Add Black Bars to Video [in 30 Seconds at $0]: Ultimate Guide

By Cecilia Hwung | Last Update:

You probably have noticed lots of videos on YouTube or Facebook have black bars visible at the top and bottom to make them look cinematic. These cinematic black bars are also called widescreen black bars, letterboxing, or technically, CinemaScope.

Filmmakers use aspect ratio to help them in visual storytelling. Most films are shot in an ultrawide aspect ratio like 2:1, 2.35:1 or 21:9. When you're going from the big screen to your TV, laptop, or cell phone with a 16:9 screen, video players will add black bars to the video to fit the widest edges in the frame and fill in the space without cropping or distorting the original size.

So, how to add black bars to video except using a cinematic aspect ratio when shooting? Follow our step-by-step guide to add black bars to the video in 30 seconds at $0.

Add Black Bars to Video

How to Add Black Bars in VideoProc Vlogger

First thing first, download VideoProc Vlogger for free and install it.

VideoProc Vlogger, developed by Digiarty, is a novice-friendly movie maker for both Windows and Apple Mac. Whether you are a beginner in video editing or an experienced influencer, VideoProc Vlogger will be your best partner to deal with all kinds of editing scenarios, including adding black bars to video.

VideoProc Vlogger - Versatile Video Editor to Add Black Bars to Video

  • Free video editor with no malware or ads.
  • Easy to use with the simple and intuitive interface.
  • More than 420+ output formats and 370+ input codecs are supported.
  • Faster processing speed with advanced GPU Acceleration.
  • Add black bars to video without cropping or using PNG overlay supported.

#1. How to Add Black Bars without Cropping

As mentioned before, black bars are relative to the mismatch between your screen and the original ratio of the video. So changing the aspect ratio can certainly add black bars to video without cropping. This method makes good use if you have an old TV that stretches anything it plays to fill the 16:9 screen.

Step 1. Import the video with the original aspect ratio.

Launch VideoProc Vlogger and create a new project. Then click the + icon on the main interface to add the video to the Media Library. After that, drag the video to the Video Track in the timeline. The video used here is a film with a 4:3 aspect ratio shot in the early years.

Import Video with Original Aspect Ratio

Step 2. Reset the aspect ratio for black bars.

Click the gear icon named Change Video Parameters in the toolbar. VideoProc Vlogger offers several common presets in the pop-up window for you to choose from. You can also use a custom video resolution by setting the width and height of the video. Just make sure that the width number is bigger than the original one.

Reset the Aspect Ratio for Black Bars

Note:

Click and expand the Background tab in the pop-up window, you can select a color from Black to White, or choose Custom. VideoProc Vlogger allows you to change the color of the cinematic bars if you'd love to. Explore more interesting editing functions with the feature-rich toolbar in VideoProc Vlogger.

Change the Color of the Cinematic Bars

Step 3. Export the video with black bars.

Hit the Export button in the toolbar, and click the Start button to export the video with black bars. Rename the file, set the save path and choose an output format in the pop-up Export Settings window (optional).

Export the Video with Black Bars

Pro Tip:

Be sure to tick the box Enable hardware acceleration for encoding to get a faster processing speed.

Enable Hardware Acceleration

#2. How to Add Black Bars Using Black Bars PNG

Adjusting the aspect ratio will do a good job most of the time. Your video will adjust itself to any screen it will play on. But what if you already have footage shot in 16:9, and you want to crop it to an aspect ratio of 2:1, 2.35:1 or 21:9? You can use black bars PNG as an overlay in VideoProc Vlogger. Here's how to add black bars to video using black bars PNG.

Step 1. Prepare the black bars png file for your video.

Google "black bars PNG" and download a letterbox template. The only thing to note is to choose the one in high resolution instead of low. I would highly recommend VashiVisuals Blog, where you can download black bars PNG with different aspect ratios and resolutions from 720p to 6K. Download the Film Dog Pro's HD Letterbox Template Pack for 720p and 1080p black bars PNG, and VashiVisuals Extreme Widescreen preset package for HD/2K/UHD/3K/4K/5K/6K letterbox templates.

56 Free Black Bars PNGs

Step 2. Add your video footage and the black bar PNG to the timeline.

Open VideoProc Vlogger and import your video footage to the Media Library. Then drag and drop it to the Video Track in the Timeline. Repeat the above steps and add the black bars PNG to the Overlay Track.

Add Black Bars PNG to Timeline

Step 3. Adjust the effect of black bars.

Double click the PNG file in the Preview Window to select it. Drag the template edges to the edges of the video so that the black bars PNG covers the full video.

Hover your mouse over the rightmost edge of the PNG file in the Timeline until the cursor turns to a double-headed arrow. Drag it to the right so that it appears for the whole duration of the video clip.

Adjust the Effect of Black Bars

Step 4. Export the video with black bars.

Click the Export button to save your video clips. Choose an output format and set export parameters in the pop-up window.

Export the Video with Letterbox Effect

#3. How to Add Other Types of Letterbox Effect

In addition to the classic letterbox effect, there are two other types: pillarboxing and windowboxing. The difference is where the black bars appear in the video.

Letterboxing refers to the black bars appearing on the top and bottom of the content. Pillarboxing is the black bars going on the left and right-hand sides of the content. While windowboxing is when the content is framed by margins around the content.

 Comparison of Letterbox, Pillarbox and Windowbox

Since there's no difference except where the black bars appear, the method to apply the pillarbox effect is the same as the way of adding letterbox to the video. You can apply pillarbox effect to video by adjusting the aspect ratio or using a black bars PNG.

