The symbol library

Let me first explain what a symbol is.
A symbol is an illustration that is in the symbol library and you can use it repeatedly in a document.

To add a symbol to your document, open the “Symbols” panel (1).

In the present “Essential elements” workspace, if this is not there for you, click “Windows” in the menu bar and select “symbols” in the drop-down menu.

The hotkey for this is Shift Ctrl F11 on your keyboard.

This opens the panel “Symbols” in which five symbols (a) are shown by default.

But there are a whole lot more.

Click the button “Symbol libraries menu” (2) and a drop-down list opens with a lot of different categories.

In this example I choose the category “Fashion”.

This opens the panel with the category “Fashion” (3).

Now you have two ways to add symbols to your document.

  1. You click and drag a symbol from the category “Fashion” into the document. This places the symbol in the document, AND “Symbols” pane.
  2. Or you double click an icon in the category “Fashion”, which places the symbol in the “Symbols” window and then drag the icon from the “Symbols” panel into your document.

Whatever you do, does not matter.

When you drag an icon into the document, you do not drag its icon into the document, but an instance of this.

This means that you can repeatedly use a symbol in a document.

This way you can see that the symbol “Boot” is used twice in the image below.

I have not drawn a single line and yet I almost have a complete person.
Find what you need in the different categories of symbols and if it does not satisfy your enthusiasm, just look on Google for Illustrator symbols and you will find thousands.


One more thing!  When you drag a symbol into your document, use the blocks at the edge of the body to adjust to the dimensions.

If you wish to change the size proportionally, click and drag the blocks in the corner of the body, while holding the Shift key on your keyboard pressed.



If you want to copy an instance of a symbol into your document, click and drag the body to another position while holding the Alt key on your keyboard pressed.


Edit Symbol / Instance

When you edit a symbol, all instances of that symbol will be adjusted. However, if you edit an instance, it just updates that instance and not the rest of the places where the symbol is used.

To edit a symbol, double click that icon in the document.
This shows you a warning window.

Click the OK button when you want to proceed, click the “Cancel” button if you do not want to.



If you clicked the OK button, a temporary symbol instance appears in the middle of the drawing area. Apply, for example, the color change to this and when you’re done, click the “Exit Isolation Mode” button (1).

As you notice, both the instances of the “Boot” symbol now changed in the document (2) and also the symbol in the library (3).

It is better if you first make a copy of the symbol that you are going to change, so that you will still have the original.

Click and drag this icon into the “New Symbol” (1).
Can you then modify the copy (2) and there is nothing lost.

If you want to rename the copy, click the icon “Symbol Options” (3) and give it a name in the dialog box that appears.


To edit only the instance of the sysmbol in the document, not the symbol, first select the instance in the document (1). Click the button “Break link to symbol” (2).

Once this button is clicked the instance is no longer associated with the symbol and you can make all the edits you want to this instance and this will only be applied to this particular instance and not another, even if you add another.

You've completed Lesson 7