YouTube Thumbnails: How to Edit with Picmonkey and Canva

Preparing a video for YouTube means taking quite a few steps. I recently discussed my video upload routine and today am going deeper on one of the most important steps: creating a YouTube thumbnail.

This is the first visual connection someone will have with the video behind it. All someone has to decide whether they’ll press ‘play’ on your video is a title and a thumbnail. This thumbnail is a very critical part of the vlog strategy and one you should put thought into. Check out how I edit my thumbnails to give you an idea of what you should be thinking about for your next one.

How I Edit My YouTube Thumbnails:

  1. Pose for a picture! When I start filming a video a take a few moments to come up with an option for the base photo of the thumbnail. I do this because if you don’t and try to go through your footage to find something, it can be extremely difficult to find a moment when you a) look good and b) aren’t moving. So pose and increase your chances of having something you can work with. Export that freeze frame from your video editing software as a .jpg or .png.
  2. Upload photo to Picmonkey.com. This is the free photo editing web application I like to use to make edits to the photo. Brightening, sharpening, saturating and all that fun stuff. You can upgrade to their Royale service which I highly recommend (you can spend very little money on an annual rate) to do some other extra fun stuff like eye brightening, teeth whitening and special effects. But the point here is to just get the photo to POP on its own as much as possible for the next step. Export this new version of the photo to your computer.
  3. Upload new photo to Canva.com. You could finish editing by adding words and and patterns to your photo in Picmonkey, but I prefer to keep all of my thumbnails in Canva since they have such a reliable archive. I also like this because I can easily duplicate an old thumbnail and insert my new photo and just move it around for the new version. I use very basic additions to the thumbnail for finalization like copy and transparent panels. To keep them all looking like they’re in the same family, Canva is the best place for me to do this. The best part is if you really don’t want to come up with your thumbnail design from scratch, Canva allows you to drop your photo(s) into pre-designed YouTube thumbnail templates and this is amazing for the average new YouTuber. Just find one you like and fill in the information accordingly. Export that final project and upload to YouTube with your video as the Custom Thumbnail.

A couple of key things to note about your YouTube thumbnails:

  • This photo is going to be VERY small in most cases. People who see your video thumbnail are likely going to be scrolling around on a smartphone. You want to be respectful of that fact and make sure that when you’re creating this picture teaser for your video that you check to see what it looks like as a very tiny photo and ensure you can see and read what’s going on. Too many words or photos that are hard to see will ultimately kill your video in the end if you didn’t consider the context of where that photo would be discovered.
  • Human faces help. People like to connect with people. Especially when they’re watching a video. So make sure that the person guiding them through the content of the video is front and center in the thumbnail (when it makes sense.) Don’t worry about trying to fit your whole body in the thumbnail if the video isn’t about your outfit or body type. If it’s just to make a human connection, that face needs to take up at least 1/3 of the photo space.
  • Don’t use too many words. The biggest mistakes I see when people leverage words or copy in their thumbnails are a) too many words you can’t even read them and/or b) the copy on the thumbnail is the same as the title of the video. Give yourself the chance to use different words in the thumbnail copy so that it increases the conversation of the invite you’re extending to watch your video. Why put the same words in there that helped get you in front of them in the first place (the title)? Say something human to them in the thumbnail copy and keep.it.short! Again, it’s a small space so more than 5 words is going to start to get difficult to read.

Want to discover more about vlogging? Pick up a copy of my book Vlog Like a Boss!