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Symbols in Adobe Illustrator 10

Creating complex designs with limited elements By DMN Staff Writer
[Editor's note: Here's another in our series on Adobe Illustrator 10 from Adobe themselves. This one deals with symbols in Illustrator 10, which allow you to reuse objects without significantly increasing your file size. Also, by popular request, we now have a printer-friendly PDF version of this tutorial for your use, which you can download here. Remember, if you like (or dislike) what you see, be sure to drop me a line. --Dave Nagel]

Symbols may have been developed to keep file sizes small, but with Adobe Illustrator 10, they're the building blocks for exciting and intricate designs. You can turn any graphic element into a symbol. Then use duplicates of the symbol to build repeating patterns, or apply the symbolism tools to manipulate the duplicates interactively.

1. Define a symbol. Choose Window > Symbols to open the Symbols palette. Simply select the object you want to use as the symbol and drag it to the Symbols palette. You can use any Illustrator object--including paths, compound paths, groups, text, and raster images--to create a symbol. Symbols can also include live features such as brush strokes, blends, and effects. For our symbol, we drew a simple car graphic.

2. Create duplicates of the symbol. You can add a copy of the symbol--called an instance--to your art by dragging it from the Symbols palette. Once you drag one instance into your Illustrator design, you can Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) the instance to create additional duplicates. You can adjust the transparency of individual instances, change their appearance attributes, add effects, or use the transformation tools to modify them. We scaled and rotated instances of our car symbol and changed the transparency settings to add variety to the design.

3. Redefine the symbol. To replace a symbol with another object, first select the object on the artboard. In the Symbols palette, select the icon of the symbol you want to replace, and click the Replace Symbol button. All the instances of the symbol update automatically.

You can also edit an instance and then replace your original symbol with the new version. First, select an instance in the artwork. Click the Break Link button at the bottom of the Symbols palette to turn the instance into an independent object that can be edited.

Once your edits are complete, select the original symbol in the palette, along with the edited version on the artboard. Choose Redefine Symbol from the palette's pop-up menu, and Illustrator replaces all the instances with the updated version.

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