How to Make a Thumbnail for Your Content

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Photo Source: DC Studio/Shutterstock

Welcome to the world of thumbnails, those miniature headshots posted on casting websites and the tiny images meant to entice viewers on video-sharing platforms. Thumbnails are more momentous than their tiny stature might indicate. Here’s everything you need to know about making thumbnails, from how to get them the right size to what makes one effective.


What is a thumbnail?



A thumbnail is a small image that functions as a preview for a full-sized photo or video. It’s a signifier of what is to come if someone clicks on it. The thumbnail allows viewers to decide if they want to engage with the content, see how it’s similar or different from other content, and discover essential cues about the information behind the thumbnail.

How to make a thumbnail

Thumbnail picture


Follow these steps to make a thumbnail of your acting headshot and other photos:

  1. Get software: It’s easiest to make a thumbnail using photo-editing software. PaintShop Pro, Photoshop, and even MS Paint are all viable options.
  2. Copy: Ensure you’re working with a copy of the original image so that you don’t accidentally resize your actual headshot.
  3. Edit: You can either resize the image or crop it. Since your headshot already has your beautiful face shining bright and clear, you’ll likely want to resize it. You can resize by percentage or by pixels. A good rule of thumb(nail) size is to make the image 10% of the original size and at least 640 pixels wide for clarity. Alternatively, you may choose to crop the image if you want it to focus on a specific element in the original photo. In that case, select crop and either drag the border to your desired area or choose one of the pre-formatted crop options.
  4. Save: Don’t let your hard work go to waste! If the thumbnail is up to snuff, save it to your files.

To create a thumbnail for video:

  1. Take a screenshot: The best video thumbnails are taken from the clip itself. Pause the video at the moment you feel best represents its contents and make a screen capture of it.
  2. Edit: Using your photo-editing software, resize the image to YouTube’s recommended size of 1280 x 720 pixels or a 16:9 aspect ratio. You may also want to add text to the image that highlights your brand or indicates the video content.
  3. Save: Preserve your hard work by saving the thumbnail to your files. 

Follow these steps to add a video thumbnail to your pages:

  1. Pick a video: Go to your channel and choose the video you feel would benefit from a thumbnail.
  2. Upload: Under the heading labeled “thumbnail,” or “edit thumbnail,” depending on the platform, click on “Upload thumbnail.”
  3. Save: Choose the image from your files and click save.
  4. Review: Conduct a quick review of your video content and the thumbnail to make sure they match up and that the thumbnail is a solid fit.

How to make good thumbnails

photoshop thumbnail

Kamil Zajaczkowski/Shutterstock

A good thumbnail should be:

Clear: Viewers should understand what’s happening in the thumbnail, not be mystified by it. Avoid blurry images, visual clutter, and anything unidentifiable. Casting director Dan Cowan emphasizes that the headshot thumbnail needs to be “crystal clear and 100% real.” He points out that as tiny as thumbnails are, they are often cropped even further, so clarity is crucial.

Aesthetically pleasing: The contrast, color, composition, and any text on the thumbnail should be appealing to the eye. “If there’s too much white light, too big a smile, or too much makeup, I move on,” Cowan says. 

Like a regular headshot, a thumbnail has to look exactly like the actor and to “pop,” says agent Jamie Harris. But the need to pop is even more critical online, he adds, where a dozen or more thumbnails may appear on a page. They should be in color and feature a full frontal shot of the face—no profiles and no three-quarter shots.

Relevant: You can have the most adorable picture of a puppy in your thumbnail, but if it doesn’t represent the content attached to it, it’s virtually useless (the thumbnail, not the puppy, of course). Ensure that the thumbnail is an accurate preview of what’s to come. 

Photographer Blake Gardner says that the thumbnail should focus on your eyes. The downside is that you can’t see your body, and the small size of the photo may mislead the viewer about your size and shape. That means you should be extra careful that the thumbnail accurately reflects your real look as much as possible. 

“What you see in the picture should be what you get when you meet the actor,” Cowan says. “If I’m looking at a thumbnail and questioning what the person looks like, I move on.”

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