance there is of it being cropped out with different web browser display sizes and aspect ratios.
There’s also a good reason not to include text or logos in the cover photo. The same cover photo is used for mobile apps like the official Twitter app. When it’s displayed in that, your Twitter profile picture and handle are automatically overlaid over the center of the cover photo, so it would obscure any logo that’s there. If you want to include a logo, putting it as the profile picture might give you better results across different displays.
Making Your Images Accessible
Twitter added a feature that lets you make your images more accessible to the visually impaired by way of adding text descriptions. It’s along the lines of ALT tags on web pages.
It’s a feature you need to enable to access–go to the your account settings and enable the “Compose Image Descriptions” feature.
I have a more detailed post on making your Twitter images more accessible here.