About symbols

A symbol is an art object that you can reuse in a document. For example, if you create a symbol from a flower, you can then add instances of that symbol multiple times to your artwork without actually adding the complex art multiple times. Each symbol instance is linked to the symbol in the Symbols panel or to a symbols library. Using symbols can save you time and greatly reduce file size.

With Dynamic Symbols, symbols can share a master shape but different instances of the symbol can have dynamically modified appearances. If the master shape is modified, symbol instances receive the new modification, but maintain their own modifications as well.

Symbols also provide excellent support for SWF and SVG export. When you export to Flash, you can set the symbol type to MovieClip. Once in Flash, you can choose another type if necessary. You can also specify 9‑slice scaling in Illustrator so that the symbols scale appropriately when used for user interface components.

About dynamic symbols

There are requirements that need a symbol to appear the same, consistently across a project or artwork. However, some may need to represent different attributes or appearances.

Example: An apparel designer may design a new shirt that needs to be shown in a number of different colorways, or arrangement of colors. That shirt can now be defined as a dynamic symbol, and the colors needed to represent the colorways applied. If the design needs to update the shirt design, such as a new collar shape, the shirt symbol can be edited and all instances of that shirt will be automatically updated, but will maintain their any individually-applied, unique colorways.

The Dynamic Symbols feature makes symbols more powerful by allowing use of appearance overrides in its instances, yet keeping its relation with the master symbol intact. Appearance edits include colors, gradients, and patterns.

Advantages of Dynamic Symbols

  • Instances of Dynamic Symbols can be modified using the Direct Selection tool.
  • When the appearance of an instance is modified, the change does not affect the relationship with the master symbol.
  • Changes to the appearance of the master symbol reflects in all instances. However, individual edits to instances are retained, too.
  • A symbol nested within a Dynamic Symbol can be replaced by another symbol. This provides greater flexibility to customize symbols.
  • You can select all the dynamic symbols available in a document using the Select > Same command.

Note:

If a Dynamic Symbol is opened in an older version of Illustrator, the symbol is expanded.

After you place a symbol, you can edit the symbol’s instances on the artboard and, if you want, redefine the original symbol with the edits. The symbolism tools let you add and manipulate multiple symbol instances at once.

Artwork with symbol instances
Artwork with symbol instances

Place or create a symbol

Place a symbol

  1. Select a symbol in the Symbols panel or a symbol library.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Click the Place Symbol Instance button  in the Symbols panel to place the instance in the center of the current viewable area of the document window.

    • Drag the symbol to the artboard where you want it to appear.

    • Choose Place Symbol Instance from the Symbols panel menu.

      note: A single symbol placed anywhere in your artwork (as opposed to existing only in the panel) is called an instance.

Create a symbol

  1. Select the artwork you want to use as a symbol.

    Note:

    While creating Dynamic Symbols, do not include text, placed images, or mesh objects.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Click the New Symbol button in the Symbols panel.

    • Drag the artwork to the Symbols panel.

    • Choose New Symbol from the panel menu.

    Note:

    By default, the selected artwork becomes an instance of the new symbol. If you don’t want the artwork to become an instance, press Shift as you create the new symbol. In addition, if you don’t want the New Symbol dialog box to open when you create a new symbol, press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) as you create the symbol and Illustrator will use a default name for the symbol, such as New Symbol 1.

  3. In the Symbol Options dialog box, type a name for the symbol.

  4. Select the symbol type as Movie Clip or Graphic.

  5. Select the type of symbol you want to create - Dynamic or Static. The default setting is Dynamic.

  6. (Optional) If you plan to export the symbols to Flash, do the following:

    • Select Movie Clip for type. Movie Clip is the default symbol type in Flash and in Illustrator.

    • Specify a location on the Registration grid where you want to set the symbol’s anchor point. The location of the anchor point affects the position of the symbol within the screen coordinates.

    • Select Enable Guides For 9‑Slice Scaling if you want to utilize 9‑Slice scaling in Flash.

