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!
There is a tendency in just about everyone’s career as a freelance person or small business owner to try and be “everything for everyone”. We are always tempted to say, “Yes, I can handle that”, when that may not always be true. Yes, we should use the opportunities that customers provide us to learn more and grow in our capabilities, but there is a time and place to realize that maybe your company is not the most suitable option for an aspect of a project or possibly, the project entirely.
This mentality of always advocating what is best for the client is a hallmark of any service-based business. At Engraver’s Mark Music we are first and foremost a service-based business. We did not design the software or build the printers we use; we are a service, in service of the needs of our clients to help them achieve their success. As a service-first company, we provide solutions to the challenges our clients face. Sometimes, that solution lies outside our business.
I recently had the pleasure of getting to know a new client and explore some possibilities for future work. Mainly, this client was looking for a partner to assist with music preparation for scoring sessions and independent projects, which is something Engraver’s Mark Music does every day. However, at the onset, this client needed the skills of an orchestrator. To be honest, it was a tempting decision - to put myself forward as an orchestrator (in order to take on more work), or to put the needs of the client first. While I do possess the skills to orchestrate, that did not necessarily mean I was the best option for my new client and the needs of this project.
So, what did I do? I referred this project over to David Shipps and his team at DAS Music Group. The client really needed the expertise and knowledge of someone dedicated to orchestration, not just music preparation. David is a world-class orchestrator (check out his IMDB), and I have been privileged to partner with him and the entire DAS Music Group team for many years on a wide variety of projects. I wanted my client to have the best experience regarding orchestration, and that meant I needed to give this project to another company who I felt could ensure precisely that. With David and his team in the lead, I knew that my client had the right people in the right places to make the project a success.
For a client, the goal is to trust your service provider not to lead you astray. Can you trust them enough to send you to someone else? While it may seem counterintuitive, your most reliable service provider might very well be the one who tells you to call someone else. That is the guy you can really trust. Can you trust the people you call like that?
The success of Engraver’s Mark Music relies not only on the expertise and capabilities we have and continue to refine, but on the success of our clients and their projects. The success of the project and the client must come before our own. Even in those moments when I am passing my client off to another service provider, I feel that focusing on the client’s needs first and foremost will always turn out best for me in the end as well.
If you need some help with music preparation and printing, Engraver’s Mark Music is here for you. If you need help with orchestrating, I strongly encourage you to contact David Shipps and his team at DAS Music Group. If you are not sure what you need, please contact me and I will be honored to help walk you through any questions or ideas you have. At Engraver’s Mark Music, our service-based business is in service to the needs of our clients and finding the best solutions for them no matter where they are.
So, in my previous post I mentioned the basic tech you needed for music engraving (click here if you have not read that blog). Now, I wanted to give you a bit more insight into the specific tech (mostly hardware, but some software) that we use here at Engraver’s Mark Music. These tools have changed and transformed over the years as the music notation programs we use and the demands of the industry have changed.
Without further ado, here we go:
1. Elgato StreamDeck – this is such a good tool, whether you are using it in conjunction with programs like JetStream (for Finale, see my blog post on that particular program here) or Notation Express (for Sibelius and Dorio) or just using it as a trigger for your own custom hotkeys or macros, it can really open up new options and workflows. There are so many possibilities depending on how you are using each program that it can be intimidating, but it is worth the effort to think through your workflows and how a tool like this could help eliminate steps or dozens of mouse clicks. Get one and have some fun with it!
2. Keyboard – not your midi keyboard, I mean your actual computer keyboard. This might seem like a very small detail, but if you’re going to be spending hours and hours a day using it, it should be a good one. I recommend getting a gaming keyboard that suits your style and feels comfortable. Yes, they are bit more expensive than just a standard external keyboard, but the build quality, sensitivity of the keys and the ability to customize functions and keys is worth it. I use a Microsoft Sidewinder X4 keyboard (not the newest version, but still functions fine for my purposes). I also prefer a wired keyboard (more on that in just a bit). The Sidewinder has a great feel, very rugged build and tons of other features. Again, if you are going to be using something all day, make sure it is high quality. This keyboard certainly is.
