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Burning Question: How Do I Quickly Give My Project a Letterbox Look?

How Do I Quickly Give My Video a Letterbox Look?Letterbox

Bear image credit: Hillebrand, Steve, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Bear Photoshopped into forest image.

Updated! This article was originally published in 2015. We fully cleaned it up and updated it in August 2022 with new tools and new tutorials.

What are Letterboxing, Pillarboxing, and Windowboxing?

Letterboxing is a very simple way to help your footage look more cinematic, and it seems like a simple concept, but you can’t just go slapping black bars in any way you like. You have to do it right! First, we’ll take a look at a few quick examples of the types of black bars you can add to footage, then a bit about aspect ratio. Finally, we’ll end with some plug-ins and scripts to make adding a letterbox fast and easy, no matter your NLE. It’s also commonly known as Cinematic Bars.

First, let’s get some terminology out of the way and explain what letterboxing and the others are all about.

Types of Letterboxes

The Standard Letterbox

letterbox

Preserving a film’s original widescreen aspect ratio when a film is transferred to standard definition video with black bars on the top and bottom of the video.

Pillarbox

pillarbox

Standard-width videos and bars on the left and the right. Often used stylistically in a widescreen presentation to give the idea that the media being shown is older, for example, old 8mm film or old television broadcasts.

Windowbox

windowbox

Another variation, windowboxing, is when black bars are seen on each side of the video.


Let’s talk about Aspect Ratio

By placing letterboxes or window box bars on your film, you’re really modifying the aspect ratio of the viewable image.

SFX Secrets: The Power of Aspect Ratios

Fandor posted this is a really interesting video with the reasons behind choosing certain aspect ratios with lots of examples.

How to PROPERLY letterbox your films: The Cinematic 21:9 Aspect Ratio

You’re doing “Cinematic” aspect ratios ALL WRONG!

Adam Taylor at EposVox has a pet peeve about the wrong aspect ratios for those black bars.

And here’s his follow-up video…


Plugins and Scripts for Letterboxing to your Footage

If you’ve been using your software for more than a few days, it’s very likely that you already know how to mask the video or add solids on each side.

After all, why do you use plugins and templates? Because it’s fast and easy, and time is money when you’re billing clients and making deadlines.

You can find letterbox tools in the following templates plugins and bundles.

AEJuice LetterboxesAEJuice Letterboxes

AeJuice Spring Sale - Limited Time Only

Letterbox templates for After Effects, Premiere Pro, and other video editors.

Just drag and drop! Animated Letterboxes, some with grain, some clean. Lots of options!

Learn More

NewBlue TotalFX 360 SubscriptionNewBlue TotalFX 360 Subscription

Everything You Need to Enhance Your Story

The affordable and flexible way to get every NewBlue effect and tool you need for as low as $19.95 per month. Also available for teams at $379.05/year/license (5 seat minimum).

NewBlue TotalFX features over 1,500 presets in 177 effects. This is our most comprehensive suite of titling tools, transitions, filters, and video editing plugins. Get the fully-featured Ultimate versions of all NewBlue video effects collections.

Learn MoreTry NewBlue TotalFX 360 Subscription for free!

NewBlue TotalFX 7 Suite - PerpetualNewBlue TotalFX 7 Suite - Perpetual

Everything You Need to Enhance Your Story

TotalFX features over 1,500 presets in 177 effects. This is our most comprehensive suite of titling tools, transitions, filters, and video editing plugins.

Get the fully-featured Ultimate versions of all NewBlue video effects collections.

Learn MoreTry NewBlue TotalFX 7 Suite - Perpetual for free!

idustrial revolution XEffects Toolkitidustrial revolution XEffects Toolkit

XEffects Toolkit is a pack of 53 utility plugins and tools that make the hard tasks in editing easier.

idustrial revolution set out to create the most advanced, most featured, and most helpful set of tools on the market for Final Cut Pro X. Designed by professional broadcast editors, this set of tools is perfect for work such as documentary, news, or sport and it's also great for adding polish to corporate and event productions.

The plugins range from essential tools such as Subtitles, Caption Safe Area, and Pillarbox Shoulders to fine-tuning plugins like Alpha Adjust, RGB Channel Adjust, or Channel Swap.

Learn MoreTry idustrial revolution XEffects Toolkit for free!


17 Free Letterboxes/Aspect Ratios

Noam Kroll has a massive set of templates, including

  • 1.00:1 – Square
  • 1.33:1 – 4:3 / Academy Ratio
  • 1.37:1 – Original Academy Standard
  • 1.43:1 – IMAX Standard
  • 1.61:1 – Golden Ratio
  • 1.66:1 – European Standard
  • 1.85:1 – 35mm Motion Picture
  • 2.00:1 – Univisium
  • 2.20:1 – Standard 70mm Motion Picture
  • 2.35:1 – Widescreen Cinema Standard
  • 2.39:1 – Widescreen/Anamorphic Standard
  • 2.55:1 – Original Cinemascope Ratio
  • 2.76:1 – 70mm Anamorphic
  • 3.00:1 – Super Widescreen
  • 3.55:1 – Ultrawide Cinema
  • 3.66:1 – Ultrawide IMAX
  • 4.00:1 – Polyvision

352 Free Letterbox Templates for Video Editing (8K, 4K, HD & More)

Premium Beat’s free letterbox pack is enormous and should cover every base!

Free Letterbox Templates in 1080P, 4K, and 8K

Film Crux has some beautiful templates for you to download for free. Sign up for their email list to download for free.

Other freebies

Letterbox Tutorials

There are loads of letterbox tutorials on YouTube. Just do a quick search for your host application and you’ll see what I mean! It’s really pretty easy in most host applications.

How to add cinematic black bars to your video New

Adobe explains step-by-step how to add letterboxing in Premiere Pro. Read the tutorial

Final Cut Pro X Tutorial – 4 Ways to Make Letterbox

olittleboy gives you 4 options in FCPX.

How To Create An Animated Letterbox – Premiere Pro Tutorial

Ignace Aleya shows you how to animate a letterbox, a very cool, cinematic look.

How to add CINEMATIC BLACK BARS | Premiere Pro

Watch Panjo Frames take on black bars.

Premiere Pro: Fake Letterbox & Video Filled Border Effects (Tutorial / How to)

This tutorial from Justin Oshido is a little different. He shows you how to fill your letterbox with video. It’s a stylistic choice. This one came out earlier this month so it’s fresh!

How to Add Cinematic Black Bars in DaVinci Resolve

Yes, it’s that easy. Thanks, CW Productions LLC.

How to Letterbox in DaVinci Resolve – Widescreen Aspect Ratio Tips

Casey Faris explains letterboxing in DaVinci Resolve. How to make your video widescreen… or not widescreen.

Easy Letter Box in DaVinci Resolve

JINN DHR gives you the scoop on DaVinci Resolve.

How to Add Black Bars (Widescreen) In Vegas Pro 15 – 2018

RobertDoesTutorials explains how to do this in Vegas.

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Posted by Michele Yamazaki