  7. Select the Align to Pixel Grid option to apply the pixel-align property to the symbol. For more information, see Aligning symbols to pixel grid.

Note:

In the Symbols panel, Dynamic Symbols appear with a small plus symbol in the lower-right corner of the icon.

You can create symbols from most Illustrator objects, including paths, compound paths, text objects, raster images, mesh objects, and groups of objects. However, you cannot create a symbol from linked art or some groups, such as groups of graphs.

Note:

For a video on using symbols effectively between Illustrator and Flash, see www.adobe.com/go/vid0198.

Add sublayers for symbols

Symbols now have an independent layer hierarchy, which is maintained when you expand symbols. You can create sublayers for symbols in symbol editing mode.

Creating sublayers for symbols in edit mode
Ability to create sublayers for symbols in edit mode

Paste Remember Layers option is honored when you paste content in symbol editing mode.

Use 9-slice scaling

You can use 9‑slice scaling (scale‑9) to specify component-style scaling for graphic style and movie clip symbols. This type of scaling lets you create movie clip symbols that scale appropriately for use as user interface components, as opposed to the type of scaling typically applied to graphics and design elements.

The symbol is conceptually divided into nine sections with a grid-like overlay, and each of the nine areas is scaled independently. To maintain the visual integrity of the symbol, corners are not scaled, while the remaining areas of the image are scaled (as opposed to being stretched) larger or smaller, as needed.

The 9‑slice scaling grid is visible only in isolation mode. By default, the grid’s guides are placed at 25% (or 1/4) of the symbol’s width and height from the edge of the symbol, and appear as dotted lines superimposed on the symbol.

Note:

For more information on using 9‑slice scaling in Flash, see Flash Help. For videos on using 9‑slice scaling in Illustrator, see www.adobe.com/go/lrvid5210_ai_en.

In Illustrator, you can create 9-slice grid for symbols with rotation, shear, and complex transformations. When you scale a symbol, all the nine areas of the symbol can be scaled independently.

Enable 9-slice scaling

  1. Select the symbol on the artboard or in the Symbols panel and choose Symbol Options from the panel menu.

  2. In the Symbol Options dialog box, select Movie Clip or Graphic for Type, and then select Enable Guides For 9‑Slice Scaling.

Note:

You can also enable this option in the Symbol Options dialog box when creating a new symbol.

Edit the 9-slice scaling grid for a symbol

  1. To edit the scaling grid for a symbol, open the symbol in isolation mode by doing one of the following:

    • Double-click the symbol in the Symbols panel.

    • Select the symbol in the Symbols panel and choose Edit Symbol from the panel menu.

  2. To edit the scaling grid for a symbol instance, open the instance in isolation mode by doing one of the following:

    • Double-click the symbol instance on the artboard.

    • Select the symbol instance on the artboard and click Edit Symbol in the Control panel.

  3. Move the pointer over any of the four guides. When the pointer changes to the move pointer, drag the guide.

    Note:

    Scaling still occurs if you move a guide away from the symbol boundaries (thus dividing the symbol into less than 9 slices). The symbol scales according to the slice in which it falls.

  4. Exit isolation mode by clicking the Exit Isolation Mode button  at the upper-left corner of the artboard or in the Control panel .

Work with symbol instances

You can move, scale, rotate, shear (or skew), or reflect symbol instances in the same way you can other objects. You can also perform any operation from the Transparency, Appearance, and Graphic Styles panels and apply any effect from the Effect menu. However, if you want to modify the individual components of a symbol instance, you must first expand it. Expanding breaks the link between the symbol and the symbol instance and converts the instance to regular artwork.

For videos on selecting and aligning objects, including symbols, see www.adobe.com/go/vid0034 and www.adobe.com/go/vid0035.

Note:

In the Symbols panel, Dynamic Symbols appear with a small plus symbol in the lower-right corner of the icon.

Note:

The options to Replace a symbol instance with a different symbol, break link when you Expand a symbol instance, and Reset transformations do not work on symbols in perspective.

