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How to make a classic Youtube thumbnail in Photoshop

I am not a Photoshop ‘expert’ in any sense of the word but I have recently spent some time creating a thumbnail for one of my Youtube channels, so I thought, why not to make a tutorial about it?

By ‘classic YouTube thumbnail’ I mean one presenting a Youtuber, his or her silhouette with some colour stroke (usually white), on some nice colourful background.

How to make a Youtube thumbnail with Photoshop

#1 Create a new document

Open your Photoshop, choose ‘New’ from the file menu or press Ctr + N. Set the size of the new document to 1280×720 pixels (this is the recommended size of Youtube thumbnails) and create it.

#2 Find two pictures and open them in Photoshop

You need to start with two files, one picture presenting the person and one with the background. The background can be anything, an interesting picture, nice colour, texture or pattern. For purpose of this tutorial I will use a picture of a random guy and cool looking ‘textured’ Polish flag (I have a Youtube channel for Polish language learners and might use this thumbnail in the future).

By the way, I recommend a great website where you can find free pictures for your projects: Pixabay.

Here are two pictures I will be using in this project.
How to make Youtube thumbnail

#3 Select the background

Open the picture presenting your character. I only need the silhouette of guy from this picture for the final product and I need somehow to isolate it from the background. There are a few ways of achieving this but I use ‘Quick selection tool’. Access it either from the menu in the left-hand side or press w on your keyboard. Before you start, check if the layer of the image is locked – a small padlock will be displayed there. If it is locked, click this padlock unlock it.

With the quick selection tool you want to select the background by dragging it around the character. It is an easy task if there is a strong contrast between the object and its background. If the tool in some areas selected the character (you do not want to do it, you need to select only background) you can press left Alt to change the tool into ‘Selection subtraction tool’ and select the part of the character that was incorrectly selected in the previous step. If you need to select or de-select very small area, you need to zoom and change the size of the tool (to do it o the fly press [ or ] on your keyboard to make it smaller or bigger). After a minute or two I ended up with something looking like that:

Select the background

#4 Delete the background and move your character to the new document

This step is easy, just press Del on your keyboard and all the background should be gone and you should see only your selected character.

Then, add a layer style (it is usually located in the right bottom corner, click on the ‘fx’ symbol and choose ‘Stroke’). A small window should pop out where you can adjust the stroke settings (it is size, if it is inside or outside, what colour should be applied). For this tutorial I will choose white, outside stroke of 12px. Because at the moment the background is missing, it is difficult to say what will look good but you can easily go back to these setting and adjust them if needed.

Delete the background and move your character to new document

Once you have done it, move your character from the original file into the new document you created in step 1.

Move the background to the new document

#5 Now open the second file that will be the background of Youtube thumbnail. Move the whole background picture from the second file into the new document by dragging it and dropping. (If you need specific instruction, once you see the second background picture, press Ctr + Alt to select it, then press V on the keyboard or choose ‘Move tool’ from the left menu. Finally, drag it to the first picture and drop it there.)

The picture may cover your guy but if you move its layer below the layer with the guy, everything should be in place (the background will be behind the guy).

Now it is the matter or adjusting things so the thumbnail looks better. In my case, I had to move my character down and to the right to create some space for the title. I also changed the size of the stroke to 10 pixels. At the moment my creation looks like this:

Move the background to new document

#6 Create a catchy title

The final step in making our Youtube thumbnail is to create a catchy, popping out title. Start by selection Horizontal type tool from the left menu (or press T) and write your title. It may be a good idea to create the title on separate lines, you will be able to adjust it easier.

Once the title is created, start a new layer under it and then use rectangle tool to create a box under the title. Choose a colour combination that will make the title to pop out. In my case the letters were white and the background was initially black but I changed its opacity to 50% for it to look better.

Of course, you can add some other visual elements like icons, graphics, clip arts and so on, depending like on the subject of your video. I am quite pleased with the final result and leave it as it is:

Youtube thumbnail finished

I hope that this tutorial was useful and will help you out to make your own Youtube thumbnail with Photoshop or any other program as the steps will be similar. Please let me know below if you have any questions. I will also try to create a video tutorial so you will see exactly what is going on in each step.

2 thoughts on “How to make a classic Youtube thumbnail in Photoshop

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