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How to Add a Thumbnail to a YouTube Video & Live Streams

Written by, Alex Bosnjak

Updated June, 9, 2022

Have you made an amazing YouTube video but want to get more viewers? Well, one way to get more subscribers and viewers is to have interesting and eye-catching thumbnails.

You may wonder how to add a thumbnail to a Youtube video, and in this article, I’ll explain how you can add custom thumbnails to videos (before and after posting) and live streams. Also, I’ll provide information about requirements, best practices, and YouTube guidelines.

What Is a Thumbnail on YouTube?

Thumbnails on YouTube are simply the static images you see when you scroll through videos on the platform. 

When someone uploads and posts a video on their channel on YouTube, there’s an option to select a recommended or custom thumbnail for that video. 

Thumbnails have been attributed as a crucial part of getting more views and traffic on channels. So, spending time to create a compelling thumbnail can be essential for your video’s success.

Requirements and Policies for Thumbnails

There’re certain requirements set by YouTube or best practices to consider before making a thumbnail for a YouTube video:

  • Verified Account — To add custom thumbnails to your videos, you must have a verified account on YouTube.
  • YouTube Thumbnail Size — YouTube recommends that your thumbnail image should be at 1280×720 resolution or at least a minimum of 640 pixels in width.
  • File Format and Image Size — The image file format should be in JPG, PNG, or GIF format, ideally, under 2MB.
  • Aspect Ratio — The aspect ratio should be 16:9, as this is the standard aspect ratio of YouTube thumbnails.
  • Timestamp Clearance — This isn’t a requirement, but remember that a standard timestamp will appear at the bottom right corner of your thumbnail. So, you have to ensure no elements of your thumbnail, like text or visuals, are in that area.

Moreover, YouTube has strict policies or Community Guidelines for adding custom thumbnails that you need to follow. These policies restrict things like:

  • Nudity or sexually provocative content
  • Hate speech
  • Violence
  • Harmful or dangerous content

If your thumbnail includes such content, YouTube may reject it and add a strike to your channel. If you continue to violate their policies, YouTube may revoke your custom thumbnail privileges for 30 days or even terminate your account permanently.

YouTube can strike your channel for an inappropriate custom thumbnail. However, you can appeal the strike if you think your thumbnail didn’t violate any Community Guidelines policies. If YouTube approves your appeal, they may restore your custom thumbnail if you haven’t already replaced it.

How to Add a Thumbnail to a YouTube Video

There are two different ways to add a thumbnail to a YouTube video, and they are both simple and user-friendly. I’ll also talk about adding thumbnails to a live stream.

Adding Thumbnails Before Posting

If you want to add a thumbnail to a YouTube video before posting it, here are the steps:

  1. Sign in to your YouTube Studio.
  2. Click “https://storage.googleapis.com/support-kms-prod/OLZPmBvdqu2A6gpd7UU2ddW4lyM4Aw6cqkQA” (Create) on the top right corner and select “Upload videos”, and add a video to upload.
  3. Under the “Thumbnail” section, select a recommended still image or click on “Upload thumbnail.”
  4. Upload your desired custom thumbnail and click “Save” on the top right corner.

Adding Thumbnails After Posting

If you want to add a thumbnail to a YouTube video after posting it, here are the simple steps:

  1. Sign in to your YouTube Studio
  2. Open the left menu and select the Content section
  3. Click on the video you want to add the thumbnail to
  4. Under the “Thumbnail” section, select a recommended still image or click on “Upload thumbnail.”
  5. Upload your desired custom thumbnail and click “Save” on the top right corner

Adding Thumbnails via Smartphones

YouTube is a mobile-friendly platform. So, you can use your smartphone to add a thumbnail to your YouTube video. Here’s how you can do it on iOS or Android phones:

  1. Open the YouTube Studio app and click on the content tab
  2. Select the video you want to add/change the thumbnail of by tapping on its thumbnail.
  3. Tap the pen or “Edit” icon
  4. Tap the pen or “Edit thumbnail” icon
  5. Select a recommended still image or tap on “Change” to upload a custom thumbnail from your iPhone gallery.
  6. Once the thumbnail is uploaded, tap “Save.”

