Captioned Video Guide: Side-by-Side

These Will Make You Rethink Your Captioned Videos

With the growing number of tools for captioning videos making do-it-yourself captions possible, so is the growing number of captioned videos with crappy captions. Sometimes people don’t realize the importance of something until they see a good and bad example side-by-side.

This series of side-by-side videos tell the story of why each rule of awesome captions matter.

Here are the topics included in this captioned video guide:

Readability: The No. 1 Rule of Great Captioned Videos

If you follow only one rule when captioning videos, make it this one:

Captions are readable.

If it’s too hard to read, then none of the other rules matter.

Some people with color blindness struggle to see some colors. Some folks with dyslexia also struggle with some colors. After reading a study, I use the following colors in captions that supposed to work well for all differences:

  • Background: off-black #242424
  • Font color: off-white #fffffd

That cute font? It makes reading harder than it needs to be. Changing colors, font size, all that. It adds friction to the viewing experience.

Here are the keys to readable captions:

  • Contains a readable font: sans serif works best
  • Uses colors with strong contrast
  • Avoids harsh colors
  • Blocks distractions behind the text
  • Remains readable with light and dark scenes
  • Appears in the right size: larger is better

There’s a reason why the best captions look boring. They make it effortless to read. They don’t distract from the video. Great captions allow you to quickly glance at them rather than force you to read them closely. When you work harder to read, you miss the action on the screen. And that means simple sans serif fonts and simple colors.

Some video creators think it’s cool and creative to use different colors or nontraditional fonts in their captions. Well … let the video show you the difference.

The No. 1 rule of great captions

And that’s why readability is the first rule of great captions.

Autocraptions: How Automatic Captions Earned Their Nickname

The No. 2 rule of great captions is accuracy. It’s not No. 1 because accuracy won’t matter if you can’t read it.

The best captions correctly capture everything said and heard word-for-word. Yes, that includes swear words.

Here’s how autocraptions earned their nickname.

The only things I did with the autocraptions were even out the two lines and tweaked the timing. The original timing of the captions was a gosh-awful mess.

You’ll see why I can’t use apps that automatically caption a video. It requires a lot of text editing and timing fixes.

How autocraptions earned their nickname

Not all automatic caption apps allow you to adjust the timing especially the free Clips app for iOS. I only use it when I make a short video that I want to share straight from the phone.

That’s why I use YouTube to create my captions or upload a script and let it set the timings. I export the caption file as .VTT and .SRT. Most services use .SRT.

Then, I import the caption .VTT text file into to convert the closed-captions to open captions. This way, if someone does not have captions set on their phone, they can see it. And I’ve seen my caption SRT file disappear a few times. One is too many! Horrifying!

Autocraptions are good for one thing … and one thing only: a good laugh!

Even 80 percent accurate autocraptions isn’t good enough. Here’s what it looks like:

“That’s two out of every ten _____ that are _____.”

Autocraptions frustrate the viewers that many stop watching. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle with a handful of missing pieces.

And that’s why autocraptions are not better than no captions. Just say no to autocraptions.

Breaking This Captioned Video Rule Makes Viewers Dizzy

People can tell when the captions are not in sync with what’s being said. Yes, even with the sound off.

Here are the clues of an out-of-sync video:

  • Your eyes see one thing, but the captions say something else.
  • The captions don’t match what’s happening on the screen.
  • The speaker’s lips show something different than what the captions say.

I tell ya, when the captions and the video are not in sync, it causes vertigo … whether or not you can hear it. Is the room spinning? It was for me when I worked on this captioned video!

Before you watch this, cover the video on the left. Watch what happens.

See the importance of synchronization in captioned videos

You want to ensure the timing of the captions follows the action as closely as possible. YouTube makes it easy to set the timings with its drag-n-drop slider. That’s how I created the out of sync video.

And that’s why awesome captioned videos are synchronized.

Why Size Matters in Captioned Videos

Yes. Size matters.

Really, really matters …

… in great captioned videos!

What did you think I was talking about?