To add black bars around the video, aka windowboxing, read our tutorial on How to Add Border/Frame to Video.

How to Add Black Bars in iMovie

iMovie is an entry-level video editing software. Simple and easy to use, it comes free with the Apple system. iMovie offers many basic editing features like dropping clips on the timeline, cropping, color grading, adding transitions, etc. So in iMovie, we can still use a black bar PNG image to overlay over the footage to achieve the cinematic look.

Add Black Bars to Video in iMovie

Step 1. Launch iMovie and drag your video footage to the timeline.

Step 2. Download black bars PNG with the same aspect ratio as your footage and place it on top of your video footage.

Step 3. Drag the PNG out to the full length of your entire clip.

Step 4. Select the image layer in the timeline, and click on the Cropping tool on the right side. Choose Fit as the style instead of Ken Burns to avoid the slight movement.

How to Add Black Bars in Premiere Pro

Adobe Premiere Pro is perhaps the best known and most functional non-linear editor. As an industry-standard software, Premiere Pro is suitable for even the most demanding users. Premiere Pro has an unmatched ecosystem of tools to help you edit visually stunning videos. The following steps will show you how to add black bars to video in Premiere Pro by adding an adjustment layer and using the crop effect.

Add Black Bars to Video in Premiere Pro

Step 1. Open Premiere Pro and import your video footage into the sequence timeline.

Step 2. Go to the Project panel, click New Item, and select Adjustment Layer. Now with the new adjustment layer created, you'll want to make sure it's set to your sequence settings.

Step 3. Drag the new adjustment layer onto the top over everything. Extend it so that this new black-bar-to-be layer encompasses the entirety of your video footage.

Step 4. Select the new layer in the timeline, then type and search for the Crop option in the Effects Panel. Drag and drop it on the Adjustment Layer you just created.

Step 5. Head to the Effect Controls panel in the source window, and locate the Crop settings, where you'll see Left, Top, Right, and Bottom buttons.

Step 6. Enter a value in the Top and Bottom buttons to add cinematic bars to the video, and Premiere Pro will crop the video based on the values you provide.

Tips:

For the cinematic look, people usually use values between 12 and 18 percent. We recommend using 13 in both Top and Bottom buttons since sometimes people won't shoot that wide enough. You can refer to the video screen to observe the changes and choose any number you like.

You can also adjust the position if the black bars crop off your frame. Select the video clip you want to edit, then grab and drag the Position tab up or down to fit.

How to Add Black Bars in Sony Vegas

Sony Vegas appears more like a pro-level video editor than a consumer one. As one of the most important video editing softwares, Vegas Pro is used by many professional crews, and advanced video hobbyists, especially YouTubers and vloggers. Follow the steps below to add black bars to video in Sony Vegas. It's easier than you think.

Add Black Bars to Video in Sony Vegas

Step 1. Launch the program and add your video clip into Sony Vegas.

Step 2. Select your clip in the timeline and click the Event Pan/Crop button in the upper right corner.

Step 3. Click on the Sync Cursor at the bottom to make sure it's not enabled. Move the marker to the beginning of the keyframe.

Step 4. Uncheck the button named Lock Aspect Ratio in the pop-up Video Event FX window.

Step 5. Click on the top square and drag it down. You can see the black bars appearing in the preview window on the right of the screen.

Why Should You Add Black Bars to Video

You may find more and more videos on Facebook and YouTube with black bars, which is almost becoming a trend. But besides that, what else would make you want to add black bars to the video? In other words, we want to make it clear how you can benefit from adding black bars to your video.

For Different Screen Resolutions

One huge advantage is your video footage will adjust itself for different screen resolutions, no matter what device or platform, as long as you add black bars by adjusting the aspect ratio.

There is an opinion that 16:9 is overrated these days, but it's undeniable that 16:9 is probably the most common aspect ratio in a way. So if you are planning on changing the aspect ratio to add black bars, we've got you a list of 16:9 aspect ratios. Use it as a cheat sheet to calculate the required resolutions.

For a Better SNS Video Strategy

Another advantage to adding black bars to video is for a better SNS video strategy, especially when you are a vlogger or YouTuber.

Socialinsider conducted a Facebook video study this year. According to the study, the vertical video is the most used video format and drives the highest level of engagement on Facebook for all profile sizes. That makes sense since most people use smartphones to access Facebook. To explain the result more intuitively, we turn to data and remake a bar graph on the average engagement rate by video format over time.

Average Engagement Rate by Video Format Over Time

That could be another reason why you should add black bars to video. Adding black bars to your video allows you to repurpose your landscape videos into the vertical format without cropping it, so that you can get as much greater engagement as possible. Even better, the black bars in the video are good places to add text or put a joke. In this way, you can also get a meme video loved by the Internet netizens.

Meme Video Screenshot with Black Bars

Final Thoughts

We have listed the causes why black bars appear, why you may need black bars in your video and the four best ways to add black bars to your video.

iMovie could be the go-to choice for Mac users since it's preinstalled in macOS. Premiere Pro and Sony Vegas are better for advanced video hobbyists since they are paid software and regarded as alternatives for each other sometimes.

While VideoProc Vlogger may be the best for social media influencers and occasional enthusiasts. It's intuitive and easy to use, yet still versatile and powerful to meet most of your video editing needs. What's better is that you can get it all for free.

Add black bars to your video and get the cinematic look for your travel videos and short films with VideoProc Vlogger.

About The Author

Cecilia Hwung is the marketing manager of Digiarty Software and the editor-in-chief of VideoProc team. She pursues common progress with her team and expects to share more creative content and useful information to readers. She has strong interest in copywriting and rich experience in video editing tips.

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