Tip Tuesday: Captions vs. Subtitles – Which Should I Use and When?

Tip Tuesday: Captions vs. Subtitles – Which Should I Use and When?

Let’s be honest, most people check some form of social media while they’re at work. A short five-minute break after working nonstop on that report, or a brief reprieve from a boring presentation, we’re all guilty of this faux-paus. Even if your workplace doesn’t mind the occasional status update, I can guarantee none of your co-workers would appreciate a random video blaring from your phone and disrupting their workflow. Nor would your fellow subway, train, plane or carpool riders.

Thankfully, eyes are silent. To make it easier for your audience to engage with your content, then, you need a way to take the important audio and make it visual for them. Captions and subtitles are your key. Without these tools a potential viewer might skip your video entirely for fear of disrupting their environment or stopping their music/podcast.

First, a lesson in semantics. There is a common misconception that subtitles and captions are the same. They are not. While both typically follow a person’s voice throughout a video, they aren’t interchangeable terms. In addition, not all text in your video is a subtitle. A title screen, phone number, website, email, etc. aren’t subtitles unless they follow a voice-over/narrator’s vocal track. Those are just text.

Captions vs. Subtitles

Subtitles are text burned into your video, meaning they’re always there in the exact place you put them for all your viewers. Furthermore, subtitles can be any font, color, and size that you want for your video.

Closed captions, on the other hand, are not normally burned in, typically only being turned on when a viewer chooses or when a video is muted, and have a specific standard font and text spacing.

Captions vs. Subtitles

As you see above, captions (left) have less room for letters, emphasizing equal spacing between each character, whereas subtitles (right) have more text space and greater font variety.

Which you choose will depend entirely on the video content you’re creating and where you’re putting your video (more on this in a bit).


By nature, subtitles can be put onto any video no matter where it’s going, as they’ve been burned in. Most video editing software have some way for users to add text to their video. iMovie has an “add Title” option, Final Cut Pro has an “add Text” setting, and Adobe Premiere Pro has a “New Captions” menu for both captions and subtitles.

Once you find this setting feel free to tinker with the font, size and color. The benefit of subtitles, after all, is the variety you can give them.

For subtitles that follow what is being said on screen, I suggest using a font size that can be read comfortably when a video is small, such as when someone first sees it cross their Facebook feed before tapping on it, but doesn’t look too big when displayed full screen on a computer. You can simulate this while editing your video by changing the size of your editing windows. Subtitles like these are traditionally placed at the bottom of the screen for ease of reading.

Subtitles: Too Small

Subtitles that are too small.


Subtitles: Too Big

Subtitles that are too large.


A more advanced video project is a text-only video. While these technically aren’t subtitled videos, I’ve included this small section because the tools for creating text and creating subtitles in certain video editing programs are the same.

Videos posted on Facebook by Bleacher Report, Buzzfeed and Tasty, are excellent examples of this premise. Typically, the text is larger, but doesn’t completely obscure the video behind it. In addition, there’s normally bigger chunks of text all at once. The text stays on screen longer, and can be placed in places other than the traditional bottom of the screen. These text heavy videos require a little more flourish in editing style. Check out how other pages handle it before trying your own, but it’s a good challenge once you’re comfortable with your text creating skills. And don’t forget to add music!


Closed captions are less visually versatile than subtitles, but allow you to have your picture completely unobscured by burned in text. Most importantly, Facebook allows your custom subtitles to display over your video while it is muted, and then disappear when unmuted. This seamless transition between audio and visual can amplify engagement in your content.

Unfortunately, closed captions are not as easy to make as subtitles. iMovie and Final Cut Pro don’t have the option built into the software, while Adobe Premiere Pro CC does. At Commexis, we use the adobe suite, but if your business doesn’t there are plenty of voice to text programs that can create a closed caption file for you.

That said, if you’re stuck with iMovie and don’t want to pay out-of-pocket, there is a slightly more convoluted solution through YouTube.

YouTube allows you to create and upload captions for your videos in the “Video Manager” menu. To create captions from scratch, click the edit button on your video in the “Video Manager” menu, and go to the “Subtitles/CC” menu.

Subtitles: CC Menu

There you can add new captions in the language of your choice, then you’ll be prompted to upload a caption file or make your own. Once your subtitles are published, you can download them in a variety of formats (I suggest .srt) and then upload those to Facebook.

Download Captions

Which Should I Pick and When?

As I mentioned earlier, the choice of when to use subtitles or captions is completely up to you. You could subtitle every single video and never worry about closed captions. However, that’s not always appropriate.

Here’s a quick checklist of when I believe it’s best to use subtitles or captions.

Use Subtitles When:

  • You want complete control of the font, size, and color of the text on screen.
  • Your video is being uploaded to Instagram (Instagram doesn’t allow CC uploading).
  • Your video has no voice over track and is text heavy (think Bleacher Report, Tasty, etc.).
  • A portion of your video is in another language and you want to translate that phrase.

Use Captions When:

  • You’re OK with not having complete control over the font, size and color.
  • You want your viewers to be able to choose if they want to see the text on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.
  • You want to better conform to standards for those with certain eyesight disabilities.

One final note: putting subtitles and captions into your videos helps those who are hearing impaired or deaf gain the same amount of information as anyone else. While the hearing impaired might not be a large portion of your audience, I can guarantee those individuals certainly are there. Using these tools will help you engage with that portion of your audience, while providing a quality of life improvement for your entire audience.

It is always a good thing when you empower your audience to better engage with your content. For a one-and-a-half to two-minute video, creating subtitles and captions might only take 15 – 20 minutes of your time. By doing so you create a window for viewers to peek into the video you’ve created, giving you a chance to hook them in and hopefully one more customer.

For more information on how to upload closed caption files to YouTube and Facebook, check out the video below:

Commexis videographer/podcaster, Matt McGroarty was born and raised in South Jersey. While pursuing a BA from Rider University, cultivated his passion for both hands-on audio and video storytelling. During his free time, Matt enjoys playing card games and watching reruns of “The X-Files.”

Matt McGrorty

Videographer / Podcaster

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