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.
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.
How to create burned-in subtitles using free and easy tools
Follow along below, or jump to a section:
- Create the subtitles
- Download the video
- (Optional: Download existing subtitles)
- Combine and burn subtitles into the video
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.
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.
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:
For YouTube-DL, the basic command to download a video looks like this:
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!
If you aren’t creating your own subtitles, you can also download existing subtitles from YouTube.
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:
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
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.
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:
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:
Hint: If your SRT file is greyed out, make sure it has the correct file extension (i.e. “.srt”):
Then, check the box for “Burned In” next to the subtitle track:
(You may also need to adjust the “SRT Encoding” from the default ISO-8859-1 depending on the language/alphabet of your subtitles)
Handbrake shows you its progress and will tell you when it’s finished.
When it’s done, try to play your new video and check that the subtitles look all right!
Congratulations! You’ve successfully burned subtitles into your video!