I was helping a friend with some Illustrator techniques the other day and Symbols came up. Long story short, I realized lots of Illustrator users never really take full advantage of some of the app’s built in features, like the Symbols. I decided to offer a little information on some of the ways I use the Symbols. I’ve also included a small sample Symbol library that you can download and use in Illustrator yourself. Click this link to download the zipped file.
One of the things I find symbols most useful for is logos and other graphic elements that a person tends to use over and over every time you start working on a project in Illustrator. A good example is when I am working on a new project for a client, like a poster or direct mail piece for example, I always need to use their logo in the design somewhere. Rather than hunting through my folders of stuff on my hard drive for the right logo, and going through the process of opening, copying, pasting and closing the file, I keep a Symbol library of all my clients’ logos active in Illustrator at all times. All I have to do is drag the logo onto my art board from the symbols panel. Done. The best part is that a symbol instance can be used repeatedly in a document without making the file larger. Here’s how Adobe describes the symbol:
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.
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 movie clips scale appropriately when used for user interface components.
Note: For information on using symbols in Flash, see Flash Help. For a video on using symbols effectively between Illustrator and Flash, see www.adobe.com/go/vid0198.
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.
For more details on symbols and how to use them on Macs and Windows, visit Adobe Illustrator CS4 help.
Creating a symbol is easy. You can use almost any vector graphic in Illustrator, but no placed images (psd, jpg, etc.). If you have a graphic or logo you’ve created and want to use it as a symbol, open the symbol panel if you don’t have it open already. Go to your menu, Window > Symbols.
There are a few ways to create a symbol from your graphic. Select your graphic, or group of vector elements, and drag them as a unit into the symbols panel.
You can also click “new symbol” on the symbols panel when you have your graphic selected. Either way you get the same result; a new symbol instance in the symbols panel and a dialog box, “Symbol Options”, where you can name your new symbol, select “Graphic” or “Movie Clip”, “Flash Registration” and “Enable Guides for 9-slice scaling”. By default, the “Movie Clip” option is usually selected, which is perfectly fine for what we’re doing.
The options are mainly for use of the symbol in Flash.
Again, go to the Adobe Illustrator CS4 help for more details on the options.
Once you have your graphics saved as symbols in the symbols panel, whether it’s a single logo or a bunch of images (see the symbol libraries already available in Illustrator’s presets) that you wish to reference later, you can save your new group of symbols as a library that can be pulled up whenever you need it or open every time you launch Illustrator. To save the library, select every symbol in the panel window you wish to save, then go to the Symbols panel and click the Symbols Libraries Menu (icon in the lower left corner of the symbols panel) and select “Save Symbols…” at the top (see the image).
Next, you’ll get another dialog window, “Save Symbols as Library”, prompting you to name your library and save it to a location.
For Illustrator to recognize these library files and display them as choices in Symbol Libraries menu, the file needs to be saved in one of two specific locations. By default, Illustrator should point you to User >Library > Application Support > Adobe > Adobe Illustrator CS4 > en_US > Symbols. You can also save them to your Presets > Symbols folder in your Adobe Illustrator application folder located in Applications on your system. Either location will work.
That’s it. Your new library is saved and you can go to the Symbols Libraries (icon in lower left corner of Symbols panel) in the Window >Symbol Libraries > User Defined (if you saved to default location) to open the library. If the library happens to contain graphics that you use frequently, go to the Symbol panel options menu (upper right corner of Symbol panel) and select “Persistent” to have the library stay open every time Illustrator is launched. If you don’t check “Persistent”, you won’t see the library open next time you launch Illustrator, but you can easily open it from the menu.
Hopefully you will find this useful. I sure do. If there’s something I missed that you’d like to know about, feel free to post a comment and I’ll follow up with an update.
For more free graphics and Adobe Presets, check out my downloads page. Enjoy!