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How to Create and Adjust Captions Using Subtitle Edit (Free)

Read Time: 5 mins

While video editing suites like Premiere Pro are catching up, they come at a price, and the majority of editors still make it quite difficult to create and edit captions. Many are put off making subtitles because, let’s face it, it’s a long hard slog to include them. 

Subtitle Edit is a free and open-source editor for video subtitles: creating them from scratch, editing existing subs, and even translating subtitles. Let’s take a look at how it works.

How to Create and Adjust Captions Using Subtitle Edit 

Including captions with your videos is essential. Not only does it make it more accessible but it’s also better for social media views. 

how Subtitle Edit looks when you open ithow Subtitle Edit looks when you open ithow Subtitle Edit looks when you open it
How Subtitle Edit looks when you open it

This is how Subtitle Edit looks when you open it. It’s quite a basic interface but it manages to avoid that cheap look that some software has, and honestly when it comes to video and subtitles, I generally think the less complicated it is, the better.

Creating Subtitles from Scratch

Drag your video (or audio, I’m using video) into the software and it’ll appear in the video (or audio) player – it might ask you to install a compatible player if you don’t have one already.

Drag your video (or audio, I’m using video) into the software and it’ll appear in the video (or audio) player Drag your video (or audio, I’m using video) into the software and it’ll appear in the video (or audio) player Drag your video (or audio, I’m using video) into the software and it’ll appear in the video (or audio) player
Drag your video (or audio, I’m using video) into the software and it’ll appear in the video (or audio) player

You can see above that I’ve typed in three lines of captioning already. To do that, you play your video until the point where you want to start adding captions, then pause it and type into the Text box. You’ll see that what you type will appear where you’ve paused the video, but you can adjust the exact start and duration with the boxes to the left of Text.

Overlap and Errors

Overlap and ErrorsOverlap and ErrorsOverlap and Errors
Overlap and errors

At the top left of the screen you could probably see I had three lines that I’d typed in there. Above, I’ve now adjusted the duration to deliberately clash the captions, one appearing before the other has disappeared, and you’ll see that in the middle left of the screen there’s now a warning that I have some overlap.

colours over captionscolours over captionscolours over captions

Back to an earlier screenshot, you might wonder about the colours over the captions. The blue is just my current selection and what’s changing, and whether that change works. If it doesn’t, it’ll be highlighted in that red-orange colour.

That’s to either signify an overlap, or to let me know that the character limit is exceeding the recommended single line maximum. The colour will be in the column where the problem is flagging, so it’s easy to spot that and adjust it right away.

If problems are being highlighted and you don’t think they’re a problem – for example, it’s picking up lines for being too long but they’re fine – you can adjust this in File > Settings > General, where you’ll find that option along with some other important behaviours that you can change to suit your particular needs.

Creating Subtitles from an Existing Text File

If you have a text transcript that you’d like to create subtitles from, here’s how to do it.

File > Import > Plain Text.File > Import > Plain Text.File > Import > Plain Text.
File > Import > Plain Text.

Go to File > Import > Plain Text.

Click Open Text File and select your fileClick Open Text File and select your fileClick Open Text File and select your file
Click Open Text File and select your file

Click Open Text File and select your file. When it’s opened, you’ll see the text in one big paragraph – I’ve used some from a Lorum Ipsum generator to demonstrate.

‘Auto-Split’ might work for you but if it doesn’t you can try changing it ‘one line is one subtitle’.‘Auto-Split’ might work for you but if it doesn’t you can try changing it ‘one line is one subtitle’.‘Auto-Split’ might work for you but if it doesn’t you can try changing it ‘one line is one subtitle’.
‘Auto-Split’ might work for you but if it doesn’t you can try changing it ‘one line is one subtitle’.

Auto-Split’ might work for you but if it doesn’t you can try changing it ‘one line is one subtitle’.

You can see a preview of your subtitles at the bottom with start/end times, duration, characters and so on. 

you can upload your audio or video if you want to, or make adjustments you can upload your audio or video if you want to, or make adjustments you can upload your audio or video if you want to, or make adjustments
You can upload your audio or video if you want to, or make adjustments

You’ll see that things now look much the same as they did in the previous demonstration of writing subtitles from scratch. So now you can upload your audio or video if you want to, or make adjustments in the same way as we did earlier.

Exporting

ExportingExportingExporting
Exporting

When you’re happy with your subtitles you can export them to a variety of file types depending on the programme you’ll import them in to. Which to choose really depends on your programme of choice. Here’s an example using an EBU format and you can see you get more options to tweak before you commit to saving. It’ll also give you one last chance to correct any potential errors it’s flagged up.

Summary

That’s just a quick overview to getting started with Subtitle Editor but really it has a lot of tools and options that you can really feel the benefit of if you take time to get to know the software. Two of the most useful of these are:

Format – which includes a lot of industry standard ‘profiles,’ like Avid Caption, Final Cut Pro formats, and even Netflix. Having those as a preset can save you a lot of time and you’ll know you’re fitting the right parameters for your intended output.

Translate – SE links directly to Google Translate, so you can actually translate your subs into a number of languages right in the software, which is potentially very useful. Any translation software isn’t perfect but as an example, you could translate your film from English into German and then send that to a German translator to proof and edit, and that’s going to be a lot less time and money than having someone translate your whole film from scratch.

There’s a lot of potential with Subtitle Edit and for shorter films, particularly if you have a transcription already, I think this would be a great tool to use. I’ve added subtitles in Facebook directly before and they’re a pain to do, in an instance like that it would be much simpler to create the subtitle text file in SE and then upload that along with the video.

Subtitle Edit is free and it’s relatively easy to get started with, though if you’re doing much more than just adding some simple subs it’s worth going through their user guides and videos to learn how to get the most out of it.

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