Finale: Shape Designer

Finale’s Shape Designer is a built-in vector drawing program that can be used to address all sorts of little notational problems. It crops up in all sorts of places:

Expression Tool – Select “Shape” from the bottom of the Expression Designer.

Articulation Tool – Select “Shape” for the main and/or flipped symbols

Custom Arrowheads – This is available when designing a Smart Line, or when adding a line from within the Shape Designer itself (see below).

Executable Shapes – This can be found under the Playback tab of the Expression Designer.

Clef Designer – Accessed through Document Options. Choose “Shape” instead of Character:

Multimeasure Rests – Accessed through Document Options. The multimeasure “H” shape is actually a set of three lines grouped together: By ungrouping these you can adjust the thickness or appearance of your multimeasure rests.

Custom Stem Tool   – Double click a note’s editing handle to bring up the shape selection box.

Here is a brief overview of some of the things the Shape Designer can do, along with a few examples of ways I’ve used it recently.

First, here is a quick tour of the Shape Designer tool and its features.

Shape Designer dialog box (Windows)

The first thing you’ll notice is the array of tools along the top. They are, from left to right:

  • Selection Tool – For selecting elements of your drawing to edit.
  • Hand Grabber Tool – For adjusting the position of your “canvas”.
  • Text Tool – For entering text or other glyphs.
  • Line Tool – For entering a single straight-line segment.
  • Rectangle Tool – For entering a rectangle (Holding Shift locks the height and width to make a square), filled according to the menu settings.
  • Ellipse Tool – For entering an ellipse (Holding Shift locks the height and width to make a circe), filled according to the menu settings.
  • Curve Tool – For entering a curved line.
  • Slur Tool – For entering a curved line that tapers at the edges like a slur or tie.
  • Multiline Tool – For entering a series of line segments. Each click adds another segment, and a double click “finishes” the shape.
  • Polygon Tool – Similar to the Multiline Tool, except double clicking will “close” the shape and fill it according to the settings in the menu.
  • Bracket Tool – Adds a bracket. The shape of the bracket can be chosen from the menu.
  • Graphics Tool – For importing graphics from external files.
Shape Designer Tools (Taken from Finale Manual)


There are a few other important features to note:

  • The View setting has various zoom options ranging from 25-800%.
  • There are two position fields (horizontal and vertical). If nothing is selected these give a readout of the current cursor position. If you select an editing handle, something like the endpoint of a line segment, you can fill in it’s exact coordinates using these fields. This gives you tremendously powerful control over the exact dimensions of your shapes!
  • There is a round circle that indicates where the origin (coordinates 0, 0) is. This is used for positioning your shape properly.
  • There is a single menu called ShapeDesigner. In Windows it appears in the dialog box as shown here,  and in OS X this appears along the top menu bar:
Shape Designer Menu – OS X


That single menu packs a lot of power and options into it, though! From that menu, you can:

  • Show > rulers, grid, the origin point, or (my favorite) a “staff template” showing a standard five-line staff to aid in sizing and positioning your drawing.
Show Staff Template – Note that the staff that can be seen outside the dialog box is displayed at 100% with 100% Resulting System Scaling, and it is the same size as the staff displayed in the Shape Designer.
  • Move a shape forward or backward relative to the other shapes, important when filling shapes with solid colors.
  • Group or Ungroup multiple drawing objects so they can be moved as a unit.
  • Change the font used by the Text Tool.
  • Change the line style (solid or dashed, as well as settings for the type of dash) and thickness for the various shape tools. This affects the currently selected line or shape and any new ones added.
  • Change the arrowheads used by a line. These can be set independently for the start and end of a line, using either preset or custom arrowheads. Custom arrowheads are themselves shapes that you can create and edit in the Shape Designer.
  • Change the fill options for the solid shape tools (rectangle, ellipse, and polygon), including no fill, opaque white (0%), black (100%), or any percentage in between. Note, though, that the Shape Designer window will only show white and black: Any percentage fill over 0% shows as black.
  • Change the bracket style inserted by the Bracket Tool. These include left and right versions of all the bracket options available when grouping your music staves.
Bracket Style options
  • Finally, settings for the rulers and grid that you can turn on and off from the first option.
Shape Designer Menu (Windows)

Here is a set of lines I created using varying thicknesses, styles, and arrowheads. Note that in Windows the resolution in the Shape Designer itself is poor (note the jagged, pixelated edges), but the final shapes are nice and crisp.

Various lines in Shape Designer
Various lines as Expression

Here is a set of different shapes using the Rectangle, Ellipse, and Polygon tools, using various fill shades and line styles for the outline. Note that in Windows, ALL fills for ellipses and polygons (even white) will appear in the Shape Designer as solid black! The Mac version displays correctly. If anyone from MakeMusic happens to read this, I for one would love to get the Windows implementation working a little better!

Various shapes in Shape Designer (Windows)

Various shapes as Expression
Various shapes – PDF output

And here is a set of arcs, again with varying arrowheads and line weight/style.

Practical Applications

Aleatoric boxed notation

In Robert’s post about creating aleatoric boxed notation, he used the Shape Designer to create a simple rectangle with no fill and 2-point line thickness as a Shape Expression, and to create a custom arrowhead for the extension lines. The custom arrowhead is a line set to a width of 0.5 spaces, with its endpoints set to -0.333 spaces horizontally, and +/- 2 spaces vertically.

