Adobe Illustrator Symbols

What about Symbols?

Adobe Illustrator’s Symbol Libraries are like turn signals in Michigan: Everyone has them but few people use them.
They are very useful and easy to access, but are largely overlooked and ignored by most folks, just like turn signals. Illustrator comes with a few Symbols Libraries built right in as kind of a primer to give users an idea of what they are and what they can do. However, the Symbols that ship with Illustrator will do more harm than good for getting users interested as they are kind of ugly and useless; like my Durango. There are a couple libraries that are actually worth looking at though, so I encourage people to explore all of them despite their obvious shortcomings.

The real value in the Symbols is how they can be used for quick access to your frequently used graphics such as common icons and buttons, or logos. The Symbols are geared towards the Flash users and are perfect for importing vector art into Flash for movies and animations, but I use them more often to save time searching for graphics that I use every day.

Lately, the bulk of my work has been iOS GUI design, which is largely dependent on buttons and icons for navigation. Over the past 3 years I’ve designed, created and collected a ton of little button icons that would be impossible to manage easily without the use of Illustrator’s Symbol libraries. As I create and gather these little graphics, I save them into one common Symbol library that I’ve given the wildly imaginative name of “iOS Icons-Buttons.ai”. This makes it easy to locate if it’s not already open. And while we’re on the subject, libraries such as my Icons-Buttons that I use every day are always open by setting the specific symbol library to “Persistent” in the Symbols Panel Prefs (upper right corner). With the library set to Persistent, it launches right along with Illustrator and is always right at your fingertips.

The Symbols libraries can be used for a lot more than just simple icons however, and another example of my own saved libraries that are always open include Logos (my own as well as client logos), Textures that I frequently use, Borders, and I even have one with complex vector illustrations that I use occasionally. You can even put embedded Photoshop images in your libraries if that’s what you’re into. Hey, I’m not here to judge.

The Possibilities Are Endless

Figure A (Break Link To Symbol)

Another awesome thing worth mentioning about Symbols is that they aren’t permanent… if you don’t want them to be. What I mean by that is if you’ve converted one of your special little graphics into a symbol but then decide later that it needs further tweaking, or you just need a part of the graphic, or whatever the case may be, you can change it right back to vector art at will! POOF! No more symbol! To do that, all you have to do is drag a symbol to your art board, if you haven’t already, select and right click (to pull up contextual menu), select ‘Break Link To Symbol’ (see Fig.A)

So you say (Your 2¢)

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