Text In YouTube Thumbnails
The text you use in your YouTube thumbnails can be a real game-changer for your videos. When done right, it can make your video packaging "pop" and attract more clicks. However, if you do it incorrectly, it's just a wasted opportunity and looks bad.
Let me explain.
In an ideal scenario, it's best to keep your thumbnail text-free. A picture says a thousand words and it’s always better to opt for this approach when making thumbnails. However, there might be instances where your video concept can’t be fully expressed through an image alone. In those situations, you may need to include some text to enhance your idea and grab someone's attention.
In such cases, here are some general guidelines to consider:
I'd suggest keeping your thumbnail text to a maximum of three words. If you add more, there’s a high chance it will look cluttered and confusing. When people browse on YouTube, they don’t want to spend their time reading lengthy text. But with up to three well-placed and designed words in your thumbnails, it becomes much simpler for potential viewers to take notice. Fewer words mean less reading time, and reading up to three words takes only a fraction of a second.
However, even the YouTube expert—Paddy Galloway—has indicated that it's somewhat acceptable to include five or six words in your thumbnails. Especially in the educational, commentary and tech niches. In the end, it's best to experiment and find what works well for your content.
Do not repeat your title in the thumbnail. Instead, you should get creative and start thinking outside the box and explore new possibilities. Think beyond the usual and consider alternative ways to express your video concept, which you can incorporate into your thumbnail. Thumbnail text should complement the video title.
Color: When the text and background have little contrast, it can be more challenging to read. The goal is to keep it legible. This may seem obvious, but I've seen some horrible examples out there. If you feel like this is something you struggle with, there are some excellent free tools online where you can check the contrast ratio between the elements. One example is Adobe’s Contrast Checker.
On the other hand, if your background is busy with different colors and patterns, consider adding a black outline to your text. This simple step enhances text readability. Even if it doesn't create the cleanest appearance, it ensures an effective thumbnail. Just take a look at MrBeast's thumbnails for inspiration; he maintains a clean edit, but when he uses text, it's with a black outline. This makes it stand out and adds extra emphasis to the message he’s trying to convey.
Size: Consider the size of the text in your thumbnail design. Zoom out to see how it looks when it's small. If the text becomes unreadable in a smaller format, make it larger. And if it seems too dominant and distracts from other parts of the thumbnail, reduce its size. To help with this, thumbsup.tv is a great tool where you can preview your thumbnail in all YouTube formats.
Once you’ve decided which text works best for your thumbnail, it’s time to choose the right font for it.
If you pay attention next time you browse through YouTube, you’ll notice most of the thumbnails use modern, sans serif fonts because of their easy readability. So, like everyone else, you’ll probably want to use sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Helvetica, Inter and so on. These fonts are clear, bold and easy to digest. They have clean, simple lines without decorative strokes at the ends of characters and they are often used for a modern, clean, and straightforward look in digital design.
On the other side, there are serif fonts that feature small decorative strokes, or serifs, at the ends of characters. They are known for their traditional and more formal appearance, commonly used in printed materials like books and newspapers. If applied in thumbnail design, these fonts may unnecessarily make the thumbnail look busy due to decorative serifs.
And for sure, there are some cases where serif fonts are good choice, especially if you have only one big word in your thumbnail for example, but generally it’s best to avoid them.
Also, if you're looking to get creative with typography, keep in mind that thumbnail design isn't the ideal canvas for artistic expression. Typography itself can be described word art, and in thumbnails, the primary goal of text is to give further context or information to your viewers.
Google Fonts is an awesome fonts gallery where you can search through 1,700+ free fonts. Some of my favorites are:
And if you have any Adobe subscription, via Adobe Fonts you can browse through over 20,000 font families!