Don’t you hate it when you invest in a high-quality camera and your footage still ends up looking lousy when you upload it to YouTube?
The problem could be with your export settings, which is why I’ve put together this guide to the best export settings for YouTube.
So, what are the best export settings for YouTube? According to YouTube’s own recommendations, videos should be exported in MP4 video format, using an H.264 video codec. The ideal resolution and frame rate will depend on your source footage (YouTube supports several frame rates between 24 and 60 fps). The best bitrate will differ depending on your resolution but should be fairly large to account for YouTube’s compression. The best audio bitrate is 384 kbps (stereo) and the best audio codec is AAC-LC.
Of course, those are all fairly generic guidelines. The settings you should export videos in will depend largely on the properties of your source footage, the video editing software you’re using, and tolerance for large file sizes.
In the rest of this article, we’ll explain the different settings you need to know about and walk you through how to choose the right export settings for different editing programs and resolutions.
Understanding Export Settings
When you first open up the export screen, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the different settings. Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it seems. Here’s an overview of each of the most important video export settings you need to know about
Resolution refers to the number of pixels that are displayed in each dimension. The larger the resolution, the better the quality of the footage. 1080p is the standard HD resolution that most creators on YouTube use, but it’s not the largest.
It’s possible to export videos and upload them to YouTube in 4K resolution for ultra-HD, cinematic videos.
Moving footage in videos is created by stringing together still images in rapid succession. These still images are called ‘frames’, and the frame rate refers to the number of frames we see per second (fps).
You should choose a frame rate that matches the frame rate of your source footage, which will depend on your frame rate settings on your camera.
Most YouTube videos are filmed and exported in either 24fps or 30fps.
The video codec is the software that compresses the video when you export it. You don’t really need to know much about it, as YouTube has made it very easy to figure out which codec to use. Just use the codec that YouTube recommends, H.264.
On Adobe Premiere Pro, you can choose between three ‘profiles’ when exporting: baseline, main, and high. The profile is kind of like the engine running the encoding. You don’t need to worry about it too much, as you’ll pretty much always want to use ‘high’ in any situation.
The ‘level’ export setting is a preset for different encoding resolutions and framerates. It matters because it needs to be suitable for the resolution you’re using. If the level is too low, you may be unable to export in higher resolutions. For 1080p footage, a 4.2 level should be sufficient.
Colour depth is important for reducing artifacts and improving the quality of compositing and effects operations. On final cut pro, the ‘render at maximum depth button’ sets the color depth to 32-bit, which is the best setting to use. However, it also increases the time it takes to export your video.
Bitrate is related to compression. You can choose between CBR, VBR 1-pass, and VBR 2-pass. CBR means the bitrate is constant and doesn’t change throughout the footage, regardless of what’s happening on the screen.
I’d recommend using a 2-pass variable bitrate (VBR 2-pass); it takes a little longer to process but it’s worth it.
Online video platforms like YouTube compress your videos when you upload them. For that reason, you need to select a higher bitrate than you would normally use to offset the reduction in quality caused by the extra compression.
Exporting in a higher bitrate does, unfortunately, mean your file size will be larger and may take longer to render and upload, but it’s necessary if you want good quality.
Render quality is pretty self-explanatory. The ‘use maximum render quality’ button on Premiere Pro will improve the scaling quality in mixed-resolution quality, at the cost of longer encoding time.
It’s worth waiting for, so you should probably always click it.
One final thing worth mentioning is the sequence preset. If you’re using Adobe Premiere Pro, the sequence preset is the settings you’ll use when editing your video in your timeline.
For best results, your sequence preset settings should match both your source footage settings and your export settings.
Best Export Settings on Adobe Premiere Pro (1080p)
Adobe Premiere Pro is probably the most popular editing software used by YouTubers, so let’s take a look at how to optimize your export settings in Adobe Premiere Pro for YouTube.
Before you export your footage or even begin editing, you should make sure that your sequence settings match the properties of your recording.
The easiest way to do this is to right-click the video file inside the project panel and click ‘new sequence from clip’.
I’ll assume for this guide that you’ve recorded your footage in 1080p resolution. First, open up the export screen by clicking ‘File’, then ‘Export’, then ‘Media’. Alternatively, use the ‘ctrl + m’ shortcut.
On the export screen, start by selecting the YouTube 1080p HD preset. This will pre-populate the export settings, but we’re going to change a few of them to make it perfect.
Change the settings on the screen to the following:
- Format: H.264
- Dimensions: 1920p x 1080p
- Profile: high
- Level: 4.2
- Bit rate encoding: VBR 2-Pass
- Target bit rate: 35 Mbps
- Maximum bit rate: 35 Mbps
- ‘Export video’ and ‘export audio’ should be ticked
- ‘Render at maximum depth’ should be ticked
- ‘Use maximum render quality’ should be ticked
On the audio section, leave everything as is to match the preset and your source footage, then make sure the format is AAC, the quality is set to high, and the bit rate is as high as possible (320).
Tick the box to give precedence to the bit rate, as opposed to the sample rate.
Best Export Settings on Adobe Premiere Pro (4K)
If you’ve recorded your footage in 4K, the optimal settings for YouTube will be slightly different. This time, start by selecting the YouTube 2160p 4K preset on the export screen.
Again, we’re going to need to change a few things.
Most of the settings will be the same as they would for our 1080p example, but with a few exceptions. These exceptions are:
- Profile should be ‘High10’
- Level should be 5.2
- Bitrate should be as high as 60-100 Mbps
- Dimensions should be 3840 x 2160 pixels
After that, just hit export and you’re all set!
Best Export Settings on Final Cut Pro X
If you’re using Final Cut Pro X, the export screen is somewhat simplified. To export, click ‘File’, then ‘Share’, then ‘Master File’. On the export screen, change the settings to:
- Format: computer
- File format: MPEG-4 Movie
- Video codec: H.264 better quality (rather than faster encode)
- Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (or 4K if you’re recording in 4K)
- Audio file format: AAC
Everything else should already be correctly set. Many Final Cut Pro X users also use Compressor, a separate program that helps with exporting. Settings for this will be a little different.
Ok, that about covers everything you need to know about the best export settings for YouTube, now you should know how to export your videos in the highest possible quality. Good luck!