TikTok tips: How to design the best video thumbnails

TikTok video thumbnails: small images with big impact

TikTok is one of today’s leading social media platforms. Used by 1 billion people monthly, it has enormous potential for reaching new customers and fans. But getting your content viewed on TikTok is a challenge: How do you make your video stand out among millions of others?

To find out what makes a TikTok video successful, we analyzed 300 thumbnails of videos on various topics. Which subjects, emotions, and colors hook a viewer? What elements and text encourage them to like, share, and engage? This guide will break down all the research and give you concrete tips on how to make your TikTok thumbnails outshine the competition and win viewers.

This infographic explains the success measures used to compare TikTok Thumbnails



Make the most of animal magnetism

Users can find a TikTok video on just about any subject, but not all subjects attract the same attention. In the nanoseconds it takes users to browse thumbnails, which ones lead to the most views? And which ones turn those views into further engagement, like comments, shares, and likes?

This callout infographic reveals the success of animal TikTok content

They say a dog is a person’s best friend, and TikTok users seem to agree. Videos with animal thumbnails got the most average views — almost 11 million more than the next closest category. Animals also earned the most average likes, comments, and shares. Following animals, videos with thumbnail images of food had the next highest number of views and likes.

This infographic breaks down TikTok success and engagement metrics by genre

No category came anywhere close to performing as well as animals did when it came to comments and shares, but video thumbnails featuring celebrities had a slightly higher rate of engagement at 14%, compared to animals at 13.4%.

If you’re looking to boost your TikTok engagement, an adorable animal thumbnail is the way to go. But for an even bigger boost, you could make it a composite photo by pasting a shot of Harry Styles next to it.

Surprise the views out of ‘em

Emotions drive many of our actions, and viewing TikTok videos is no exception. Thumbnails can evoke many emotions, but which ones hook a viewer and keep them engaged enough to comment or share?3. Design & Optimize Your Blog

This infographic mentions how anger and surprise in TikTok thumbnails impacts engagement and viewership

Laughter may be the best medicine, but TikTok users prefer thumbnails that are a little more emotionally intense. Surprising thumbnails had the most average views, followed closely by ones that displayed anger. But the anger-inspiring thumbnails (like this one in which a goalkeeper loses his cool) had the highest engagement rate at 13.3%.

This infographic breaks down TikTok engagement statistics based on the emotional response to thumbnail images

Despite anger’s high engagement rate, not every TikTok user is motivated by this emotion. While viewers were likely to view a TikTok with a thumbnail that made them angry and possibly share it, these videos got fewer likes and comments than those with thumbnails that inspired other emotions.

Videos with thumbnails that made viewers happy (like those of Squishy the chipmunk) earned the most likes and shares, while those with humorous thumbnail images got the most comments. Both types of thumbnails also led to a lot of engagement, at 12.1% and 11.4%, respectively. On the flip side, those with sad images were the worst-performing by far. These videos had the least views, likes, and comments and the second-least number of shares. That said, they were successful at tugging at viewers’ heartstrings in some way; they had an overall engagement rate of 11.1%.

If you’re looking to boost the sheer volume of views for your TikTok videos, stir up some shock with surprising thumbnail images. But if you want more likes, comments, and shares, keep the smiles coming with joy and humor.

Paint it brown

Color is always a key design factor. It can attract attention, convey meaning, and evoke emotions. Which colors boost viewership for TikTok videos and make that rainbow connection to likes, shares, and engagement?

This callout infographic reveals how including brown and orange in TikTok thumbnails lead to more engagement.

Of all the crayons in the box, brown isn’t often picked as a favorite. On TikTok, however, videos with primarily brown thumbnails got the most views, likes, and shares. They also had the fourth-highest engagement rate. When it came to engagement alone, orange won the top prize with a 12.3% engagement rate, barely edging out purple’s 12.2%.

This infographic breaks down how colors included in TikTok thumbnails impact its viewership and engagement rate

Along with brown, other thumbnail colors that led to a large number of views and likes were pink, green, black, red, and yellow. Videos with green or blue thumbnail images had the most comments, while brown and green thumbnail images easily took the award for most shares. Engagement was pretty consistent across the rainbow, but pink images had the lowest engagement and were the only images to get less than 10% in that category.

With the overwhelming popularity of animal videos on TikTok and the abundance of brown animals, there’s likely a link between TikTok viewers’ favorite color and preferred subject. Green’s popularity could also be explained by animal video popularity, as it’s often the dominant background color of animals photographed in nature.

If you want views alone, then brown or pink might be safe choices to dominate your thumbnail image palette. But for likes, comments, shares, and engagement, try keeping the hues set to green.

Say (a little) something

While images certainly reign supreme for TikTok thumbnails, text elements often get tossed into the mix as well. Do viewers respond differently when you add text? And if so, how should it look?

This callout infographic reveals how centered thumbnail text in a TikTok leads to the highest engagement rate

Thumbnail images with text had a 19.5% higher engagement rate than those without text. Text in the middle of the image had the most engagement (12.9%). And while TikTok viewers prefer text with their images, they’re looking for snippets, not dissertations. Engagement with a video plummeted when the word count went too high.

This callout infographic highlights how a high text count in TikTok thumbnails decreases likes and shares.

This infographic breaks down how text in TikTok thumbnails impacts viewership and engagement rate.

What you say is important, but on TikTok, it might be more about where you say it. It’s easy to see why 93% of TikTok thumbnails with text have it centered somewhere along the vertical axis. But text in the middle or bottom center of the thumbnail image led to the most engagement — close to 13%. Text centered at the top had slightly less: just 11.2%.

The amount of text in thumbnail images also had a big impact on viewer engagement, with 5-10 words being the sweet spot. If more text is needed, 11-15 words also performed very well, but any text longer than 15 words drastically reduced engagement.

If you want your videos to stand out, use 5-10 words and center the text in the dead center or bottom center of your thumbnail.

Designed to engage

TikTok may be at the top of the social media game for marketing, promotions, and brand building. But with millions of videos uploaded daily, it takes strategic design to make your TikTok videos stand out. By analyzing TikTok engagement rates, we found that the most successful video thumbnail images:

Of course, you won’t be able to incorporate all these elements into every thumbnail image, but designing images with at least three elements should significantly boost your engagement rate. Still, if you do happen to have a thumbnail image of Taylor Swift being surprised by a brown horse while wearing a green dress above the caption, “Taylor can’t shake off her surprise!” –– then congratulations, you just won TikTok.

If that’s not aligned with your brand, you can craft TikTok thumbnails that are even more eye-catching using Adobe Express. With customizable templates, stunning images, and one-click tools, it’s the ultimate app for content creators looking to stand out on social media.


For this study, we selected thumbnails from 300 popular TikTok videos across 12 different genres. Along with collecting metadata from the TikTok thumbnail, we gathered video success statistics, including viewership, likes, comments, shares, and engagement rate. The average viewership of the TikTok videos we analyzed was 20 million.

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