Understanding margins in Sibelius


In order to produce a good, consistent and attractive layout, there are many factors you have to consider. First you have to determine page size and staff size, and then from there you need to work out how to ensure there is sufficient white space around the edges of the page, and sufficient distances between staves, to make the layout as clear as possible.

In Sibelius, you set page size, staff size and margins via the Layout > Document Setup dialog, and you set distances between staves using the Staves page of House Style > Engraving Rules.

But if you look at either or both of these dialogs, there are a lot of numbers to tweak. What do they all mean? Read on to find out.

Take a look at the PDF below:

The blue arrows in the PDF show the effect of the values in Layout > Document Setup. A, B, C and D are the page margins, which define the area around the edge of the page into which Sibelius will not by default allow staves to be drawn. These page margins aren’t necessarily the same as your printer’s printable area: there’s no direct relationship between the values in Document Setup and what you’ll see when you print.

E and F are, respectively, the top and bottom staff margins for the first page. The top staff margins is the distance between the top page margin and the top staff line of the top staff of the first system on the page, and the bottom staff margin is the distance between the bottom staff line of the bottom staff of the last system on the page. Set your staff margins such that you have enough room above the top staff for whatever text needs to appear there (e.g. the title at the top of the first page, the copyright text at the bottom of the first page, lyrics below the bottom staff on each page, etc.) without requiring you to drag the top staff on the page downwards.

I and J are the top and bottom staff margins for subsequent pages. These are typically set to smaller values than the staff margins on the first page.

All of the values in Layout > Document Setup are absolute measurements: if you set the page margins to, say, 15mm, those are the margins you’ll get.

The green arrows in the PDF correspond to the various settings on the Staves page of House Style > Engraving Rules. Unlike the values in Document Setup, these values can be changed as a result of vertical justification, which spreads the staves out to fill the full height of the page. As a result, the actual distances in the score may end up larger than the distances you specify in Engraving Rules.

Here’s a close-up of part of the picture:

The distances correspond as follows: 1 is the default distance between staves; 2 is an extra distance between groups of instruments (notice how in the full picture, the vocal staves are bracketed together, and the piano reduction staves are braced together); 3 is an extra distance below a vocal staff (to make room for lyrics); and 4 is an extra distance above staves on which system object positions appear (the tempo instruction appears both above the top vocal staff and the right-hand piano staff). 5 is the distance between systems, which, as you can see from the picture, is the distance most affected by justification.

For further information about layout and formatting in Sibelius, take a look at this earlier post.


  1. Mike Philcox

    Thanks, Daniel! The numeric and alphabetic correlations between the piece of music you have used and the relevant formatting boxes in Sibelius make everything very clear and easy to follow. I will definitely refer back to this outline as needed.

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