How can you save money in subtitling? - José Henrique Lamensdorf - translation - tradução

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How can you save money in subtitling?



Don't get shortchanged: professional quality video translation, dubbing, and subtitling don't come cheap.

Some people ask me to do a cost estimate because they liked a video on YouTube but didn't understand a thing. They think that the profusion of videos with amateur subtitles mean that this should not be something difficult or expensive. Well, this kind of job, if properly done, is quite expensive.

A video producer or distributor may pulverize this cost among thousands of spectators, so that nobody will notice that it is there. For a company marketing its products overseas, this cost is a mere fraction of producing it all locally from scratch, all over again.

Nevertheless, this cost is totally unaffordable for strictly personal use.

Anyway, in my permanent search for ways to help my clients save in cost, in this case, corporate video clients, I put together here a few strategies they may use without compromising the overall quality.


I have adopted a minimum 15-minute standard order for subtitling, yet only when it involves burning subtitles, which I will explain here. If you are unfamiliar with the terminology, please read this page before proceeding.

Digital video is available in a large variety of file types, codecs, frame sizes, aspect ratios, and other variables. Before burning subtitles onto the video, I have to analyze these parameters in the video I received from my customer, and in most cases convert it into a proper format to apply the subtitles on it and render a subtitled video. Then I might have to convert it to a specific customer-specified format, with its parameters.

These analysis, setting, preliminary conversion, burning, setting, and final conversion must be done for any video, regardless of its length. Sometimes they are complex, and may take a while. Once they are done, the remaining operations are "mechanical" computer work, which it may perform unattended. If it's a short video, one or just a few minutes, it won't take long. If the video playing time is one or more hours, I can leave the computer doing it overnight.

As translation and subtitling services are charged per minute of video play time, if a video is too short, it won't cover the cost of these necessary tasks. For this reason I have established the 15 minutes minimum order, to cover it.

It should be noted that most of these tasks can be batch-processed, i.e. I can queue several videos for the computer to process them one at a time, or simultaneously, depending on the software I use. Therefore the minimum per order should be covered by the sum of all the videos requested together.

If you want a quick and simple way to add the play time of several videos, I suggest you use PlayTime (Windows-only freeware). Just run it, then drag & drop all the videos on it.

To illustrate, once I received a data DVD containing four videos. All the players I had ran them without a hitch, however I couldn't open those videos to burn subtitles on them. It took me a few hours' research to find out what they were, and to find an adequate converter. Actually, they were a digital video file format Panasonic had developed in the 1990s. They manufactured about 1,000 cameras that recorded it, and then discontinued this format. Nevertheless, it became the baseline for countless other digital video formats developed later, and that was why every player was familiar with it!

COST-SAVING TIP: If you have short videos to subtitle and have the subtitles permanently burned on them, try to pack some of them together to add up to as close to 15 minutes as you can. You'll have more videos subtitled for the same cost.


Video files exist in different sizes, measured in pixels, which are dots on the screen.

It's good for you to know that there is no point in enlarging a video. If you double the picture dimensions, you'll be just turning a point into a square of 2x2 points in this same color. However it is possible to shrink it... unless you intend to show it on a huge screen.

If you would like to see the most popular video picture sizes used nowadays on your monitor, click on each of the links below:
If any of them exceeds the screen size, press [Esc] to close.
  • FHD - Full High Definition - 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • HD - High Definition - 1280 x 720 pixels
  • SD - Standard Definition - 720 x 480 pixels (the same size used on DVD)
  • Comparison (all three overlaid)

What matters here is that adding everything together (translation, time-spotting, and subtitles burning), the total cost of the service is like this:
If a subtitled video in FHD format cost 100 (just a reference figure), in HD it would cost 85, and in SD it would cost 78 (considering full service - subtitles burnt).

Please be aware that reducing video picture during subtitle burning is free of charge.

Obviously, file size increases considerably as the picture is larger, which is a reason to consider space (on disk, on web site hosting, etc.) as well as the time it will take to download and bandwidth usage, if it will be transmitted via Internet.

COST-SAVING TIP: Check where you will be hosting the video. If it is merely one item on a web page, there is no point in using a larger size.


Some clients ask me for a transcript of the video in its original language, in addition to its translation for subtitling.

If you will be subtitling the video in one language, the transcript is unnecessary. A good video for subtitling translator will follow the pace in the video, and translate it directly, time-spotting it for that specific language.

If you provide a script, it will always be useful, particularly for the correct spelling of proper nouns. Is it Smith or Schmidt? How does one spell Wojechszlecki? Reference material, including web sites, can help a lot.

When a script is not provided to the translator, it is advisable to have the end-client review the translation before burning the subtitles.

COST-SAVING TIP: If you have the script, provide it to the translator. If you don't, and don't need it yourself either, don't ask for a transcript in the original language.


Digital video allows generating and overlaying subtitles on-the-fly in some cases. Maybe the letters won't look so good, however for a limited audience this may be okay.

In my case, burning the subtitles represents almost 25% of the total cost, translation included.

If it will be hosted on YouTube and you have access to the video page, you may upload the subtitles as an SRT file. However the visitor is not automatically advised that subtitles are available, and they will have to adjust the settings to turn them on.

If you will be showing the video from a computer, you may use the VLC Media Player, freeware. Having a compatible video file (mp4, wmv, avi, etc.) and the subtitles file in SRT or SSA with the same file name and in the same folder, it will play the video with subtitles.

A SSA subtitles file may keep their formatting parameters. An SRT subtitles file doesn't include these parameters, however you may select font, size, color, etc on VLC.

COST-SAVING TIP: If you are sure that the operator will be able to activate the subtitles in the desired quality, you may request the subtitles as a file compatible with your playing strategy, without having them burnt on the video.


When they are the video title or of parts thereof, quite likely.

However if such texts come up on the screen while something is being said - and translated on the subtitles - no. Consider that no matter how concise the subtitles may be, spectators will spend most of the time reading them. Maybe they'll be able to glance at short titles, however they won't have time to read charts or tables, especially if these are animated in any way (i.e. having parts in motion).

Replacing these texts onscreen increases considerably the overall cost, as it involves video editing. Furthermore, the outcome is not always so neat, since it involves covering the original text already there. This may require patching over; no matter how carefully it is done, results are often visually unattractive.

COST-SAVING TIP: Only request translation and replacement of onscreen text if it's really necessary.

In case you want an appraisal on the options to save in subtitling a specific video, you may count on me! Please send me a message using the e-mail button on the left.

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