Reel Them In: Craft Instagram Thumbnails That Demand a Double Tap

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In the competitive world of Instagram reels, a good thumbnail can make or break your views. With billions of reels out there, you need to stand out from the pack if you want your videos to get watched. That’s why crafting compelling, strategic thumbnails is a must.

There’s a common misconception that thumbnails don’t matter on Instagram because Reels autoplay in the user’s feed. While it’s true thumbnails aren’t used in a user’s Reels feed, you want users to choose to watch your Reels even when they aren’t in their feed. When they’re checking out your profile, for example, it’s the thumbnail image that will catch their attention.

This is also true for the Explore section, which is an exceptionally valuable opportunity to connect with new users. Choosing a strong video thumbnail can be the difference between someone breezing past or stopping to watch your content.

Attention-Grabbing Best Practices

Your thumbnails have mere seconds to capture user’s attention and convince them to stop scrolling. So what makes for effective Reel thumbnails? Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Choose a Striking Frame
    Analyze your entire Reel video and select the most vivid, visually interesting frame to showcase. It could be a colorful scene, you making an amusing facial expression, or displaying an exciting moment. The goal is to intrigue viewers and make them wonder what’s happening in the full video. Stay away from bland, forgettable images.

    These thumbnails examples from Canva templates, takes a memorable frame from the Reel that features an engaging facial expression.

  • Use Text Overlays
    Text on your thumbnail can help convey what the reel is about or highlight your brand. Keep wording short, punchy and eye-catching. For example “Refreshing Summer Drink,” “DIY Wall Art” or “Story Time!” Aim for a clean, simple font that is easy to read on the small thumbnail.

    Here are some examples of thumbnails from Adobe Express that effectively use text overlays to instantly convey what the Reel is about.

  • Feature Yourself or Recognizable Images
    Seeing faces tends to draw people in more than scenery alone. If you’re in the Reel, put yourself front and center on the thumbnail! Even if you’re not, use images of products, foods or other visuals that will be quickly recognizable to those scrolling.

    Here are examples of recognizable images, again from Adobe Express, that tell a story even without watching the reel.

  • Be Consistent With Your Branding
    Use the same fonts, colors, and overall style across your thumbnails to build brand recognition. This also helps viewers know it’s your content before even reading your name.

  • Change Up Your Look
    Don’t use the exact same thumbnail style every time or it will get stale. Switch between close-ups of you, full scene images, text-focused, etc. to keep providing fresh visuals from post to post.

    It is important to add variety to your Reels grid to keep users engaged while browsing your carefully curated content. Here are some examples from Canva.

How to Create Custom Thumbnails

There are lots of great design and editing apps to help you create on-brand and aesthetically pleasing Reels thumbnail designs. 

Here are just a few apps you can use: 

What is the best image size for my Instagram Reel thumbnails?

Reels share roughly the same dimensions as Instagram Stories (1080 x 1920 pixels), so you can use any of the pre-built templates for Instagram Stories as a starting point. 

Keep in mind that Reels shared to your profile will be cropped to 1:1 in your grid feed, and will be cropped to 4:5 in the Instagram Home Feed. Thumbnail images will display in full on the Instagram Reels tab. Make sure the important information will be cropped appropriately and not cut off.

Here’s a an example from a Canva template that allows the square version of the thumbnail to show all the important information.

Test Different Options

Try making multiple thumbnails for one reel and using each version for a period of time to see which garners the most engagement. This can help you identify what thumbnails work best to promote your brand.

Pulling it Together

In the competitive world of Instagram Reels, a good thumbnail can make or break your views. With billions of Reels out there, you want to stand out from the pack. That’s why crafting compelling, strategic thumbnails is a must.