When it comes to printing out sheet music, there are a lot of considerations to make. How many pages, how often, what paper sizes are you using etc. Beyond that, there are dozens of printers that may work for your needs. In this blog, I wanted to go over the important factors that determine what printer would work best for your situation and when you may want to consider upgrading your printer (or, shameless plug, use a music printer like Engraver’s Mark Music).
For the sake of simplifying my recommendations a bit, I am only going to focus on desktop laser printers. I have never found any inkjet printer that did a good job, beyond maybe just a few pages of printing here and there. To me, they cost too much and are too slow for the job.
The most important consideration in choosing a printer is the size of the paper you intend to print. Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. Here in the US, we tend to print the vast majority of our documents on two different page sizes: 1) letter size (8.5in x 11in) and 2) legal size (8.5in x 14in). The rest of the world uses slightly different page sizes, but most have a close equivalent to these two pages sizes.
Given that letter and legal page sizes are the standard in this country, just about any printer you find at an office supply store (like Staples) or online will print these two page sizes and a fair amount of other preset page sizes that are smaller. Any laser printer you can find will do a decent job printing these page sizes and most will give you speeds up to 25-30 pages printed per minute. If this is the only page sizes you intend to print for your music, then a standard laser printer will be fine, and you should have no major issues. (more on this in a bit if you have a large printing volume)
However, if you want to go beyond the 8.5in page width, then things get a bit trickier. Since most standard laser printers can only handle page widths up to 8.5in, if you want to print page sizes like 9x12, 10x13, 11x17, etc., you must upgrade to a different level of printer. And this jump comes with a significant price increase. You can find regular laser printers by the dozens from $100-200 all day; not so with printers that can handle these larger page sizes. Most of the desktop printers (and I use the term loosely here since most of these printers weigh over 50lbs and are a good bit larger than your regular laser printer) that can handle these larger page sizes range from the cheapest I’ve found starting at around $1,200 all the way up to $3,000+. Definitely a sticker shock if you are used to purchasing a $200 or less printer every few years.
The best option (IMO) by far in this desktop printer range is the Ricoh SP 6430dn.
(Side note, I really like the previous version of this printer, Ricoh SP6330n as well if you can find one used.)
They are getting a bit harder to find, but you can usually get one for around $1,200 (last I checked). These can print up 37 pages per minute letter size (all printers are rated on their letter size page rate when it comes to speed of printing), handle page sizes up to 11x17 and has a host of other good features. I absolutely love this printer; I have 2 of them! The toner and drum cartridges have a long lifespan (usually around 10k pages or more), and the print quality is truly excellent. There are other options from HP that I know other people have used, but compared to this Ricoh, they are more than twice as expensive to purchase and way more expensive to maintain. I just do not see any advantage in the HP printers compared to this Ricoh. Ricoh makes some of the best professional, commercial, and industrial printers in the world so this unit is truly a workhorse and the quality and versatility for the price cannot be beat.
The next consideration to make in choosing a printer for your sheet music is the weight of the paper you intend to use. Again, if you plan on using standard copy paper you can buy just about anywhere (which, honestly, is crap) then just use a standard laser printer. However, you will find the quality of the paper and the quality of the printer you use will show in how your music looks on the page. Without getting into a deep dive on the crazy world of paper weights (trust me, I did and even for me, it can be boring to say the least), you should be using higher quality paper for you sheet music, especially if you plan on using it for rehearsals and performances. Standard copy paper is too thin, translucent, and just will not hold up well to repeated use. Check out the MOLA recommendations for paper weight (page 6 of this document) and you’ll see what I mean. Here are Engraver’s Mark Music, the lightest paper weight we use is 70lb text weight, which is far superior to anything you can buy off the shelf at an office supply store. Generally, you cannot find the quality of paper we use anywhere unless you work with a commercial paper supplier (like we do). If you value your music, then it should be printed on paper that reflects that. Regular printers will not hold up as well or provide as high-quality printing on thicker paper since those machines just are not built for that. Keep that in mind.
The last issue to think about is how much printing you are planning on doing. If all you plan on doing is printing out a few pages here are there for practicing charts or lead sheets, then a standard laser printer is fine. Once you start printing out larger quantities other considerations come into play. First, think if you really need to print something. There are dozens of iPad apps or other options that might work fine for you or a small ensemble. Save some trees!
If you are printing out music for a larger work for a larger ensemble, then consider how much time it will take to print all those pages and the cost in toner and other parts. The standard laser printers you can buy off the shelf do a good job printing (usually) but are slower and have a much higher cost to print each page in terms of toner costs and other parts than a more expensive printer may have. Once you start printing hundreds or even thousands of pages, the cost difference becomes noticeable. Also, most of the regular printers are designed to wear out much faster than a professional machine; you may find yourself replacing entire printers just as often as someone else with a professional machine replaces toner cartridges. Our main printer here at the shop (a Konica-Minolta commercial machine) has a monthly duty cycle (meaning what the manufacturer expects the workload to be) of over 200,000 pages per month!
These are just some things to consider as you think about printing your music. If you have any questions, please contact me and I would be happy to go over any details with you. Engraver’s Mark Music has the high-quality paper, printers and binding options (even more than what I mentioned here) that your music deserves; let us show you how the best paper, printing and binding can bring your music to a whole new level!
Sammy Sanfilippo, CEO of Engraver's Mark Music