Which Photo Captioning Software Is the Best?

Updated on July 25, 2018
Simon Kravis profile image

Simon has been involved in software development since the days of paper tape.

Why Add Text to Photos?

Taking photos has never been easier. Some estimates place the total number of photographs in the world at about 100 billion. Their content has meaning for the people who took them, and maybe the people who appear them. For anyone else, a few words of context adds enormously to their value to other people. In the paper era, they were often added on the back, or in an album. Digital photos have a huge capacity for storing data within their file structure, but this is mostly used for recording automatically captured data such as camera and exposure parameters, date and time. Geo-tagging using recorded latitude and longitude from GPS data is frequently added by mobile phone cameras.

However, what people most want to know about photographs are the four W's of journalism - who, what, where and when. Computer power can be applied to answering all of these questions.

'When' is easily supplied, relying only on internal clocks in the camera. They may become confused about time zones, but an accuracy of a day or so is all most people want.

'Who' is performed increasingly well by automated face recognition, once some examples have been provided. Without examples, faces tend to be recognized as celebrities.

'What' is a question that automated image analysis (or auto-captioning) struggles with. It often comes up with accurate but uninformative descriptions as shown below.

Comparison of automatic and human captioning
Comparison of automatic and human captioning | Source

'Where' is provided by turning latitude and longitude into a named location using a gazetteer database. Mobile phones do a pretty good job in well-populated areas,but off the beaten track, results may not be satisfactory. Digital cameras do not routinely have GPS location tracking built in.

Although technology is making inroads into automatically adding the the kind of information humans want to photos, it has a long way to go and adding text manually looks like being necessary for many years yet.

With social media came the meme, where the image resonates with the text rather than the text describing the image. Some memes are the electronic successors to the broadsheets and posters that have been used use to influence public opinion for centuries. However, the near-zero marginal cost of electronic production and distribution means that many more people now create them and humorous/philosophical memes now probably outnumber the ones seeking to influence people.

What Software Should I Use to Add Text to my Photos?

When computers were less powerful and graphical user interfaces were a novelty, information about images was often easily visible in the file browsers (such as Windows Explorer). In that environment, adding information to a file name or placing the file in a folder with an informative name was what most people did.

Nowadays, applications dominate the operating system. File names and folders are not readily accessible to image viewing applications, especially on mobile devices. If it’s not in the image pixels, users won’t see it. This gives a new importance to embedding information into images.

This review looks at some of the leading software products for a range of image captioning tasks that you might conduct on a desktop, mobile device or using a Web application. These include adding names of people or places to photos you've taken yourself or creating a meme to reach as many people as possible. Different tasks need different software.

Examples of text on photos - adding names to a team photo (left) and a successful meme (right)
Examples of text on photos - adding names to a team photo (left) and a successful meme (right) | Source

Desktop Captioning Applications

Almost all image editing applications provide a capability to add text anywhere on an image. The major difficulty with using common image editing desktop applications for captioning is complexity: users want to type their captions, not learn how to use an image editor. However, there are few dedicated desktop captioning applications.

Photo Captions

This is a Windows application that can add up to 5 lines of captions below the image and creates a black and white border around the uploaded image, which can be in JPEG, GIF or PNG format. However, the aspect ratio of the selected image must be specified correctly otherwise the image is truncated. Although the caption font and color can be selected, there is no control of the caption size, and all lines are the same height. A watermark is added to images in the unlicensed version. A license costs A$13.39. The downloaded version threw errors when saving images.

My rating: 1 star

Caption Pro

Although Caption Pro only operates with JPEG files on a Windows platform, it supports editing of already applied captions by storing them in metadata and placing the caption in a white strip below the original image, thus preserving the integrity of the original image. Captions can be added as a single continuous block, or in two parts with different sizes for each part, making it particularly useful for team photos. Caption font size is scaled automatically to fit into the area specified for the caption bar. It offers a wide range of other features including captioning of multiple images, slideshow, zoom, aspect ratio adjustment, automatic geolocation captions and a command line interface. For non-Windows users or users without local administrator rights, a Web application for single images is available. Caption color and font are fixed, giving a homogeneous flavor to the results, but this may be desirable for many environments. It offers a free 30-day trial and a license fee of A$29 per year.

