How to properly design subtitles

How to properly design subtitles

The crisis of the national currency and the general economic difficulties caused by the pandemic are forcing many companies to enter foreign markets with their services and goods.

For most translation companies, entering the international arena is their first experience. The lack of good practice leads many firms to work from a template and make the same mistakes. Let’s try to figure out how to avoid mistakes with an example and talk about the rules of subtitling.

One example of subtitling. Basic design rules

Overlaying captions on a corporate or training video, company, brand and product advertisement is called subtitling. Here is an example of subtitling for one company.

A local company wants to export agricultural machinery to China. To introduce their products to the Chinese partners, the company chose a video with general information about the factory. They explained the history of the company, took a quadcopter ride around the production facilities and included a lot of information that was important for the customer but boring for the reader.

Only the last part of the video was valuable. The content is the advertisers’ concern. But for the translators, the subtitles have to be translated into English and Chinese. In this case, the subtitles complement the video sequence with Russian-language voiceover.

This is a simple but common example in transcription and subtitling services. Taking into account GOSTs and international standards for subtitling, we can put forward 15 basic rules for subtitling:

Subtitles from two terms use up to 76 characters, including spaces and application marks. There may be a margin of error of up to five characters.
It is better to separate sentences into two lines according to the following principles:
only logical segments may be separated;
segments with short pauses;
characters longer than 38 characters.
It is forbidden to split the following kinds of strings:
dependent words;
first and middle names from the last name;
words with prepositions;
names;
names.

Sentences after conjunctions are not divided.
There are cases where a sentence can be divided into equal parts. The first and second lines must be equal in length.
It is forbidden to use single word lines in two-line subtitles. Dialogues are not subject to this rule — a single word may be used here.
The positioning of the subtitles must be observed. They should not be too high, in the middle or too low. The ideal height is 1/12 of the frame height vertically at the bottom.
In some cases, the text is put in the upper part of the frame. This is an exception. This method is usually used for two independent but simultaneous speech streams. The text with less semantic content is always in the upper part of the frame.
The text is always aligned to the centre of the video sequence.
If there is dialogue in the subtitles, the speech is framed as dialogue and the text itself is left-aligned.
White (70 to 90%) without transparency is used for the text. A black border/shade should be used.
Two lines of text will be displayed for 3.5-6 seconds. If the subtitles are too long the time will be 6 seconds.
Single line text is displayed for 1.5-3 seconds.
The subtitle time is 0.2 seconds. This interval is kept between each new line.
The interval between subtitles is from 0.25 seconds.

These are simple rules for subtitling that will allow the reader to absorb the text information offered quickly and in an understandable way.

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