How to Download a YouTube Thumbnail Image

Have you ever needed to download a YouTube thumbnail image? This seems to be something that I run into quite a bit when working on a website or an email campaign. Sometimes I am lucky enough that the video producer will provide a thumbnail image, but sometimes that is not the case. In these instances, it often makes sense to use the thumbnail image that was already set by YouTube.

Here are a few ways to download the YouTube thumbnail image.

The Easiest Way – Use an Online Tool

I do this so much that I built a tool that can do all the work for you. My YouTube Thumbnail Download Tool is an easy-to-use solution that will kick out an image for you to download. All you need to do is enter a YouTube video URL and the tool will do the rest.

YouTube Thumbnail Download Tool
YouTube Thumbnail Tool

Get the URL of a Thumbnail Image Manually

A YouTube video thumbnail can be retrieved manually by replacing {Video-ID} in the following snippet with the YouTube video ID.{Video-ID}/maxresdefault.jpg

This can be used inside an application using this handy PHP.

// Set the video URL
$url = "";

// Get the video ID from the URL - returned as $id
preg_match("#(?<=v=)[a-zA-Z0-9-]+(?=&)|(?<=v\/)[^&\n]+(?=\?)|(?<=v=)[^&\n]+|(?<[^&\n]+#", $url, $id);

// The thumbnail URL
$thumbnail_url = "$id/maxresdefault.jpg";

Should This Method be Used in Production?

There are a number of reasons that I do not recommend programmatically getting the YouTube thumbnail URL by using this method in production. Here are some reasons that I would avoid this.

  • Sometimes a maxresdefault.jpg is not generated for a video. This is something I have seen happen but am not sure of the reason.
  • This program is based on an assumed URL structure. This could be changed by YouTube in the future and break your application.
  • You do not have control over the file if it is served from YouTube. I like to serve WebP or AVIF images whenever possible.

How I Handle Serving YouTube Video Thumbnails

I require that the image be uploaded (usually by me) along with the URL in my applications. There are a number of reasons for this.

  • It may be better to use a different thumbnail image. Including the flexibility to upload this image makes sure this can be customizable.
  • Uploading the image manually future-proofs the application. As mentioned above, if we pull the images dynamically, it is possible that they could break in the future.
  • I can control the image size and format when served from my own application.

Due to these reasons, I always use a tool to download the thumbnail image or have a unique one created for that instance.

Other Options Are There To Download YouTube Thumbnail Images

Another option would be to dynamically get the thumbnail using the YouTube Data API. This seems like overkill for most simple applications, but would be a great option.