printing - and how it's impacted by choices in Layout > Page Settings

• Jun 29, 2015 - 14:55

How do most MuseScore users choose to print out their scores? As .mscz files directly from MuseScore? Or as converted .pdf files? Or perhaps using some other method or process?

I've long wondered about this - and the extent to which it's a consideration in our choices for margin settings and Staff Space within the Layout > Page Settings. While WYSIWYG nominally means 'what you see is what you get', it doesn't necessarily follow that what you see on screen is what you'll get when you print as concerns empty space around the actual music.

I have always chosen to create a PDF, specifically because it always offers the option to Fit or Shrink or Scale according to the capabilities of any given printer. For this reason, I have also created all my scores using the smallest left and right margins possible in order to utilize the largest possible workspace within MuseScore without reducing the Staff Space setting in Page Settings > Scaling.

However, I've noticed that margins in scores created by others - especially left and right margins - are more generous, and I find similar default settings in various templates. The model seems to be making the score as displayed in MuseScore resemble how it's intended to appear on the printed page. But doesn't this approach generally result in both unneeded white space on the printed output and the actual musical content being shrunk unnecessarily?

I guess what I'm asking is what other users are doing that efficiently maximizes the area available for notation in MuseScore while simultaneously minimizing the effect of fitting/shrinking/scaling on the printed page that is ultimately obtained by whichever manner one uses to print. How do other experienced users balance the adjustments possible to margins and Staff Space in a way that will create the most readable printed product, whether for themselves or for other users who may be using an unknown array of printers or printing methods to obtain a physical copy of the score?

I haven't yet shared scores on, and my own lack of clarity on this topic is actually one of the things that has been holding me back.


My current setup does not allow me to print directly from the computer on which I run MuseScore - it's a Chromebook running Linux under a chroot environment and the printing services are very unreliable, or I haven't figured out out how to get them to work reliably. So I am always generating PDF and printing those via another device that can talk to my printer.

I always set my margins according to how I want them to actually look on the printed page. I can't imagine wanting to deal with the hassles of doing it any other way. Also, occasionally I might want some markings into those margins - not an uncommon thing, actually. When printing the PDF, I always set it to print "as is", and my printed page looks just like it does on screen, and just like it would if I printed directly.

In general, I believe printing adds extra margins only when the page size of the document is different from that of the paper being used. If they are both set to the same size, then it should print with exactly the same margins as it appears on screen.

I suppose it is also possible that you have a global setting which instructs your print utility to always add extra margins, but if so, you can probably disable it.

In reply to by Isaac Weiss

Thanks for the answers so far. I'll try to clarify my concern and, finally, ask a more direct question. (Please bear with me, as I know that my writing style tends to be verbose. I truly do value economy, but the need to be precise requires as many words as it takes.)

A fundamental limitation of printers in general is that they cannot - in my experience and to the best of my knowledge - print right up to the edge of a sheet of paper, and the degree of limitation can be predicted to vary for any given model of printer. Therefore, setting smaller margins than a printer can handle - or even positioning a page number or other content in a header or footer that is too close to the edge - will, by necessity, mean margins must get added where necessary to prevent content from being cut off. That's easy enough to handle when printing a PDF, but the inevitable result is overall shrinkage, however slight, of the printed content on that page.

Another fundamental limitation for all re-engravers is that we are typically working from scores formatted on 9x12 paper while our own printed output will almost certainly be on letter-sized or A4 paper. Even if our ultimate goal doesn't include precisely replicating the layout of the original score in our own finished product, we might wish to match the system breaks as an interim measure to facilitate proofreading. And if one wishes to get a comparable amount of musical content on each system as typically appears in a published score - and if one uses the default margin settings in MuseScore's templates - the default Staff Spacing of .069"/1.764mm is definitely too large, at least for my own needs with the type of piano music that I am notating.

I am just trying to understand and decide on the most practical trade-off between margins and Staff Spacing that balances my primary concerns for (1) maximum readability (such nothing is smaller than it need be), and (2) fitting the most music possible on every system without cramping or crowding. I know I could figure out acceptable solutions for myself by lots of trial and error, but I guessed that others must have already gone down this path and might be willing to share. And, of course, if only 9x12 were a standard paper size - and if all printers could print right up to all four edges of any sized paper - this whole issue wouldn't even exist!

So ... assuming one wants to set up a page layout in MuseScore to print 'exactly as is' (which I agree is an intuitive and sensible goal) - and assuming that the default margins in MuseScore's own templates are intended to facilitate this goal - what have users found to be the optimal setting for Staff Spacing?

In reply to by stevebob

I guess I still don't follow. Yes, most printers won't print all the way to the edge of the page, but the physical margins they leave is much smaller than any reasonable margin you would want to appear, and should be subsumed within the amrgin you set up in MuseScore. That is, for all practical purposes, the printer's physical amrgin is irrelevant. If specify a 1" margin in MuseScore (or any other software), you should get a 1" margin on the page, not 1" plus whatever the printer's physical margin is. At least, I've always assumed this to be true.

Optimal setting for staff space to me is an entirely unrelated and subjective matter. To me, the defaults are actually good for most music. If you have some specific requirement - like trying to reproduce 9x12" music on 8.5x11" paper with the same layout, then the staff space that will work best would be whatever it was in the music you are copying, multiplied by a ratio that describes the change in usable page size, after accounting for margins. So if the original was, say, 1.6mm, and you have calculated that your usable page size is 90% of that of the original, then you want a staff space of 1.6 * 0.90.

