Use graphics as symbols in Sibelius, and define them as custom articulations


In Sibelius, you can import and use graphics directly in your score, a feature first introduced in Sibelius 7. These graphics can be placed anywhere in the music as benign objects, for which the color, rotation, size and even drawing order can be adjusted from right within Sibelius. This alone is terrific, but you can even make a graphic more powerful by importing it into your score as a symbol, and then making that symbol into an articulation, with all the benefits that entails, such as mass placement, automatic positioning, definition in playback, and more.

First, I encourage you to read this excellent blog post by our colleague Robert Puff to get acquainted with these features, especially the section “Using graphics and symbols.” I also recommend Daniel Spreadbury’s video tutorial on creating composite symbols (which was available in Sibelius 6 as well).

Now that you’re an expert from reading Robert’s blog and watching Daniel’s video, you can take these ideas even further and make your new custom symbol into an articulation.

There are three unused spaces on the fourth Keypad layout:

KeypadTo these you can assign articulations corresponding to three spaces in the Articulations rows of Edit Symbols:


Articulations will stack in order from left to right as shown in the symbols dialog: staccato at the bottom, the pauses at the top. So you should consider where you want your new articulation to be relative to staccatos, bowings, pauses etc., and choose the location (1, 2 or 3) accordingly.

To get here, access the Edit Symbols dialog by clicking dialog launcher button in the Notations > Symbols group on the Ribbon.

Then, scroll to the Articulations rows and click in the “above” space for Custom Articulation 1 (it will highlight in light blue, as above).

Click Edit… to bring up this dialog:

Edit Symbols

From here, you can either import a new graphic symbol as Robert has described, or, if you wish to use an existing symbol (whether it is one already included in Sibelius, or one that you have created using a graphic or the composite method), click Add…

From there, you can choose any existing symbol in the document, including ones you have created yourself. Click OK and then set its default position using the arrows. Click OK again. You will also want to create a corresponding “below” articulation, though in most cases these are actually the same symbol instead of inverted versions.

Finally, define automatic positioning parameters for your new articulation by going to Appearance > Engraving Rules and clicking Articulation on the left-hand menu. You will notice that your new articulation actually appears in the Engraving Rules dialog (although the Keypad does not update).

You can even define playback properties for your custom articulations by going to Play > Dictionary and clicking the Articulations tab. You will see options for your Custom Articulations 1, 2 and 3 in the left-hand menu.


  1. Mimi Mansky

    Thanks for sending instructions on the capabilities of the keypad; it is very helpful.

  2. John Hinchey

    Great post!

  3. Jeremy Hughes


    Don’t know what happened to other comment…

    It might be worth mentioning that the articulations will stack in order from left to right as shown in the symbols dialog: staccato at the bottom, the pauses at the top.

    So you should consider where you want your new articulation to be relative to staccatos, bowings, pauses etc., and choose the location (1, 2 or 3) accordingly.


  4. Philip Rothman

    I couldn’t have said it better myself, Jeremy — I have added this to the post. Thanks!

  5. Alexander Plötz

    As long as we are discussing this kind of details: when setting up custom symbols one should also consider that the three slots react differently in regards to the settings in “Engraving Rules>Articulation” where you have several options for how staccatos will be centered on the head or note ends and in relation to other articulations. If I remember correctly, the first symbol will be considered a staccato by Sibelius (as far as this particular positioning sub-rule is concerned), the other two won’t. It generall pays off to experiment a bit beforehand with a new custom symbol, trying it out in different contexts and in combination with other keypad articulations. Otherwise one might end up realizing that there is a problem with the settings only when already in the thick of a complex project.

  6. Philip Rothman

    Yes, I believe that was the point Jeremy was making in his earlier comment.

  7. Alexander Plötz

    No, Jeremy’s comment was about in which order different articulations appear vertically when stacked. But the rule that I meant affects the horizontal position of articulations and is quite more subtle (and therefore much more easy to miss).

  8. Philip Rothman

    Ah, I understand. Yes, that’s correct. Thanks for clarifying. The first custom articulation is affected by the same settings which control horizontal placement of staccatos, as you said. This is set in Appearance>Engraving Rules>Articulation>Horizontal Position.

  9. Philip

    I am trying to create a time signature in parenthesis as a graphic, because it needs to appear at unusual points in the score. I seem to be able to create the first number “2” from the listed characters in the music font. I can add both paretheses, but can’t seem to add the number “4” below the 2 because it is not listed in symbols, and I don’t seem to be able to add more than one character to the new graphic. What am I doing wrong??

  10. Tim Whalen

    Thanks for this. I have a question. I’ve made 2 custom articulations for a rip and a doit (squiggly lines).

    How do I set magnetic layout to off for those symbols?

    I can’t seem to find the symbols I made in the magnetic layout menu.

  11. Hannes Kerschbaumer

    Is it somehow possible to customize for example the Jazz-articulations of the keypad? I never use them and would like to have microtonal symbols instead (48-EDO).

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