3. Mouse – as with the keyboard, this tool should also be another place where you invest in quality and really take your time finding the right one the fits your hand. It is no fun at all to have constant wrist pain because you chose a poor mouse that didn’t fit your hand. I have gone through probably half a dozen mice over the years, from basic ones to high end gaming mice. Again, I would recommend using a gaming mouse; they are better built, customizable and generally have a host of other features that make them much more useful than a standard 2 button mouse. I use a Redragon m901 Perdition gaming mouse and could not be happier. It has customizable weights, and 18 programable buttons. I use these to set up custom hotkey triggers for different often used functions in either Finale or Sibelius. That way, I do not even have to take my hand off the mouse to reach for a button on my StreamDeck; I have so many additional functions literally at my fingertips.
4. USB Switch – as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we use PCs and Macs here at Engraver’s Mark Music. On one particular project, I had to use Finale and Sibelius, on both PC and Mac (that’s right, 4 different programs essentially) simultaneously as there were multiple composers and orchestrators who all had their own systems. Man did my brain go nuts trying to remember all the key combinations and shortcuts across all those different platforms. The nice thing with this switch is that I can use the same mouse, keyboard, midi keyboard and my StreamDeck with both my PC and Mac, switching between the two machines with a simple press of a button. I even reprogrammed a few keys on my Mac Mini to mimic the same keys as my PC, so I do not have to remember completely different sets of shortcuts. Another simple tool that allows me to adjust to any system my clients have with literally the press of a button.
5. Bulk Rename Utility (PC) and Renamer (Mac) – these two files renaming programs are super powerful. When you have a large project, there can literally be hundreds or thousands of files to manage. Having a consist file naming system is critical. These two programs allow you to do multiple file name changes to any number of files simultaneously, saving potential hours of time. This has been especially helpful for me with different publishing companies we work with and having to update older files.
As with all new tech, or “new to you” tech, there can be a learning curve and it may feel like a step backwards. Remember, sometimes the benefits of a new workflow or piece of equipment do not show up immediately. Take your time and see what truly works for you. The benefits might not only be in time saved doing a specific task but may show up later in a project where now you have new options and workflows available to you because of an adjustment you made early on. Good luck and enjoy some new tools in the New Year!
I get asked a lot about what tools or tech we use here in the shop at Engraver’s Mark Music or requests from new music engravers, orchestrators and alike about what tools they need in their office to get up to speed. Well, there are a lot of different resources, how-to’s, and opinions out there on what you need or what is worth your time and money. What works best for you may not work as well or be as valuable to others (see my review of the JetStream Finale controller for a fine example of what I mean).
What I can say is after 15+ years of music engraving, editing and printing, there are some important/essential tools that I feel anyone in this field should have. It’s actually not that much so don’t get too concerned! If you want a blog about the different music sample libraries to spend thousands of dollars on, this is not it.
Ok, so here’s my list of essential tools for everyone:
These tools are really all the basics that you need. There are dozens of other tools and tech you can get into like the Elgato StreamDeck, Keyboard Maestro, AutoHotKey, and others that can make you more efficient “power-user” for Finale, Sibelius or Dorico. Again, all these tools are great and provide amazing functionality, but they are not essential.
In addition to these tools, here are some of the digital resources I follow to help me learn more about the latest ideas and tools in the industry:
As part of your New Year’s Resolutions, check out all these different resources and tips and try some new ideas and tech! This is a great time to evaluate your workflows and make the changes that will save you time and frustration.
If you need any help or advice, get in touch with us here and we will be happy to assist and guide you. Also, if you are interested in one-on-one Finale instruction, we offer custom tailored lessons to your specific needs for $30 per half-hour, or $50 per hour. Just reach out to us and we will take care of everything!
Sammy Sanfilippo, CEO of Engraver's Mark Music