How to Add Closed Captions to YouTube Videos – For Free

Updated: January 8, 2020

Let’s face it: quality captioning subtitling services can be expensive.

Traditional captioning services cost $6-$14 per minute. And even though our prices are a fraction of that, the cost of hiring a professional captioning company may still be prohibitive for some.

If your budget is tight or if you have more time than money, you can create video transcripts and captions yourself — for free!



Here’s your guide to YouTube closed captioning.

How to Turn Transcripts Into Closed Captions in YouTube

Read: 6 YouTube Hacks for Captioning & Subtitling

Did you know that if you upload a transcript into your YouTube video, it can automatically generate captions?

YouTube uses speech recognition technology that aligns your transcript with the audio and breaks it up into correctly timed caption frames. 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.

Note: this method only works correctly if the transcript is in the same language as the video. It would not work if you’re adding subtitles in a different language, because YouTube cannot match the transcript dialogue to the audio sounds if the words and sounds are completely different.

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 (.txt) 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. Next, go to Creator Studio > Video Manager, then select your video.
  3. Click Edit > Subtitles & CC.
  4. Select the language of your captions.
  5. When given options to select a method, choose Upload File > Transcript File.
  6. Click Upload.
  7. Next, click Set timings to instruct YouTube to match your transcript with the audio and create captions.
  8. Your captions should be ready in just a few minutes.


demonstrations of instructions above in the YouTube platform. Uploading a transcript to get timecoded in YouTube



 These DIY Resources for Captioning and Transcription Will Help You Big Time ➡️ 


How to Create Closed Captions in YouTube

If you don’t have a transcript of your video and its audio quality is not that great, then your best option is to manually type out the transcript by repeatedly listening to the video.

You can expedite this process with free transcription software, like F4 , Express Scribe, or Transcriber.

Once you have a transcript, follow Steps 2-8 above.

However, with good audio quality and clearly spoken English, you can use YouTube’s automatic captions to create a rough draft and then edit where necessary.

A machine-produced transcript will have errors — probably a lot of them. But it is a good starting point and spares you from transcribing the whole video from scratch.

Follow these steps to create high quality captions using YouTube’s automatic captioning function:

  1. Download Automatic Captions From YouTube
  2. Log into your YouTube account. Find the video you want captioned in your Video Editor, then select Edit > Subtitles & CC.
  3. When you select Add new subtitles or CC, a search bar will appear. Search for the English (Automatic).
  4. You’ll be taken to YouTube’s caption editor. Here you can edit each caption frame, while previewing them on the video.
  5. Once your captions are ready, just hit Publish.

You can also download your caption file from YouTube. Simply click Actions in the YouTube caption editor. A dropdown will appear with different caption file types. You can download your captions as a .vtt, .srt, and .sbv.

The Easiest Way to Create YouTube Captions

YouTube 3Play Media integration

3Play Media’s round trip integration with YouTube provides an automated workflow for adding captions and subtitles.Your YouTube videos can be processed in a matter of hours and captions will be automatically sent to YouTube and added to your videos.Learn more about YouTube captioning >

Your newly uploaded captions will replace YouTube’s automatic captions.

Turning CC On and Off

To activate captions, viewers need to press the CC button on the video player.

If you are embedding a YouTube video, you can set the captions to be on by default by adding this string to the end of your video URL or embed tag: ?cc_load_policy=1

Captioning Best Practices

When creating your closed captions, consider some of these captioning best practices:

  • Captions appear on-screen long enough to be read (at least 1 second per caption frame).
  • Limit captions to no more than two lines per frame if possible.
  • Captions must be precisely synchronized with spoken words.
  • Identify speakers when more than one person is on-screen or when the speaker is not visible.
  • Use correct puncutation to clarify meaning.
  • Use correct spelling, even for proper nouns and names.
  • Caption sound effects when they are relevant.
  • Identify when speaker uses slang or has a distinct accent.

Free Video Captioning Software

As an alternative to the captioning methods described here, there are a number of free captioning and subtitling programs that are robust and user-friendly.

The most popular programs are Magpie, which is available for Windows and Mac and Subtitle Workshop, which is for Windows only.

More Tips on DIY Captioning

For more advice and resources on creating your own captions from scratch, check out our free whitepaper:

DIY Resources for Closed Captioning and Transcription white paper download.


This post was originally published by Emily Griffin as “How to Add Subtitles & CC to YouTube Videos — For Free” and has been updated.

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