YouTube is primarily a visual platform. And it features thumbnails prominently. They serve as the visual preview, much like a book cover, and can make the difference between someone clicking on your video or someone else’s.
With the enormous volume of videos that show up in search results and recommended lists, having a clear and compelling thumbnail image is one way you can have your video stand out and attract more viewers. So here’s a guide to making the most of YouTube thumbnail images, including the best dimensions, filetypes, and best practices.
YouTube Thumbnail Size Quick Guide
Here’s the quick version for the best dimensions to use for the YouTube thumbnail image.
Ideal Dimensions: 1280 x 720 pixels
Minimum Dimensions: 640 pixels wide
Maximum filesize: 2MB
Image Files Formats: JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP
YouTube Thumbnail Size Detailed Guide
Why YouTube Thumbnail Images are Important
Your video’s thumbnail image works like a book cover. It’s your video’s first impression. With YouTube increasingly being a search platform with potentially millions of results, you’ll want your video to stand out from the crowd with an attention-grabbing (but accurate!) thumbnail image. It’s the image that potential viewers are going to see first—it’s even more prominent than the text of your video’s title.
It’s worth mentioning that the YouTube thumbnail image is different from your channel’s banner image. If you’re looking for the best YouTube banner size to use, I have a separate post on that.
If you're looking to create banners, thumbnails, or other graphics for your social media accounts, a good option worth looking at is Canva. It runs in a web browser, which means nothing to install on a computer, and you can even use a mobile device. So you can do it from anywhere, and it's very straightforward to use. There's a very capable free plan, and you can get many more useful features, photos, and fonts with the Pro plan. The Pro plan has a 30-day free trial, which you can get here.
Ideal YouTube Thumbnail Size
There is some flexibility in the image size you can use for your YouTube thumbnail, but there’s also an ideal target to aim for to get the best results. And that is an image that is 1280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall.
That’s not to say that it’s going to display at 1280 x 720 pixels. In fact, most of the time, it won’t. It’s much larger than is specifically required in many of the displays and lists on the YouTube site, that larger size maintains flexibility when the video is embedded on external websites as well as increasing the chances that it will stay sharp and crisp on high-density displays like Retina screens.
If you were to an image with lower resolution, they could end up being pixelated and blurry in some displays.
The choice of 1280 by 720 pixels isn’t just some random size they picked out. It’s the dimensions of 720p video, which is considered HD video (albeit the lowest threshold of what’s considered HD video) and is often a default playback resolution.1
Minimum YouTube Thumbnail Image Size
YouTube says that the minimum width is 640 pixels.
In practice, that’s not a hard limit. You can actually upload an image smaller than that, and it will be accepted—you won’t get an error message. But it’s not recommended, and you can expect the image to be blurry for many users.
YouTube Thumbnail Image Aspect Ratio
The best aspect ratio to use for your custom thumbnail is 16:9. You can upload a taller aspect ratio than that—say 4:3—and it will be accepted but will add black bars to either side. That is, it will fit the entire image into the box and pad the excess. Likewise, you can add a narrower image like a panorama, and it will automatically add black bars at the top and bottom to pad to the 16:9 aspect ratio.
An aspect of 16:9 has become the defacto standard for HD video, especially video that’s designed for online use. It refers to the ratio between the width and height of the image.
It’s what most cameras and phones will shoot in by default, and it’s the optimum aspect ratio for displaying on playback devices from TVs to smartphones to computer displays.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t necessarily an extra requirement you have to factor in. If you aim for the ideal dimensions of 1280 by 720 pixels, that is already an aspect ratio of 16:9. And if you were to grab a frame from your video, chances are the video was already shot in 16:9.
So, in short, the aspect ratio isn’t always something you need to worry much about. There are two times that come to mind when you wouldn’t need to consider it, though. One is if you’re grabbing a frame from a video shot in a different aspect ratio, such as 4:3. Another is if you’re creating a custom illustration to use as your YouTube thumbnail. And especially if you’re using text on that graphic—you don’t want words or letters being totally or partially cropped out.
