How to create compelling YouTube thumbnails


Here’s an impressive statistic: Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every day. And while it's proving to be a lucrative video platform, the question is: How do you possibly make your videos stand out in all that noise?

Here’s the trick: Your video thumbnails have to be great. Not just good, but great.

The Youtube thumbnail is the 21st century’s book cover. They need to be visually intriguing enough to catch eyeballs in a split second, or else you risk your videos gathering dust on your channel’s shelves.

In this article, we give you the design basics you need to know when creating a YouTube thumbnail as well as providing you with a collection of 20 incredibly eye-catching Youtube thumbnails from channels started by people all over the world.

To access the YouTube thumbnails, simply hover over their images and click on the“Use this template” button to open the template in your own Canva account and customize as your own.

YouTube thumbnail dimensions

To make sure your YouTube thumbnail looks professional and high-res, your thumbnail needs to be the right dimension.

The YouTube thumbnail dimension is: 1280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall, with a minimum width of 640 pixels.

A ratio of 16:9 is ideal as it’s used most often in YouTube players and previews.

YouTube thumbnail background

As you will see in the examples below, the background you choose for your thumbnail is dependant on your brand, what visual aesthetic you want to achieve, and what type of message you want to communicate to your audience.

Thumbnail backgrounds can be anything from an image with text overlay, a colored background or an engaging illustration.

YouTube thumbnail font

Similar to YouTube thumbnail backgrounds the font you choose is dependant on the type of effect you want to have on your audience.

  • Serif fonts help communicate: Traditional, formal, respectable and timeless.
  • Script fonts help communicate: Classic, stylish, and elegant.
  • Sans-serif fonts help communicate: Modern, clean and sensible.

To learn more about how to choose a font, read: The ultimate guide to font pairing

YouTube thumbnail image

When choosing an image for your YouTube thumbnail there are a few important factors to consider:

  • Is the image high quality? Before you start any type of design you want to make sure that your starting with a high-quality image that will look crisp on your audience's screen.
  • Does the image give your audience a hint about what your video or channel is about? It's important that every element of your YouTube thumbnail design hints at what your audience will see when they watch your video. The last thing you want to do is confuse them and lead them to unsubscribe, or clicking out of your video.
  • Does the image compliment the text on your thumbnail? An image is only one part of your YouTube thumbnail. If you choose to add text and other elements like borders and shapes, you want the image to compliment all the other design elements, and not dominate the YouTube thumbnail.

Now that we've covered the thumbnail basics, let's take a look at 20 captivating YouTube thumbnail designs.

01. Camie Juan


Camie Juan has loads of fun creating content for her YouTube channel. To do so, she travels around the world and eats as much gorgeous food as she can.

San Francisco YouTube Thumbnail

She likely also spends quite some time creating her channel’s great artwork. Our designers at Canva have drawn inspiration from her and the great template above.

02. The School of Life


The School of Life does an awesome job of being consistent with their typefaces and treatments. It makes the channel feel professional and put together.

They’re also great at setting type at large sizes on their thumbnails to make sure it reads easily.


Type set over images can get tough to read, especially at small sizes. To make sure this isn’t a problem plaguing your YouTube thumbnails, try setting them over solid shapes, as we’ve done above.

03. SoulPancake


Another great way to make sure text over images reads is to set them over color bars. SoulPancake shows us just how on their thumbnail for their exploration of love.

Summer Lookbook YouTube Thumbnail

While SoulPancake has chosen to overlay their color bars, we’ve chosen to keep them tidy and separate from each other.

04. Ted-Ed


TED not only produces great content worth spending hours watching, they also design awesome thumbnails. Head over to their channel to check them out and catch a chat or two.


Placing your episode’s title within a color bar and at the center of your thumbnail makes sure your audience won’t miss it. Me mindful of the image you choose though, as you’re concealing quite a bit of it. You want to make sure it still works, even after it’s missing a big chunk.

05. Buzzfeed Violet


Big, bold type is always a plus. It works especially well when you’ve got little text to set. Go the Buzzfeed Violet way and set your episode titles in bold text.

Travel Photography YouTube Thumbnail

If you have a subheading, set it at a smaller size and/or in a different weight. Create a bit of hierarchy for a stronger layout. Not sure how? Work off the template above.

06. SoulPancake


Place your content front and center. If you’re placing it over an image, make sure you’re not creating an awkward composition. Consider the example below. It would not work as well if the text were set directly over the girls face.


You can also choose to work with imagery that offers a little more flexibility. While we did craft the template above carefully, we did not have have to worry about covering up anyone’s face.

