What Does “Burning In” Subtitles Mean?

There are basically two ways to display subtitles in your videos. One method is to use a separate text file (e.g. a SRT file) that “plays” along with your video. This “soft subtitle” method is what allows users to turn subtitles on/off, or choose from multiple subtitles for the same video on players like YouTube.

Subtitles available for a video in YouTube
“Soft subtitles” are separate from the video image and can be turned on and off.

The other method is to permanently write or “burn” subtitles into the video image itself. This “hard subtitle” method is useful when you want your subtitles to be unchangeable and always display, no matter where you are uploading or using it. 

Example of burned in subtitles
Burned-in subtitles are part of the video image, and can’t be turned on or off.

How to create burned-in subtitles using free and easy tools

Follow along below, or jump to a section:

  1. Create the subtitles
  2. Download the video
  3. (Optional: Download existing subtitles)
  4. Combine and burn subtitles into the video

1. Create the subtitles

To create the subtitles for a YouTube video, it helps to have a user-friendly interface. We recommend a free online subtitling platform developed by the Participatory Culture Foundation called Amara.

What the Amara subtitling interface looks like

This series of short 1-minute videos from Amara demonstrates how to use the platform.

Export the subtitles as an SRT file from Amara when you’re done.

Location of the Amara subtitle download menu.

2. Download the video

You will be creating the hard-subtitled video offline, so you will need to work with an offline video file or download the video.

If you are logged into the YouTube account for the video, you can download it from your Studio dashboard:

YouTube Creator Studio video download menu

If you aren’t logged into the YouTube account for the video, you can download your video using tools like the free 4K Video Downloader or YouTube-DL (open-source).

Interface of 4K Video Downloader
The 4K Video Downloader interface.

For YouTube-DL, the basic command to download a video looks like this:

Youtube-dl https://my-video-URL-here

YouTube-dl is a command-line tool (i.e. you use it by typing commands in Terminal or Command Prompt). Check back here for a YouTube-DL tutorial in the near future!

3. Optional: download existing subtitles

If you aren’t creating your own subtitles, you can also download existing subtitles from YouTube. 

Location of YouTube subtitle menu for a video
YouTube videos sometimes already have subtitles that you can download.

If you’re logged into the YouTube Account for the video, you can download from the Subtitles/CC tab on the Classic Creator Studio dashboard. Select the SRT format:

Location of the YouTube Studio subtitle download menu

If you aren’t logged into the account for the video, you can also use 4K Video Downloader or YouTube-DL to download existing subtitles:

Location of the download subtitles menu in 4K Video Downloader

For YouTube-DL, the basic command for downloading subtitles along with the video looks like this:

Youtube-dl --all-subs https://my-video-URL-here

4. Combine and burn subtitles into the video

Now that you have downloaded the video and subtitle files, you can use Handbrake, a free and open source transcoder, to combine them. 

Open Handbrake and select the video. If the Select window doesn’t automatically appear when you launch the application, just drag the video into the Handbrake window or click the “Open Source” button in the top left corner.

Main Handbrake interface

Sidenote: Handbrake only supports the SRT subtitle format, so if your subtitles are in VTT or another format, you need to convert it first. A free and simple online converter that we found is Subtitle Tools:

Web interface for Subtitle Tools' "Convert to SRT" tool

Alternatively, if you are using YouTube-DL, you can also convert subtitles to SRT at the time of downloading using this command:

Youtube-dl --all-subs --convert-subs srt https://my-video-URL-here

Back in Handbrake, navigate to the “Subtitles” tab, and to the “Tracks” menu. Select “Add External SRT…” and add your file:

Location of the Subtitles tab in Handbrake

Hint: If your SRT file is greyed out, make sure it has the correct file extension (i.e. “.srt”):

Check file extension for .srt

Then, check the box for “Burned In” next to the subtitle track:

Location of the "burn in" checkbox in Handbrake

(You may also need to adjust the “SRT Encoding” from the default ISO-8859-1 depending on the language/alphabet of your subtitles)

Hit “Start”:

Location of the Handbrake start button

Handbrake shows you its progress and will tell you when it’s finished. 

Handbrake progress bar

When it’s done, try to play your new video and check that the subtitles look all right! 

Video played back with burned in subtitle

Congratulations! You’ve successfully burned subtitles into your video!

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