Staying Organized with Finale’s Category Designer

Q: I have a Finale template file that I use often for orchestral music, and I have created several new expression categories with the Category Designer tool. However, I created these categories as they were needed, and they are now arranged in the Expression list without order. I would like to rearrange the order of the categories, but I cannot seem to find a way to do so. Do you know of any way that I can rearrange the order of these categories? Or am I coming up against a shortcoming of this software?

A: More recent versions of Finale have the ability to manually reorganize (sort) Text, Shapes, Lines and Articulations via the “Move Down” and “Move Up” buttons in the Expression Selection, Articulation Selection, Shape Selection and Line Selection dialogs. These sorting buttons also appear in the Document Setup Wizard, Reorder Staves, and in Manage Parts, to allow the user to change a particular instrument’s position in the score.

Unfortunately, Finale’s Document  > Category Designer has no such sorting feature. For those that only use the Default Categories, this doesn’t represent a problem, but for those of us who make use of the ability to create custom categories, the ability to sort them would be useful.

Fortunately, there are a few ways you can reorganize these expression categories. Let’s take a look…

In this scenario, I have five custom categories. I want to rearrange these categories so they appear in a different order following the defaults. I’ve labeled these so their names indicate the order I would like them to ultimately appear: 3rd moves to 1st, 4th moves to 2nd, 2nd moves to 3rd, etc:


This first sorting method takes advantage of the fact that Finale always adds duplicate Categories to the end of the list. In order for these existing custom categories to appear in a new order, you can duplicate them in the order you would like them to appear in the Category list. So, for the list above, duplicate 3, then 4, then 2, then 5, then 1. The new category names appear with the word “Copy” at the end of the name (which you can remove later).

Now, in the Expression Selection dialog, go into each of your old versions of the custom categories one at a time. Select All of the expressions, and use the “Move to” popup at the bottom of the Expression Selection dialog to move all of the Expressions from  the old custom category into the new one you’ve just created by duplicating.

When you have all of the contents transferred to to the new categories, go back into the Category designer and delete the old categories to move the sorted categories up in the list.

If you are using Custom Text Expression Categories purely for organizational purposes, the following is worth noting:  A category which is an exact duplicate of one of the Default Categories, even with a different name, when saved in a library, will not appear after import if all the category settings remain unchanged from the category from which it was duplicated. That is, unless there is something different about the font, size, attribute or location of these expressions, then it can only be used in the document in which it was created.

The above caveat is a great argument for a proper “Search” or “Filter by” feature for Text Expressions in Finale’s Expression Selector, which would help avoid the creation of duplicate /multiple versions of the same expression, as well as reduce the organizational need for custom categories, among other advantages. It should be possible to quickly locate a specific expression in any category without scrolling through a long, un-alphabetized list

Furthermore, in order for a Expression Category itself to be “export-able”, it needs to have some content: at least one text expression. To work around this, create at least one placeholder expression in the duplicated categories before exporting as a Library. There has to be at least one “new”  item in the category, otherwise, the new category won’t save / load.


When you copy Text Expressions from one document to another, if those text expressions happen to have been created within a Custom Category, then the associated custom Category travels along with it; essentially being imported along with the text into the destination score.

Let’s say I have three custom categories I would like to copy into another document, but instead of the current order, I would like them to appear in the new document in alphabetical order (e.g. (1) Harp Diagram, (2) Italics Above, (3) Kanji Logographs):

Use Edit>Edit Filter to insure that only Markings: Expressive text gets copied from the source to the destination file. Then, after making sure that the text you are copying is assigned to the appropriate category, copy the text expressions from each custom category one at a time, in the order you would like the Categories to appear in the new document; in this case, I chose Harp Diagram first for alphabetical order:

After pasting the expression into the new document, check Document > Category Designer… to make sure your new category was copied over. Repeat this process to copy the remaining categories in order. The Custom Categories will appear in the new document in the order in which their expressions were copied and pasted.

Note that this method only copies individual expressions along with any associated custom Expression Categories, rather than the complete Text Expression Category Libraries, which is covered next.


The Category Designer provides a quick way to change the font, size and placement System and Staff attached text Categories globally. You can create custom Expression Categories in Finale, which can then be imported into a new destination score or template.

For commercial copying, I work with a variety of orchestrators. Many of these professional orchestrators use their own custom Categories. If I receive three scores from three different orchestrators on a film project, it’s a given that all three scores will look slightly different, and as the orchestrators are focused on the scores rather than the parts, none will use the “house style” or look I require for parts preparation at RPM.

Before a project starts, I create a Finale template file in the RPM house style which I call a “Transfer Doc”. I will use this file for several purposes; one of which is to provide the RPM House Style to all of the System and Staff attached Text within the score.

In this “Transfer Doc”, I have created several custom categories which are duplicates of the Default Category Designer categories, but with their own unique fonts, size and placement which conform to RPM’s Commercial House Style specification:

Before the project starts, I save out the custom Text Expression Categories from the transfer doc as a Library, naming the library something appropriate like “RPM Text Expressions Myriad Pro”. (You only need to do this once at the beginning of the project).

As mentioned above, you will need to create at least one placeholder expression in each of these Custom styles in order for the Categories to be exported correctly.

For commercial projects, I replace any pre-existing custom Expression Categories with my own Custom RPM Expression Categories. Open the Document > Category Designer and delete any Categories in the left column that appear below the first 6 default Categories. Finale will not let you delete any of the default categories, so don’t worry.

Then, for each new score, at this step, after deleting all non-default Text Expression Categories from the score, open (import) the custom Text Expression library you created for the project (which includes the custom categories).

You may wish to make sure that all previous custom categories have been deleted in the score file before importing your custom categories.

Now, in the Expression Selection dialog, you should see your custom categories underneath the Default categories. Go into each of the Default Categories, select all of the expressions in each default category, and MOVE these to the equivalent Custom category (e.g. move Tempo Marks to RPM Tempo Marks etc).  Normally, this forces these expressions to inherit the custom font and location settings.

If MOVE does not update the fonts to the Custom Category style, with all expressions selected in each custom category, you can use the “Reset to Category Fonts” (Whether these automatically update depends on whether the orchestrator was using categories in the first place in Finale – as of this writing, not all do). You can also do this for positioning.

Be sure you also look in the “Misc” category for text in the document which will also need to be moved to the appropriate category.


If manual labor isn’t your thing, have no worries. The “JW Category Sorter” plugin by Jari Williamsson sorts any custom categories you may have in your score file alphabetically (and automatically). The plugin’s only limitation is that it can’t currently sort Score Lists – these need to be reattached after the sort:

If you wish to organize your existing custom Text Expression Categories in your score or template alphabetically, this plugin can save you a great deal of time. Download the FREE JW Category Sorter (and many other useful plugins) here: Mac | Windows

Do you have any tricks you use with Expression Categories to help stay organized in Finale? Please share them here.


for Zachariah Milby

6 Replies to “Staying Organized with Finale’s Category Designer”

  1. With the JW plug-in, I use the technique of first temporarily naming my custom categories “A”, “B”, “C”, etc. so that when the plug-in sorts them alphabetically, they are in my desired order. Then I simply rename them as I wish.

  2. I have Finale 2008 and do not know what this article is talking about. In what version does this Category Designer feature start? It sounds like a neat tool.

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