How to Add Subtitles to an iMovie

By David Wayne

Adding subtitles to a video in iMovie enables you to translate a spoken language or convey information not present in the video. Thanks to iMovie's Text tool, the process is versatile and easy to understand. The Text tool's dialog box offers a large selection of subtitle formats, organizing your choices by screen placement and style. With its graphical Project window, iMovie enables you to drag subtitles to a section of video or insert text between scenes.

Open a project by double-clicking the title in the Project Library window. Alternatively, create a new project by pressing “Command-N” and clicking “Create.” The Project Library window switches to a graphical representation of the video clips in your project, and the Preview window displays the selected frame, which by default is the first frame.

Add video to the project by dragging a selection from the Event Library to the Project window. Display an event's video clips by clicking the event, then select a video clip by dragging the cursor over a section of footage. Alternatively, select a whole clip by holding down “Shift” and clicking the clip. Drag the selection to the desired location in the Project window's timeline. The clip's length determines the number of rectangles it occupies in the Project window.

Select a subtitle format by clicking the “Text” button in the editing toolbar. A subtitle preferences window opens in the Event Browser, displaying options for effects, style and placement. The options are preprogrammed, although you can edit the font and color after adding the subtitles to a clip.

Drag a subtitle format from the Text window to the Project window, dropping the selection on the appropriate video clip. When you drag the subtitle format over a section of video, the clip turns light blue to indicate that the subtitle affects only the highlighted clip. If you drop the selection on the timeline when no clip is highlighted, the subtitle is inserted into the project without being applied to a clip. A window prompts you to choose a background and duration for the subtitle, and the movie's length is increased by your chosen duration.

Type the subtitle's text in the Preview window. After adding the subtitle to a clip, the Preview window displays the clip, and the subtitle becomes editable. Click the text box in the Preview window to edit the text with your keyboard. After composing your subtitle, click “Show Fonts” in the Preview window to select a font and text color. Repeat this entire process for each clip in your project, previewing your subtitles by clicking “Play” in the Preview window or by moving the cursor over a section of the timeline.


Information in this article applies to iMovie '11. It may vary slightly or significantly with other versions.