When You get the Dreaded Black Bars in Your Videos

Every week I hear from someone who has taken some training from one of my courses and has made the most wonderful screencast. It looks great in Camtasia but when they  produce or upload it it has thick black bars on the left and right or bottom and top. Even when I try to explain why this happens sometimes the student is still confused. I totally get it. It was hard for it to sink in for me to.  But now that I DO get it- I’m going to do good job in this blog post to give you a simple explanation as to why this happens. It’s all about Aspect Ratio. Let me explain.

black bars2    


What is Aspect Ratio?

Aspect Ratio is the ratio of a videos width to its height. Every screen resolution has an aspect ratio associated with it. A few of the most common aspect ratios we see today are 4 by 3 (called standard)and 16 by 9 (called widescreen). It’s quite simple: If the aspect ratio of your video doesn’t match aspect ratio of the display on which you want to show it, you will see horizontal black bars at the top and bottom (called “letterboxing”) or vertical bars on either side (called “curtains”), that’s an example of a video that was recorded at a different aspect ratio than it is being presented.


For Best Results

Presentations, images, and videos can be created in any aspect ratio, therefore it is important for you to be aware of your target aspect ratio during planning so you can create all your original content at a consistent size and ratio that will display correctly where you want to display it.

Just make sure you keep the aspect ratio consistent from recording to Production. If you are want to display your video in a standard 4:3, record at 4:3. If 16:9, record at 16:9. Camtasia makes this easy displaying the most common aspect ratios right in the recorder window.  screen resoutions


Then make the same choice as to which resolution and aspect ratio you will edit and produce at.  Be sure you produce at the same 4:3 or 16:9 and you will be all set to go.

editing dimensions


Doing it this way ensures that no screen real estate will be wasted, and  your video quality will be much better.





12 thoughts on “When You get the Dreaded Black Bars in Your Videos

  • Wayne

    I only wish I had this blog post a year ago! Took me a while to finally figure it out, but this is good info for people just starting out with Camtasia to keep them from frustration. Thanks Michelle!

  • Rick

    Nice post!

    However, I do have a slight criticism to offer. I believe the technical term where you say “curtains” is actually called “Pillarboxing”.

    But regardless of what you call it, it’s nice that you explained the phenomenon to folks and they will find it useful and they learned.

    So it’s a good blog post! ;)

  • Kim

    Thanks for the great information. As always very useful. Appreciate it. Hope you are having a great start to your new year!

  • Michelle Schoen


    I hadn’t heard of the term “Pillarboxing” before. I’ll start using it since it sounds more intelligent when used with “Letterboxing”. and I always want to sound smart.

  • Michelle Schoen

    You too Kim- hope to see you on the Q and As again soon. BTW- if you have any videos you have done that you would like to share we are starting a student showcase over at LearnCamtasia.com so let me know about them.

  • art

    I recorded and produced a .ppt presentation and still came up with the wide bars. I imported the .ppt slides as images and imported the audio track and both were set to 1280×720. when I uploaded to youtube, still had bars..anything I missed?.it looks good when I do full screen..maybe add an image as thumbnail before video starts? Here it is http://youtu.be/RUkEkCSL6nA

  • Michelle Schoen Post author


    The reason you still go them is because your PowerPoint slides are set up as a 4:3 ratio in PowerPoint. I’m not sure which version of PowerPoint you are using but in PowerPoint 2010 go to the Design tab and choose Page Setup. In the dropdown that says “Slides Sized for” choose 16:9. It is possible since you didn’t start out with that size that the text and images may not look the same with the new ratio and you may need to go through the slides and move some things around but it will take care of the black bars. Good luck.

  • Michelle Schoen Post author


    Since YouTube now uses a widescreen player you should have chosen one of the widescreen recording selections. To stick close to the size you originally wanted you could have chosen 1280×720 (16:9) and then locked the recording area using the little lock next to the dimensions. Camtasia 7.1 makes this easier as they give you suggested recording dimensions right inside the recorder.

  • dany

    Watching this again at home on my 13″. You raelly have to have a big screen to see all this aspect ratio but I love the nonlinear thinking.

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