YouTube Thumbnails are made automatically when you upload a video to YouTube. It is used in various places on the YouTube website as a still shot to represent your video. Those video thumbnails are very important to your viewers as we have mentioned in many other posts on this website.
It is even more important that you know what part of your thumbnail image is safe from being cropped off once you have learned how to make your own custom YouTube Thumbnails using our YouTube Thumbnail Trick Tutorial. You might as well make the Thumbnail image look as good as you can, so read on…
The YouTube Thumbnail Image that is seen in various places online will be the image used by many viewers when they are deciding if they want to watch the video you created or not. We feel that this is a very important part of Video Optimization: trying to get the best thumbnail image possible.
With the YouTube Thumbnail Image, Size Matters
This very important image will make the first impression on your viewers and the fact that YouTube sometimes will crop this image, depending on where it is seen, is very important to how you design your video.
[Update] If you are here now because you now have the ability to add Custom Thumbnails to your YouTube videos, great… The info in this post is mainly about the 4:3 ratio videos (older ones usually created at 640 x 480) that you may need to make custom TN images for now. BUT if you want to know the common size for Video Thumbnails now using the wider 16:9 ratio, here are some common pixel dimensions to work with: Best Quality: 1920 x 1080 or very good quality: 1280 x 720 Width x Height.
YouTube Thumbnail Image Size – It All Starts With Your Video
The thumbnail image that YouTube makes is taken from your video’s content. YouTube selects 3 locations from your video to create 3 thumbnail images. You can select the one you like best, but they all come from your video.
If you are aware of the fact that YouTube will crop away part of the full size of the video image when it creates the Thumbnail Image, you can plan better by properly positioning the important information that you want to be included in the Thumbnail Image when you are creating your video.
YouTube Thumbnail Image Size – Know The Safe Zone
When the Thumbnail Image is made there is an area that we call a “Safe Zone”. It is the area that will survive any cropping that YouTube does to your video’s image. We have performed some tests to determine what this safe zone is and display those results in the video on this page as well as in the research shown below.
As long as you are aware of this YouTube Thumbnail Image Safe Zone and keep your important information inside that area, then you can be assured that no matter where YouTube decides to pull the Thumbnail Image from, you will have a better chance of all your important information being captured and displayed in the thumbnail.
The Quick Summary
Please feel free to read about the process and the results of the research we have displayed below. As a quick summary we will list the results here.
The safe zone that will survive any cropping by YouTube for a 4:3 ratio video is within a 70% area from the center out. The “Green” area in the video shown above.
In other words, if you were to take the full size of your video (100%) and reduce it towards the center of your video by 30% so you end up with 70% of what you started with — you end up with the area that is safe from being chopped off or cropped away by the YouTube Thumbnail Creation process. Here's a great article by Influencive if you're trying to get YouTube views.
YouTube Thumbnail Image Size – Where We Ended Up:
The Thumbnail Image you see to the right is what is shown inside your channel view. We made the testing videos be the “Featured Video” so it would show up in the player when we took a look at our channel.
As you can see the Video Still Shot (aka Thumbnail Image) shows the image being cropped. The RED background was made to be 100% of the video size, the BLUE area was made at 80% of the video size and the GREEN inner box was made to be 70% of the video size.
Our results show that the Green area (70%) is considered a safe zone. Information you keep inside this Save Zone will not be compromised when cropping occurs.
Note that for our 4:3 ratio video (sometimes called “Standard” as opposed to “Wide”) the cropping occurs on the top and bottom of the image.
Pushing the Limits:
The image to the right is another Featured Video Preview/ Thumbnail Image from the YouTube Channel area.
Since the final test we displayed above seemed like it had some breathing room outside the 70% area, we thought we would push the limits and test a 75% “safe area”. As you can see to the right, it didn’t work.
I this test the Green area is 75%, the Yellow/Beige area is 80%, the Blue area is 90% and the Red area is 100% of the video size.
If we had put some of our important information right to the edge of a 75% box, the edges would have been chopped off when the cropping occurred. We think that if you stay within the 70% “Safe Zone” mentioned above you will be clear of any cropping activity.
More thumbnail cropping is seen in other areas outside of the Channel view as noted below.
YouTube Thumbnail Image Size – Search Results
The thumbnail that is displayed as part of the YouTube Search Results is definitely cropped! This is one of the most important thumbnails displayed in all of YouTube.
It appears that the amount of cropping here is slightly less than in other locations (it fits into an 80% safe zone), you still have to plan for the larger amount of cropping visible elsewhere. People are searching for what they want to watch and your thumbnail shown in the YouTube Search Results is extremely important.
Google Search Results: Not Cropped:
If you are skilled (or lucky) enough to get a Video Thumbnail shown as part of a Google search, you’ll be excited to know that the whole image is shown.
We expected that the search results pages would be similar between YouTube and Google, but we were wrong. It appears that the Thumbnails used as part of a Google Search Result are NOT cropped. But you may want to note that Google adds a small play arrow on the bottom right, which may obscure some of your thumbnail image.
Pick Your Thumbnail:
No cropping here… You will also not see any cropping of the thumbnail images used in the “My Videos” area, the “view all xx comments” area, nor will you see any cropping in the area within the “My Videos” where you perform your edits to the video submission. This makes sense since you are not dealing with the thumbnail YouTube uses so much as you are with the details that surround your video.
The Bottom Line:
So what we see here is that there are various places where video thumbnails are used within YouTube and depending on where you are, the thumbnail image may or may not be cropped. However,the most important places within YouTube do use the cropped version so it is important for you to be aware and plan your video imagery accordingly.