Using font sizes in wildcards (or: Geeking out in Sibelius)


In this Scoring Notes article called Add text formatting changes to Score Info and plug-ins, it discusses using special formatting wildcards to change text formatting, particularly in the File > Info area, where you do not have access to the bold and italic commands from the Ribbon or menus.

I would like to discuss the font size wildcard, defined as:

\sheight\ – set the font size to height x 1/32nd spaces (e.g. \s64\ to set font height to two spaces)

I will explain how to reset the font size to the default, and how to convert a font size in points into units of spaces, so it can be used with the wildcard.

Resetting the font size to the default for the text style

If you change the font size with the \sheight\ wildcard, and then want to return to the original font size you can use another \sheight\ wildcard, but it is often simpler to use the \f\ wildcard. This is documented in the Sibelius Reference as “ \f\ – change to the text style’s default font”, but in fact it restores both the default font and default font size for the current text style. This is great if you do not know the actual original font size or don’t want to figure it out in spaces. If you had changed the font and size, and want to restore the size, but keep the changed font, you can use \f\ to reset the font and font size, followed by \ffontname\, where fontname is the font you want to retain.

If you create the string:

espr. \B\\fHelvetica\\s96\MOLTO\f\normal font and size

in the File > Info > Other information block, and then create a Technique Text item with the wildcard \$moreinfo\, you will see:

font-2The text “espr.”  has not been modified, so it appears in normal Times New Roman 12 point font. “MOLTO” was made bold, in Helvetica font, with a font size of 3 spaces (96 units of 1/32 of a space). \f\ causes “normal size and font” to revert to Times New Roman 12 point font, but it does not change the Bold property. To change that you would need to add \b\ after \f\.

Alternatively, there is another wildcard, \f_\ which is documented only in the ManuScript plugin language document as “\f_\ Font change to text style’s default font, including removing any active character styles”. In fact, this appears to reset the font, font size, and all other modifications, like bold, italic, and underline, to the settings in the text style. So if you use \f_\ in the example above, you get

font-3Typically, you format text in the score itself using the Bold, Italic, Font, etc. commands from the Ribbon. You can also use format modifier wildcards in text in the score, but sometimes they just do not work. If you create a piece of Technique text in Sibelius 7.5 in Windows, and type

espr. \B\\fHelvetica\\s96\MOLTO\f\normal font and size

into the text item, you see

font-4For some reason, the \f\ modifier does not quite work there, leaving an extra backslash behind.  If you use formatting wildcards in the score, they disappear if you edit the text again; they have been converted to text properties and are no longer wildcards. So you can edit that text and remove the extra backslash, but that will change the formatting of the text. So all in all you should probably not do this unless you have some special needs.

The wildcards usually work fine when used in File > Info/Score Info, which is what they are documented for.

Converting a font size in points to spaces

The \sheight\ wildcard rather inconveniently specifies the font size in units of 32nds of a space, rather than in points, which is what Sibelius uses in the Ribbon. We want to figure out how to convert a font size in points to a size in 32nds of spaces.

A space is a “relative unit”, defined by Sibelius as 1/4 of the current staff size. So if you are using the common 7 mm staff size, a space will be 7/4 mm, or 1.75 mm. This is a relative unit, because if you change the staff size to 6 mm, a space will automatically convert to 1.5 mm; in a 10 mm staff, a space will be 10/4, or 2.5 mm.

As long as you don’t change the staff size, you can treat a space as a fixed unit, but it allows the score to scale appropriately when you change the staff size.

When you use the \sheight\ wildcard, you are typically going to think of the font size in points, rather than spaces. If you want the font size to be 19.6 points, how do you convert that to spaces to use in the wildcard?

You can do this by hand, and I will describe the process below. I think it is much easier to do this using the downloadable plug-in Convert Spaces To Units, which may be downloaded directly through Sibelius 7 and higher at File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins > Developers’ Tools. Users may also install it manually in Sibelius 6 by visiting the plug-in download page and following the usual manual installation procedure, or by using the Install New Plug-in plug-in.

When you run it, you will see this dialog. Notice that it knows the staff size for the current score, in this case 7 mm:


We want to convert a point size (19.6, in this example) to the units used by the \s\ wildcard, which are in 32nds of a space. Type 19.6 into the “These units” box, the click on the “points” radio button, and you will see the equivalent value in a number of units, and we can find that at this staff size, 19.6 points is equivalent to 125.44 32nds of a space.

So we can specify

\s125.44\Text at 19.6 points,

and “Text at 19.6 points” should appear at 19.6 points. When I try this in Windows 7 and Sibelius 7.5, Sibelius tells me the font size is 19.4 points. You might need to make some adjustments to work around some of Sibelius’ internal rounding, but we are at least in the ballpark.

When you type into the “These units” box, calculation does not happen until you click somewhere else. So after typing, always click on one of the radio buttons for units (even if it is not changing) so the plug-in will perform the calculation.

Converting points to spaces by hand

If you bring up the Layout > Document Setup dialog, you can change the units to points and read the staff size. The standard 7mm staff is equivalent to 20 points. So a space is 5 points (20/4), and 1 point is .2 spaces.

Remember that a point is .2 spaces only when the staff size is 7 mm = 20 points = .28 inches.


Since 1 point is .2 spaces, 19.6 points would be 19.6 times .2, which is 3.92 spaces. The wildcard specifies a number in 32nds of a space, so we need to multiply this by 32 to get 125.44, which is what the plug-in figured out! So you can certainly do the calculation manually, but it is a bit tedious.

Updated August 24, 2015 with correct information about resetting the font size to the default for the text style.

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