Back-to-School Refresh: Subtitles

As part of our back-to-school refresh blog series, today’s blog will be going over some subtitle guidelines and why they are necessary. Despite playing an important role, guidelines do make subtitling that bit more difficult. This is why subtitling is such an art, and why a machine can’t produce the same high-quality subtitles that a professional human linguist can.

This blog will delve into some of the guidelines a little deeper and help to clarify what role they play in the quality of subtitles. Let’s get straight to it:

Syncing subtitles

It’s important to try and sync the subtitles to the visuals and the audio as best as possible. This is much easier said then done, however. By syncing the subtitles with the video, they will appear when the character’s lips are moving for example. This makes them feel more natural. The subtitles should also be in sync with the audio as much as possible too. Despite not necessarily understanding the audio, this will help the viewer read the subtitles.

Enough time to read

It is recommended that the subtitle should appear on screen for between one and seven seconds. This allows enough time for the viewer to read the subtitle. The time will depend on the subtitle’s CPS (characters per second).

The recommended figure is around 17 CPS, as this is based on the average reading speed.

Consider the visuals

For Latin alphabet languages, it’s advised that the character limit per line is 42. On top of this, a subtitle is recommended to have no more than 2 lines. This may not sound so bad, but for languages such as German for example where the words are considerably longer than English, this can be quite the challenge. So why are these guidelines necessary? It restricts the subtitle, to avoid it covering too much of the visuals.

On-Screen text

If there is text superimposed on the video, this is known as ‘on-screen text’. Common examples of this are ‘two years later…’ or maybe interviewee names. This can be subtitled, above or below the original text, however this covers more of the video. Alternatively, if the text was added as editable text, this could be changed on the video itself.

This decision would of course depend on the budget, as the first option is considerably cheaper than the latter.

Keep Subtitles Clear

Due to the restricted time and space with subtitles, it’s important to keep them clear and concise. Removing any unnecessary hesitations could help achieve this. Although it’s always worth considering whether the hesitation has an intended effect or not.

Time to Breathe

There is also a guideline which advises that there should be at least 2 frames between each subtitle. Around 24 frames are drawn each second, so this really is a very short gap. It may seem insignificant; however this gap allows our brains to refresh and acknowledge the new subtitle effectively.


Where we position subtitles is also key. The positioning must remain as consistent as possible. Subtitles can be moved to the top of the screen, so that it doesn’t interfere with the visuals.

However, you should try to avoid going from the top to the bottom and back to the top where possible.

This is because it makes it difficult for the viewer to follow the subtitles. If you need to change the location, extend the subtitle length so that the viewer can catch up.

We hope you have found this useful! We have of course only scratched the surface though! If you’d like to learn more about subtitling, please get in touch and we’d happily talk to you about subtitling your content.

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Lifting the Lid on Subtitles

Have you watched films and TV shows in a foreign language? Do you watch videos on mute? Then you’ve probably already experienced subtitles. They are the on-screen text that allows viewers to read what is being said.

Sometimes, businesses choose to use automatically generated subtitles. However, at Web-Translations, we advise opting to get your videos professionally subtitled. We’ll explain why during this blog.

How are professional subtitles created?

Once we’ve received a video file, we will send it off to our professional linguists to be transcribed. This ensures that the audio is understood correctly, consequently avoiding any errors. On auto-generated subtitles, this is a common issue, as, unlike humans, machines are unable to differentiate homophones. This results in mistakes.

This template will be translated into the chosen languages, and subtitles are then created. Our experienced subtitlers will translate and time-code them considering the appropriate guidelines. They will consider:

  • Reading speed
  • On-screen text
  • Character limits
  • On-screen action
  • Clarity – the removal of any unnecessary hesitations
  • Subtitle lines and positions

By considering these guidelines, your subtitles will look professional. They will also be appropriate for your audience. By investing in the subtitling process, mistakes will be avoided and your customers will notice that you care about them.

Image of hands typing on a laptop

Investing in professional subtitles shows your customers that you’re investing in them.

Why use Web-Translations, and not auto-generate them?

Auto-generated subtitles are cheaper, but the cost is shown by the quality. If the subtitles are too fast and your audience are struggling to read them, this is going to have a negative effect on your brand’s reputation. If there are mistakes, this leads to misunderstandings. Again, tarnishing your brand’s reputation. These details are also particularly important for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, as they will rely on good quality subtitles.

Although the process of subtitling may seem daunting, at Web-Translations, we can take care of this for you. We use industry-leading software, professional linguists, and have expert knowledge on subtitling guidelines. Our Project Managers will coordinate the subtitling of your content, thus leaving you stress-free.

To find out more about our language solutions, read our services page here:  Or, if you’d like to talk to us directly, why don’t you fill in our contact form? We’re more than happy to help.

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It’s a comment you may have heard expressed before by many native English speakers: despite possessing an interest in foreign films and a willingness to embrace their ‘quirkiness’, it sometimes feels as though you have to be “in the mood” to watch them. After watching a French film the other night and hearing my housemate make this exact comment, my thoughts consequently drifted to how world cinema seems to have rapidly gained popularity over the last ten years in the U.K. (more…)

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