Close-up screencap of YouTube’s auto-captions that say, “wish a happy book birthday to Gabriel our 12-inch author…”
Close-up screencap of YouTube’s auto-captions that say, “wish a happy book birthday to Gabriel our 12-inch author…”

Easy Captions for Content Creators

You made a video! Maybe it’s your first, maybe it’s your 500th. Whatever the case, you have a video and now it needs captions. But…how do you get captions? And why do you need them? And if you’re uploading it to YouTube, surely the auto-captions provided by YouTube will suffice, right? Wrong.

Melissa Hart, author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens, was kind enough to let me use one of her short book review videos for a quick tutorial on how to burn in captions using Handbrake, so your video will have captions for those who need them no matter what platform you’re planning to host it on.

Things you’ll need for this tutorial:

  1. A YouTube account.
  2. Handbrake (available for free).

First things first, you may be wondering what I meant by “burn in captions.” All that means is your captions will be permanently embedded on top of your video with no option for users to turn them on or off. This is something a lot of foreign language videos do when launching in the US without English voiceover. These are also known as open captions. Closed captions, the term you’re probably more familiar with, means users have the option to toggle them on or off.

So why on earth would you want to “burn in” captions? Isn’t it better to give users the option of whether they want them or not? Yes, it is. My preference is closed captions. You may be surprised to learn though that even in 2020 when all of us are very online, there are still some popular video platforms that don’t allow users to add captions in the form of a closed caption file. So in this case, burning in captions makes your video portable. You can host it wherever you want, without having to worry about whether or not your host of choice allows you to add closed captions.

And just in case you’re wondering why, if you’re hosting on YouTube, their auto-captions aren’t good enough and to answer that question, we need only look at what YouTube provided Melissa with.

Close-up screencap of YouTube’s auto-captions that say, “wish a happy book birthday to Gabriel our 12-inch author…”
Close-up screencap of YouTube’s auto-captions that say, “wish a happy book birthday to Gabriel our 12-inch author…”

I think it’s safe to assume that the Gabriel she’s wishing a happy book birthday to here isn’t a 12-inch author. The author Melissa is wishing a happy book birthday to is Gabriel Arquilevich. While auto-caption errors are quite often good for a laugh, they’re bad for everything else, from SEO to adding to the endless frustration of Deaf and hard of hearing people like myself. ASR (automatic speech recognition) simply isn’t good enough yet to provide passable captions. While auto-captions are certainly better than nothing, I doubt any content creators are striving for just “meh” when it comes to the quality of their content. And captions are part of quality content.

Alright, let’s get on with the tutorial!

The first thing you’re going to do is upload your video to YouTube. Yes, even if you have no plans of hosting your video on YouTube. If this is the case, upload it as unlisted or private.

Once your video is uploaded, give YouTube a little time to add its auto-captions. For this 40-second video, it took about ten minutes for the auto-captions to appear.

Once your video has its auto-captions, you’re going to go to the YouTube Studio dashboard, select your video, and from the left side menu, select “Subtitles”:

The video subtitles screen within YouTube.
The video subtitles screen within YouTube.

From here, over on the right, you’ll click on “Published Automatic.” This will take you to the subtitle editing screen. From there, click “Edit” and it will then allow you to edit the terrible auto-captions.

The subtitle editing screen within YouTube.
The subtitle editing screen within YouTube.

This is where we’ll fix spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and get rid of “Gabriel our 12-inch author.”

Once you’ve done your copy edit, you’re going to click “Save Changes” in the top right corner:

The subtitle editing screen, showing all the proper edits having been made.
The subtitle editing screen, showing all the proper edits having been made.

It will ask you if you want to overwrite the existing (bad) captions. You do.

Now you’re going to click on the “English” file you’ve just created (not the automated one):

Showing the English language subtitle option as published.
Showing the English language subtitle option as published.

This will take you back to a familiar screen but don’t worry, we’re not going to edit anything.

From here, click “Actions,” and underneath “Download,” you’ll select “.srt.”

The captions download options screen.
The captions download options screen.

Save it as whatever you want to save it as and then open up Handbrake.

Drag and drop your video file and from there, click on the “Subtitles” tab:

The source file screen inside Handbrake.
The source file screen inside Handbrake.

Once in the “Subtitles” tab, click “Import Subtitle,” select the file you downloaded from YouTube, and once it’s loaded, be sure to click “Burn In.” Be sure you click this for your captions file and not next to where it says, “Foreign Audio Scan.” You can leave all the options as they are. Once your captions file is imported and you’ve ticked the “Burn In” box, click “Start Encode” up on the top bar. (If you want to change the location it saves to, you can do so prior to clicking “Start Encode” at the bottom of the Handbrake window.)

The subtitle import screen inside Handbrake.
The subtitle import screen inside Handbrake.

Once your encoding is done, that’s it! You’re done! You’ve now got captions embedded in your video and it’s ready for you to upload wherever you like, without having to worry about whether or not the host allows captions!

The Resulting video with captions burned into the file.
The Resulting video with captions burned into the file.

Many thanks to Melissa Hart for allowing me to use her video for this tutorial!

*A note for those who are using video platforms that do allow closed caption files to be uploaded, like Facebook and Twitter. If you would rather not burn in your captions and want to add them as closed captions instead, you can stop following the tutorial when it says to open Handbrake. You can download your edited captions .srt file from YouTube and upload it wherever that file format is allowed.

Writer | Editor | Video Game Nerd — Find me on Twitter @CyclopediaBrain

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