07. Peaceful Cuisine


If two or more of your episodes are related, make sure you tie their thumbnails together too. You can do so by using similar imagery, the same design elements, and being consistent with type.

The Perfect Snack YouTube Thumbnail

Try a top view shot, like the one we use above. If your image choice is too bright, use a apply a filter to it to make sure your text reads.

08. Reese Lansangan


Don’t forget that you can always build custom type for your thumbnails. Break out pencil and paper or paint if you’re feeling up for it. Create beautiful letterforms or novel design elements. Check out the example below.

Sahara Documentary YouTube Thumbnail

While we love paint and exploring, we’ve decided to use one of our great typefaces for the template above.

09. Tegan and Sara


Take chances with your type choices. Combine an expressive script with a clean sans-serif, like Tegan and Sara’s cover art. You will build contrast and add visual interest.

Vlog Title YouTube Thumbnail

Set your type over interesting images. We love that our choice for the template above has movement in it. It adds life to the thumbnail.

10. Laneway Festival


Achieve an interesting visual solution by going with images shot from interesting angles. Consider the example below for Laneway Festival. It’s appealing and in line with what Laneway Festival is about.


Consider also images that offer rare visuals. How often do we see red trees? These make people want to take a second look.

11. WongFu Productions


WongFu Productions focuses on telling stories and doing it darn well. In fact, they do it so well that they’ve managed to hook 2,771,458 subscribers.

Short Film YouTube Channel Art

Create a cinematic feel just like what WongFu Productions did for their thumbnail. Set a san-serif over an engaging image and go heavy on the kerning.

12. Refinery29


If you’re working with photographs, be mindful of the colors in them and how they work with your background. Consider the example below. All the colors in the girl’s dress and yarn work well with the pink background.


My favorite aspect of the thumbnail template we’re sharing with you above is how the girls attire matches the type. It is such a lovely detail.

13. The Verge


The Verge covers everything science, art, and technology. They boast a whopping 304,045,304 views and some sweet thumbnail art, like the one below.


You can create eye-catching visual contrast by setting crisp white type over dark images. If you have an image you wish to use that isn’t quite dark enough, edit it using our filter option. If you don’t want to go through the trouble, work off the template we’ve linked above.

14. Sky Ferreira


Sky Ferreira is an American singer and songwriter. As a teen, she’d upload videos of herself online. This eventually led to her discovery on MySpace.

Don't Worry about a Thing Bob Marley Quote

Handwritten type adds loads of character to any piece. You can create it from scratch or browse through the options we have to offer. Give it a shy hue and set it over a black and white photo to achieve the same feel shared above.

15. BBC Music


BBC Music’s YouTube channel is packed with great musical performances. The thumbnail you see below is for BBC Introducing, a segment where they spotlight new artists from across the UK.

Daily playlist design

Shapes are often the perfect backdrop for copy. We’ve chosen to ground ours but they can also hover within your thumbnail, as showcased by BBC Music.

16. Improv Everywhere


Thumbnails don’t have to be all type and images. You can thrown in a few design elements as well. Improv Everywhere uses its megaphone icon for distinction.

Summer Top Hits Youtube Thumbnail

We used music notes in our template above. No worries if these don't work for you. Browse through the hundreds of icons in Canva's icon library, and select one that's a better fit and drop it in the template.

17. Kryz Uy


Kryz Uy is the girl behind Thirstythought, a blog where Uy records her travel and beauty adventures. Her blog found here is just as fun as her YouTube channel.

Style Funky Pieces Youtube Thumbnail

We’ve shared quite a few examples of type set over images. But you can also divide your thumbnail into sections and give type its very own space. We shared an example of how to do so above.

18. The Art Assignment


For their episode on Performance Art, The Art Assignment created a thumbnail that features a color overlay and white type. It’s one of the channel’s many lovely visuals.


We’ve showcased a number of different pieces of collateral that make use of color overlays and white type. It just works. Think so too? We’ve a great template for you above.

19. The Tonight Show

Tonight Show YouTube Thumbnail

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is a collection of comedy sketches, interviews, crazy games and my personal favorite, Jimmy’s Thank You Notes. The show is hilarious, definitely worth a watch.


Many of their thumbnails feel like they are stills pulled out from the show. They’ve been designed around the show’s classic TV bumper and work surprisingly well. We’ve created our own for you to edit.

20. The Art Assignment


The Art Assignment is a weekly PBS Digital Studios channel curate by Sarah Green. These guys travel around the world and chat with artists. New episodes are released every Thursday.


If you’re working with a beautiful image and a few lines of text, set it on your bottom-left hand corner, just as we showcased above. This way, you won’t cover much of your lovely shot.

Your secret weapon for stunning design