Which Subtitle Font is Best?

Clear, legible subtitles that everyone can read

Subtitle Font

There are many reasons to subtitle your videos and even more fonts to select from. How do you choose? While the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline that all text should be readable and clear, it doesn’t give preference to one font over another. 

Generally, there are considered to be five overarching font categories or “families:” Serif, Sans-serif, Cursive, Fantasy, and Monospace.

Serif fonts are identified by flared ends or small strokes added to the ends of letters such as F, T, M, P, etc. Commonly seen examples are Times New Roman or Cambria.

Sans serif fonts -- or without serif -- have plain endings of letters without ornamentation. For example, the fonts Arial or Verdana are considered sans serif. 

Cursive fonts are made to resemble handwriting or brush strokes. Examples are Comic Sans or a script.

Fantasy fonts are highly stylized and decorative. Such fonts include Impact or Papyrus.

Monospace fonts are identified by each letter taking up the same exact amount of space. The most popular monospace font is Courier. 

When picking a font for subtitles, particularly through the lens of accessibility, the main requirement is that the font is universally easy to read, with little ornamentation. Generally, most sans-serif fonts fit the bill! 

Here are 5 solid options to consider using when subtitling your next video:

  • Arial - “I love subtitles!”
  • Helvetica - “I love subtitles!”
  • Roboto - “I love subtitles!”
  • Verdana - “I love subtitles!”
  • Tahoma “I love subtitles!”

Arial - “I love subtitles!”

Arial is one of those fonts that is easily ignored because it’s just so simple. While not very interesting to a graphic designer, maybe, when displaying subtitles, there’s nothing wrong with that! The key is for the font to be readable and not distracting. That’s certainly what you get with Arial.

Helvetica - “I love subtitles!”

Helvetica is very similar to Arial in appearance, but with slightly straighter lines and wider character widths. Check out the tops of those t’s and ends of the s’s between the two fonts -- Arial has some diagonals going on and Helvetica is much more square. That doesn’t really make a difference when choosing one over the other, just more of a style choice.

Roboto - “I love subtitles!”

Roboto looks very similar to both Arial and Helvetica, but is a newer font that seems to be popping up more and more. In fact, it’s currently the default font on android devices on many other google platforms. The letters feel a little more cleanly distinct in Roboto, which is good for legibility.  

Verdana - “I love subtitles!”

Verdana is a great choice, especially since it was initially developed for on-screen reading. The character spacing is larger than that of Arial, which makes it even easier to read. One of the greatest benefits of Verdana over other sans-serif fonts is that there is a clear visual distinction between the upper case “i” and lower case “L,” which minimizes potential confusion when the letters are next to each other.

Tahoma - “I love subtitles!”

Tahoma and Verdana are very visually similar. The largest difference is that the character spacing is much tighter with Tahoma than Verdana, but both provide the clearer glyph differentiation with uppercase i’s and lower case l’s.

Color Contrast

Now that you’ve selected a font for your video, what about color? WCAG outlines a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 to ensure adequate contrast between the text and the background so as to increase legibility for people with low vision.

We know that about 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the world have some type of color blindness (or color deficiency), but because there are different types of color blindness, there is little research or guidelines on what specific color combinations to use or avoid as a general rule. It’s best, then, to not rely on color when you need to communicate information. This is often why you see captions and subtitles written in white on a black background. 

Plus, everyone’s screen shows colors differently regardless of their overall vision! Just because a color combination seems legible on your screen when creating content doesn’t mean it will be on someone else’s. For example, maybe their screen brightness has been turned down or there is a blue light filter enabled. By meeting minimum contrast ratios, you are better guaranteeing that your content will be accessible to everyone. Not sure how your colors are lining up based on WCAG guidelines? WebAIM has a great free tool for checking color contrast! 

Text Size

We’ve looked at fonts, we’ve looked at color, the final consideration when adding captions or subtitles is text size. Just as was mentioned earlier, the overall goal is for the text to be legible. That doesn’t mean, however, that you want the text to take up the entire screen - captions should never obscure the actual video content. Generally, 22-28 pt font is a good range to stick to. 

To discover how to add subtitles to your video - choose font, size, colour & style - follow this link: Add Subtitles to Video