The subtitle standards from ARD and ZDF


The following guidelines have now become established in the market

Hölzerne Scribble Würfel bilden das Wort subtitle

How to subtitle the German-language public service broadcaster

The public service broadcasters are among the producers with the most subtitled broadcasting hours in German-speaking countries. It therefore makes sense to follow the recommendations of the institutes, since they set the standard and thus have established the usage habits.
The nine state broadcasting corporations of ARD, ARD Text, ORF, SRF and ZDF have agreed on a number of principles for the representation of subtitles in German-speaking countries. They should be the basis of the editorial work. Further station-specific, editorial and design specifications can be found in the style guides of the individual houses.


Subtitles consist of a maximum of two lines and are centered as a text block at the bottom of the screen. The subtitles can be displayed differently for special formats.

E.g. Sports / soccer games: subtitles at the top of the screen. So-called scrolling is not used.


At the end of subtitling, a subtitle with the manufacturing information is set, which contains at least the manufacturer or client and the year of production.

Font size

For better readability, the subtitles are always double in height (teletext font size).


A maximum of 37 characters are used in one line.


The service life always depends on the number of characters in a text block.

o The minimum service life is one second.

o The base value (reading speed) of 13-15 characters / second serves as the basis for calculating the service life.

o The base value can also be set lower for children’s and youth programs.

In exceptional cases (e.g. music) the service life can also be longer. The minimum distance between two subtitles is one frame.

o The minimum distance can be omitted for live broadcasts.


Colors are used to assign speakers and voices, but are used sparingly. White, yellow, cyan and green are used on a black background (box). Red and blue are completely avoided due to poor legibility, and magenta if possible.

o The color combination white on blue is used for editorial information (e.g. imprint).

o If the speaker is not in the picture or if the type of speaking is important, names or explanatory information (e.g. whispering, with a deep voice) can be placed in front of the text in brackets – always in the color of the speaker.

o If the same colors are used, a speaker change is represented by a dash.


o Overlays and information such as Inserts should be free if possible and should not be covered with a subtitle.


o Subtitles are shown in sync with the picture / sound.

o Cuts are observed.

o Subtitle as synchronously as possible and stay as close as possible to the original text.


o The rules of the new German spelling (Duden recommendation) apply.


o No unnecessary subtitles, such as self-explanatory picture content and graphics or scenes recognizable to everyone.

Do not reveal anything

o Subtitles are intended to provide the hearing impaired with the same level of knowledge that listeners also have, but not to give them an edge in knowledge. So the coloring must not already indicate the murderer, and the subtitle may e.g. don’t tell who knocks when you don’t see it.


o Descriptive subtitles are shown in white on black. Each sound subtitle is framed by two asterisks. Music: like noise.

Music with singing

o 1. Subtitles: * Title / artist etc. * o Lyrics are reproduced, especially if they are important for the plot, ideally in the original language.

o # at the beginning and at the end of the lyrics


o Allowed if they are clear and generally known.


o If possible, write out digits from 1 to 12.

o Exceptions above all possible in connection with time and dimensions.


o The original language (original sound / voiceover / speaker) is always subtitled. Language peculiarities remain.

o If dialects are translated, descriptive subtitles at the beginning, then subtitled High German.

o Bad words, swear words, foreign words etc. are retained.

Quelle: As of April 2015

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