Music papers and laser printing

I’m an old school paper composer, Dorico is my first foray into computer scoring, so working from paper prints is important to me. After much research about printers and paper types I’ve found the following. This is based on several music standards and guidance including the MOLA guidelines, and after consulting with several paper retailers and online information. This is for a US based paper system (how I wish we’d adopt SI!). However there are equivalencies I’ll note AFAIK

First are the paper sizes, for orchestral work we can get by with two sizes, 12x18 and 11x17/A3 Tabloid (or 11x14 B4 is acceptable) for conductor scores. Here’s a table (graphic since we don’t have tables) of my standard for these papers, largely from the MOLA (the Rastral sizes is what I’m using subject to revision, and just a starting point for me)

The 12x18 (C4) can be used for a ‘Composers score’, and printed landscape and folded in half is the standard size of 9x12 for a part. For binding comb is acceptable for concert (not recording studio where it might make noise!), and a tape binding is always acceptable (see YouTube for how to do this)

Paper weights are a mess, for example a X weight “Text” is not the same as an X weight “Cover” or “Writing”. So to know what the weight means for a paper you have to know both the type (Writing (Bond & Ledger are also used), Text, Cover) and the weight. You also have the color, and whether it’s laser printer compatible (laser printers require a type of ‘tooth’ or surface, and weight restrictions).

I found various papers that might work but have settled on an old favorite of mine “Hammermill Premium Color Copy” which comes in the requisite sizes, of a perfect weight (32lb Writing which is nice and heavy), 100% acid free and easily available.

For laser printers you need at least Tabloid for scores, or perhaps could get by with 11x14 for scores and parts (not recommended by MOLA but in a pinch maybe, or perhaps Legal would be fine). Or to handle 12x18 and Tabloid the HP CP5225dn is a popular choice (the least expensive of the large format printers).

If you use legal or 11X14 for orchestral parts, you’re going to get a lot of side-eye from the librarians.

Ditto for comb binding.

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Well I tried to spell this out but OK - legal is easily available, and if you’re resorting to that I doubt you’ll be in a position to have any librarians around. On comb binding it was used in the SF Symphony when I played there, so apparently they’re OK with it.

Usually comb binding appears as a “poor man’s spiral binding” which is preferable. Combs mess up whereas actual spirals cannot he easily undone. They are typically quieter too. You can buy spiral machines now, but they are still comparably expensive and not readily available in office supply stores. 11x14, from what I understand, is relatively uncommon all around (I admit I’ve used it for conductors scores for myself); I’ve seen the recommendation that it is better to actually format 9x12 and print on tabloid and cut it down if necessary.

There is always the option of printing on 11" x 17" (ledger) and guillotining it to the size you wanr, for instance a B size. But both A4 and US legal (8.5" x 14"), while excellent for the written word, are both disadvantageous for music in my experience.


Honestly I’m not sure which is better, comb or spiral. In my experience spiral is a bit squirrelly, because the spirals are so close together it can be hard to page turn, and the spine can bend. For the same reason too the edge can get a little deteriorated unless really good paper is used.

And I’ve got plenty of music in comb that performs just fine. Most of the Alfred Masterworks are in comb (I’ve never found a commercial music product in spiral) and it performs just perfectly. Additionally you can put writing on the spine of comb, which the Alfred and others do for the title and such. So yes spiral is said to be the preferred choice with comb the villain, but in practice its the opposite in my experience mostly.

What’s interesting is the focus on the binding which was just a tack on, the main point here is about getting the paper size and weight correct. Figuring out the weights was a real bear.

I have a lot of plastic comb bound scores from 25 years ago and some of them are disintegrating. It seems to me that the plastic has become brittle after 20 years. Plastic spiral bound volumes have not suffered from this, but the spirals often take up a lot of space and it is hard to stack such volumes neatly. Wire is a different matter.


Some of mine have become brittle in much less time than that.

This is indeed a difficulty. I ask the local office center to use the next size up if it looks like it’s going to be tight.

This is indeed an advantage. I use a label maker on mine and it’s a tremendous help.

Agreed. I was stung once when I provided my preferred weight to a printer in the wrong measurement (which is to say, writing vs text vs cover) so even though I specified a “thick” paper, since my unit was interpreted incorrectly, I ended up with thin prints. Won’t make that mistake again.

I was offered a wire binding machine form an office clearance. It costs c. £2,500 new! And all it is is a glorified electric hole puncher, with a clamp than you have to press down with your hand, like a chump.

But for scores bigger than 80pp, which can’t be saddle stitched, it’s indispensable. I can get up to c. 180pp. (All this on 100gsm paper.) If you use the right size wire, you don’t get any scraping noises. And there’s a trick of putting the back cover sheet on the front before squeezing the wire shut, so that the wire’s join isn’t showing.

I also have a Skrebba saddle stitcher, which clamps to the desk and staples down onto the spine nicely.


I almost bought one of these last year. I ended up going with a cheaper long-throw stapler that ultimately meets my needs, but from time to time I still think of these.

Yeah the plastic comb breaks down over time depending on use, for sure.

Ouch! on the weights. Apparently the three systems exist because they indicate different processes for how the paper is made, so you can’t compare text and writing because they’re apples and oranges.

I used to have a comb binding machine, nice to have but you need a bunch of different sized combs around. Though I guess it’s the same for the coil at that. Well anyhow I’m going all out this time and will tape bind everything, nice old school practice and cheap.

If you’re taping parts, I’d recommend using acid-free artist tape if you aren’t already. Regular masking or Scotch tape will quickly lose hold, while artist tape will hold for years. Most artist supply stores will stock it, but obviously plenty of online stores, including Amazon, have it too.

I’ve been using 9.5"x12.5" 100 lb Text for parts bound accordion-style. About 20 of us go in on a bulk order and get it custom cut from our supplier. We’ve changed brands a few times over the years, but have been pretty happy with the current batch. Here’s a shot of the label with all the details of what we’re using:


You’re forgetting grain direction… (Paper, I have found, is a complex mini-universe!)

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Another option which works great at muuuuch cheaper cost is the medical/cloth tapes available in any first aid aisle. It’s thicker but great for parts and will last until kingdom come with those silk fibers.

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I have found the 3M Micropore tends to gum up parts after shipment—probably “cooking” as they sit in a hot FedEx truck… so the pages become stuck, and it’s a gigantic mess!

Interesting! I’ve never had any issues with it, but then again I’ve also never shipped parts via fedex with it. I actually prefer the cloth tape they make, but it is so thick I get choosy when I use it. I think the absolute gold standard is archive “linen hinging tape” which is just perfect; just the right thickness, acid-free, has actual cloth fibers, etc… but it is also $15 per roll so I guard it like it’s made of gold. At this point I pretty much only use it on special scores I make for myself.

Same here! I wish some company would come up with a good solutions for us, musicians. In speaking with librarians around the country, it seems like there’s a hole in the market for the exact type of tape we need—a cost-balanced alternative, of course.

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This stuff? $12/roll, 35 ft so 35 strips for 9x12. Or you can get 150ft for $26, seems like quite a bit but maybe not.

That’s it. It is sooooo nice to use (at least in my opinion). I also like the lineco “ hinging tape” which is a different type of natural fiber. It is very thin, like tissue paper almost, but still robust due to the plant fibers. The even lists its primary uses as “hinging digital art, reinforcing folders and envelopes, repair of books”.

Here’s a closeup of the texture of the linen tape:

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