Illustrator Tutorial - Symbols

The Symbols feature in Illustrator saves valuable time by creating a “symbol,” or copy, of an object. This means that all of the time you have spent creating a minutely detailed flower does not have to be repeated. Instead, simply save the flower as a symbol for future use. Plus, symbols greatly reduce the size of image files.

Illustrator makes it easy to use symbols multiple times within a document as well. With the Symbols tools, you can add and alter several symbols at once. And in CS5, you can now change the settings for a symbol while editing. Another benefit of symbols in Illustrator CS5 is that you can change a symbol to a movie clip, making it easy to export to Adobe Flash. You can also make sure that the symbol scales correctly for your interface design by choosing 9-Slice Scaling while still in Illustrator.

First, make sure the Symbols Palette is visible (WINDOW...Symbols).  There are a few pre-drawn symbols already there but, by clicking the little drop-down arrow, you can open the Symbol Library which contains dozens of pre-loaded symbols divided into categories (Flowers, Fashion, Nature etc.)

Symbols Palette

Now double-click the Symbol Sprayer Tool:

Symbolism Options

1. Symbol Sprayer. The main tool.  Adjust its diameter, click on a Symbol in the symbol palette and 'spray' across the workspace.
2. Symbol Shifter
3. Symbol Scruncher
4. Symbol Sizer
5. Symbol Spinner
6. Symbol Stainer
7. Symbol Screener
8. Symbol Styler
All parameters for the Symbol Sprayer Tool can be set in this dialogue box, including the size of the 'spray' (which can also be changed using the [ and ] keys.

Making New Symbols.

There may well be a time when even the vast array of pre-loaded symbols do not include the exact one you need.  Simply draw a new symbol such as the simple leaf (below) and drag it onto the Symbols palette.  Doing this will open the Symbol Options dialog box, where the new symbol can be named.

Save SymbolSymbol Options
All of the options listed above - Symbol Stainer, Symbol Sizer etc. depend on the artwork being used and a good deal of experimentation is needed.
Symbol Variations To the left, I've used the Symbol Sprayer to 'spray' instances of my 'New Leaf' symbol and then applied various effects.

Possible Problem when creating a Symbol:

If your image that you want to make into a Symbol contains a 'Linked Image' you will be unable to make it into a Symbol and the dialogue box to the right will appear. This occurs when you 'Place' an image into Illustrator. (FILE...Place).  An example of this is if you need to add an element to your design from an outside source.  A good example of this is the 'Marlboro' package where the 'crest' was manipulated in Photoshop, saved as a GIF to preserve transparency and 'Placed' in the Illustrator-created package.

Find the image you want to place and select it. If you want to link the image to the document, select the “Link” box. If you want to embed the image, uncheck the “Link” box.


Linked Image

Place Image

Remember that if you do link your image, you must include the image file when you send the file out to be printed or when your final Illustrator image is created.

Because the outside part of this image (the 'Crest' was required as part of the Symbol, we unchecked 'link' and could therefore add the crest to our Symbol).

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