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Want to make subtitles for a certain TV episode or movie? There are a handful of online communities where you can download all kinds of free subtitles, so we recommend starting there and making sure someone else hasn’t already created the subtitles that you need.
Subtitling can be a fun hobby if you have some free time, and it can even be valuable practice if you want to make money with video and audio transcription. Or it can be a way to give back to the community by providing free subtitles to the communities mentioned above.
In this post, we’ll cover two specific topics: first, how to create and sync your own “soft” subtitles for any video, and second, how to burn those subtitles directly into any video to create “hard” subtitles.
Creating Your Own Subtitles
There are several programs out there that you can use to ease the subtitling process, but too many of them are overly primitive or cost way too much money. If you want something free and effective, here are your best options.
If you’ve never, ever created subtitles before, then Amara should be your first stop. This tool, which was intentionally designed with newbies in mind, is the absolute easiest free subtitle editor you’ll ever use.
The great thing about Amara is that it’s a web app, which means you can access it from anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection. That can also be a downside though — you can’t work on subtitles while offline, which could be an issue if you like working on the go.
The other downside is that Amara is an open platform: you can only subtitle videos that are publicly accessible on the web, and your subtitles are made open to the public (unless you have an Enterprise Team account). The silver lining is that this makes collaboration easy.
Watch the video above to see just how easy Amara can be. When you’re done, you can download the subtitles in .SRT, .SSA, .SBV, .TXT, and other less common formats.
Subtitle Edit is one of the more popular choices for editing subtitles, but is only available on Windows and requires .NET Framework 4.0 or higher. If you’re on Mac or Linux, you’ll want to skip ahead and check out either Aegisub or Jubler instead.
As the name implies, Subtitle Edit is best for making corrections to an already-existing subtitle file, but you can definitely use it to create new ones from scratch. The workflow may not be as smooth as some other programs, but once you learn how to use it, it’s more than good enough.
Out of the box, Subtitle Edit supports over 200 different subtitle formats and can easily convert between them when required. It can also open subtitles that are embedded within certain video formats including .MKV, .MP4, and .AVI. Removal of subtitles specific for Hearing Impaired is also possible.
Listing all of the features would take too long, so check out the full list of features to see why so many people continue using Subtitle Edit to this day.
If you’re looking for a quick and powerful program that simply works, or if Subtitle Edit felt too clunky to use, then you should really consider installing Aegisub. Aegisub is actually quite popular and commonly used by fansubbers (those who create unofficial translations for foreign shows).
Another point in its favor is that Aegisub is open source and cross platform, available in binary forms for Windows and Mac and available in source form for Linux (you’ll have to build it yourself from scratch).
We have a quick guideto using Aegisub that you should use as an introduction. It walks you through the fundamentals, including how to create each line, how to style the text, how to position the text, and what to do when you’re done.
Note that Aegisub hasn’t been updated since late 2014, but don’t let that stop you from using it. It still works well, even on Windows 10, and the Aegisub community is still pretty active so you’ll be able to find help if you ever run into trouble.
Subtitle Workshop was more popular back in the day, but has started to fall out of favor due to the fact that it’s been outpaced by its competitors and hasn’t received a proper update since late 2013. Not to mention that it’s only available on Windows.
So why use it at all? Because it’s much simpler to pick up and use than the other ones mentioned on this list (except for Amara, which is super easy to use). Subtitle Workshop supports over 60 subtitle formats, supports advanced timing and styling, and has a number of other features like automatic detection of errors.
Like Subtitle Workshop, Jubler is on the simple side when it comes to features. The downside is that it actually has fewer interesting features, but the good news is that it’s available on Windows, Mac, and Linux and is still being actively developed.
In terms of usability, it’s far from perfect. The workflow is clunky in parts and you’ll end up fighting the interface more often than you should, but it definitely gets the job done.
Out of the box, Jubler supports seven subtitle formats, styling in .SSA format, spell checking, as well as the fundamental editing functions you’d expect (like splitting, joining, time shifting, etc).
Burning Subtitles to a Video
Once you have soft subtitles, you can burn them directly into a video and turn them into hard subtitles by using Handbrake. It’s free, open source, and available across Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Handbrake is best known for its ability to convert video files from one format to another, but it can also merge soft subtitle files with video files — and no other program is as effective or easy to use. Other options exist, but why use them? Handbrake is pretty much the standard now.
The process is simple: select the video file as the source in Handbrake, then under the Subtitles tab, click Add External SRT and select the subtitle file. You can load multiple subtitle files if you want, just make sure to tick the checkbox for “Forced Only” (this embeds it as a hard subtitle).
When you’re ready, pick the export format and click Start. For a step-by-step through the process, check out our quick guide to embeddind subtitles with Handbrake.
If Handbrake doesn’t work for you for some reason, you can try embedding subtitles with Avidemux or burning subtitles with VirtualDub, but both methods are slightly outdated and more cumbersome than using Handbrake.
Another option is to leverage a video timeline editor like Adobe Premiere and use keyframes to insert text directly (or insert text images exported from Adobe Photoshop or GIMP). This method is obviously the most time-consuming, but if don’t already have soft subtitles, it’s worth trying.
Did You Find This Helpful?
No matter which way you approach the issue, one thing will be true: the subtitles won’t write themselves. You’re going to have to spend a lot of time typing out each line of dialog and making sure it syncs up correctly. The only real difference is in which tools and workflow you decide to go with.
Hopefully this helped. If you know of any other methods for creating and burning subtitles, please let us know in the comments! And if you have any questions, feel free to ask them, too.