Tips and Best Practice for Using Subtitles in Your Videos

Subtitles are a must for your video; you want to maximise comprehension and accessibility in order to communicate the most information or enjoyment to as wide an audience as possible.

Another important thing to consider nowadays is that autoplay videos on landing pages, social media, and video streaming sites are very common because they’re a great way to grab attention. The only catch being that a lot of the time, users will have their volume muted.

Clear, well-positioned and presented subtitles might even be enough to get someone to hit that ‘volume up’ button, let’s find out how.

Length

  • No more than 2 lines at a time would be our recommendation.
  • Keeping these to a maximum of about 50-60 characters per line will ensure that:
    • You get a decent amount information on screen.
    • You don’t need to throw in too many awkward breaks.
    • You leave each subtitle on screen for an appropriate amount of time.
  • Judging by the natural cadence of your speaker, you should be able to work out where to end the subtitle. When we read, we like to predict where the conversation is going. Try to reward this by breaking your subtitles at logical points in the sentence.
  • Aim to divide up the text into whole sentences. If this is not possible, aim to at least end every subtitle at at the end of a phrase or clause.
  • If a subtitle consists of part of a sentence, try to put the next sentence in a new, shorter
    subtitle, rather than squeezing it onto the part-sentence in one long subtitle.

For example:

  1. Some of the world’s leading companies trust Fudge to

tell their stories. Learn more about Fudge’s animation

  1. Services right here.

Would be better as:

  1. Some of the world’s leading companies

trust Fudge to tell their stories.

  1. Learn more about Fudge’s animation services right here.

Position

  • Place your subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
  • Below the main video display but still high enough to account for media player controls which typically take up around 1/15th of the screen from the bottom.
  • For 1 line subtitles, place it on the ‘bottom line’ of your subtitle area. For 2 line subtitles, place line 2 on the bottom, with line 1 on the line above. Seems a bit fiddly, but you don’t want your 1 line subtitles to obscure any more of your visuals than absolutely necessary.
  • Words within a subtitle should be separated by a single space.
  • Center all subtitles unless indicating different speakers.

Appearance

  • Use a clear, sans serif font such as Verdana, Helvetica, Arial or Calibri. Obviously stick to your brand’s chosen typefaces where you can but if you have a choice, go for less visual complexity to aid comprehension.
  • Pale white is the colour of choice, especially if your video has a black letterbox
  • You should try to choose colour based on the dominant colour of your video background
  • Drop shadow or gentle outlining can be your friend if a single colour doesn’t show up enough
  • Using colour to indicate different speakers can be the most clear way to show dialogue and far better than prefixing the subtitles with the speakers’ names. You don’t want to use up all of your precious characters, after all!
    • If the names of your speakers are important, consider using their name for their first utterance, then just an initial for subsequent ones.
    • Or: just put a ‘-’ at the front of each new character’s utterance to indicate a change of speaker.
    • If you really don’t want to mess around with colour, you can also place each piece of speech on a separate line and position it underneath the relevant speaker.
  • Avoid using any bright colour on a white background – often the low colour contrast can render them unreadable.
  • Account for colour blindness, too. Almost 10% of men are red/green colorblind.

Take a look at the table below for some more nausea-inducing colour combinations to avoid:

Pretty horrible, right? Besides the fact that it looks rubbish and I don’t think for a second that you’d dream of rendering a video with subs like this, I think it’s worth illustrating how important the colour of your subtitles can be.

Avoid these clashes by placing a neutral colour between the two areas of bright colours or by making one of the colours a pastel or dark shade.

Timing

You want your subtitles to be on screen for long enough to allow deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers to read them at the appropriate time and still be able to take in other visuals at the same time.

How long this ends up being doesn’t have a definitive answer, I’m afraid! As a guideline, we like to limit ourselves to 140 words per minute. If the flow of dialogue in our video calls for a higher rate, we’ve been known to go up to 180 words per minute. This higher rate really should be the upper limit, though…

Here are some rough standard timings for some example words and phrases based on our 50-60 characters per line recommendation:

How long?

Example

Timing

A short and familiar phrase Excuse me. 1.2 to 2 seconds
A quarter to a half of a line How long will it take? 2 to 3 seconds
Half of a line to one line How long will it take for Janice to get
home?
3 to 3.5 seconds
One line to one and a half How long will it take the whole cast to come home by taxi to Camberley, Surrey? 5.5 to 6.5 seconds
Two lines What will the City do about the
Government’s humiliating defeat
in the House of Commons last night?
7 to 8 seconds


When to deviate from these timings:

  • Match shot changes as much as possible – you don’t want lingering subtitles from last scene floating there after a scene change. This will look very jarring, and not just to those who rely on subtitles to understand your video!
  • Retain comedy timing if you can, You don’t want to blow a punchline, especially when there’s a matching visual element.
  • Slower speech should be matched by appropriate subtitle timing.
  • Unfamiliar words, long figures or technical terms may be easier to understand if given a longer appearance time.
  • If your intended audience are children, lengthen the time your subtitles are displayed accordingly.

Editing

Since people generally speak much faster than the text of their speech can be read, it
is almost always necessary to edit the dialogue a little to ensure that the main thrust of what they’re saying is understandable in written format.

  • Don’t be afraid to lose or contract words (does not > doesn’t) for the sake of good subtitle flow, but be careful not to change the meaning or flavour of your dialogue when doing so.
  • Although it is often tempting to edit by removing conversational phrases like “you know”, “well” or “actually”, you have to remember that these phrases often add flavour to your text.
  • In a similar way, words like “but”, “so” or “too” are often vital when expressing meaning
  • Your editing should not change your speaker’s style of speech. Take into account their register, nationality, era, etc. and don’t subtitle in a way that they wouldn’t speak.
    • Register: Father / Dad, deceased / dead
    • Nationality: fire truck  / fire engine, Mum / Mom
    • Era: wireless / radio, the pictures / movies

That being said, if there’s plenty of time to subtitle the entire dialogue, just do it. Give the reader as much access to the soundtrack as you can.

When in doubt, mute your video and show it to someone else. Ask them how they got on with understanding it and make edits as per their viewing experience.

Still not sure? Don’t have any friends? Don’t worry, we got you. Just show us your video and we’d gladly give you an honest opinion! Find us on facebook.com/fudgeanimation or Twitter @fudgeanimation