Updated by Dan Price on 27th April 2017
YouTube has been pushing upgrades to the site in slow doses (in the form of a nifty, basic editor, for example). Now you can even request auto-captioning of your YouTube videos to reach a larger audience (anyone that speaks a different language, wants to learn English or experiences some kind of hearing impairment).
It’s actually not that hard to manually put subtitles into your videos. It often just takes a bit of time, but soon enough, you’ll be able to translate videos to improve accessibility (especially when subtitles in your language aren’t available on the web), or when you just want to be funny (like some of the English-subtitled Hitler spoofs on the iPad).
Any text editor that you have will be enough to create basic subtitles. For more customized subtitles, you can check out the second section of this article. The footage in the screenshots you see here is from Elephants Dream, the first open-source generated, animated short film ever made.
Making Basic Subtitles in a Text Editor
For this article, we’ll be using the built-in Notepad text editor in Windows to make basic subtitles with no additional color or font customization. Open Notepad and save your file with the .SRT extension and in UTF-8 (especially if you’re inputting special characters).
We will go over how to create subtitles in the SubRip (.SRT) format, which follows this easy-to-learn pattern:
1 00:00:20,000 --> 00:00:24,400 Howdy!
2 00:00:24,600 --> 00:00:27,800 Why, hello there! What's your name?
Now input the times of the subtitle/caption start and end. The 00:00:20,000 is in hours:minutes:seconds,milliseconds format. You can usually look at the video with milliseconds in Windows Movie Maker while you have Notepad open as well.
Make sure to display both windows for easier work by pressing on both programs in the taskbar while pressing Ctrl and right-clicking on either program tab and selecting Show Windows Side By Side.
Now just place a space between every line. Repeat the steps until you finish all the lines. Remember to save often.
After you’re done, you can view the subtitles in any major media player as long as your video and the subtitle have the same names but different file extensions of course and are located in the same folder. This is known as “softsubbing”, which leaves the raw video file intact.
You can also upload the SRT files to your videos already on YouTube as captions.
Making Better-Looking Subtitles in Aegisub
Maybe you’re interested in more professional-looking subtitles or captions. In the world of open-source anything, Aegisub is a cross-platform subtitle editor that’s chock-full of advanced features for just this task.
Available as a portable application, the program provides seemingly endless options to customize the font, size, color and position of the subtitles. It also lets you more easily visualize where you might put the subtitles.
Start by loading the video (in AVI, MP4, MPG format) you want to subtitle by going to Video > Open Video.
If you don’t have the video (but do have the audio and want to move the position of the subtitles, for example), you can use a dummy video and set the closest matching resolution.
You can also load the audio in the video and visualize the timing better (head to Audio > Open Audio From Video).
To change the font, size and color of your subtitles, head to Subtitles in the menu bar and select Styles Manager. In the dialog box that appears, you’ll see two boxes, Storage and Current Script.
You can select to create a new style to your taste in the Storage section (which ensures you’ll always have this style saved) and copy it to the Current Script box (so you can use it to subtitle the video you opened earlier).
Then click OK to go back to the main Aegisub window.
In the Audio box, click on the start of the sound clip and right-click at the end of the clip. Press the S key or the space bar to hear the audio clip before inputting your subtitle in the Edit Box (you can also copy and paste the start and end frames as you see them in the video).
Double-click wherever you want the subtitles to appear in the Video Box to set the position. Sometimes, you may wish to add notes of regional sayings, for example, at the top of your video.
Type your subtitle (consulting Google Translate if you wish) and press Enter (or hit Commit). Note that to display two lines, you need to use the term
in the Edit Box.
Also, hit Save (Ctrl + S) to save your entire subtitle file (the default file extension is .ASS for Advanced SubStation Alpha.)
Now repeat the above steps until you finish subtitling (remember this combo: click > right-click > space bar > type the subtitle > Enter). Any changes you make, you must remember to save by hitting Commit and saving your whole subtitle file often.
That’s pretty much it. Be warned: Subtitling a whole clip can be very time-consuming. Once you’re done though, it can be rewarding to see your subtitled video in :
- Your computer using VirtualDub or Handbrake for permanently subtitled clips, and major media players, such as VLC for soft subtitles,
- Gaming console,
- iPhone/iPod Touch,
Of course, if you’d rather just download these and watch them with your videos, there are some very useful subtitle search engines, as well as automatic subtitle-searching-and-downloading software, such as Sublight (for Windows) and FileBot (cross-platform and open-source).
Do you usually add your own subtitles or do you just prefer to download them?
Image Credit: TungCheung via Shutterstock.com