Aleatoric Box – rectangle set to 2 pt thickness
Custom arrowhead for box extension line
Aleatoric box and extension line – Final result

Customized Ornament

Recently a friend of mine and I were engraving a piece by Haydn that called for a particular ornament:

For this project he was restricted to using fonts included with Finale, but after combing through them all we concluded that this symbol was not available to us. However, I was able to recreate it in the Shape Designer! Using the Text Tool, I added the “turn” glyph (Maestro 18-pt uppercase T). For reference I also added a “mordent” glyph (Maestro 18-pt uppercase M). Then I created a line that matched the length and thickness of the vertical line in the mordent (1.25 spaces from end to end, thickness of 0.07031 spaces). Then I deleted the mordent and positioned the turn and line together, and my new ornament was complete. Articulations are usually limited to single glyphs from any given font, but using the Shape Designer’s Text Tool like this is an option if you need to create articulations that use more than one character.

Ornament – Source
Work in progress…
“Turn” glyph and line combined
Ornament – Final result

Customized ossia barlines

In the same project we had to recreate a particular style of ossia measure:

Ossia – source

There is no option for drawing a dotted barline between staves, so to recreate this style I used the Shape Designer to make an Expression consisting of a dashed line with one endpoint at 0,0 and the other at 0,-12 so it would extend 12 spaces below the staff. I set the position of the expression to align to the right barline, with a vertical setting of -4 spaces below the staff reference line. This guarantees placement right from the bottom staff line and right on the right barline (see this post for more on positioning Expressions). Here is the result, with the Expression assigned to the two ossia bars:

Courtesy key signature in final bar

This same project had several pieces that were Minuet & Trio type da capo forms, and some of these featured courtesy key signatures in the very last measure. To solve that I created a purely graphical double barline by consulting the document options for a few measurements (Thin Line Thickness 0.07487 spaces, Space Between Double Barlines 0.5 spaces). This consisted of two lines with the following endpoints (in spaces):

  • Line 1: 0, 0 to 0,-4
  • Line 2: 0.5, 0 to 0.5,-4

Then I created my graphical key signature. To do this I first turned on the “Staff Template” setting in the Shape Designer. Then I used the Text Tool with insert a sharp symbol (Maestro 24-pt lowercase s). Using the guide lines of the staff template, I positioned the sharp carefully at the origin point so that the sharp would show correctly on the top line of the staff. Then I added other sharps as needed, placing them about 1 space further to the right (I used actual key signatures to fine tune the positioning) and using the staff template to guide my vertical placement.

I ended up creating two entire 7-accidental key signatures (C# and Cb major) so that I can duplicate and remove symbols as needed. When these shapes are assigned to expressions and set to use the horizontal click position and the staff reference line as their anchor I can drop assign them to a measure in my score and I get a perfectly positioned purely graphical key signature.

These same expressions can also be used for bass and alto clefs by setting the Additional Vertical Offset to -1 or -0.5 spaces, respectively. Also, note that all of these should be set with “allow horizontal stretching” turned OFF so that any careful horizontal positioning you do isn’t distorted. After making the final barline invisible through the measure attributes, my final solution for the final bar courtesy key signature is shown below.

Setting up a graphical key signature
Graphical double bar and key signature in final bar

Saving your work

Any shapes you create get automatically saved with your document, but you can also export them to re-use later by saving Libraries. You can export the shapes by themselves:

Save Library (Win)

Or simply save any Expressions you’ve created (be sure to select “Shape Expressions” from the Save Library dialog), Articulations, Smart Lines, etc. and the shapes they use will come along for the ride.

As you can see, the Shape Designer can be a powerful tool to tackle various notational challenges that Finale isn’t equipped to handle out of the box. You can use it to creatively address all sorts of problems.

One of the most stunning uses of it I’ve seen was featured in one of Mark Adler’s Finale Blog posts a few years back, which you can still read here. You can check the file out yourself by choosing File|Open Worksheets & Repertoire, then going to Repertoire\Classical\Vocal and opening up Billings Connection. I won’t spoil his tricks for him, but here is his final result:

Billing’s ‘Connection’

Thanks for reading, and have a nice day!

Jacob Winkler is the Artistic Director of the Seattle Girls Choir, and an instructor in Finale and Sibelius for the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program. He is frequently engaged as a choral singer for film and game soundtracks, including the Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft series. LinkedIn

5 Replies to “Finale: Shape Designer”

  1. Thanks for the tutorial, Jacob.

    Two comments:
    1.) Aleatoric boxes can be created much easier with the “Aleatoric Boxes” plug-in for Finale/JW Lua by Harald Schollmeyer (Link on ).

    2.) The shape designer has a hidden “Rotate” feature which can be easily addressed through JW Lua. With that feature it’s possible for example to create slightly rotated clefs for very condensed scores
    (see discussion on and in action: ).

  2. just a question…
    in your very important article you say “…important when filling shapes with solid colors…”
    Is this possible in Finale?
    I though it was only possible in shades of grey

    1. You are totally right, Alessandro, that is not very clear… perhaps it should read “solid fills” or something, as Shape Designer cannot do any color only shades of gray. I’ll see if I can reword that to be a little more clear!

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