Modify a symbol instance

After you modify a symbol instance, you can redefine the original symbol in the Symbols panel. When you redefine a symbol, all existing symbol instances take on the new definition.

  1. Select an instance of the symbol.

  2. Click the Break Link To Symbol button  in the Symbols panel or Control panel.

  3. Edit the artwork.

    Note:

    While editing Dynamic Symbols, do not include text, placed images, or mesh objects.

  4. (Optional) do one of the following:

    • To replace the parent symbol with this edited version, Alt‑drag (Windows) or Option‑drag (Mac OS) the modified symbol on top of the old symbol in the Symbols panel. The symbol is replaced in the Symbols panel and is updated in the current file.

    • To create a new symbol with this edited version, drag the modified symbol to the Symbols panel or click New Symbol  in the Symbols panel.

Expand a symbol instance

  1. Select one or more symbol instances.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Click the Break Link To Symbol button  in the Symbols panel or Control panel, or choose Break Link To Symbol from the panel menu.

    • Choose Object > Expand, and then click OK in the Expand dialog box.

    Illustrator places the components of the symbol instance in a group. Once expanded, you can edit the artwork.

Note:

If a Dynamic Symbol is opened in an older version of Illustrator, the symbol is expanded.

Duplicate a symbol instance on the artboard

If you’ve scaled, rotated, sheared (or skewed), or reflected a symbol instance and you want to add more instances with exactly those same modifications, duplicate the modified instance.

  1. Select the symbol instance.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Alt‑drag (Windows) or Option‑drag (Mac OS) the symbol instance to another location on the artboard.

    • Copy and paste the symbol instance.

Note:

If you want to duplicate a symbol in the Symbols panel, for example to create a new symbol based on an existing symbol, duplicate the symbol, not the instance. (See Symbols panel overview.)

Replace a symbol instance with a different symbol

  1. Select the symbol instance on the artboard.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Choose a new symbol from the Replace menu in the Control panel.

    • Select a new symbol in the Symbols panel, and choose Replace Symbol from the Symbols panel menu.

Note:

This option does not work for symbols in perspective. See Adding text and symbols in perspective.

Select all instances of a symbol in the document

Select a symbol in the Symbols panel, and then choose Select All Instances from the panel menu.

Reset transformations

To reset any transformations to symbols, select the symbol and click the Reset button in the Control panel. You can also select the Reset Transformation option from the Symbols panel menu (flyout menu).

 

Edit or redefine a symbol

You can edit a symbol by changing the symbol’s artwork or you can redefine the symbol by replacing it with new artwork. Editing and redefining a symbol changes the appearance of the symbol in the Symbols panel, as well as all instances of the symbol on the artboard.

Edit a symbol

  1. Do one of the following to open the symbol in isolation mode:

    • Select an instance of the symbol and click Edit Symbol in the Control panel. When the Alert box opens, click OK.

    • Double-click an instance of the symbol. When the Alert box opens, click OK.

    • Double-click a symbol in the Symbols panel. A temporary instance of the symbol appears in the center of the artboard.

  2. Edit the artwork.

  3. Exit isolation mode by clicking the Exit Isolation Mode button  at the upper-left corner of the artboard or in the Control panel  or pressing Esc.

    You can also apply the pixel-align property to a symbol. For more information, see Aligning symbols to pixel grid.

Redefine a symbol with different artwork

  1. Select the artwork that you want to use to redefine an existing symbol. Make sure to select original artwork and not a symbol instance.

  2. In the Symbols panel, click the symbol you want to redefine, and choose Redefine Symbol from the panel menu.

Note:

The selected artwork automatically becomes an instance of the symbol. If you don’t want the selected artwork to become a symbol instance, press Shift as you choose Redefine Symbol from the panel menu.

Note:

If you are not able to locate the panel menu, see Use panel menus.

Symbol libraries

Symbol libraries are collections of preset symbols. When you open a symbol library, it appears in a new panel (not the Symbols panel).