Adding Thumbnails to a Live Stream

If you want to add a thumbnail to a Live stream, here are the steps your need to follow:

  1. Sign in to your YouTube Studio
  2. Click “https://storage.googleapis.com/support-kms-prod/OLZPmBvdqu2A6gpd7UU2ddW4lyM4Aw6cqkQA” (Create) on the top right corner and select “Go Live.”
  3. On the “Stream” page, select “https://storage.googleapis.com/support-kms-prod/OLZPmBvdqu2A6gpd7UU2ddW4lyM4Aw6cqkQA” Change Thumbnail.
  4. Upload the thumbnail of your choice.
  5. Once the thumbnail is uploaded, click “Save.”

How to Make a Thumbnail for a YouTube Video

Planning thumbnails is a good practice because it allows you to conceptualise the first impression of your video. You may need to capture the thumbnail before or during the shoot. Also, make sure that those are high-quality pictures.

Thumbnails offer you an excellent opportunity to showcase your creativity. Here are some excellent tips on making a thumbnail for a YouTube video that is both effective and attractive.

Stills from Your Video

The most basic way to create a thumbnail is to use still images from your video. YouTube understands this and automatically presents the three best stills from your video as recommended thumbnail options.

While YouTube will save your thumbnail selection immediately, it may take some time for the thumbnail to appear/change on your YouTube channel.

Of course, you can always select your choice of still image and upload it as a thumbnail. However, this counts as a “custom” thumbnail and requires you to have a verified account. You can add some text like a title or caption to your still image before uploading it as a thumbnail to make it more descriptive and attractive.

Original Images

Aside from still images, you can opt for original images to use as thumbnails like most popular content creators. Of course, these should be relevant to the video content for obvious reasons.

 Once you have your image, you can use any number of free image editors to perfect it and add text, effects, graphics, or other visuals before you upload it.

Custom/Original Graphics

Often, brands and content creators include a brand logo or name in their thumbnails. These custom or original graphics help improve brand recognition and awareness and separate your thumbnails from the competition. 

Of course, you can use combinations for your thumbnails like stills and graphics, original images and graphics, or only graphics. Most popular vlogs, educational channels, tutorials, and talk show channels use a combination of original images with custom/original graphics to create compelling thumbnails.

Attention-Grabbing Text/Title/Caption

If you have any experience running a YouTube channel, you know how important video titles can be for attracting views, and the same stands for thumbnails. The thumbnail of your video should be accompanied by a compelling title or caption that brings more clicks and views.

This text can be the same as your title, or it can be an extension of it. The important thing is that it should be relevant.

For example, you could use the text “Things to Consider About YouTube Thumbnails?” or you could go for “What You Need to Consider About YouTube Thumbnails.” The latter is more attention-grabbing and compelling than the former despite relaying a similar message.

Avoid Clickbait Thumbnails

Clickbait images, texts, or titles in your thumbnails aren’t an ideal solution for sustainable views and subscribers. They may give your videos a temporary boost in clicks and increase traffic, but they repel subscribers and tarnish your channel and efforts in the long run.

You don’t want to waste viewers’ time or lose subscribers. So, you need to be mindful that you aren’t making misleading thumbnails with clickbait images or titles.

Test Your Thumbnails

You can pick a successful video from your channel, change its thumbnail, and track the results after the change, which will tell you whether a thumbnail design proves better or worse for your videos.

You can stick to the one that works best and try to replicate its design and strong points for the thumbnails of your other videos.


By now, you should have a better understanding of how to change YouTube thumbnails, and how to add a thumbnail to a YouTube video before and after publishing, and to YouTube live streams. If you follow the mentioned tips, you should be able to create some excellent and compelling thumbnails for your videos while making sure you adhere to YouTube requirements and policies.

Remember that there is no perfect thumbnail design, so make sure to have fun, be creative, and keep testing for better results.