How to extract a thumbnail from YouTube (in high-res without plugins)

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Sometimes I need access to my YouTube thumbnails, either because I’d like to update them or because I no longer have a local copy. Here are a few ways to achieve this.

Thumbnails you’ve uploaded yourself

If you have already uploaded a thumbnail to a video, you can download it again in YouTube Studio. Head over to https://studio.youtube.com, navigate to the video in question and choose to edit. In the Thumbnail section, hover over your thumbnail (first one on the left), and click on the little circle in the top left corner. It’ll say Options, one of which is the Download Option.

Remember, this will only work if it’s your own thumbnail. The auto-generated thumbnails cannot be downloaded that way.

Downloading ANY public thumbnail

Thankfully there’s a way around this with a direct URL. This option will work for all public and unlisted videos, but not for private videos (including videos scheduled for the future without a Premiere).

Make a note of your video ID to get this working. The Video ID is that cryptic string that’s contained in your video’s URL. It can take on a variety of appearances, depending on how the link was created:

In the above example the Video ID is Gh2eU9alyM0. Using that string, add it to the following URL to see a hi-res thumbnail:

https://img.youtube.com/vi/video-id/maxresdefault.jpg

So for our example video, the direct URL to the thumbnail is

There’s a tool for that

There’s a handy tool that does the parsing for you, prided by the friendly folks from BoingBoing. It’s a free tool, but doesn’t always work and imposes limits as to how many thumbnails you can grab so that their servers are not overloaded. You can find the tool here.

All you need to do is paste your full video URL in there, and seconds later it’ll give you a preview of various thumbnail sizes. Really neat!



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