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

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


What is Letterboxing, Pillarboxing, and Windowboxing?

Letterboxing is a very simple way to help your footage look more cinematic but you can’t just go slapping black bars 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.

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


For those of you unfamiliar with the letterboxed presentation, It is a method of preserving a films original widescreen aspect ratio when a film is transferred to standard definition video. This is nice because the action on screen isn’t panned and scanned, or moved to the point of action to fill the screen, losing elements on the sides of the screen. The giveaway is the black bars on the top and bottom that matte the video.



Since widescreen has become the more common aspect ratio on television, you’ll see the opposite issue with standard-width video and bars on the left and right. This is known as pillarboxing. I’ve seen both pillarboxing and windowboxing, described below, used stylistically in a widescreen presentation to give the viewer the idea that the media being shown is older, such as 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 letterbox 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

Travis Transient gives some great technical details on how to get the right aspect ratio using Premiere Pro.

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 followup 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. That said, there are lots of ways to achieve the effect. So, if you know how to do it the old school way but you’ve been finding that you’re drawing letterboxes all of the time, there are faster methods!

Red Giant FramesRed Giant Frames

Add a 24p film look to your video footage

Start with ordinary interlaced video, apply Magic Bullet Frames’ sophisticated algorithms, and you’ll get the smoother, professional de-interlaced look of 24p film.

Frames includes filters for letterboxing and line offset controls to easily create mattes and adjust the image inside the letterbox area.

Buy Now     Download Demo

FXhome HitFilm StudioFXHome HitFilm Studio

The full professional bundle: HitFilm Pro, Ignite Pro, and Action Pro

Arm yourself with our most powerful pack of professional software: HitFilm Studio. Edit and composite with HitFilm Pro — or scale up your editor of choice with Ignite Pro VFX and preset plugins. Want to make big moves and complex animations? Be one of the first to tinker with our new motion capture software: Action Pro Beta.

Buy Now     Download Demo

FXHome HitFilm Pro is a standalone app that comes with a letterbox plug-in. Pick from a variety of common aspect ratios or define your own. The letterboxing automatically updates based on the shape of your source layer. It lets you alter the color of the letterbox bars too. A very similar Letterbox plugin also exists in FXhome Ignite Pro.

Top 10 Winner By the way, HitFilm Pro was in the Toolfarm Top 10 for 2017 for Final Cut Pro X while Ignite Pro made the Toolfarm Top Ten for 2017 for Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer.

This is an older tutorial on how to use the effect in HitFilm Express, but the effect hasn’t changed much.

NewBlueFX TotalFXNewBlueFX TotalFX

Get over 1,400 creative NewBlueFX video effects, presets, and tools in 129 plugins. This includes Letterbox, a filter to frame your video appropriately with preset borders.

TotalFX Perpetual License    Subscription    Download Demo

NewBlueFX Essentials Ultimate also contains the Letterbox plug-in.

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.

We 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.

Buy Now     Download Demo

inSync FrameFormer for FCPX Standard EditionInSync FrameFormer for FCPX or Premiere Pro Standard Edition

Simple and clean integration of mixed frame rate content in your project

High-quality motion-compensated conversion guaranteed – Preview your conversion results as you work (background render). Aspect ratio conversion: Standard Version: Letterbox, pillarbox, anamorphic Pro Version: Automatic, preset and manual ARC Modes.

Buy Now     Download Demo

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.

Download Film Crux Templates

Letterbox Effect 2 Second

“Get the cinematic look with ease with this easy2-second build in letterbox effect. The build in and build out are optional so do it your way.”

Download Letterbox Effect 2 Second

Other freebies

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.

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!

How to Letterbox, Cinematic Film Black Bars in 00:29 | Adobe Premiere Pro 2017

A No BS Tutorial on making letterboxes in Premiere Pro.

Posted by Michele Yamazaki