Two tools to crop PDF music score margins for tablet screens: Briss and PDF Scissors

Posted: November 9, 2012 in apps, forScore, iPad, scanning, sheet music, tablet


When reading a PDF music score on a iPad/tablet, it’s beneficial to crop out the page margins so that the printed music will expand to fill as much screen space as possible and be easier to read.  Some PDF score-reading apps like forScore for iPad have a sort of “virtual cropping” feature that displays the pages as if they had been cropped.  Also, several PDF software tools will actually process a PDF document to crop the margins on either individual pages or the document as a whole.

I particularly like two tools, Briss and PDF Scissors, because they can do bulk margin cropping of all pages in a PDF file, and even better, they have a transparent stacked-page preview mode that lets you see at a glance whether your cropped document will include all the page numbers, rehearsal letters, bass clef notes/staff, and other important information that tends to live near the margins of the page (see screenshots below).  If you’ve ever gone into a rehearsal with a cropped PDF score and realized too late that those pieces of information got cropped too, you’ll understand just how useful this is.  And, both Briss and PDF Scissors are free.

Briss and PDF Scissors will work on Windows, Mac, or Linux.  You’ll need to install Java on your computer as a prerequisite.


You can visit the Briss website for information or download it from this page.  I like Briss a bit over PDF Scissors because it has an auto-cropping feature that computes the margin based on the page contents.  Below is a screenshot of the stacked-page preview mode, with auto-cropping in action.  The odd pages are stacked on the left side and the even pages on the right.  That’s a nice feature, because in printed books, the margins are often slightly different between even and odd pages.  Briss also has the option of stacking all pages together in the preview, stacking arbitrary page ranges, cropping pages individually, or a combination of stacked/individual cropping within the same document.  The bluish-gray highlighted area is the cropping selection box, as set by the auto-cropping feature.  If needed, you can adjust the box manually before proceeding with the crop, but here you can see that the auto-crop has actually done a pretty good job of including all of the information at the edge of the pages – page numbers, bass clef notes, footnote text, etc.

To use Briss, make sure you have Java installed, then download Briss from here and extract the zip file into a folder on your computer.  Then open a command-line window and enter “java -jar /path/to/briss-0.9.jar” (substituting the appropriate path to your Briss jar file).

By the way, I had a little chuckle when I found out where the name Briss comes from.

PDF Scissors

PDFScissors works in a pretty similar fashion, minus the auto-crop.  Assuming you have Java installed, you can run PDFScissors by going to their website and then clicking on the button.  Alternatively, if you don’t want to go to the website every time and run it from there, you can download pdfscissors.jar directly, open a command-line window, and enter “java -jar /path/to/pdfscissors.jar” (substituting the appropriate path to your pdfscissors.jar file).

When you run it, you are presented with these options.  This time, I stacked all of the pages in the document together:

Here is the stacked-page preview mode:

From here, you can click-and-drag to define the cropping selection box:

The creator of PDF Scissors has also posted a video on how to use it:

How to crop PDF files using pdfscissors (0:49)

Some additional notes

I noticed that the PDF files were slightly larger after cropping with either Briss or PDF Scissors.  At least in the case of PDF Scissors, the cropping operation does not actually remove information from the document; it only changes the visible display area.

Other tools are also capable of bulk margin cropping of PDF files, such as Acrobat Pro, Mac Preview, and Skim (which was mentioned in an earlier blog post).  Skim in particular has an auto-crop feature, but since I don’t have any of these installed, I can’t comment on how well Skim or the others work.  If you have comments on the other tools, let me know!

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  1. Steve Roth says:

    Personally, I try hard to *not* include the page numbers when I’m preparing PDFs. Music scores tend to have a narrower, longer aspect ratio than tablet screens. When seen on a tablet, they tend to take the full height but not the full width, leaving some screen space unused. Anything that can reduce the height of the page will allow it to spread more horizontally, which means the notes and text are that much larger and more readable.

    In my forScore settings, I have “Always show seek bar” turned on, so I don’t really need printed page numbers. If I want to go to a particular page number, the seek bar will show me the numbers while I drag it; and if I want to know the number of the page I’m on, I can just touch the seek bar without moving it. (This does depend on having the PDF and music page numbers match, as Tech4Singers mentioned in a different post, but I’m always careful to scan the scores so that they do.)

    • Tech4Singers says:

      That makes sense. Speaking for myself, though, I find the drawbacks of the seek bar worse than the drawbacks of using up a little more screen real estate to include the page number in the cropped score (and admittedly my eyesight is still pretty decent). My music library in forScore has a lot of sheet music that’s excerpted from books, larger works, anthologies etc. so the printed page number frequently does not match up with the seek bar’s page number (and thus my user brain has been trained NOT to expect them to match). I also have usability issues trying to use the seek bar to check which page I’m currently on – I find it hard to quickly tap the slider without moving it, especially if there are a lot of pages in the score. For me, a quick glance is easier than two taps, and way less frustrating than having the conductor call “third measure of page 4” and then accidentally flipping to some other page because of the over-sensitive seek bar, when I was really on page 4 all along.

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