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From clarity to translation, subtitles serve different purposes in different contexts. The size of your subtitles has to vary based on the placement and the context. And for that, you need to be mindful of the font, because different fonts work in different places.
The best fonts to use for subtitles are:
In this article, you will learn more about each font, including what makes them special, whether they are free or paid, and if you need a special license before using them for subtitles. Toward the end, we will go over the differences between subtitling for short-form content and long-form content. You will discover the best practices of each type of video captioning as well.
Helvetica Neue has stood the test of time since its inception in 1983. Being an old font yet having no serifs, it has a very classy yet modern appearance. Its character width and height are unified enough to improve reading speed. Since Helvetica is one of the most popular fonts in the world, its licensing and terms are worth understanding.
Almost any free copy of the Helvetica font package is illegal because it is not a free product. However, many computer programs, usually from Adobe, come with Helvetica Regular. These come with a blanket license to see in contexts like labels and subtitles. In other words, you should use Helvetica Regular for subtitles if you can find it in the font dropdown of your video editor.
With a very scientific and academic origin, this font is best used for educational video subtitles. It conveys a sense of tradition without seeming outdated. This effect comes from a combination of serifs with a sleek and polished appearance.
Still, STIXGeneral font can have legibility issues if imposed over moving elements in a video. It is best baked onto a white background or a black background, which means you would need to letterbox the video before subtitling it.
In ContentFries, some of the resizing options include placing a Youtube-style 16:9 video on a 1:1 square. This produces a strip above and below the video. The above portion can be used for a headline, while the bottom portion can be used to add subtitles. In such contexts, a font like STIXGeneral can be a very classy choice.
STIXGeneral is available through an open-source license, which means most public platforms that offer it as a download, do so legally. The license of this font covers applications like subtitles, and this font can be uploaded to Canva Pro for graphic design and ContentFries for editing videos.
Times Font Family is famous for Times New Roman, which used to be Microsoft Word's default font. The font is still visible as the copy font used by The Times (a British newspaper) and its various licensed newspaper titles across the world. It is a good subtitle font if you want to carry on the connotation of the news. News podcasters and digital news channels would be best served by captions published in a Times font.
Times New Roman might be free on your word processor, but if it is not, you will need to download a paid version. Most free-download Times Roman packages are illegally distributed and do not come with a commercial use license.
While many fonts mimic the pen, chisel, or marker, Verdana is one of the futuristic fonts that seem to be conceived entirely in the digital arena. It has been developed to be small-size-friendly, which makes it perfect for subtitles. Pen and pencil writing is conceived to be legible at the minimum possible size at which our hands can write.
Subtitles can sometimes need to be smaller than that, which can make most traditional fonts hard to read. Add to that the fact that subtitles keep moving at a fast pace, and you will realize why you need a font like Verdana.
This font is best used by people who utter a large number of words per minute. We do not recommend Verdana for reel-style short-form videos because those videos are best aided by subtitles that are almost like headlines. Verdana is best-suited for captioning lectures and long-form keynotes. Verdana is released by Microsoft, which makes it free for all Windows users.
All downloaded editors will have access to this font, and the font usage covered under its default license includes contexts like subtitling. You might need to download the Verdana installer on your computer if you plan to upload it to an online video editor.
As mentioned earlier, subtitles on bite-sized content need to be headline-like and grab attention with each change of words. These types of subtitles are best displayed in aesthetically-pleasing fonts. And Futura is a very geometric font, which makes it easy on the eyes.
As its name suggests, it is a futuristic font and is devoid of traditional connotations. People who would be best served by this font include online coaches, digital creators, and anyone who discusses anything related to tech. Futura costs money to download, but if you get it, you have the license to use it for video subtitles and headlines.
This font is derived from penwork, which makes it grounded in traditionalism. But it doesn't feature serifs, which means that Lucida Grande is modern too. Balancing the modern and the traditional gives this font a broad appeal. Lucinda Grande is often included with word processing programs and is used for large text bodies as well as for poetry and prose.
It is best used for subtitling performance arts, monologues, book readings, and podcasts. One of the best parts about this font is that it is distributed for free legally. It can be used in a commercial capacity, including marketing subtitles.
Arial is one of the first modern sans-serif fonts. It can have a different effect in different positions. What makes Arial unique is that its inherent impression and connotations are close to zero. If you are a content creator who broaches many subjects and gives his takes on a broad range of topics, you should use a connotation-free font like Arial.
This will help you deliver a wide range of content without being weighed down by implicit connections that come with fonts that are too traditional or futuristic. This unassuming font, however, looks best to win a smaller size which makes it suboptimal for reel-like content.
The two ways to find the best font for your bite-sized content
If you want to clip short-form content from your long videos, you might want different types of subtitles for each type of content. For the long-form videos, the subtitle fonts mentioned in the post above all work very well. For short-form content, most headline fonts work.
All you need to do is resize your favorite headline fonts to a 13-point to 14-point setting and see which ones look good. Many headline fonts have a letter spacing issue where the words start looking cluttered and clunky when the alphabet is brought down in size. So the drawback of using this method of font-searching would be the time you will spend trying out different headline fonts.
The alternative method is to use a specialized bite-sized content creator like ContentFries. The fonts used in such programs are selected to work with short-form content. This might seem self-serving because ContentFries is our service, but you're welcome to take the risk-free trial and find the font you love. Once you know the font that fits your subtitling needs, you can choose not to use ContentFries.
The best practices for subtitling short-form content
When you make short-form content, it usually goes on social media, where people are in an infinite scroll cycle. Even if this changes, the context of short clips makes them more attention-deficit-friendly.
Captioning in such context is supposed to hold attention and the content itself takes a backseat. That's why audio-friendly content like podcasts and standup comedy is most often delivered in bite-sized videos with large captions. Here are the best practices for doing fonts right in such videos.
Break up sentences to a 3-second-maximum
Unlike long-form videos, the captions in bite-sized videos need to be broken up into smaller chunks. This produces the "what's next?" effect that is naturally present when you listen to someone talk.
Of course, the content needs to be engaging as well. How this relates to fonts is that the one you choose must look good in a small quantity. You will have less than 10 words on the screen at one time, so the font can't rely on volume to appear aesthetic.
Use larger text size and different placement
For long-form content, the subtitles aren't supposed to distract from the content. But in bite-sized content, the subtitles are the main draw. Having larger captions can increase your audience retention. Some channels and profiles place bright yellow subtitles right at the center of the video. While you don't have to do that, you can raise the placement closer to the center.
Use what works
The final rule of thumb is to use what works. You may try different subtitles and see which one produces the best engagement. ContentFries caption templates are aggregated from our experience with thousands of pieces of content. Choosing these templates is the best way to cut out learning time as well as actual production time.
The best fonts for subtitles are ones that either carry the meaning and connotation that the media is trying to portray or carry no connotations at all. They are often fonts that look good at a small size, except for bite-sized content where the captions serve as secondary headlines of sorts.