Burning Question: How Do I Quickly Give My Project a Letterbox Look?
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
NewBlue TotalFX 7 Suite - Perpetual
A Complete Post-Production Solution
Save time, simplify your video editing, and create content that stands out with TotalFX. Your complete color correction, titling, stabilization, green screen, and video touchup toolbox in one.
TotalFX features more than 1,500 presets in 177 video plugins in one comprehensive toolbox that will completely change the way you work. You’ll find titling, stabilization, transitions, filters, background generators, and dozens of video effects for Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, and more.
idustrial 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.
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.
- Free Final Cut Pro plugin: Alex4D Letterbox effect – This one is pretty old but it’s still available online.
- Film Dog Pro’s HD Letterbox Template Pack 70 – This download includes a whole bunch of PNG files with popular aspect ratio presets (11.33:1, 1.85:1, 2.35:1, and 2.40:1) and should work in any program. The files are either 720p or 1080p. Download via Vashi Visuals.
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.
Posted by Michele Yamazaki