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How to add custom overlays and alerts to your livestream

We walk you through the process of adding pop-ups to engage your community

A mockup shows an alert overlay on top of a PS5 dashboard with Hollow Knight artwork in the background Illustration: Ben Gonzalez for Polygon

A decent camera, mic, and working knowledge of OBS software is all you need to start a stream. But turning your stream into an interactive show is another step that will invite your viewers to cheer, donate, and follow along with you. Luckily, there are a few easy options for streamers looking to make streams more engaging, and they require little to no prior experience.

Stream alerts are the onscreen notifications that appear when a viewer interacts with a stream in some way. If someone donates, for instance, an alert naming the viewer and donation amount will pop up, often with a sound effect and gif. Alerts are an easy addition to engage with your audience: Viewers get to feel like they’re a part of the show when their donations, follows, and subscriptions get recognized. And the visuals and sounds you use for alerts are easily customizable, and can match your stream’s aesthetic or sense of humor.

Stream alerts typically consist of an image, a short audio clip, and a message that describes what a viewer did. Many streams use animated gifs for images, which gives the alert a more dynamic feel. If you haven’t already, think about how you want the alerts to add to your stream’s identity. If you have custom overlays and a logo, it tends to look consistent if your alerts match the same color palette or aesthetic. Maybe there’s a funny, four-second audio or video clip that captures the essence of your streaming persona that you can use. Get creative with it, and choose audio and video that speaks to your stream’s personality.

If you’d rather find premade visual/audio alerts and are willing to spend some money, Nerd or Die has a strong collection of alerts and overlay packages that vary from around $10 to $30. Some packages also provide instructions on how to implement them into your OBS software easily. But don’t feel like you need to spend money to create great stream alerts — a simple image with audio can be just as effective as a professionally-designed alert, and can be catered more specifically to your stream.

Stream alerts are provided by a number of free third-party services, which are largely similar. This guide will cover two different stream alert services: Streamlabs, which is a little more beginner-friendly, and StreamElements, which provides a few more options. Both work with livestreaming on Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook Live. If you’re looking for fast and easy, go with Streamlabs. If you have a specific image for your alerts that Streamlabs can’t fulfill, then give StreamElements a try.

Best stream alerts for beginners: Streamlabs

Streamlabs is the most popular choice for stream alerts, and for good reason. It provides one of the most user-friendly experiences for beginner streamers, with a quick and easy setup. This option is perfect if you only need a simple image + audio stream alert, or if you’re new to stream alerts and overlays. Here’s how to set it up.

  • First, go to the Streamlabs Login Page and connect either your Twitch, YouTube, or Facebook Live account.
  • Once you connect your account, Streamlabs will likely advertise its premium plan, which you don’t need for alerts. Select the free Starter plan, then click Continue when it asks you to download Streamlabs OBS.
  • You’ll now have the opportunity to set up a donation page, which viewers can use to send you tips through PayPal. If you’d like to set that up now, enter your PayPal email address, then click Continue, and then Finish Setup (you can always find this option later, under Settings > Donation Settings).
  • You’ll now be at the Streamlabs dashboard. All the settings you need will be found on the left bar. To set up alerts, go to Alert Box.
The Streamlabs dashboard shows where to adjust alerts
The Streamlabs alert box shows how to adjust alerts
  • This page is where you’ll find all the settings for your stream alerts. Here, in the General Settings tab, you can set the layout of the alert, delay time between alerts, and any profanity filters you’d like to add.
  • To edit the alerts for specific events (e.g. donations, subscribers), select the appropriate tab. These tabs will look different depending on which platform you’re connected to. As pictured above, for YouTube, there is a tab for Super Chat alerts. For Twitch, there will be a tab for Cheers. To demonstrate a tab relevant to all platforms, we’ll look at the Donations tab.
The Streamlabs donations page allows you to edits alert settings
  • This is where you will edit what the alert will actually look like. In the Image section of the page, click on the small box with an arrow in it to upload your custom alert image. Keep in mind that these can be animated gifs! To change the sound effect of the alert, do the same thing next to Sound, right under the Image section.
  • You can also change the template of the alert message itself. Next to Message Template, change the text, but make sure to keep the {name} and {amount} indicators to display who donated.
  • Repeat this process with whichever alerts you’d like to use. Simply click on the tab for one of the other alerts to change its image and sound. If there are any actions you do not want alerts to pop up for, go to that tab and click Disabled at the top of those settings.
  • To test your alerts to see how they look and sound, click the Launch button near the top of the page, next to the Widget URL.
In Streamlabs, you can test your alerts with the launch button
  • By default, this will open a pop-up window with a green background. You can then click on any of the test buttons on the Streamlabs window (the ones right under the Launch button) to see what an alert of that type would look like.

