Photoshop for Sheet Music Deep Edition, All You Need to Know

by | Jan 23, 2018

The Newzik team has put together this article based on a video demonstration that was kindly given by Michel Léonard, Librarian at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

Michel Léonard has been using and mastering Photoshop for the past 20 years. He puts together and hosts yearly training sessions at the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA), and is planning a new podcast series about the sessions in order to share his experiences with the global librarian community.

We are very grateful to Michel for his help in compiling one single document on all the advantages of using Photoshop compared with other editing tools.

The goal of this article is to help give an overview of Photoshop’s possibilities, not to give step-by-step guidance on how to start using the software.

Why Use Photoshop?

Photoshop is extremely useful for layout edition and photo manipulation, and is the most advanced software available on the market for deep content edits, such as erasing flecks and symbols and moving annotations.

One of the software’s major drawbacks when it comes to editing music scores is that it is based on a single- page, multiple layer system. This means that Photoshop cannot handle multiple page projects, which is an issue for music librarians who generally need to edit entire scores of 50 pages or more.

To cope with this single-file limitation, Michel Léonard emphasizes the importance of using keyboard shortcuts (he works with two keyboards simultaneously) and recorded actions. With a single click, you will be able to straighten, enlarge and center your file!

  • The ideal format for photo manipulation is the lossless TIFF format.
  • The ideal resolution is 600 DPI
  • The ideal scanning color is Black & White

At the end of the editing process, it is easy to combine the TIFF and export in PDF and then share it or even to export the compressed .LZW file (lossless).

I) Image General Layout


Photoshop allows users to easily rotate pages at 90-degree intervals. This feature is shared by many PDF editing software such as Adobe Acrobat, or online platforms such as Smallpdf.

The reason why this feature is widely available is that it is not technically challenging to achieve. Indeed, pixels are squares, so rotating the image by 90 or 180 degrees will not damage them in any way (see picture on the right).

Photoshop rotation tool

Rotating a page by less than 90 degrees is more challenging, however, since the action will partially destroy the pixels’ square shapes. This is where Photoshop has the advantage.

Straightening a Crooked Image

Pages scanned from a copy machine often need to be slightly straightened.

To cope with the pixel issue described above, Photoshop allows users to convert the original black and white tagged image file format (TIFF) into grayscale. By doing so, the pixels will remain in black and white while receiving much more data, allowing for a slight rotation.

After converting the file into grayscale, users can slightly rotate the page, by using either a grid or a ruler.

  • Option 1: Use a grid as a reference

Using the grid allows you to rotate the corners of the image until the staves are aligned with the grid lines. However, this method is not ideal for straightening a multi-page document as it is time-consuming.

Straightening a Crooked Image using a grid as a reference
  • Option 2: Use a ruler to achieve an exact angle

For an accurate slight rotation, you can use a ruler and align it on a staff line to achieve an exact angle. Then, simply report this angle to the entire page for an accurate rotation.

Straightening a Crooked Image using a ruler to achieve an exact angle


Sometimes, the printing size restrictions force you to downsize the dimensions of the file. However, you will want to keep the original music layout. To do so, the Crop and Resize tools are very useful.

  • Step 1: Use the Crop and Trim tools

After selecting the Crop tool, drag the crop handles to manually frame the selected area. This action will center the music. The Trim tool then allows Photoshop to automatically crop the selected area to the closest black pixel. The final result is therefore extremely accurate.

Photoshop crop and trim tools
  • Step 2: Resize the image area

Michel’s ideal size is 10*13 inches, with a 1-inch margin on either side. To achieve this, he would have to set a maximum score size of 8*11 inches (1+1 inch for the width, 1+1 inch for the height). Since the original format is 7.8*10.9 inches, this action will slightly enlarge the piece and add extra gray pixels.
So to achieve the most proportional result – and taking into account that size is not limited to a width of 8 inches or a height of 11 inches – he settled on a size of 7.91*11 inches.

Photoshop resize the image area
  • Step 3: Add margins

After using Crop & Trim and Image Resize, Michael can then add white margins and even decide whether or not to center the score. In this case, he added margins to reach a final size of 9.5*12.5 inches, which matches his printer’s settings.

Photoshop add margins

The Conclusion of the Layout Editing

Although these editing features are mostly available in other PDF editing software, Photoshop’s in-depth “pixel approach” leads to extremely accurate and flawless results.

Photoshop before editing

Before editing

Photoshop after editing

After editing

II) Deep Image Manipulation

This is Photoshop’s main advantage. The powerful flexibility offered by Photoshop in this domain means that it can – in some cases – be used as a viable alternative to a notation software!

Move Annotations

Using the Marking tool, you can select the symbol as close to its border as possible and move it as required. The Magic Wand tool, however, will allow you to make an accurate selection by only selecting the black pixels from the manually selected area. Adjust the color range for an even more accurate result.

Photoshop move annotations simple selection – the rectangle area

Simple selection – the rectangle area

Photoshop move annotations accurate selection – just the black pixels

Accurate selection – just the black pixels

This feature offers many possibilities, mostly when editing the shape of the symbol (see section 2 below).

Edit and Add Symbols

The Magic Wand tool does not select white pixels. As a result, you will be able to change the shape of the symbol without having to make further alterations. You can also import a library of symbols in any image format to add to your part.

Photoshop symbols edition

Diminuendo symbol before

Photoshop symbols edition

Diminuendo symbol after

Erase Markings

Photoshop allows you to clean up your score by erasing flecks, markings or pre-inked elements. It gives you several options, according to the nature and placement the element.

  • Option 1: Eraser tool

When the element is independent, you can simply use the Eraser tool to select and erase the flecks or markings.

Photoshop symbols edition

Before erasing

Whilst erasing

Photoshop symbols edition

After erasing

  • Option 2: Select tool

When the element you want to erase is located very close to – or crossing over – another element on the score, the Select tool allows you to move it before erasing it.

Photoshop symbols edition select

Before selecting

Photoshop symbols edition select

Whilst moving

Photoshop symbols edition select

After moving

Align Symbols

The power of Photoshop lies in its layer system. By isolating symbols in independent layers, you will be able to compare and align two different objects.

Photoshop align symbols

Before aligning

Photoshop align symbols

After aligning

Delete Bowings Automatically

Another very interesting and advanced tool is the option to compare the same part from four different music stands. Photoshop automatically recognizes the “differences” and deletes all the bowings by keeping all the pixels common to each of the four files.

Photoshop delete bowings automatically

Before aligning

Photoshop delete bowings automatically

With bowings

Photoshop delete bowings automatically

Without bowings