Maximum YouTube Thumbnail Image Size
The maximum file size of images you can upload to use as a thumbnail image on YouTube is 2MB. If you upload a file that is larger than that, you’ll get a warning that “File is bigger than 2MB,” and it will be rejected.
Compatible File Formats
Your image can be in JPG (or JPEG), PNG, GIF (non-animated), and BMP image file formats.
There’s another, newer image format that some smartphones (e.g., iPhones) now use by default. And that is HEIC (for High-Efficiency Image Format). YouTube’s upload function won’t let you select a HEIC file, so you’ll first need to convert it to JPG.
You also can’t use RAW images (eg. some examples of images with file extensions such as .dng, .nef, .crw, .arw, or .gpr). Those will have to be processed first and uploaded as JPGs.
How to Choose a Custom Thumbnail Image on YouTube
By default, YouTube will let you choose from an automatically generated selection of still frames taken from the movie. You can also upload a custom thumbnail. That’s especially useful for using thumbnails that include title text or other useful and relevant graphics.
But a new YouTube account doesn’t have the option to upload and choose a custom thumbnail enabled by default. It a feature you need to enable for your account first. To do that, you first have to verify your account. It’s presumably a way to reduce the amount of thumbnail spam on the platform.
How to Verify Your YouTube Account in Order to Enable Custom Thumbnail Images
The process to verify your YouTube account is a simple 2-step process. You’ll need to be able to receive the verification code on your phone.
Step 1: Log into YouTube.
Step 2: You can find the verification screen at https://www.youtube.com/verify
Step 3: Follow the instructions to select your country and to send the verification code via text or phone call.
Step 4: Enter the 6-digit verification code and hit Submit.
Step 5: You should then get a message that it was successful. Hit continue.
Step 6: You’ll then get a screen that shows a grid of badges showing your account’s status and enabled and eligible features. Custom thumbnails should now be enabled for all your videos.
How to Upload a Custom Thumbnail for a Video
To upload a custom thumbnail for your video, first open the YouTube Studio. Go to the video you want to work on and the Video Details > Basic tab. About halfway down the page, you’ll find the Thumbnail section, and the left-hand box should be to “Upload thumbnail.”
Q&A About YouTube Thumbnail Images
What are thumbnails on YouTube?
Thumbnails in YouTube are the image previews that are used to display the video in playlists. They’re a still image, not a video.
You can see them displayed prominently in YouTube search results as well as lists such as the “Up Next” queue and Library and Subscription playlists. The thumbnail image is also displayed when a video is embedded on an external site.
How do you change the thumbnail size on YouTube?
YouTube controls the display size and shape of the image on the YouTube website. So you can’t control the size that viewers see when they visit youtube.com.
But you can upload a custom thumbnail image that’s larger. An example of when that might be useful is if your thumbnail image is pixelated or blurry, and you want to change it to one that’s sharper.
What size is a YouTube thumbnail in Photoshop?
The ideal size to aim for when creating a custom thumbnail for YouTube using Photoshop is 1280 by 720 pixels. You can set that as the dimensions in creating a new document, crop to those dimensions, or set the size when you save or export the image.
What resolution or PPI/DPI should you use for a YouTube thumbnail image?
If you’re exporting an image from Photoshop or another image editor that lets you specify a resolution in PPI, you don’t need to worry about what value to use. The dimensions matter—that is, the number of pixels wide by high—but the resolution setting will be ignored.
What JPG quality setting to use?
YouTube’s servers will compress the image as part of the upload process. So long as you keep the file below the 2MB file size limit, it’s good practice to upload the best quality JPG (i.e., with the least compression) that you can. That’s especially important if you include text or graphics on your thumbnail image.
The YouTube thumbnail is only one of the images that you can optimize for your videos. You can also add a custom banner. I have a separate post on the YouTube banner size.
And if you’re looking for a good free option for making great-looking custom YouTube thumbnails, I’ve put together a detailed guide using Canva’s free plan.
- Many videos on YouTube have even higher resolution versions available. Examples include 1080p or 4K. And if you’re on a slow connection, you might initially see a much lower-resolution version. But 720p is typically a starting point and is a good compromise of sharp resolution, good playback size, and manageable file sizes for streaming data rates. ↩