4 Tricks to Speed Up Exports in Premiere Pro [Video]

This article walks you through four different ways that you can speed up your exports in Adobe Premiere Pro.

You can follow along in the video tutorial, which walks you through each step, or you can skim down the article if you want to focus on one technique. Each of them has advantages for a different type of workflow.

Exporting = Rendering and Encoding

When Premiere is going to export some edited video, it has to do two separate tasks: rendering and encoding. It’s important that you understand what that means, so you can understand why our tricks can save you time.

When Premiere exports a video, it starts by reading the source file that you have imported into your project, which is nearly always a compressed file. Then it decompresses the file so that it can deal with the actual image. It’s not saving the uncompressed image to a file – it’s just holding it temporarily in memory.

vlcsnap 2017 09 11 09h29m29s538

Next it applies any transformations that you’ve done in your sequence – color correction, resizing, any manipulations to the image. That’s rendering.

Then it encodes the image into whatever codec you chose in your export settings, and it saves that compressed data to the output file. So, we start with a compressed file, and we end up with a compressed file.

Now, it’s usually not possible to skip either one of those steps—you usually have to render and then encode when you’re exporting. But our first trick allows you to avoid rendering and encoding multiple times. In most situations, you don’t just render out your timeline once. You often render out a rough cut, and then you get feedback from your producer or your client (perhaps using a tool like Frame.io), and then you need to export again after you have made some tweaks. And then the process repeats itself, so you often end up exporting the same timeline several times. If we’re careful about our rendering and exporting, though, we can save a lot of time.

1. Compress Previews

Imagine I have a clip on my timeline with a bunch of color corrections. If I tell Premiere to export, it’s going to render that file with my color correction, and then it’s going to compress that data into my output codec. If it’s a long clip with a lot of adjustments, it might take about 60 seconds.

But I can also tell Premiere to just render the clip, and save that rendered file on the hard drive. That file is called a preview file, and I can use that file for exporting later without rendering all over again.

I click on “sequence” and then “render in to out”. Now Premiere renders that clip and saves it away, and the bar on my timeline turns green.

Screen Shot 2017 09 11 at 9.55.40 AM

The green bar means that Premiere does not need to render that section of my timeline again when it exports.

Now if I go to export the clip again, and I check the box in the export settings that says “use previews,” now Premiere will simply take the file that it saved when I rendered and compress that to my output codec. It does not need to render any of my color corrections – it just needs to read that rendered file and encode it (we usually call that a transcode). And that takes only a couple seconds, instead of 60 seconds from before.

Now let’s say that I want to change the title at the end of my film because there was a typo the first time. Premiere will still need to render the changed title, but it doesn’t have to render the main clip again, which means that my second export will be almost as fast as the last one.

vlcsnap 2017 09 11 09h25m37s470

If I am only making fairly small changes to my edit, all of my exports from now on will be very quick. 

All of that sounds wonderful, but there is a catch. By default, Premiere uses a fairly low-quality codec for its previews. That means that, if I check the box to use previews when I export, my final result will not have the full quality that I’m expecting. That is fine if I am just going to export a low-resolution preview and it’s not the final version, but what if I want to export the full quality clip multiple times?

In that case, I need to change my preview codec to a high-quality codec, which is very easy. Go to “Sequence Settings,” then “Preview File Format.” If you want to be absolutely sure that you aren’t losing any quality, then you can choose a lossless or uncompressed format. Bear in mind that, if you use a very high-quality, high-bitrate codec for your previews, that may take up a lot of space on your hard drive, so most people will pick something on the high end but not the very top (maybe ProRes 422 HQ).

preview codec

If you’re not sure which codec to use, you can take a look at this page on the frame.io blog, which allows you to compare many different codecs.

Screen Shot 2017 09 11 at 9.14.57 AM

2. Smart Render From Previews

There’s one more feature of the “use previews” box that can make a huge difference in render times, and strangely, it’s seldom mentioned. If you choose exactly the same codec settings for preview files and for your output file, you can skip both the rendering and encoding when you export.

Because Premiere has already rendered the previews and encoded them, all it has to do is copy the data into the output file. Premiere calls this Smart Rendering, and in this case we are actually combining the Use Previews feature and the Smart Rendering feature.

vlcsnap 2017 09 11 09h25m26s131

Check out the video for a detailed walkthrough.

That clip, which took about 60 seconds to export normally, and took about 5 seconds with the normal “Use Previews”, takes less than a second when you Smart Render from previews.

This trick has the extra advantage that the image is not processed twice. If you use previews without the Smart Render, then your image will be compressed twice (unless you choose an uncompressed codec as your preview codec, of course).

This trick doesn’t work for all codecs unfortunately—you have to use one of the codecs listed under “QuickTime Match Source (Rewrap) Support”. The two most common codecs listed are ProRes and Cineform, both of which are great.

The tricky part is knowing whether or not Premiere is using your preview files exactly as they are and just copying them into the export file, or whether Premiere is reading those preview files, decoding them, and then re-encoding them into the output file. It’s important for you to know, because if it’s re-encoding those files, then you could be losing some quality, because the images are being compressed twice. And of course it will take longer, which is lame.