You select, sort, and view items in a symbol library the same as you do in the Symbols panel. However, you can’t add items to, delete items from, or edit the items in symbol libraries.

Open symbol libraries

  • Do one of the following:

    • Choose Window > Symbol Libraries > [symbol].

    • Choose Open Symbol Library in the Symbols panel menu, and choose a library from the list that appears.

    • Click the Symbols Library Menu button on the Symbols panel, and choose a library from the list that appears.

    Note:

    To automatically open a library when you start Illustrator, choose Persistent from the library’s panel menu.

Move symbols from a library into the Symbols panel

A symbol is automatically added to the Symbols panel whenever you use it in a document.

  • Click a symbol in a library.

Create symbol libraries

  1. To add all the symbols from a library, Shift select all the symbols and choose Add to Symbols from the Symbol Library option menu. Add the symbols you want in the library to the Symbols panel, and delete any symbols you don’t want.

    Note:

    To select all symbols that aren’t used in a document, choose Select All Unused from the Symbols panel menu.

  2. Choose Save Symbol Library from the Symbols panel menu.

  3. Save the new library to the default Symbols folder. The library name will automatically appear in the User Defined submenu of the Symbol Libraries and Open Symbol Library menu.

    If you save the library to a different folder, you can open it by choosing Open Symbol Library > Other Library from the Symbols panel menu. Once you open it using this process, it will appear in the Symbol Libraries submenu with the other libraries.

Import a symbol library from another document

  1. Choose Window > Symbol Libraries > Other Library or choose Open Symbol Library > Other Library from the Symbols panel menu.

  2. Select the file from which you want to import symbols, and click Open.

    The symbols appear in a symbol library panel (not the Symbols panel).

Symbols panel overview

You can use the Symbols panel (Window > Symbols) or the Control panel to manage the symbols for a document. The Symbols panel contains a variety of preset symbols. You can add symbols from symbol libraries or libraries that you create. See Symbol libraries for information about using preset symbols.

Change the display of symbols in the panel

  1. Select a view option from the panel menu: Thumbnail View to display thumbnails, Small List View to display a list of named symbols with a small thumbnail, or Large List View to display a list of named symbols along with a large thumbnail.

  2. Drag the symbol to a different position. When a black line appears in the desired position, release the mouse button.

  3. Select Sort By Name from the panel menu to list the symbols in alphabetical order.

Duplicate a symbol in the panel

Duplicating or copying a symbol in the Symbols panel is an easy way to create a new symbol using an existing symbol instance.

To create a copy of a symbol, select the symbol in the Symbols panel and choose Duplicate Symbol from the panel menu, or drag the symbol onto the New Symbol button.

Note:

If you want to duplicate a symbol instance on the artboard, for example, if you have scaled and rotated a symbol and want to add another instance with the same scale and rotation, duplicate the instance. (See Work with symbol instances.)

Rename a symbol

  1. To rename the symbol, select the symbol in the Symbols panel, choose Symbol Options from the panel menu, and then type a new name in the Symbol Options dialog box.

  2. To rename a symbol instance, select a symbol instance in the artwork, and then type a new name in the Instance Name text box in the Control panel.

Symbol registration point

The symbol registration point in Illustrator is similar to Adobe Flash Professional. A registration point is the origin of the symbol definition art. This feature provides better interoperability between Illustrator and Flash.

When you create a symbol, you can choose the registration point from any of the 8-point across boundaries or center of the symbol bounding box. The registration point is visible as a crosshair symbol in Symbol edit mode and in normal mode when the symbol instance is selected. In isolation mode, you can snap your artwork with registration point mark.

In the Transform panel menu (flyout menu), the Use Registration Point for Symbol option is selected by default. Coordinates of the registration point are visible in the Transform panel when symbol instance is selected. All transformations of symbol instances correspond to the registration point of the symbol definition art.

The transformations applied on the symbol instance can be reset using the Reset Transformation option. For details see Reset transformations.

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