Some captions have showed up one or two words at a time. The fastest readers can’t keep up with these flying captions. And they certainly can’t absorb the information or see what’s happening on the video.

It. Is. Exhausting.

Also, avoid long captions that go from one side of the screen to the other and run for three, four, or five lines.

This causes the viewer to spend too much time reading long lines that they miss the action in the video. They can lose their place in reading these captions.

Talk about bad user experience.

Why size really matters in great captions

Goldilocks learned the hard way. The middle wins! It’s just right!

Aim for one or two lines of captions.

As for the length, target about 60 characters per caption. That puts the captions in the middle of the screen with comfortable spacing on both sides. Here’s a quick tip on caption length to make it easier to check the length without counting the characters.

Viewers follow better with shorter captions with one to two lines.

So yes, size matters in fabulous captioned videos.

Which Position Do You Prefer? Top or Bottom?

Like size … position matters … in great captions!

Most people prefer the captions on the bottom of a video. They can follow the action on the screen better than when the captions sit on top.

You won’t find scientific research that proves this. When the captions are up top, we catch less of the action on the screen.

The speaker’s lips tend to be closer to the bottom than the top. Not always. Having captions near the lips makes it easier to follow along when the captions are in sync with the audio.

Our eyes may naturally gravitate up instead of down. Again, no scientific proof.

Or it may be because subtitled movies and captions have put the text at the bottom of the screen for decades. So, it’s a habit for most people to look for the captions at the bottom.

One thing is for sure: don’t put the captions in the middle of the screen! Yes, I’ve seen this!

This video shows both positions. Have a look. You might want to cover half the screen for part of it and then watch the other half for the rest of it.

Which position do you prefer?

Where the captions appear on the video matters. It needs to be consistent.

I’ve seen videos with captions shifting for no reason. This hurts the user experience.

And yes, there are exceptions … temporary ones. But that’s another topic for another day. Hint: credits.

Why You Want to Caption Those Sounds

People watching your video may not have the sound on. Or they’re deaf or hard of hearing and can’t hear the sound.

Whichever the case, sound plays a critical role in videos:

  • It foreshadows.
  • It reveals what’s happening.
  • It explains why someone reacts.
  • It makes us dance.
  • … and more.

Captions communicate a lot by capturing all the sounds. An easy way to indicate a sound is to put it in [brackets].

This side-by-side video reveals the importance of sound in captioned videos. The left side captions everything. The right only captions what’s said just like a foreign film with subtitles would. Part of the video has no sound to show you what it’s like when people can’t hear it.

Why captioning sound matters

Would you believe there are times when a song plays with lyrics, but the captions show nothing or just musical notes? #NotKidding

Just caption those sounds and it’ll be music to your viewers’ eyes!

Captions Vs. Credits: No Contest

Time to give credit where credit is due!

It should not be a boxing match between credits and captions in a video.

Viewers want to see both.

And they want to do that without struggling or stopping the video to turn off the captions to see the text behind it.

Just make sure the captions, the text, and credits don’t overlap each other.

Many captioning apps put the captions on the bottom. In this case, put credits or text higher up or somewhere that’s logical without hiding behind the captions or covering someone’s face.

Generally, the credits show up on the bottom and the captions move up top … temporarily. And that’s OK. Long-time caption viewers know to expect it.

Credits or captions: Which is more important?

Captions vs. credits. No contest. The important thing is to let viewers see both the credits and captions.

Thanks for captioning your videos and caring about the quality. When you post your videos, add #Captioned to help people find them.

The reason for #Captioned (past tense) is because #Captions can mean a lot of other things that have nothing to do with text on video.

For more caption tips, see Get piping hot digital marketing and captions updates by subscribing to the mailing list here:

What You Need to Know About Colors in Captioned Videos

I know people mean well when they use a second color to emphasize words or phrases in a video.

This works great in written content. Just not in captions.

The best captions use one color and here’s why.

You get so focused on the differently-colored words that you lose the message. I know I do.

Everyone reads at a different speed. Let them control their reading speed.

