Video Subtitling: Guide for Producers and Translators

Video Subtitling: Guide for Producers and Translators

Register To Our Blog
Register To Our Blog
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Video subtitling, guide for producers and translators. photo of a bunch of tomatoes with some scrabled letters below as captions (tomatoes). Photo by jankosmowski on Pixabay. Pixabay License.

Video subtitling is a localisation service that translates the audio and video for dialogues and visual elements to tell the narrative. When done right, subtitles increase the rate at which your audience watches your video (read more about the importance of quality video subtitling services).

This subtitling guide will provide you with all the information you need to create a professional-grade, high-quality finished product.

If you have never worked on a subtitling project before, it may seem daunting and complicated. You will have to deal with a number of processes such as transcribing, translating, and synchronising to ensure that the finished project meets specific industry standards. 

Subtitling a Video is More Than Automatization

Setting up a video subtitling project and processing it is a long process. Automated subtitles are alluring because they provide functional translations cheaply and quickly. While many automation software and tools are available to automate this process, the end result can be quite different.

With the increasing user base for streaming services for video subtitling, the need for quality subtitles is increasing. Catering to these markets is essential. Machine subtitling is economical, but they do have its own limitations (read about machine translation software pros and cons).

Providing subtitles is much more than simply translating a video. It requires accuracy and nuance instead of a literal translation.

Types of Video Subtitling Services

There are more than one video subtitling services available and the type you choose will depend on your target audience and the purpose of your content. Here are the three main types to choose from:

Open Caption Subtitling

With this option of video subtitling, the subtitles are burned into your video permanently. Open captions cannot be turned off, and if choosing this video, the decision has to be made during filmmaking to leave enough screen space for the captions.  

Closed Caption Subtitling

Most people are familiar with closed captions. These are the captions that are usually seen on streaming services like Netflix and even on TikTok, Instagram and Youtube. These can be turned off and one and the text will appear at the bottom of the video.

SDH Subtitles

SDH subtitles are optional and are displayed at the bottom of the video. These are specifically created to suit the needs of the heard of hearing and deaf audiences. SDH subtitling for the video also describes audible details to allow the audience to understand the mood and action.

Human-made Vs Automatic Subtitles

Audiovisual storytelling is an art form that requires human endeavour. Automated tools are still unable to comprehend the subtleties and cultural connections that are required for accurate video subtitling.  

When translating, there needs to be a deep understanding of the context and cultural norms. These complex factors are not taken into consideration by machines that generate subtitles automatically.

In a film or TV show, the subtitles need to capture the nuance in the performance of the actors successfully to tell the story accurately. Automated tools cannot contextualise speech or factor in the relationship of characters, actions, facial expressions, pauses, or intonation.

Automated subtitles are affordable and quick, but they sacrifice quality. This is why it is important to work with professional translators to retain the human touch in your video.

Subtitling a Video Step-by-Step Guide  

When subtitling a video, it is important to keep a few important things in mind, as discussed here:

  1. Get Access to the Final Video

Before you even start with the project, it is important to have access to the final video version. Subtitles are timed to the frame, and they will need to be re-timed if the video is extended or cut down by even a few minutes.

  1. Transcribe and Subtitle

Once you have access to the final video, the next step in the process is transcription services. The audio needs to be written down word for word. Once the audio has been transcribed, a subtitler will create the best possible subtitles for the video.

Subtitling a video is not just about copying the audio word for word. There is a time limit the caption must remain on the screen and strict character limits to consider. The role of a professional subtitler is to represent the text most accurately and precisely while adhering to the restrictions. This requires advanced linguistic skills.

  1. Translating the Subtitles

The subtitles also need to be translated into other languages if the final video has to be watched in multiple languages. Working with a professional video translation and subtitling agency is essential here. Rather than a literal translation, a professional will capture the meaning of idioms, cultural context and nuances to localise the subtitles to engage foreign audiences effectively.

This is key to avoiding embarrassing translations of idioms.

  1. On-Screen Text Translation

In many cases, you may also need to translate the on-screen text and graphics in the video. In corporate videos, for example, the video also needs to display the name of the person speaking and the job title. Other videos may require a narrative to explain the scene.

With on-screen text, the speech needs to be prioritized over graphics in video subtitling. Graphic editing also needs to be done on the original video project before it is translated.  

  1. Synchronization

One of the most difficult parts of a video subtitling project is synchronizing the audio and the video efficiently. To do this efficiently, you will need to break down your transcription into sequences and then define them.

Subtitles should always be displayed when the lips of the speaker in the video are moving. Maintaining continuity is important and achieving a level of fluidity requires a lot of practice.

  1. Burning In

The last step of the process is burning in or attaching the subtitles to the video. Video editing software like Premier or Final Cut is usually required for this process. High-resolution video is required to ensure that the subtitles look neat and crisp.  

Subtitling Technical Glossary

If you are interested in trying your hand at video subtitling, it is important to get familiar with a few technical terms. This technical glossary will bring you up to speed.

Burning In

This is the process through which subtitles are “attached” to the video through editing software such as Premier or Final Cut. When done correctly, the subtitles should look neat, crisp, and easy to read.

English Template

An English-to-English video subtitle file is created before sending it over to translators. This template provides consistent text to all translators so that consistency is maintained across all language versions.

Line Breaks

Line breaks refer to the way subtitles are split into two lines to make it easy to read. Line breaks need to be logical to help comprehension and smooth flow of the subtitles so they can be read quickly and easily, without taking away the focus from the video.  

On-Screen Text

On-screen text refers to the narrative caption explaining a scene or introducing a person along with the subtitles. This may be the name of a person or job title in a corporate video or a caption that describes a scene in a film.

Open/Closed Captions

Open captions are burned permanently on the video. They cannot be turned off and are visible to everyone.

Closed captions can be activated or deactivated through a menu or remote control.

In most countries, subtitles and captions are considered to be the same. In North America, captions refer to SDH: Subtitling for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Reading Speeds

Reading speed is the ratio between the length of the subtitle and the amount of time it stays on the screen. This ratio is automatically calculated by most professional software.

Space and Time Constraints

Subtitles need to be condensed and short to be easy to read. Each line must adhere to strict space and time constraints and must generally be between 37 and 40 characters. The translated text is usually longer and needs to be edited while retaining the original meaning.  

Spotting or Timing

Timing a subtitle requires the video to be loaded into the software so that each character’s utterance can be marked at the beginning and end. “TIME IN” and “TIME OUT” are used to mark the frame when the subtitle should appear on the screen and disappear. This will also need to be adjusted based on several factors such as a shot change to ensure a seamless transition.  


These are all different file formats for subtitles that are created through software. Most formats are readable even without subtitling software. SRTs are usually used when facilities for burning in are available.


Video subtitling files can also be delivered in plain text format. Text format is particularly helpful when it is important for your client or you to read through the text to ensure that the subtitles are translated and laid out correctly. A TXT format may be delivered to the client at the approval stage.

Check out this case study of perfectly timed subtitles!

Related Articles

December 31, 2023

Voice Over Blog Localisation

December 26, 2023

Voice Over Blog

December 12, 2023

Voice Over Blog

December 9, 2023

Voice Over Blog

December 8, 2023

Voice Over Blog

The Complete Solution To Adapt Your Content

Looking to get your entire project under one roof? Look no further, we can help you make life easier for you!

Subscribe to our blog today to get notified when we upload a new post!