What is CapCut? What You Should Know About TikTok’s AI-Editing Sister App

Estimated read time 6 min read

If you’re sometimes amazed at the speed with which online content creators can pump out reaction videos or other quick-turnaround clips full of elaborate visual effects, music clips and even artificial intelligence-generated animations, you may not yet know about CapCut.

While social media app TikTok offers a robust set of video-editing tools within its own app, its parent company ByteDance has more quietly been growing a sister app for editing video called CapCut. 

CapCut can do basic video-editing tricks including splitting video, adding audio and applying video filters, but it’s also stuffed with premade templates, images, sound cues, GIFs from Giphy and several AI-driven features that set it apart from other free video editors. 

Last year, the app made the company $100 million (there’s a Pro upgrade users can pay to access) and it’s only been growing, with a staggering 5.6 billion posts on TikTok tagged “capcut.”

Here’s what you need to know about CapCut, and the basics on how to get started on using it.

Why is CapCut getting so popular?

CapCut initially debuted in 2019 as JianYing in China, but was renamed and expanded to other countries the following year. It exploded in popularity in 2023 with the release of web and desktop versions of the app, hitting 200 million active users a year ago, eclipsing the number of active TikTok users

For some, the appeal is being able to take an existing viral meme and create your own version of it. That’s what happened when one Delaware TikTok user posted their grandmother dancing to GloRilla using a template from CapCut called “Head Top” that converts a full-body photo to a dance animation.

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As Time wrote last year, one of the reasons CapCut has gotten so popular is it can create videos for multiple platforms — not just TikTok — including YouTube and Instagram’s Stories and Reels. 

Even though it may lack some features that pro software such as Adobe Premiere has, it has social-media-tuned filters and features the professional-grade apps don’t. The main criticism has been the 15-minute time limit for free video editing, as well as its limitation to a single video and single audio track at a time.

CapCut is also platform agnostic. “There is no platform you can’t get CapCut on,” says Matt Loui, an editor who made a video touting the virtues of the software. He said his company has produced most of its social-media videos and cited the speed and ease of use of it and that many of its best features are free.

Getting started with CapCut 

There’s a free version, but a Pro version is also available for $10 a month or $90 a year and includes more video templates, effects, transitions and an “auto cutout” feature. Subscriptions include a seven-day trial period. There are also offers to try Pro for 30 days free by downloading and using a desktop version.

If you want to start using CapCut, the first thing to decide is what platform you want to try it on. The iOS and Android apps have been around the longest, and are the most refined, but if you’re used to editing video on a computer, the desktop apps will feel familiar with their timeline structure.

In my own tests of CapCut, I found the web version slow and choppy, making it hard to review video changes quickly. Even though I have a powerful gaming PC and the app is supposed to be lightweight, CapCut caused my Windows desktop computer’s cooling fans to spin up loudly and performance was still sluggish. 

Once you’ve created a CapCut account (which can be linked to, but is separate from, your TikTok account, with its own DMs and followers), you might be overwhelmed by how many options are available. In addition to template headers such as Vlog, Business Videos and Commercial Videos, the Edit tab has a bewildering number of approaches, from Script to Video, to Teleprompter, to Remove background, to Transcript-based editor — a feature that is also available on the AI-based video editor Descript

There are also options for editing or creating still images, including the ability to make an AI-generated poster or create an image from a text prompt.

Selecting New Project takes you to your library where you can upload your own photos or images, start an AI prompt or browse through templates and memes under Library. 

Some trending templates and effects are only available for Pro accounts, but there are still lots of free ones to choose from such as basic color backgrounds and stock videos of, say, cats at play. You can’t simply take the videos and post them as your own; the app warns, “To avoid copyright infringement, do not export materials without editing them on CapCut.”

Once you’ve selected stock materials or your own uploads, you can drag and drop elements onto a timeline, trim and tighten and add effects, filters, transitions, captions, overlays, stickers or change the background, among other tricks. 

Once you’re happy with your new creation, you can convert it to a GIF or export it as a video at different resolutions and frame rates. You can then share it to TikTok or other social platforms, save it or send it to others. 

Will CapCut still be around if TikTok is banned in the US?

Before you get hooked on CapCut, you should know that there’s a chance it may not be available in the US at some point in the future. Because CapCut is owned by ByteDance, and because it has to store user content in order to do its editing tricks and AI editing, it’s very likely that a US ban on TikTik would also affect this editing software.

CapCut is run by executives in China, as reported by The Information, but part of the defense of TikTok that ByteDance has put forward is that a ban of the company in the US would also take down its other non-social-media apps, including CapCut.

For now, CapCut’s not in any immediate danger; despite a bill being signed in April to ban TikTok, that wouldn’t go into effect until the beginning of 2025 at the earliest.

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