And don’t forget people who are color-blind may not be able to see the different colors. According to the National Institute of Health, about 8 percent of men have red-green color blindness. That’s a lot!

It’s not just red-green color blindness. I learned a friend has problems with pastel colors. Also, some people with dyslexia struggle with certain colors.

The best captions are boring — one color and simple font — because they create an effortless user experience. They let you read fast and catch the action on the screen.

Cover the left video while watching the right. What do you think? Do the colors distract from the message?

Colors are cool … for captions, right?

To Highlight or Not to Highlight the Captions in Captioned Videos

Some apps will highlight the word spoken in a different color.

This creates friction in the caption experience.

First, it has more movement than pop-in captions, which distracts from the video. It’s harder to get the message or watch the video.

Second, it’s tough to resist following the highlighted text, which also diverts from the action on the screen.

Third, people with color blindness may not see the highlighted text or it’s frustrating.

Everyone reads at a different speed. The best captions let viewers control their reading pace.

Pop-in captions are simple and limit movement. (Just a simple pop-in and pop-out.) That makes them less distracting and gives you more freedom to look at the full video.

Pop-ins allow viewers to read at their own speed. They minimize movement. This lets viewers watch the video without anything pulling away from their focus, which is the action on the screen.

The two videos are not perfectly in sync. The sound comes from the video on the right. Cover the left to see how the captions on the right work.

Highlights are good … for textbooks

Scrolling Vs. Pop-in Captions: Who Wins?

Scrolling captions appear on live programs like the news and awards shows. Those can’t be helped.

However, I’ve seen some live shows do a great job of keeping the captions and audio in sync. So, it is possible to do it well. Just not lately.

But the problem is that scrolling captions also show up in non-live captioned videos.

Most everyone agrees highlighting captions is awful because you can’t help but focus on the highlighted text and lose the message.

But what if it’s just scrolling captions without the highlights. Is that better?

No. It still adds friction to the experience. Scrolling has more movement than pop-in captions, which distracts from the video. It’s harder to get the message or watch the video.

It also often falls behind the video’s audio. Super frustrating especially with jokes!

Besides, everyone reads at a different speed. The best captioned videos let viewers read at their own pace.

Pop-in captions are simple and limit movement. It gives you time to look at the full video and read at your own speed. And it keeps up with the audio.

The two videos are not perfectly in sync. The sound comes from the video on the right. Cover the left to see how the captions work.

I had to talk a little differently to get the app — which hates my accent — to create the scrolling captions.

Here’s the difference between scrolling and pop-in captions.

Can You Spot the Problems in the Captioned Video?

Now that you’ve studied and learned about what makes captions good or bad, you’re ready for a pop quiz!

Having flashbacks to grade school when the teacher announced an unplanned quiz?

Don’t sweat it! This is a fun one. Well, maybe a little torturous. That’s only because of the bad captions you’ll see.

Stick with it. The video shows the captions breaking the different rules.

If it makes you cringe as much as it did for me when making the video, pause it. Take a break. It’s not a timed quiz.

Ready for your challenge?

What captioned video problems can you spot on the right?

The right video breaks a lot of captioning rules. How many can you find?

If you want to challenge yourself, cover the video on the left. No peeking!

I created this video in January. I cringed while watching original captions on this video. Since then, I’ve learned so much about creating effective captions.

About this video: We all have assumptions. That’s just human nature.

Like muscle memory, assumptions happen automatically.

A little mindfulness and making assumptions about your own assumptions can help you consider other possibilities for someone’s actions.

Doing this can help you experience fewer frustrating moments and greater understanding.

As a person who is deaf, I’ve run into my share of assumptions. That’s why I welcome questions from people about being deaf.

What caption rules did you see broken? Please post it in the comments!

Congratulations on completing the tour of good and bad captions! Did it change your mind about anything? If so, what?

When you post your captioned videos, please add the #Captioned hashtag to help people find them. Here’s a shortcut to find captioned videos on LinkedIn sorted by date: Hat tip John Espirian.

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