My rating: 4 stars

Photo Caption Creator

This is a free Windows application which, like Caption Pro, only processes JPEG images. It can process multiple files as well as single ones. Captions can be positioned on or below the image and caption size, font, and color can be selected numerically. Captions on the image are located numerically rather than by dragging. Multi-line captions are supported, but there is a maximum of 5 lines allowed. However, there is no auto-scaling of font size to fit the caption into the space available, and once applied, captions cannot be edited, although they can be saved as EXIF Descriptions. The user interface may be daunting to novice users.

My rating: 3.5 stars

Web Applications

Web applications for captioning are most commonly online image editors, offering much of the functionality of their desktop cousins free of charge, and with similar limitations. As free applications, they carry advertisements which vary in obtrusiveness. There are also a number of dedicated captioning applications. As web applications, they will take some time to upload images for processing, but some have single-button posting to social media. Major features of some of the leading offerings are summarized below:

Comparison of Captioning Web Apps

Application
Rating (Stars)
Caption Position
Non-Latin alphabetic Languages
Caption Editing after Application
Social Media Posting
Lunapic
4
Anywhere
No
No
Yes
Fotor
3
Anywhere
Yes
No
Yes
AddText
4
Anywhere
Yes
No
Yes
Roflbot
3
Anywhere
No
No
No
Caption Pro
4
Below Image
Yes
Yes
Yes
ImgFlip
4
Top and Bottom
Yes
No
Yes
Web Captioning Applications

Lunapic

Lunapic is a free online photo editor providing many image editing functions as well as captioning. It supports updating of images in the application session and positioning of captions in a number of preset positions. The image is displayed at full size rather than being fitted into the screen area, which can be awkward for large images on a desktop. Caption size, color and font are selectable and results can be posted to a range of social media as well as saving to the local machine in JPEG format. However, when posting to Facebook, the image is truncated at top and bottom in News Feed view. It has a dedicated mobile interface, with a streamlined captioning and saving interface functionality.

My rating: 4 Stars

Example of text added on top of photo by Lunapic
Example of text added on top of photo by Lunapic | Source

Fotor

Fotor is a freemium online photo editing application including the addition of multiple text labels. The advertisements and user help are highly intrusive, and the process of actually adding a caption requires some exploration – headings have to be dragged onto the image and then have font, size and color set. There is a custom mobile interface, but navigation is not straightforward. Sharing to a range of social media is supported, but the Facebook posting truncates the image at the top and the bottom as with Lunapic. The Pro version (no ads, cloud storage, and additional features) costs US$39.99 per year.

My rating: 3 Stars

AddText

AddText has a simple, understandable interface but upload speed is noticeably slower than Fotor or Lunapic. It has a good mobile interface. Images in GIF, PNG and JPEG format can be uploaded, copied from the clipboard (for browsers other than Internet Explorer) or dragged onto the application but downloaded images are in JPEG format. However, there were problems with some GIF and PNG files. Captioned images can be posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. A link is provided to the captioned image. Multiple text blocks can be placed on an image and positioned independently. The Premium version (costing US$19.95 per year) has no watermarks on the captioned image.

My rating: 4 Stars

Roflbot

Roflbot has a somewhat cluttered interface, with text and links to other products. The mobile interface requires magnification to use successfully. Images in JPEG, GIF, BMP format were processed successfully, but it is not clear which image formats are supported. Caption size and font can be selected from a small selection but the color is fixed. Multiple text blocks can be applied to the same image and positioned independently. Captioned files are saved in JPEG format. Roflbot can save captioned images to the local machine, FlickR, and Imgur. Other share options (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email) do not share the captioned image or do not share any image at all.

My rating: 3 Stars

Caption Pro

Caption Pro (web version) offers most of the features of its desktop cousin but only for single images. It has a separate mobile interface which is reasonably well designed. It offers 25 free title applications, and 5 multi-line caption applications over 60 days for non-licensed users a license cost of A$2.99 for a further 50 title or 10 multi-line captions. It requires authentication via Facebook, Google or an email address if a license is not purchased. Captioned images may be downloaded, posted to Facebook or emailed.

