Fix printing problems with Sibelius, PDFs, and Acrobat


Update: This problem has been fixed in the Sibelius 2023.8 update; however, PDFs generated from Sibelius 2019.12 through 2023.6 will still exhibit this issue and may need the solution described below.

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 All tools, click View more, choose Use print production, and click Preflight. (Earlier versions of Acrobat had this in the menu bar in 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.

  5. Wido Weber

    Glad to find this! I’m having this behavior with Sibelius 8.6 and Adobe Acrobat!

  6. Martha

    Thank you for this blog. I really appreciate it. The instructions were easy and fixed this issue immediately.

  7. Mungo

    Thank you Philip and Robin for the diagnosis and explanation! This was driving me crazy, having recently moved Sibelius from Windows to Mac. However as I only have Acrobat Reader I don’t have access to the Preflight fix described (and £20/month for Pro to be able to print bug-free seems poor value for money). I tried export as Graphics PDF, but the print problems persisted. My only workaround is to print directly from Sibelius. So much for the ‘Portable’ in PDF… I will keep looking for any other workarounds and post here if I have any luck.

    MacBook Air M2, Ventura 13.2.1. Sibelius Ultimate 2023.3.

  8. Mungo

    And the answer is….as posted by Robin Walker in Avid Sibelius Users Facebook group 2 years ago…
    Open the PDF (on Mac) with Preview, not Acrobat Reader. Then it prints ok. Why? Who knows.
    Tip repeated here for the benefit of the desperate :-). All credit is to Robin.

  9. Alex M

    For anyone here after recent Acrobat updates, the Preflight tool is in a different place. I’m using 2023.006.20320, and you have to go to **All Tools** (and probably click **View more**), then **Use print production** > **Preflight**.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Alex! I had noticed this recently. I have updated the post.

      1. Philip Rothman

        I should also note: This problem has been fixed in the Sibelius 2023.8 update; however, PDFs generated from Sibelius 2019.12 through 2023.6 will still exhibit this issue and may need the solution described here.

  10. Gord S

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This has been driving me crazy for a long time, and the workarounds I’ve been using have been yielding spotty results. This is fantastic.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Excellent! For newly-generated PDFs, this problem was finally fixed in the Sibelius 2023.8 update, although PDFs created with earlier versions of Sibelius will still exhibit the problem.

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