How to Add Subtitles to Your YouTube Videos

Learn how to add subtitles or closed captions to any YouTube video, with an SRT file or by auto-generating captions.

How to Add Subtitles to Your YouTube Videos

Adding subtitles to your YouTube videos is an important step of the video content creation that you shouldn’t overlook.

Both subtitles and closed captions are important for making your YouTube videos more accessible. The deaf and hard of hearing community relies on them to be able to enjoy content. There’s also the fact that 75% of people watch mobile video on mute and 80% of viewers are more likely to finish a video with subtitles. Many people who can hear prefer to keep them on — even if they’re watching with sound on.

Right up top, we should note that subtitles and closed captions are similar, but different. Captions include all spoken dialogue as well as descriptions of background noises and music for those who can’t hear them. Subtitles, on the other hand, typically only contain spoken dialogue. Both subtitles and captions can be “open” (embedded into the video) or “closed” (toggled on or off at the viewer’s preference).

In either case, it’s important to offer one or both of these options so that everyone can access your YouTube videos in the way that’s best for them.

How to Add Subtitles to YouTube Videos

In this guide, we’ll go over three different methods to add subtitles or closed captions to your YouTube videos, whether in YouTube Studio, with subtitle files, or with a video editing tool like Kapwing.

Let’s get started.

1. Embed the captions in your YouTube video

The most foolproof way to add subtitles to YouTube videos is to bake them right into the video itself. Using this method, your captions will appear on your video without viewers having to turn them on themselves.

This is an especially good idea for YouTube Shorts as we know so many people prefer to watch mobile videos on mute. Plus, having captions on screen has been shown to improve retention as the moving text can help catch and hold viewers’ attention before they scroll.

This method can be achieved in any video editor by adding text overlay timed with your audio, but manually adding subtitles is tedious, time-consuming, and completely unnecessary. Instead, we recommend using Kapwing to automatically add subtitles to a video.

Here’s how to do that in just four steps:

Step 1: Upload your video files to Kapwing.

Kapwing is a full studio editor, so you can use it to rough cut and edit your videos as well, not just add subtitles.

Step 2: Use Kapwing’s Magic Subtitles.

Find this in the Subtitles tab on the left sidebar. Kapwing uses AI to generate subtitles that auto sync with your video. You can even translate your video into a different language to reach a whole new audience.

Step 3: Edit your captions.

Make any changes to the transcript you need. You can customize the subtitles with animations and custom fonts and colors. Choose from different style presets, like ‘Typewriter,’ ‘Handwriting,’ or ‘Pop Art.’

You can also change the size, control how many characters appear per line, and if you’re adding subtitles to a YouTube Short, use the Shorts Safe Zones filter to make sure the captions are placed correctly.

Step 4: Download and publish!

Export your video from Kapwing and upload it to your YouTube channel. No need to worry about uploading a subtitles file, since the captions are already baked in.


2. Create an SRT file for your YouTube video

If you’d rather create “closed” subtitles for your viewers (aka, subtitles that can be turned on and off), you’ll want to generate an SRT file.

Short for “Subrip Subtitles,” an SRT file is the standard file type for subtitles. When uploaded with a YouTube video, these subtitles files create text that can be turned on or off.

This file contains the text of your subtitles, as well as time codes for when to display each line. The file looks like lines of text, along with time stamps displayed as HH:MM:SS:MS and arrows.

You can make an SRT file using Kapwing. Follow the steps above to add subtitles to your video. Once you’ve generated your automatic subtitles and are happy with them, click the download arrow in the Subtitles tab.

Select “as .SRT” and the subtitles will be saved to your device as an SRT file.

Next, you’ll need to upload the SRT to YouTube. Here’s how:

Step 1: Upload your video to the YouTube Studio as usual.

Step 2: Proceed to the Video Elements section. Here, you’ll see an option to “Add subtitles.”

Step 3: Select “Upload file.”

Step 4: Choose “With timing” or “Without timing.”

Step 5: Select the SRT file you downloaded from Kapwing from your file finder.

And that’s it. Your YouTube video will now have perfectly timed and accurate subtitles that users can choose to turn on.

If you’d like to add an SRT file to an existing YouTube video, you can do that, too. Choose the video you’d like to add subtitles to and click “Details” to edit it. From there, you’ll see the “Subtitles” option on the right hand side of the screen. Click into it to view the existing subtitles.

Click the three dot icon next to “Edit Timings” to show the Upload file option so you can upload your new SRT file.

3. Let YouTube add auto-captions

Finally, you can let your YouTube account do the heavy lifting. Although YouTube itself recommends creating captions yourself for the best quality, it can also add them automatically.

YouTube’s auto-captions use speech recognition technology and machine learning to identify the words spoken in a video and add subtitles. It’s only available for videos with spoken words in Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Ukrainian, or Vietnamese.

YouTube needs processing time to add subtitles, so they won’t be available as soon as you upload a video. The processing time will vary by the length and complexity of a video.

YouTube also notes that because these captions are automatic, they may not be the most accurate. That said, these automatic subtitles are the default option you’ll see on the majority of YouTube videos. You can tell that the captions have been auto-generated by YouTube because they will have “auto-generated” in parenthesis next to the subtitle language.

Example from this Joshua Weissman video

Auto-generated captions can be turned on by clicking the gear wheel on any video and selected auto-generated Subtitles/CC.

YouTube uses speech recognition technology and machine learning to scan the video and turn spoken words into text. It’s also capable of auto-translating those captions into different languages.

What you will notice, however, is that YouTube subtitles don’t tend to be very accurate. If multiple people are talking at once or someone has a non-American accent, YouTube subtitles are less likely to be correct.

Thankfully, you can edit these captions. In YouTube Studio, select “subtitles” from the menu on the left then select a video. Under “subtitles,” click the “more” icon, where you can then review and make changes.

Never Forget the Subtitles for Your YouTube Channel

When uploading a video to your YouTube channel, you probably have a checklist of steps. Always make sure that adding closed captions or subtitles is one of them.

With so many options to add subtitles, there’s no reason to ever leave captions out. And with auto-generated options like Kapwing’s AI subtitles, you can easily include accurate subtitles in your YouTube videos every time.

YouTube Video Captions FAQ

Can I add subtitles to any video on YouTube?

You can add subtitles to any YouTube videos you have editing and publishing permissions for. To add subtitles to any YouTube video, you can manually type them in, allow YouTube to auto-generate captions, embed your own captions with a video editor like Kapwing, or upload a subtitle or caption file. Adding subtitles will make viewers more likely to watch your whole video.

You can also turn on YouTube auto-generated subtitles for any video you want to watch that has them enabled in that language.

How do you add subtitles to a YouTube video that's not yours?

It’s easy to add subtitles to YouTube videos. To turn on subtitles on a YouTube video, click the “CC” button at the bottom of the video. As well, you can click the gear wheel to open up further options, like displaying subtitles in another language.

How do I generate subtitles?

There are two main ways to generate subtitles. First, you can do it manually, but this is tedious. Alternatively, you can let YouTube generate subtitles on its own or generate them using Kapwing’s AI subtitle generator.

How to add subtitles to YouTube videos?

To add subtitles to YouTube videos, you have several options. You can manually type them in, allow YouTube to auto-generate captions with automatic subtitles, embed your own captions with a video editor like Kapwing, or upload SRT caption files.


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