Fix printing problems with Sibelius, PDFs, and Acrobat


Sometimes the quiet rumble of a software problem crescendos to a deafening roar and must be confronted directly. Other times it just persists like a faint ostinato that eventually ends because the user has discovered a workaround, but the problem is never fully addressed.

In the latter category, today we tackle the persistent issue of PDFs generated from Sibelius files on a Mac using Sibelius’s File > Export > PDF feature:

The problem

Specifically, the issue, which first appeared beginning with Sibelius 2019.12, arises when printing these PDFs from Adobe Acrobat. The PDF appears correctly on screen and prints fine from Apple’s Preview application, but when printing from Acrobat, the physical print-out is faulty: maybe noteheads are missing, maybe random characters in text strings are replaced by the tofu rectangle of an unassigned character, etc.

This is a typical example of what the resulting printout looks like:


If this problem has afflicted you, you’re not alone; fellow sufferers abound here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and in countless other corners of the internet. Generally the user finds a workaround either by printing from Preview, randomly installing printer drivers until something works, or finding a friend to print or re-export the file.

In many of these instances you’ll notice a familiar name coming to the rescue: Robin Walker, Sibelius expert user and tireless investigator of issues such as this.

He documented the cause of the issue: Using Adobe Reader to print a PDF exported from certain Sibelius versions via the macOS Generic PCL driver results in missing noteheads and text. As he says:

“The major difference between (a) a PDF exported from Sibelius 2019.12 and later; and (b) a PDF exported from Sibelius 2019.9 and before, is that, in 2019.12 and later, embedded fonts are (improperly?) duplicated, with the same name, whereas in 2019.9 and earlier, each distinct font is embedded only once. This duplication of embedded fonts makes the later PDFs physically much larger than the earlier ones, but also appears to trigger the printing problem in Adobe products when using the Generic PCL driver.”

The solution

Robin has also found a reliable fix that works if you have Adobe Acrobat installed.

A PDF which has been exported from Sibelius 2019.12 and later can be “mended” within Adobe Acrobat by going to Edit > Preflight… Choose the library Acrobat Pro DC 2015 Profiles from the dropdown:

Navigate to PDF fixups and select Fix potential font problems. Click Analyze and fix.

Acrobat will prompt you to save the file. You can overwrite your existing file, or, optionally, save a copy if you do not wish to lose the original file, in which case you should give it a different name than the original file.

When you run this profile, no error in the PDF is logged during the fixup, but, as Robin describes, “the resulting saved PDF has all its embedded fonts given unique names (instead of duplicated ones), and this appears to be enough to get printing via the Generic PCL driver to work properly.”

Once again, Robin Walker comes to the rescue here. Of course, the best solution would be for this to be fixed in either Sibelius or Acrobat — whichever seems to be causing the problem — but until then, we are very happy to know of a reliable way to fix the PDF.

If you are responsible for generating PDFs from Sibelius and send them to other people, you may not have a say on how they are printed. If you want to prevent your recipient from having printing problems at the last minute, you may wish to make use of this tip and fix up your PDFs before sending them off. You can use Acrobat’s Create Droplet feature to automate these actions and easily make it a regular part of your routine.

Thanks to Robin and all of the members of the community for helping figure this out.


  1. Bob Hayden-Gilbert

    Acrobat is full of bugs. I use PDF Element and have never experienced any problems.

  2. Nor Eddine Bahha

    I don’t know why people on Windows want to use Adobe Acrobat while there is a freeware that can convert and print to pdf better than Adobe: “PDFCreator” —

    I used to use PDF Creator since 2002 till 2009 when I switched to become a Mac user.

    Adobe Acrobat c’est de l’ancien histoire, à oublier!

  3. Lucy Innes

    Thanks for this. I do use Acrobat and have found that if I export a score as a graphic, and save as pdf, then it seems to print OK.

  4. Susan Politz

    Robin Walker has become just as much a guru as Bob Zawalich. Thank you to both for all your help over a long period of time via this blog and the facebook group.

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