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The basic rule is… enough time to read, but not too much to distract!

Minimum length: for a short one-word subtitle like “Yes”, “What?”, etc. the timing should not be less than 1/2 second on-screen. If the audience hasn’t seen on-screen subtitles for some time and you start with a very short subtitle, you’ll want to leave the subtitle on-screen 2-seconds so that they can get their bearings and actually look to the bottom of the screen and read the subtitle.

Maximum length: Around 5 to 6 seconds. If you can’t read the subtitle in that time, it’s too long. Different languages require more or less time to say the same thing, so you might encounter situations where the on-screen speakers talks for 10 seconds to say one subtitle. Don’t leave the subtitle on-screen for 10 seconds. It’s distracting, your audience will keep looking at it expecting it to change. Let them look at the speaker for a bit!

You need to have a 2 to 4 frame gap between titles. The gap triggers the viewer to look down and read the next subtitle. Without gaps between titles, it is sometimes difficult to identify when the title is changing, especially when they are formatted similarly. The BBC demands a 3-frame gap in their specification, but I think 2 to 4 frames can work. Novice subtitlers or closed-captioning files will have subtitles stuck together without any gaps. If you receive a file like this, you can automatically add a gap in SubSimple by using the “Delete last N frames” function.

Please don’t have subtitles linger on-scree from one scene to another.
For individual shots, don’t have the cut-point and subtitle end on the same frame. This creates an uncomfortable POP effect that accentuates the cut. Have the subtitle end 3 frames before the cut, or overlap for 10 frames.

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