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Use objects as symbols for repeat use

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      15. Use objects as symbols for repeat use
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Convert the objects you reuse in a document into symbols, and use a variety of preset symbols to save time and reduce file size.

Symbols allow you to create reusable graphic elements. You have the flexibility to create symbols from a wide range of objects, including shapes, paths, text, mesh objects, and even raster images.

Furthermore, dynamic symbols allow each symbol instance to have a unique appearance while sharing a common base shape. Changes made to the base shape are applied automatically to each instance while maintaining their unique appearance.

Adobe Illustrator deeplink

Try it in the app
You'll get a sample file to follow along with as you learn how to use the Symbols panel.

Explore the Symbols panel

Before starting with symbols, familiarize yourself with the Symbols panel (Window > Symbols). The Symbols panel lets you create and manage symbols in your document. The Symbols panel contains both preset symbols and any symbols you create. You can also add more symbols from libraries to the Symbols panel.

Use preset symbols from symbol libraries

After selecting Symbol Libraries Menu, Arrows symbol library is opened.
Add preset symbols from symbol libraries to the Symbols panel.

Symbol libraries are collections of preset symbols. To open a symbol library, select Symbol Libraries Menu on the Symbols panel, and then select a library from the list. To add a symbol from a library to the Symbols panel, select the symbol.

You can sort and view items in a symbol library like in the Symbols panel. However, you can’t add items to, delete items from, or edit the items in a symbol library. To automatically open a library when you start Illustrator, select Persistent from the library’s panel menu.

Create a custom symbol library

  1. Add all the required symbols from libraries to the Symbols panel. To add multiple symbols from a library to the Symbols panel, Shift-select the symbols and then select Add to Symbols from the library menu.

  2. From the Symbols panel, delete any symbols you don’t want in the new library. Select the unwanted symbols and then select Delete Symbol in the Symbols panel. 

    To delete all symbols not used in your document, select Select All Unused from the Symbols panel menu, and then select Delete Symbol.

  3. Select Save Symbol Library from the Symbols panel menu, and save the new library to the default Symbols folder. Once created, the library name automatically appears in the User Defined menu of the symbol libraries list.

  4. If you saved the new library to a folder other than the default Symbols folder, you can open it by selecting Other Library from the symbol libraries list. Once you open it, it appears in the symbol libraries list.

Import a symbol library from another document

  1. Select Other Library from the symbol libraries list.

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

    The library appears in the symbol libraries list.

Place a symbol in the artwork

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

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

A symbol placed anywhere in your artwork is called a symbol instance.

Create a symbol

Drag an object to the Symbols panel to create a symbol.

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

  2. Drag the object to the Symbols panel. 

    By default, the selected object becomes an instance of the new symbol. If you don’t want the object to become an instance, press Shift as you drag the artwork.

  3. In the Symbol Options dialog box, do the following:

    If you don’t want the Symbol Options dialog to appear when you create a new symbol, press Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) and drag the object on to the New Symbol   icon in the Symbols panel. Illustrator will use a default name for the symbol, such as New Symbol 1.

In the Symbols panel, dynamic symbols appear with a small plus symbol in their lower-right corner.

Current limitations

  • You cannot create a symbol from linked art or some groups such as groups of graphs.
  • When creating dynamic symbols, you can't include text, placed images, or mesh objects.

Edit or redefine a symbol

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

Edit a symbol

  1. Double-click an instance of the symbol and select Ok to open the symbol in isolation mode.

  2. Edit the object.

  3. Exit the isolation mode by selecting  in the upper-left corner of the workspace.

Redefine a symbol with another object

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

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

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

Transform and modify symbol instances

You can transform (move, scale, rotate, shear, or reflect) symbol instances the same way you can transform 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. When you expand a symbol instance, you break the link between the symbol and the symbol instance and convert the instance to a regular object. If you open a dynamic symbol in an older version of Illustrator, the symbol expands.

Expand and modify a symbol instance

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

  1. Select the symbol instance.

  2. Select Break Link To Symbol in the Symbols panel to expand the symbol instance. The symbol instance turns into a regular object.

  3. Modify the object.

  4. Replace the parent symbol with the modified version or create a new symbol:

    • To replace the parent symbol with the modified version, Alt‑drag (Windows) or Option‑drag (macOS) the modified object on top of the parent symbol in the Symbols panel.

    • To create a new symbol, drag the modified object to the Symbols panel.

Use registration point as reference to transform symbol instances

A house with a registration point in its upper right.
Use registration point as reference to scale, move, rotate, or reflect symbol instances.

When you create a symbol, you can select one of the nine registration points as a reference to transform symbol instances. A registration point appears as a crosshair in isolation mode, and in normal mode when you select a symbol instance. In isolation mode, you can move the symbol relative to the registration point.

In the Transform panel menu (Window> Transform), select Use Registration Point for Symbol to enable transformations of symbol instances based on the specified registration point. If you don't select this option, transformations of symbol instances will be instead based on the regular Reference Point. Once enabled, you can view the coordinates of the registration point in the Transform panel when you select a symbol instance.

Use the Reset Transformation option to reset the transformations applied to a symbol.

Reset transformations

To reset any transformations (move, scale, rotate, shear, or reflect) to symbols, select the symbol and then select Reset in the Control panel.


When a symbol is placed in perspective, the options to replace a symbol instance with a different symbol, break the link with the parent symbol, and reset transformations are disabled.

Replace a symbol instance with a different symbol

  1. Select the symbol instance on the artboard.

  2. Select a new symbol from the Replace menu in the Control panel.

To select all symbol instances in a document, select a symbol in the Symbols panel, and then select Select All Instances from the panel menu.

Maintain proportions while scaling using 9-slice guides 

When you enable the 9-slice guides, four grid lines (two horizontal and two vertical) conceptually divide the symbol into nine sections. When you scale the symbol, the parts of the symbol that don't lie within the guides are not scaled.

Enable 9-slice guides

  1. Select the symbol in the Symbols panel and then select Symbol Options from the panel menu.

  2. In the Symbol Options dialog box, select Enable Guides For 9‑Slice Scaling.

Adjust the 9-slice scaling guides

  1. Double-click the symbol instance on the artboard to open the isolation mode.

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

  3. Exit the isolation mode by selecting  in the upper-left corner of the workspace.

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