Everything You Need to Know about Creating Subtitles

Andrei Cucleschin, 03 July 2019

Want to create subtitles for your video, but don’t know where to start? No reason to worry, this guide will reveal all “how’s” and “why’s” behind subtitling!

If you’re a vlogger, youtuber or filmmaker, adding subtitles to your video content can make a world of difference!

Why Do You Need to Create Subtitles?

1) Your video content will be discovered by more people on social media

As it turns out, 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound. Adding subtitles to your videos will not only capture the attention of potential viewers but will also allow them to get your take-home message, even with no audio. Sometimes the circumstances don’t allow viewers to watch videos with sound (e.g – count how many times you forgot your headphones and then had to travel by bus/ attend an event/ stand in the waiting line, etc). The true value of your subtitles lies in the additional convenience they provide to your audience.

2)  Reach a potentially wider audience

There are over 400 million people worldwide who are deaf or have partial hearing disabilities. They either can’t or have a hard time consuming audio content. By creating subtitles, you ensure that your message is spread to those customer groups, who’d otherwise be excluded. Improving the accessibility of your content will help you better serve your audience.

 3) Improved SEO

Search Engines like Google can’t analyze video material, that’s why when you upload this type of content, only the title and the description are included in the keyword search. By adding a textual transcript to your video, search engines have much more data to work with, which helps to attract traffic to your content.

4) Attract more foreign viewers to your content

When your transcript is ready, it’s easy to translate it into many foreign languages. Having subtitles in multiple languages will not only expand your geographic reach but will also make your content more discoverable, again, because of improved SEO.

Types of Subtitles

Now that you know that creating subtitles for your video is vital, let’s discuss the 2 most common types of captioning: open and closed.

Open captions are “built-in” your video file. They are an inseparable part of your video and cannot be turned off. This also means that their quality is directly tied up to the quality of the video itself. (e.g if the video file is pixelated, it will also apply to subtitles)

On the other hand, we have closed captions. Those can be turned on or off, whenever the user wishes to do so. Besides this added convenience, closed captions are separated from the video, which makes them easily editable. Overall, unless the circumstances require, closed captions are the way to go.

How to Create Subtitles?

Here comes the fun part. How do you actually create subtitles and add them to your video? There are several ways to do it, which we’re going to discuss right now:

  • You can create them manually

There are many free software packages (such as Aegisub or Subtitle Workshop), that allow you to type in the subtitles yourself and lock them to a specific time code (e.g 00:45-00:51). There is a thing you should keep in mind – adding the subtitles manually is a very time-consuming process. Moreover, you will have to dedicate some time to learn the interface and shortcuts of the software of your choice.

  • You can outsource this task

If you don’t have the time and resources to create subtitles manually, you can hire a person or an agency to do the job for you. Although this method saves you a lot of time and effort, it might easily create a loophole in your budget. The current market price for subtitling 1 minute of video is between €5-€10 depending on the language of your content.

  • You can automatically create subtitles using software

This last method combines the best of both worlds since it’s both inexpensive and time-efficient. You probably know that YouTube can automatically produce subtitles for your video. Unfortunately, they are only 60-70% accurate, which usually results in confusion or makes people laugh. Luckily, AmberScript developed an innovative speech recognition engine, which automatically generates subtitles with up to 95% accuracy. Moreover, the subtitles are by default embedded into a particular time code, saving you a load of unnecessary work. Our tool is truly the easiest way to create your subtitles.

What Subtitle Formats Are Out There?

At AmberScript we support 3 different subtitle formats: SRT, VTT and EBU-STL. Let’s quickly discuss the main differences & similarities between them.

-SRT (the SubRip text format) is the most common subtitle format and is supported by YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo etc. It dates back to the age of DVD players and it became popular due to its simplicity. An SRT file consists of a timecode (when should subtitles appear and disappear from the screen), the subtitle text itself, and a number, that indicates the order of displayed subtitles (from 1 to X). Each blank line indicates the start of a new subtitle.

-VTT (or WebVTT or Video Text Tracking) uses HTML5 code functionality and is designed for web. In essence, SRT and VTT are very similar and both can be easily edited using any software, including notepad. The main difference lies in the amount of features that they offer. While SRT supports basic formatting options (such as making the text bolt, italic and underlined text), VTT supports more advanced features (variety of fonts, font color, text placement). Additionally, VTT doesn’t require caption numbers, although they can be used. Last, VTT supports metadata (comments)  and STT doesn’t. Both SRT and VTT subtitles can be manipulated using almost any subtitle editor on the market, or even notepad.

-EBU-STL (European Broadcasting Union) format is optimized for TVs, and based on teletext technology. It was developed in the 1980s for broadcast purposes. Support all formatting options as VTT.  Teletext is an older technology, and thus works slightly different from what was described above. Teletext subtitles are stored and transmitted through sequential numbers, assigned to specific pages. For instance, if the news appear on a page 100- a user can type “100” in his remote control to view all the text information from that page. While STL format is supported by the majority of dedicated subtitle editors, you can’t edit them in a notepad.

How to Choose a Subtitle Format?

The choice between these subtitle formats largely depends on you want to use them.  You can refer to the table below for a very short summary.

Here’s a summarizing table:

In most cases, if you plan to upload your videos online, SRT is the most widely accepted and easy to work with format. However, if you need more advanced formatting features (such as coloring the text), then VTT should be your choice. Lastly, if subtitles are meant to be used on TV broadcasts, then go for STL.

Are There Any Other Considerations?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve come very close to mastering the art of subtitling! There are only a few things left, that you may want to consider:

  • Choose appropriate word speed

You don’t want people to practice fast-reading or pause your video just to read subtitles. But you also don’t want them to get bored, looking at the same text twice. In general, subtitles should go at a speed of 160-180 words per minute, as this is the average reading speed of an adult. However, depending on the number of characters, it can be more or less.

  • Make sure your subtitles are not distractive

Usually, subtitles are placed in the middle of the bottom part of the screen. Additionally, BBC strongly recommends not to exceed the subtitle length of 2 lines. Otherwise, subtitles may start to get in the way and block the view, making it difficult for a viewer to read the text and watch the scene simultaneously.

  •  Include additional information, if necessary.

You might want to add textual descriptions to the sounds that surround your scene. These descriptions are usually put in brackets, such as (people screaming) and help people with hearing disabilities to get a better understanding of the scene. Moreover, if the scene in your video includes any text in a foreign language, you can include the translation in your subtitles.

That’s all! Now you can proudly consider yourself an expert in subtitling! If you’ve enjoyed reading this guide, be sure to check out our blog for more advice.