My custom Premiere Pro export presets

June 14, 2021

I’m publishing videos mainly to YouTube and Instagram. While Premiere comes with exports presets for YouTube out of the box, they don’t have any for Instagram. Also it turns out that even for YouTube, my main publishing format is not part of the default YouTube presets. Let’s dig into it!

YouTube 1440p 2K Quad HD

Based on the “YouTube 2160p 4K Ultra HD” preset, this presets fills the gap between 1080p and 4K by allowing you to export a 1440p 2K video for YouTube.

I like to export in 2K because it allows me to get a higher video quality on YouTube by forcing the VP9 codec instead of AVC, even when viewed in 1080p.

Also, with my source footage being 4K, 1440p still allows me a decent cropping margin without loosing quality, and otherwise gets me that extra crispness you get when downscaling 4K footage.

To make that preset:

Section Setting Value Comment
Export Settings Preset YouTube 2160p 4K Ultra HD Base preset
Basic Video Settings Width 2560
Basic Video Settings Height 1440
Encoding Settings Level 5.1 Instead of 5.2
Bitrate Settings Target Bitrate 20 Instead of 40
Bitrate Settings Maximum Bitrate 20 Instead of 40

Why set the level to 5.1?

The main reason is that when I first created this preset, Premiere actually defaulted the 4K preset to 5.1 as well, so I kept it the same.

When a Premiere upgrade changed the 4K preset to 5.2, I then asked myself whether I should mirror the Premiere update or keep 5.1 for my 2K preset.

This forced me to learn a bit about H.264 levels first. Basically, a level define the maximum values for a number of encoding properties like bitrate, buffer size, macroblocks, luma settings and more. You can read more about that on Wikipedia, Encoding.com and MediaCoder.

For 2K and even 4K (unless it’s 60 FPS or more), a level of 5.1 is way enough. While YouTube doesn’t give profile recommendations on their recommended upload settings, they do so on their live encoder settings:

I usually export 24 FPS video, so I could even safely go down to 5.0, but I don’t want my preset to be limited to 30 FPS or lower.

The reason Premiere bumped the 4K preset from 5.1 to 5.2 is likely to support 4K 60 FPS exports out of the box, because there’s only one preset regardless of the frame rate.

For the same reason, I’ll leave 5.1 for my 2K preset; it’s just high enough to support 2K 60 FPS.

Why a bitrate of 20 specifically?

Premiere defaults to a bitrate of 16 Mbps for 1080p and 40 Mbps for 4K. I’m looking for something in between.

Technically, 1440p is 1.33 times 1080p and 2160p is 1.5 times 1440p (and 2 times 1080p).

Based on that, I could define a bitrate of 1.33 × 16 = 21.28 Mbps, or 1 ÷ 1.5 × 40 = 26.66 Mbps.

Since I expect those videos to be watched mostly in 1080p, I round down the bitrate to 20 and call it a day. This allows me to force the 1440p VP9 encoder on YouTube while keeping a file size that’s nearly as small as a 1080p export would be.

To put this in context, we can also look at YouTube’s recommended upload settings:

Type Video bitrate (24, 25, 30 FPS) Video bitrate (48, 50, 60 FPS)
2160p (4K) 35–45 Mbps 53–68 Mbps
1440p (2K) 16 Mbps 24 Mbps
1080p 8 Mbps 12 Mbps

We can see that Premiere’s default 4K bitrate of 40 Mbps is just in the middle of the recommended range by YouTube for standard frame rates, but is probably too low if you were to export a high frame rate video.

Contrarily, Premiere’s default 1080p bitrate of 16 Mbps is double what YouTube themselves recommend for standard frame rates, and even higher than the high frame rate recommendation.

Finally, my 2K preset bitrate of 20 Mbps is right in the middle of what YouTube recommends between standard and high frame rates, making this a somewhat versatile preset.

