If you’re publishing a video on your website, sharing it with your class, or posting it on social media, consider adding subtitles to the video before you do. Subtitles make videos more engaging and accessible, especially to viewers with hearing impediments. In this article, I’ll describe why you should add subtitles to your videos and how. This post features Kapwing’s Subtitle Maker, a free online tool for adding captions directly to your video.

Why Add Subtitles?

Traditionally, subtitles have helped video makers reach foreign audiences. A video publisher can translate a foreign speech into the viewer’s native language. Our subtitle maker supports all international character sets, including Mandarin, Georgian, Hebrew, Arabic, and emojis. Check out this Steve Jobs interview clip that a Kapwing community member translated into Bangla last week.

Subtitles can help reach an international crowd without needing a dubbed video asset, but they’re also helpful for videos spoken in your native language. Video captions help compensate for background noise, bad sound quality, and unusual accents. Subtitles improve the clarity of the dialogue. The viewer will absorb and remember more information since they won’t need to replay the video to understand what its subjects are saying.

Clip from a Spanish language ad with English subtitles

Importantly, subtitles make videos more accessible to people with hearing disabilities and limitations. Captions – a textual representation of the video’s soundtrack – are crucial for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines require captions for multimedia. Laws created to reduce discrimination against people with disabilities –  The Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act – also recommend that video publishers include captions. We especially recommend subtitles for:

  • ESL teachers: English languages learners absorb more information when it is both written and spoken
  • Politicians: When you’re serving the public, it’s especially important to make your message accessible to all of your constituents.
  • Education organizations: Schools, universities, and nonprofits should ensure that their material is accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Beyond disabilities, subtitles make videos more accessible in sound-sensitive environments. Viewers can understand the video when they are on the bus, at work, in the library, waiting in line, or anywhere else that they watch videos without audio. In some cases, the viewer’s speakers might be damaged or absent, making the user unable to play sound in any environment.

How to add subtitles to your video

If you’re getting ready to publish a video, how do you add subtitles? In this section, I’ll list three options for adding subtitles to your video.

Option 1: Embed subtitles

Note: Good for 10sec – 4 min long videos

For short videos, the simplest option is to embed subtitles directly into your video. Kapwing is a free, online tool for adding text and timing out subtitles. You can add subtitles for very short videos (like Instagram stories) or longer YouTube videos. Adding subtitles directly to your video means they always show up – no matter where or how your video is shared – and that the captions look the same for every viewer.

To embed subtitles in your video, open the Kapwing Subtitle Maker. You can either transcribe the videos yourself or buy an “SRT” file from a service like Rev or a socially-conscious agency like Open Eye Creative.

If you’re translating or transcribing the video manually, listen to the video’s dialogue and type out the subtitle text one line at a time. Then, go back to the beginning and use the sliders and time input boxes to adjust the start and end times of each title.

If you have an SRT file, upload the file to embed the text permanently into your video. You can edit the text and timestamps before processing the video.

The video preview plays in the left-hand panel. Watch your video all the way through to check for typos and overlapping text. Once the video preview looks correct, click “CREATE” to add the subtitles directly into your video.

Option 2: Use an Automated Transcription

Note: Good for 4 min to 40 mins

YouTube and Facebook have automatic subtitle technologies for recognizing the dialogue in a video. On these platforms, a video publisher does not have to add subtitles manually; viewers will see the automated captions if they click the “CC” button in the video play box. However, many other platforms —  LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, and Imgur, for example — require that a publisher uploads the SRT file if they want closed captions.

You can download the automatic captions from YouTube and embed the text into your video so that the subtitles appear consistently regardless of the video platform they’re playing on. Because the transcript is machine generated, it will likely have errors and need human editing. You can hire a contractor to help proof-read your subtitles, or you can use the Kapwing editor to check over and correct the SRT file yourself.

To download the automated subtitles, upload your video to YouTube and click the “More actions” option to “Open transcript.” Then, copy and paste the text into an SRT file. Save the .SRT file on your device and follow the steps from Option 1 (above) to open your video with Kapwing.

Screenshot from YouTube’s action menu

As voice recognition technology improves, we hope to add automatic subtitling to Kapwing — stay tuned!

Option 3: Hire an Independant Contractor

Note: Good for videos longer than 40 mins

Since subtitling can get tedious for very long videos like recordings of lectures, focus groups or user interviews, you might consider hiring an outside agency to transcribe the footage for you.

Kapwing only supports video uploads up to 30 minutes long. But we know at least one startup here in San Francisco that is working to support long video transcription and editing!