Adding Streamlabs alerts to your stream

Once your alert is customized to your liking, it’s time to add it to your stream. These instructions will differ slightly, depending on which OBS software you use to stream.

Conveniently, Streamlabs OBS provides a built-in source for Streamlabs alerts. When adding a new source in Streamlabs OBS, select Alert Box under Widgets. Then position the box wherever you would like the alerts to appear on your stream. Voila! Your alerts are all set up. If you change any alerts settings back on Streamlabs, there’s no need to edit anything on your OBS; it will automatically update.

If you use OBS Studio, or another OBS software, there is one extra step to setting up your alerts. Back on the Streamlabs alerts options, right next to the Launch button we used earlier is the Copy button for your widget URL. Click that to copy the URL to your clipboard. Now in OBS Studio, add a new source and select Browser.

In OBS Studio, the browser page allows you to enter your widget URL

An options box will appear. Next to URL, paste the widget URL you copied from your Streamlabs settings. Click OK, and your alert box will be added to your stream. Position it wherever you would like alerts to appear onstream. If you then change any alerts settings back on Streamlabs, there’s no need to edit anything on your OBS; it will automatically update.

Best customizable stream alerts: StreamElements

StreamElements alerts are slightly more complex to set up, but they provide more options for customizing your overlay. Rather than providing an individual alert widget like Streamlabs, StreamElements allows you to fit multiple widgets into a big overlay, which can then be linked to your stream. Here’s how.

  • First, login to the StreamElements website by connecting your Twitch, YouTube, or Facebook Live account.
The StreamElements dashboard page allows various alert options
  • Once logged in, you’ll see a dashboard screen. On the left, click My Overlays.
  • Next, click the New Overlay button at the top of the screen, which will bring you to a page to edit your new overlay. StreamElements will ask you which resolution you want for the overlay. The default 1080p will be fine for our purposes.
  • At the top-left of the editor, you can change the name of the overlay to whatever you like. This will be helpful in case you want to set up multiple overlays.
In StreamElements, the Alert Box page offers a variety of customization options
  • On the left, click Add Widget > Alerts > AlertBox. This adds the alert widget to the top left of the overlay. The size of the editor is the size of your stream, so position the alert box wherever you want it to appear, either by dragging it or by using the Position, Size and Style menu on the left.
  • Under the Settings menu on the left, you’ll find that you can toggle alerts for different actions, such as donations, subscriptions, etc. These will look different depending on which platform you’re streaming on. To edit the appearance of the alert, click on the gear icon next to one of the alert types.
The gears on the right on StreamElements’ settings section open up various options
  • Here, you can upload your own images and sounds for the alert, as well as the layout. The other settings further down will allow further fine-tuning of the text and animation appearance.
  • One benefit of StreamElements is that it also allows you to make several variations of the same alert. To do so, click on Variations Settings, and add a new variation. This is perfect if you want a random pool of different alert images or sounds for the same alert type.
  • To test any of your alerts, simply click Emulate at the bottom of the overlay editor, then choose which alert you would like to try.
  • You may have noticed the large variety of widgets available on the editor when you click the blue plus button at the bottom of the editor. This is the other benefit of StreamElements — a comprehensive overlay system. You can add multiple widgets, such as subscriber counts or chat boxes, into one overlay, and add all of it into your stream at once.
  • When you’re done with your overlay, make sure to click Save in the top-right, otherwise the overlay won’t appear properly on your stream!

Adding StreamElements alerts to your stream

Connecting your StreamElements alerts to your stream is relatively simple, and will be basically the same no matter which OBS software you use.

Back on the StreamElements alerts overlay editor, at the top right corner of the screen is a link button for your overlay URL. Click that to copy the URL to your clipboard. Now in your OBS, add a new source and select Browser.

In OBS Studio, the browser page allows you to enter your widget URL

An options box will appear. Next to URL, paste the widget URL you copied from StreamElements. Click OK, and your alert box will be added to your stream. If you change any alerts settings back on StreamElements, there’s no need to edit anything on your OBS; it will automatically update.