A note about 1 vs. 2 pass VBR

In “Bitrate Settings”, we also have an encoding option letting us choose from CBR, 1 pass VBR and 2 pass VBR. CBR stands for constant bitrate, and VBR for variable bitrate.

Premiere defaults its YouTube presets to 1 pass VBR.

When rendering the video, the VBR encoder supports a 2 pass process where it first analyses the whole video so that it can be more efficient at actually encoding it in the second pass, resulting in a smaller file size for a similar quality, or a higher quality for a similar file size (in case of Premiere where we fix a target and maximum bitrate). The downside is that rendering takes nearly twice as long.

Spending double the time for roughly a 30% increase in quality is a tradeoff you’ll have to do for yourself, but as far as I’m concerned, Premiere takes already long enough to encode that I’m not willing to make it even worse.

Instagram

On to the Instagram presets!

I based all of my Instagram presets off Premiere’s YouTube 1080p preset, meaning we’re rendering with H.264 level 4.2, and a bitrate (both target and maximum) of 16 Mbps. To reuse the previous preset table:

Section Setting Value Comment
Export Settings Preset YouTube 1080p Full HD Base preset
Encoding Settings Level 4.2 Default for preset
Bitrate Settings Target Bitrate 16 Default for preset
Bitrate Settings Maximum Bitrate 16 Default for preset

Aside from that, my 4 Instagram presets only differ in the resolution.

Resolution and aspect ratio

While there’s many websites giving settings when searching “Instagram video resolution” or “Instagram video specification”, the only resource I’ve found from Instagram themselves is on their help center.

They recommend an aspect ratio between 1.91:1 and 4:5, with a width of 1080 pixels, meaning that the height will vary between 566 and 1350 pixels.

I derived 4 presets out of that:

Preset Resolution
Square 1080x1080
Portrait 1080x1350
Landscape 1080x608
Story 1080x1920

Here, the landscape one could be even wider if I wanted to, but most of my content is shot in 16:9 so I’ll keep it that way.

A note about bitrate

For the bitrate, I didn’t find any official Instagram recommendation, but various websites recommend 3.5 Kbps, and this matches what the app does when recoding the video before upload (you can see that by saving the post or story to camera roll and inspecting the file).

This makes the 16 Mbps of my presets sound a bit overkill, but I’d rather provide a top quality video to the app and let it recode it.

There is no evidence that Instagram would skip the recoding process if we provide a compressed-enough video, so if recoding is going to happen either way, I’d rather provide a top quality input to get the best result.

Sidenote: inspecting the Instagram recoded video also shows that they resize the video to a width of 720 pixels, preserving the aspect ratio and frame rate. So even though they allow a maximum width of 1080 pixels, they seem to conform videos to a width of 720 pixels on their side.

A note about distribution

As far as distribution is concerned, at least from desktop, they serve videos with a width of 640 pixels, a bitrate of 1 Mbps, and conform the frame rate to 30 FPS (which matches their requirement for IGTV of minimum 30 FPS, even though they don’t give any information about timeline videos otherwise).

A note about frame rate

Even though Instagram appears to conform videos to 30 FPS upon serving, I still keep my timeline FPS settings in my export file, and let the conversion up to Instagram.

Most of the time for me, it means I stick to 24 FPS.

As noted above, the version Instagram processes on the device prior to uploading preserves the original frame rate, so this might be a sign that they conserve the video with the original frame rate on their servers, potentially allowing 24 FPS distribution at some point in the future.

A note about video length

Videos in Instagram posts are limited to one minute, but to be very precise, on a 24 FPS timeline, it turned out to be 59 seconds and 21 frames. A single more frame and Instagram will prompt you to publish the video on IGTV instead.

Also stories are limited to 15 seconds, and on a 24 FPS timeline, they allow up to a length of 15 seconds and 10 frames, otherwise they will start splitting the story.

Final word

At that point, you have all the information you need to recreate those presets on your side, and you know precisely why each setting was chosen.

Don’t forget in Premiere once you customize your export settings, you can save the preset to easily use it in other projects!

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