Fortunately, it’s not actually that hard to do. Select a clip, pre-render it, and then export with the Use Previews box checked, and write down how long it takes. Then export again, but make a small tweak to your output codec. You should use the same codec, but make a small change (maybe go from ProRes 422 to ProRes 422 HQ). You should see the slightly tweaked export taking longer, because now it’s having to transcode your preview files, whereas the first time it just copied the data. If it takes about the same amount of time to do both exports, that probably means that Premiere is not using the Smart Render feature.

Test Results Showing Smart Render Working:
Preview files set to ProRes 422 HQ, Exported to ProRes 422 HQ: 1.4 seconds.
Preview files set to ProRes 422 HQ, Exported to ProRes 422: 5.6 seconds.

Test Results Showing Smart Render Not Working:
Preview files set to ProRes 422 HQ, Exported to ProRes 422 HQ: 4.9 seconds.
Preview files set to ProRes 422 HQ, Exported to ProRes 422: 5.6 seconds.

3. Smart Render from Source

The third trick can make a HUGE difference in export speeds, but it will only work for people who are doing only the editing in Premiere, not the color correction.

Let’s imagine that I am the editor for film, and the camera department has given me proxy files to edit with. They took the raw files from the camera and converted them into a DNxHD proxy format with a standard rec709 look (which means I don’t need to add a LUT to my timeline in order to preview accurately). I am just doing the edit, so I’m not bothering with any color correction or special effects in premiere.

Screen Shot 2017 09 11 at 10.00.12 AM

The grey “fx” boxes show that I have not applied any effects or color correction to these clips.

If I export in exactly the same format as my source footage, which in this case is DNxHD, then Premiere doesn’t have to render or compress at all. I haven’t added any color correction or effects to my clips, so Premiere can copy my images straight from the original files, which are DNxHD, and paste them into my exported file, which is also DNxHD.

vlcsnap 2017 09 11 09h26m11s159

This is another way to take advantage of premiere’s Smart Rendering feature, but this time we’re only using the Smart Rendering, not the Use Previews feature. When you’re Smart Rendering from your source footage, you can export an entire 10-minute film is a few seconds. It’s that fast.

Again, since we’re using the Smart Render feature, we can only use one of the codecs listed on this page. H.264 files, for instance, will not work with this workflow, but ProRes, DNxHD, and Cineform all work well.

4. Smart Render from Export

Trick #4 is a lot more flexible than the first three. There are no restrictions about your source footage, you don’t need to pre-render the timeline before you export, and it works even if you’re doing lots of effects and color correction in Premiere.

The first time that you export, you have to wait for the normal export. But if you need to make a minor change to the edit and export again, you do a smart render from your first export.

You take the first export and import it back into your project, and then lay it on top of your timeline in a new layer. Then you take the slice tool and cut away whatever portion of the timeline that’s been changed for the second export.

As long as you use the same settings for both exports, Premiere will be able to copy the compressed data straight from your exported file into your second exported file. All that it has to render is what’s changed, and so it exports extremely quickly.

The great thing about this method is that you don’t have to prepare anything first. You didn’t have to remember to pre-render my sequence. You can take advantage of this trick after the fact.

Again, this works with ProRes, DNxHD, Cineform, and all of the codecs listed on this page.

I should note that, in each of these 4 tricks, we care about saving time on the rendering and compression of the video not the audio. Audio is so easy to process compared to video that it’s not worth bothering about. You’ll notice in the image above that I have locked the audio channels and have only added the video portion of my export back onto the timeline, not the audio.

Each of these tricks works nicely with Frame.io’s Premiere Panel, which provides a deep integration into Premiere’s interface and allows you to send your project off to your client or producer for feedback without leaving Premiere. In fact, you can do the entire review process inside of Premiere, since comments come right back into the timeline as markers.

Another way to speed up your Premiere workflow is to be smart about your proxy workflow. We’ve got another in-depth article on proxies in Premiere right here:

7 header image
  • KJ

    Thanks for spreading the knowledge about smart rendering. I wrote this article around 5 years ago: http://blogs.adobe.com/kevinmonahan/tag/smart-rendering/ so it’s not a new feature or anything—just not very discoverable. Once you do figure out how Premiere can export faster, you do all you can to maintain this smart rendering pipeline. Unfortunately, not all editors have the patience, diligence, or foresight to employ these excellent workflow wins. Those that do will surely benefit. I also wrote this FAQ, which may be of some interest to those that want to get even more from smart rendering: https://forums.adobe.com/thread/2122549 Cheers, Kevin Monahan, Support Product Manager, Adobe Digital Video and Audio products.

    • Kevin, please see my comment below. There is suspicion that H.264 doesn’t play this game at all; and there’s lots of substantiation out there. Concrete and provable clarification would be greatly valued.

  • Such a great explanation! Thanks for sharing this insightful introduction.