How to create a custom YouTube thumbnail image

How to create a custom YouTube thumbnail image

For about the past two years, I have been steadily leveraging my YouTube channel to engage more with viewers and to broaden the reach of my videos. During this time, I’ve been keeping an eye on a number of changes that YouTube has been making – some of those incude the ability to create a custom YouTube background and the ability to monetize your YouTube videos.

While these are great features that can help you better personalize your YouTube channel and bring in a little money for your hard work, one of my favorite features that they added is the ability to set a custom YouTube thumbnail image.

Upload a custom YouTube thumbnail image for your video

Selecting a specific YouTube thumbnail image

Previously, if you wanted to choose a specific shot from your video to be used as a thumbnail, it could be done if you were a skilled video editor and followed these complicated instructions. For most YouTube users though, this was just too difficult to do and frankly, not worth your time. Enter custom YouTube thumbnail images!

YouTube custom thumbnail images explained

YouTube custom thumbnail images are a way to let users override YouTube’s selections for thumbnail images without any video editing tricks or modifications.  Instead, you can create your own image that you want to represent your videos.

Take a look at the following two YouTube videos and their respective thumbnail images.  The first one is using a thumbnail image that YouTube selected for the video. The second one is using a custom YouTube thumbnail image that I created myself to best represent my video. Which YouTube video would you watch?

YouTube video without a custom thumbnail image

YouTube image without a custom thumbnail image

YouTube video with a custom thumbnail image

YouTube image with a custom thumbnail image

Why should I include a custom YouTube thumbnail image?

While including a custom YouTube thumbnail image might add a few extra minutes to your work, it will pay off in the long run.  For example, here is a list of videos on the same topic. Do any of them catch your eye and encourage you to want to watch one video over another? Not only do custom YouTube thumbnail images help draw viewers in, but personally, I think they look a lot more professional too.

YouTube videos on the same topic – “how to share reminders in iOS 6” with and without a custom YouTube thumbnail image

YouTube videos with custom thumbnail images

Benefits to having a custom YouTube thumbnail images

Great, my videos look more professional, what else can a custom YouTube thumbnail image do?

  • More professional = more chances of having your video viewed
  • The more clicks you get, the higher your videos show up in search results
  • More clicks and monetized videos means higher revenue

What to include in your YouTube thumbnail image?

You’re ready to create your custom YouTube thumbnail image – what should you include in your image? Here are a few items you might want to consider.

YouTube channel with custom thumbnail images


While your thumbnail is going to be relatively small, you can include some text. I like to include text that is related to the video. Remember, just because you include a thumbnail and someone clicks to watch your video, it doesn’t change the fact that the thumbnail says one thing and the video shows something different.  If you use text that is related to your video, it could also entice viewers to want to give your video a thumbs up or share it, while unrelated text might encourage viewers to give it a thumbs down.


If I am covering a particular subject, say photography, I like to include a relevant image. One way to do this is to include an image that helps to embody what the video is about. In this case, a small camera icon or roll of film (who users that anymore) can help to attract viewers. If you have an entire series of videos on photography, using the same image on each thumbnail can help viewers sift through unrelated videos to find the right one.


One thing that I find works exceptionally well are bright colors. Which are you more inclined to click, neon green text or text that blends in with the page?  Add a splash of color – to your thumbnail images background, text or image. This way your videos don’t blend in, but stick out more!

How to create a custom YouTube thumbnail image

To create your own custom YouTube thumbnail image, follow these steps.

  1. Download my FREE YouTube custom thumbnail image template
  2. Open the file in Adobe Photoshop or GIMP (a FREE alternative)
  3. Edit each respective layer
  4. Save your image as a PNG, JPG or GIF.
  5. On YouTube, select video manager and then edit on a video you want to add a custom YouTube thumbnail image to
  6. Select custom thumbnail and upload your image from your computer
  7. Click save

Enabling custom YouTube thumbnail images

Some people have reported that they don’t have the option to upload a custom YouTube thumbnail image.  If you’ve followed the above steps and don’t yet have this option, you will want to enable monetization on your channel. Not only will this help you get the option to add a custom YouTube thumbnail image, but you’ll be able to make a little money in the process!


YouTube presents a tremendous opportunity to fill your funnel with prospects just by adding a custom YouTube thumbnail image. Remember, it doesn’t matter which topic you’re a subject matter expert on – just remember to make quality content that people will want to watch. Couple that with a custom YouTube thumbnail image and you have a recipe for success in any area!

Have a question or comment about creating a YouTube custom thumbnail image? Leave a comment below.