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

November 21, 2018 BY SOFIA ENAMORADO
Updated: March 9, 2021

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.

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 (.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


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

editing captions inside youtube

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

Read: 6 YouTube Hacks for Captioning & Subtitling

.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.

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.

Click to start captioning your YouTube videos
This post was originally published by Tole Khesin on July 14, 2010 and has since been edited.

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