In the era of the digital format, many filmmakers utilize aspect ratio to help tell their story. Screening irregular aspect ratios onto traditional 16:9 screens both in theatres and on TVs requires letterboxing or pillarboxing. Creating your own letterboxes can be incredibly tedious. Luckily, there are free resources that make cinematic bars and letterbox templates of all kinds available. In this article, we’ll take a look at one of the best free letterbox templates package and why it’s so useful to have. 

Cinema crop bar function

Why are cinematic bars useful?

Traditionally, utilizing cinematic bars meant you had to buy letterbox templates or create them yourself. Luckily, the wonderful team over at Premium Beat created a free, future-proof letterbox template package

Why are letterbox templates so useful? Letterboxes quickly apply black cinematic bars to footage to give them a specific aspect ratio without cropping or distorting their original size. This is great for movies that are shot at 2.35:1 but are screened on a 16:9 screen.

Django Unchained cinema crop bar

Django Unchained cinema crop bar

Vice versa, cinematic bars are very helpful when you have footage shot in 16:9 and you want to crop it to a cinematic aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The letterbox template package even has a 2:1 aspect ratio template which is starting to show up everywhere in film and television. Don’t believe me? Check out our video breakdown on why so many directors are switching to 2:1.

What is 2:1 Aspect Ratio?  •  Cinema crop bar  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Maybe you’re not quite sold on the 2:1 aspect ratio and decide to choose another way. Do not fret because Premium Beat’s letterbox package has a variety of cinematic bars templates for you to choose from. Let’s take a look at what comes with the download.

Cinematic black bars download

Letterbox templates

The Premium Beat letterbox template package comes with 352 cinematic bars templates. They are available to use on every common video resolution from HD720 all the way up to 8K. All letterboxes can also be used as either black or white cinematic bars overlay.

Cinematic black bars download

Cinematic black bars download

The package contains letterbox templates that convert footage into the following aspect ratios:

  • 1:1 Square
  • 4:3 Silent Film/NTSC
  • 1.37:1 Academy Ratio
  • 1.43:1 IMAX
  • 3:2 Classic 35mm
  • 7:4 Metroscope
  • 1.85:1 Vistavision
  • 2:1 Panascope & RED
  • 2.2:1 Todd AO
  • 2.35:1 Cinemascope
  • 2.39:1 Theatrical & Blu-ray
  • 2.55:1 Vintage Cinemascope
  • 2.75:1 Ultra Panavision
  • 2.76:1 MGM Camera 65
  • 3:1 Extreme Scope
  • 4:1 PolyVision

Now that you have this complete package of cinematic bars you may wonder which aspect ratio you should utilize. Every project is different. However, there are a few cinematic bars size that create aspect ratios that most audiences automatically perceive as cinematic. We created a video breaking down aspect ratios and how you should choose yours.

Cinematic bars size in film: Aspect Ratios  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Once downloaded, the letterbox templates come in PNG image files with alpha channels. Download Premium Beat’s free letterbox template package.

How to add black bars to video

Cinematic bars template tutorial

One you’ve downloaded your letterbox files, it’s time to add them to your edit. Doing so is rather simple and is the same process for all non-linear editing softwares.

First, open your editing timeline. Then open the folder in your downloads with the letterbox templates. Simply click your desired letterbox and drag the file onto your timeline above your clip. Finally, adjust the letterbox template clips so it is the same length as your video.

For a more visual tutorial on how to drag and drop your cinematic bars overlay onto your timeline, give the video below a watch.

How to Add Cinematic Bar Templates to your edit

While this video uses Adobe Premiere Pro, the drag and drop process is the same for Final Cut Pro X or DaVinci Resolve. Be sure that you use the cinematic bars overlay that match the resolution of your footage. For example, a film in 1080p will require using the 1080 cinematic black bars download.


The importance of aspect ratio

Now that you have a plethora of letterbox templates to choose from, it’s important to determine which one you will use. Learning about aspect ratio will help you understand how varying image dimensions will inherently affect how an audience experiences your film. Learn more about aspect ratios in our next article.

Up Next: Aspect ratio explained →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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