How to Create Free High Quality Captions with the Help of YouTube

July 14, 2010 BY TOLE KHESIN
Updated: February 22, 2018

Let’s face it: high quality captioning is an expensive endeavor. Traditional captioning services cost $6 – $14 per minute. And even though our plans & prices are much more cost-effective, captioning can still rack up a hefty bill. If your budget is tight or if you have more time than money, you can do it yourself for free with the help of these tools and tips.

Also, check out our YouTube captioning integration–this is definitely the fastest, easiest way to add captions or subtitles to your YouTube videos.

First, let’s define some terms. A “transcript file” is usually a text document that only contains the text spoken in the video. A “captions file” comes in many different formats and contains text plus time codes that synchronize each line of text with the video. Captions files can also include formatting and other information.

How to create high quality captions from an existing transcript

With an existing transcript file, YouTube can automatically generate captions using speech recognition technology that aligns the text with the video. It does a pretty good job, especially with high quality audio and clearly spoken English. YouTube even lets you export the captions file for use in other applications. Follow these steps to create captions from an existing transcript:

  1. Prepare the transcript file by making sure that it’s a plain text file without any special characters like smart quotes. You can force caption breaks by inserting double line breaks. For best results, manually insert caption breaks during long pauses or when music is playing.
  2. Log into your YouTube account, go to “My Videos”, and click “Captions”.
  3. Click the “Add New Captions or Transcript” button. Choose “Transcript file” and upload your transcript.
  4. Your captions should be ready in just a few minutes.

adding captions and transcripts with YouTube

How to create high quality captions without an existing transcript

If the audio quality is not that great, the best option is usually to manually type the transcript by repeatedly listening to the video. You can expedite this process with free transcription software, like F4 , Express Scribe, or Transcriber.

However, with good audio quality and clearly spoken English you can use Google’s machine transcription to create a draft transcript and then edit where necessary. Even with professionally recorded audio a machine transcript will be chock-full of errors, but you’ll probably save time and it’s less of a grind. Follow these steps to create high quality captions using Google’s machine transcription:

  1. Log into your YouTube account, go to “My Videos”, and click “Captions”.
  2. Click “Request Processing”. If this button is not shown then the processing has already been completed (skip to Step 4).
  3. Wait for the processing to complete. YouTube advises that it can take up to a few days, but often it’s completed in less than an hour
  4. Download the captions file (.SBV format)
  5. Convert the .SBV format to a standard .SRT format using this captions format converter and paste the output into a text document.
  6. Go to and paste the URL to your YouTube video. Then import the contents of the .SRT file by selecting File>Import and pasting the contents into the form.
  7. Use the Subtitle Horse tool to edit the captions. Export a .SRT file by selecting File>Export and pasting the contents into a text document. Change the file extension to .SRT.
  8. Log back into your YouTube account and click “Add New Captions or Transcript” and upload the edited .SRT captions file.

captioning tool for editing captions and transcripts

Viewing and activating captions

To activate captions viewers need to press the “CC” button on the video player. You can set the captions to be on by default by adding this string to the end of your video URL or embed tag:

Using YouTube captions in other applications

.SBV is the only captions format that YouTube outputs. Because many applications don’t support .SBV, you’ll need to convert it to a standard format like .SRT. Follow steps 4 through 9 above.

YouTube help

More information about adding captions and transcripts to your YouTube videos is available here:

Captioning tips

Here are some captioning best practices provided by Described and Captioned Media Program and Google:

  • Captions appear on-screen long enough to be read.
  • It is preferable to limit on-screen captions to no more than two lines.
  • Captions are synchronized with spoken words.
  • Speakers should be identified when more than one person is on-screen or when the speaker is not visible.
  • Punctuation is used to clarify meaning.
  • Spelling is correct throughout the production.
  • Sound effects are written when they add to understanding.
  • All actual words are captioned, regardless of language or dialect.
  • Use of slang and accent is preserved and identified.
  • Descriptions inside square brackets like [music] or [laughter] used to help understand what is happening.

Free Captioning Software

As an alternative to the captioning methods described here, there are a number of free captioning and subtitling programs that are easy to understand and provide a full set of features. The most popular programs are Magpie, which is available for Windows and Mac and Subtitle Workshop, which is for Windows only.

3play media logo in blue

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