My rating: 4 Stars

Example of a 2-part caption added below the image by Caption Pro
Example of a 2-part caption added below the image by Caption Pro | Source

ImgFlip

ImgFlip is more like a photo sharing site than a web application. It is dedicated to meme creation, either by allowing you to modify existing ones, or creating a new one from scratch by putting text at the top and bottom of images. If you rate yourself as a meme creator, your memes can be picked up from here by anyone browsing the site. Upload speed is very fast, but image orientation is sometimes incorrect. You can vote for images and compete to be featured on the homepage. ImgFlip stores memes, but only if they get enough votes. Downloaded files carry a small watermark, which can be removed in the Pro Version, which costs US$9.95 per month and offers additional functionality, including personal storage of your memes.

My rating: 4 Stars

Mobile Apps

With the pervasiveness of mobile devices, apps for processing images from built-in cameras in-situ are numerous. Native photo display apps for iOS and Android both offer facilities for adding text to photos as part of their image editing capability. The functionality offered is generally less than the dedicated apps. As they do not have to upload or download data, they operate faster than web applications and are generally better designed to accommodate the small touchscreen interfaces used by mobile devices. More details of two of the most popular follow.

Phonto

After selection of the input image (from Photo Album, or direct from camera) Phonto offers various filtering and cropping options as shown above (left). After tapping Done, a box with various options including Add Text at the left appears (center). Clicking this allows the definition of the various aspects of the text (right). Clicking the boxes beside Add Text shows the same screen, but with the text shown in the box.

Phonto is available as a dedicated freemium captioning app for Android and iOS platforms (iOS 9.0 or later). As a mobile-only application, it offers a clean interface with appropriately sized controls and a massive range of graphics options. The captioned image is included in the email body rather than as an attachment. Posting to Facebook does not post the captioned image (at least from iOS), but the one from the main web page. Other posting options are Twitter, Instagram, and Messaging. As a freemium app, there an advertising banner at the top of the screen, which can be removed on payment of US$2.99 to the iTunes store (for iOS).

My rating: 3 Stars

Typorama

Typorama is a well-designed freemium mobile app (iOS only) offering photo editing features as well as text addition. It provides a set of stock photos as well as access to device Photo Albums as shown above (left). After selecting your image, you choose what to do with it (center). The captioning interface then appears (right), with a range of other options for the Pro (paid) version.

Once applied, captions can be edited within the application, resized, tilted and restyled. Posting to social media apps, such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp with a single click is supported, as well as saving back to the Photo Album. Typorama is the only application to show images posted to Facebook in their entirety within the News Feed. Payment of US$9.99 for the Pro version removes ads and a “Made with Typorama” watermark applied to all photos.

My rating: 4 Stars

Typorama Mobile Phone App
Typorama Mobile Phone App | Source

Don't let any software give the impression you won't have to do any work.

The Wrap..

If you live on your mobile, keep your photos there, and want to write on top of the photos, a mobile app probably the way to go if the text markup facility in the native image editor isn't enough. Typorama (for iOS only) wins for slickness, but you'll have to pay to get rid of the watermark. Phonto and Lunapic are close behind, and free. If you want to keep your photos unchanged and write below them, Caption Pro is the way to go, although as a web app it'll be less responsive. If you're making a meme then Imgflip gives makes it easy to spread as well as to create.

For desktop or tablet users, any photo editing software will give you complete control of where you put the text, but be prepared to climb a steep learning curve to find out how to do it. If you want to make a meme or write on top of your photos, Imgflip, accessed as a Web app, is fast and straightforward to use.

If you want to leave your photo pixels unchanged (for family or historic photos) Caption Pro offers the best options and the ability to edit captions after you've applied them is a real bonus. The Window desktop application can also handle large numbers of images (such as holiday photos) in a streamlined fashion. Mac users will have to use the Caption Pro web application.

Don't let any software give you the impression you won't have to do any work. If you come back from a vacation with 5000 photos, just looking at each of them to make a smaller selection will take you hours before you even think about captioning. If you're dealing with a box of parents' or grandparents' photos that you'd like to share electronically, the scanning may take days before you start delving into the content. But the reward is knowing that whatever information you put on your photos will remain attached to the image whatever channels it passes through.

Your purpose

Why were you captioning your photos?

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Your experience

What software have you used for captioning?

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Your opinion

What did you think of software you have used for captioning?

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If you answered 'Other' to any of the polls I'd like to hear from you so I can extend the scope of the review.

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