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A Brief History of Subtitling

Is subtitling really that important? Although subtitling may be very complex in practice, it’s very interesting to discover where it comes from, how it’s done and its importance in the Film, TV and many other content-based industries. That’s why today we bring you a simplified history and explanation of subtitling. We divided it in 3 subjects:     1.    Source and the work behind it     2.    Brief history     3.    Importance in the industry


Subtitles are always there, and yet, we seldom pay any attention to them. Moreover, we rarely ask ourselves how much work is involved in creating them. Have an (over-simplified) look at the process:

Having this type of process in place is what helps us obtain the perfect subtitles for the content in turn.

Pro tip: If you’re looking for an Audiovisual Translation Agency, make sure part of your evaluation includes knowing if they follow a process like this one.


The First Subtitles

The first example of subtitles appeared in 1903, in Edwin S. Porter’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In fact, they weren’t even called subtitles, they were called “intertitles,” and they were shown as written signs printed on paper, then they were filmed and placed between sequences in movies.

Modern Subtitles

The first instance of a subtitle as we know them today came about in 1909 thanks to M.N. Topp, who filed a patent for “a device that would rapidly show titles for movies, apart from the images on the film strip.”

Fun fact: Modern subtitles are also known as open captions.

With this method, the projectionist, with the help of a sciopticon (a kind of slide projector), would show the subtitles under the intertitles.

After this there were many attempts of improving the subtitling method, until finally getting the most modern methods that give us the result we see today, for which the most common method is laser engraving.

The modern method to subtitling – Professional software

Nowadays, all subtitling is done in computers with specialized software. Although there is a great variety of subtitling programs out there, not all are created equal, and when it comes to professional subtitling software, most of the time you get what you pay for. There are a number of things to consider in a subtitling software, for instance:      •    Supported file formats (SRT, STL, SCC, RTF…)      •    Supported types of jobs (Subtitling, Closed Captioning…)      •    Ability to handle client’s requirements (shot change reading, minimum gaps…) Software will be a great differentiator in the quality of the work. It will greatly influence the perception of your content as a whole. For that reason, the software we use and require our subtitlers to use is WinCAPS Qu4ntum, a professional software recommended by Netflix. It may not be cheap, but when quality is your priority, it’s definitely worth the investment.


Subtitles were born from the need for people to communicate and bring the art of cinema to other places. This eventually grew to TV, and nowadays it has evolved into amazing technology that allows us to consume content regardless of the language in which it was originally created.

Nowadays, it’s very rare to find content that is not subtitled into multiple languages. This is due to the fact that any content that isn’t, will be limited to its local audience. And most content creators will definitely not settle for that.

So, to greatly expand the reach of your content and improve the accessibility to it, make sure to localize your video content for different markets with us.

Ask us any question you have at, we’ll be glad to help. Talk soon!

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1 Comment

Tejpal Singh
Tejpal Singh
Dec 24, 2023

Who is the 1st movie with subtitles

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