How to caption a YouTube video

YouTube is a popular way to share videos online. Providing captions on videos makes them accessible to a wider audience, including Deaf and hearing impaired users. Captions also help to increase the search ranking of a video so that it is more easily discovered through search engines.  

To upload and add captions to videos on YouTube, you must first create a YouTube account. If you have a Gmail account, you can also use this account to sign into YouTube. Creating a YouTube account is free for all users and allows you to subscribe to channels, upload videos and share them with people on the web.

Adding and editing auto-captions to videos

The easiest way to caption a video that you have uploaded on YouTube is to use the auto-captions feature. This uses speech recognition software to generate captions from the videos you upload in over 12 different languages. Due to the feature’s inaccuracy, however, it is essential to edit auto-captions after they have been created.

To create and edit auto-captions:

  1. Once you have created an account, signed in and uploaded a video to YouTube, click on the down arrow next to the 'Upload' button at the top of the screen and select 'Video Manager'.
  2. In Video Manager, select the down arrow next to the 'Edit' button of the video you would like to caption.
  3. Select 'Captions' from this down arrow menu.
  4. On the right-hand side of your YouTube video, select the button under 'Active tracks'. This will be defaulted to 'English' however once you select this button, you can change the language under 'Language'.
  5. To the right of the video under 'Caption text', the auto-generated captions should be listed with their corresponding timecodes. Each line under 'Caption text' can be edited once a line is selected.
  6. Click on the line you wish to edit and adjust the captions to correct it.
  7. When you have finished editing the captions, click 'Done' on the bottom right corner to save the new version of the captions.

Using YouTube's DIY captioning software

You can also use YouTube's DIY captioning software to create captions from scratch. This advantage of using this feature over the auto-captioning option is that it allows you to split captions in a more logical way that will make them more readable, and time them with more precision.

To create and time captions:

  1. Log in to your YouTube account, go to ‘Video Manager’ and click the ‘Edit’ button next to the video you want to caption.
  2. Select ‘Subtitles and CC’ at the top right of the screen. In the drop-down menu, select the language. You can select English, or choose from 160 other languages.
  3. A box will now appear to the right of the media player which says ‘Type subtitles here’. Play the video, pausing it as necessary, and type your first caption into the box, then click on the ‘+’ sign to lock the caption in. It will then appear in a box below. Once you have created a caption, you can edit it by clicking on its box.
  4. As you create captions, they will appear on the screen as the video plays, while they will also appear in smaller boxes beneath the video player. When you click on one of these boxes, blue ‘handles’ will appear on either side of it. To time your captions so that they are synchronised with the dialogue, click on the handles and drag them to the left or right to adjust when each caption starts and finishes. You can do this as you create each caption, but it is probably easier to write the text for all the captions first, then play the video again and adjust the timing for all of them.
  5. Once you have completed your captions and are happy with them, click on the ‘Publish’ button. Everyone who watches your video will now be able to turn the captions on and off.

YouTube has created a video to take you through the process.

Creating caption files

There are a number of tools which allow you to create captions from scratch which can then be added to YouTube videos. We recommend using Amara, an open-source, non-profit project of the Participatory Culture Foundation. It supports YouTube, HTML5, Vimeo and other players. If you own the YouTube video, you can upload a caption file created on Amara to YouTube. If you don’t own the video, you can still use Amara to caption it, and when it’s completed anyone can watch the video with your captions on the Amara website.   

To create caption files using Amara:

  1. Paste the URL of the YouTube video you want to caption in the field provided then select 'Subtitle'.
  2. Under the video you want to caption, select 'Subtitle me'.
  3. In the pop-up screen, select the down arrow and then the language you wish to use for captions (subtitles).
  4. Click 'Continue'. You will be given the option to view an instructional video about captioning with Amara. If you would like to skip this video, click the checkbox next to 'Skip' and then click 'Continue'.
  5. You will be taken to a page that is divided in two columns. On the left column, you can add captions as the video is played. On the right column, you are provided with options to play and pause the video as you caption it. Amara has defaulted to play videos in intervals of 4 seconds. There are also another two options, ‘magical autopause’ and ‘no automatic pausing’, which we would advise you to experiment with so you can see which one is best for you.
  6. To caption the video, you can either select the 'Play next 4 seconds' button found on the right hand column or press the Tab key on your keyboard. Once you select this button or press the Tab key, the video will play for 4 seconds before it stops to allow you to type captions.
  7. Type your captions in the text field provided under the video. Once you are happy with your captions, press 'Enter' to continue on a new line. Repeat this until the whole video is captioned.
  8. Once you have typed all the captions, select 'Done' on the right side of the screen.
  9. The next step allows you to synch your captions to the video. To synch your captions to the video, press the down arrow key on the keyboard or select 'Tap when next subtitle should appear' (on the right hand column) whenever the next caption should appear.
  10. When you're finished synching your captions select 'Done'.
  11. You will now be asked to check your work. You can play the video with the captions running, and make changes to the caption text if necessary.
  12. At the stage, you can also complete the synchronisation process. In step 9, you only created points where the captions should appear, but not where they should come off the screen. In other words, captions will run continuously unless you create gaps between them. Underneath the screen you will see your captions represented as a series of grey boxes. Using your cursor, you change the timing of your captions by moving the sides of these boxes to left or right.   
  13.  Once you are happy with your captions, select 'Done? Submit work', and anyone will be able to watch the video with your captions on Amara. If you own the video, you can save the captions as .SUB or .SRT files, which are compatible with YouTube.

Uploading a caption file or transcript to videos

If you have a caption file ready, you can upload it to your YouTube video through Video Manager. YouTube supportsthe SubViewer (.SUB) and SubRip (.SRT) caption file formats. You can also upload a transcript which will be automatically converted to a caption file, and timed using speech recognition software. The transcript needs to be accurate, and in text file format.

  1. In Video Manager, select the down arrow next to the video you want to caption. Click 'Captions'.
  2. On the right hand side, select 'Upload caption file or transcript'. This will activate a pop-up screen.
  3. In the pop up screen, select the folder/s where the caption file or transcript is saved. Select the file.
  4. Click 'Open'.
  5. Select 'transcript' or 'caption file'. 
  6. Select the appropriate language and enter a track name.
  7. Select 'Upload'.

Other DIY caption tools

Other do-it-yourself online captioning tools include CaptionTube and dotSUB. To find out more, visit the Tools for captioning online videos page on Access iQ, an initiative of Media Access Australia.

Online captioning guidelines

There are no nationally or internationally accepted standards for online captions, but a number of documents containing caption quality guidelines are available online. For more information about caption quality guidelines, visit Access iQ.

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