I don't see how any more general answers would be useful. It's going to be context-dependent.

In reply to by stevebob

As Marc noted, the printer's unprintable area at the edges is very small for most printers; for instance with the printer I normally use (an Epson Stylus Office B110), which is a rather conventional ink jet printer, the unprintable area is almost 0 at the top, less than 5mm at the sides and less than 1cm at the bottom: hardly an area you would normally want to print into.

And anyway, the margins of the forme you end up with in your engraving should overlap the unprintable area, not add to it.

With some exceptions; for instance, I discovered that Acrobat Reader, when told to print in booklet format (i.e. for instance including 2 A5 pages in an A4 sheet or 2 A4 pages in an A3 sheet), formats the pair of whole pages -- margins included -- to stay within the unprintable area, actually adding the margins of each of the two formes to the printer's unprintable area. By contrast, if the imposed forme is created externally (with some tool) and submitted to Acrobat Reader a a single page, it does print it overlapping the forme margins to the unprintable area. If this is your case, I believe there is no way around, except creating the imposed forme prior to printing.

About size and scale settings; this is my usual work-flow for transcriptions or copied material. It is worth noting that the great majority of my work is made of transcription of XVI - XVIII c. music, often from part booklets, where the relation with the original layout is usually irrelevant.

1) I do the initial note entry with whatever default I happen to stumble upon: it may be the MuseScore defaults for a score entirely from scratch or the settings of a previous, similar score or template.

2) However, I usually check that the margins are set to 15mm top, left and right and 20mm bottom on an A4 page size. These are values I experimentally found to be as tight as possible to fit as much stuff in each page as possible, while still leaving some room for marginal annotations during rehearsals.

3) Once the note entry is over and the size of stuff reasonably known, I usually reduce the in-system staff distance, for which the MuseScore default seems to me a bit generous, to 6sp or 5.5sp (it greatly depends on the music style and on the amount of out-of-staff indications, though).

4) Finally, I try to fit in each single page (or in each pair of facing pages) the majority of the material I want it to fit. I do this by increasing (in little steps) the "Style | General | Measure | Measure spacing" value, if there is unused page room to reclaim and/or by decreasing the "Layout | Page Settings | Staff space" value if things need to be made more compact. I tolerate some occasional overflow: the single system which does not fit for just one measure or similar; these are corrected with "Layout | Decrease stretch".

5) The best possible result is when the above steps results in each system, each page and each facing page pair containing the desired material "by themselves"; this is usually impossible and manual line or page breaks are often necessary to force the desired page layout.

As rules of thumbs, I try to remain within these limits:

Staff spacing: 1.45mm - 1.7mm for consort music; 1.7 - 1.8 for solo parts.
Measure spacing: 1.2 - 1.4
Stretch: never go below 0.8 and only very exceptionally go below 0.9.

I you have time to spend, you may check the settings of a number of scores I made with MuseScore at

Hoping it helps,


In reply to by Miwarre

Thanks very much for the additional comments, as they've genuinely helped me think this topic through (including recognition that I've been overthinking it to a considerable degree).

I do now plan to start building my desired margins into my MuseScore files, which - because my goal generally is to fit approximately the same amount of content into a system as would appear in a traditionally engraved 9x12 score - will necessitate changing the Staff Space setting to something smaller.

Still, I don't have a clear idea of how much smaller I will need to make it - or, better stated, what's the largest value I'll be able to get away with that's closest to the customary default of 1.764mm. And though the amount in question will be minute, this is another of those things that invites me to overthink! After all, consider that MuseScore gives us the ability to make adjustments as minuscule as 1/1000 of a millimeter - but I wonder if, in practice, an alteration of even 1/10 of a millimeter could be perceptible to the eye. I may go with 1.65mm simply because it translates to .065", which is both tidy and easy to remember.

Any further input - whether fact-focused like Marc's or depicting personal workflow like Miwarre's ... or of a different nature altogether - is eagerly welcomed if others here have something to add.

In reply to by stevebob

"I don't have a clear idea of how much smaller I will need to make it".

There is a rather easy way to find out: enter a page worth of music (or better, several pages to average upon) of your source, with default settings (you probably already have them). Then modify the staff spacing until the amount of music in n pages of MuseScore matches n pages of your source.

This would give a practical rule of thumb to work with, which would also take into account other elements affecting spacing, like width of note heads, or accidentals, blank space between bar line and first measure note and between last measure note and closing bar line and so on. Variations of each of this element may be minuscule from one engraving style to another, but each -- accumulated over many notes and several measure -- may account for the extra millimeter which forces one measure less (or more) on many systems and may result in significant difference in fitting.

In this quest, I suggest not to aim for exact reproduction of each individual system, but rather for 'en mass equivalence' (if I can express myself so). Should a specific score, or a specific engraving project, require precise reproduction of a given layout, this usually require many small adjustments of several parameters in many points and seems a subsequent step.

A side note: If, as it seems from your comments, you are after a somehow deep(er) understanding of layout working and 'rules', it may be worth approaching your sources with a somehow questioning mind: is the layout 'they' realized the best possible? Can I do better? How? Are system break the best possible? Why so (or why NOT so)? And so on.

According to my experience, the models with the best average quality tend to be scores engraved several decades ago, roughly speaking around mid XX c., when the technology was already highly refined but the computer aided engraving was yet to come. There are of course important exceptions, but the advent of music notation software did led to a proliferation of scores engraved too casually, with little attention both to the details and to the overall effect.


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