Captions, subtitles, open and closed captions: What’s the difference between them?

February 11, 2022

When it comes to subtitle services, it might be hard to understand which alternative best suits your needs — and even more so if it’s your first time acquiring this type of service.

You will find out there are several options available, such as subtitles, captions, open captions, and closed captions… We know sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but there are important differences between them.

The purpose of this article is to provide information so you can better understand the differences between such alternatives, which will help you determine what best fits your needs.


Subtitles make videos accessible to viewers that are not familiar with the language spoken on the video. If you request a subtitling service, the video language – or source language – will be translated into an alternative language – also known as the target language.

Captions are the same-language time-coded text version of the spoken dialogue displayed simultaneously with the visual content of the video. Sometimes referred to as “narrative” or “broadcast-style captions”, they are typically used for films, documentaries, training, or videos used for learners of the target language as a second-language. In narrative style, only spoken language is captioned, together with titles and other important pieces of on-screen text, speaker identification, and non-speech elements

Captions are useful for noisy environments or when the audio is muted. Additionally, captions have been shown to increase literacy, and to improve language learning and fluency – the 1.5 billion people who study English as a Second Language (ESL) welcome captions as well.

In order to ensure your captions and subtitles will be created according to your needs, you can set up the specifications for your videos on Dotsub’s platform beforehand:



In addition to this first distinction, we can also make a differentiation between Open and Closed captions. But what is the difference between them?


Closed Captions vs Open Captions

Closed Captions are the same-language time-coded text version of audio content displayed simultaneously with the visual content of the video. Closed Captions usually include dialogue, sound effects, relevant musical cues, and other relevant audio information required to give the viewer a more complete experience.  

Closed Captioning was designed to aid the deaf and hard of hearing community. Beginning with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and updated by The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) U.S. federal law mandates accessibility. Internationally, compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) is required in much of the world.

Closed captions can be toggled on and off on videos, they allow the audience to decide how to watch it. They are commonly used in platforms with the feature of adding captions files, like Youtube.

On the other hand, Open captions are the same in terms of accessibility but they cannot be disabled from the video, as they are embedded in the video itself. Open captions are used on platforms that don’t have the closed captioning functionality – like videos for a presentation, and videos on your website. Open captions are also really useful for social media content, allowing creators to reach a bigger audience.

Burn-in caption is a way to deliver open captions – burn-in captions are hardcoded into the video itself. Dotsub offers you the possibility to customize how your caption will appear: you will be able to choose the font, and size. Additionally, the backing plate opacity of the captions can be controlled depending on the background of the video, Let’s see some examples of that below:


Highly skilled linguists work at Dotsub to produce quality captions and translations every day. We are prepared to make professional captions and subtitles for your videos in plenty of languages and dialects.

Contact our Sales team for a meeting if you’d like to learn more or receive additional information — reach us via email at [email protected] or call +1.212.991.8685.

Want to learn more? Contact Dotsub today at [email protected].

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