In this post, we will show you how to add symbols or special characters to documents in Adobe Illustrator to enhance your artwork. Symbols are a big part of what makes Illustrator so useful. Symbols are artwork that can be used an unlimited number of times in one document or across different documents. There are default symbols and users can add custom symbols. Symbols are useful because they make it possible to save the image for multiple uses without ever having to drag it onto illustrator each time or having to take up valuable megabytes with multiple instances of the same image. Symbols are linked to the documents. Knowing how to add symbols to documents in Illustrator is great to learn.
Symbols are like color swatches, brushes, or gradients in that they are saved in Illustrator for quick use. Symbols can be used alone, and they can also be used as decorations just like color or gradients. The users do not have to create them each time they want to use them. The user can even make custom ones and save them for unlimited use in a document or across different documents. After this article, you will look at symbols differently and you will have a deeper respect for those little squares or art.
How to insert Symbols in Illustrator
We will take a look at this topic under four different headings:
- Locating symbols
- Use the Symbol alone
- Using with 3D effect
- Combine symbols
1] Locating symbols
The first step in using the symbols is knowing how to find them. The symbols pallet is located on the right side of the workspace. Illustrator is good at organizing pallets with useful items in groups. This means that the symbols would be grouped with other items that serve a similar purpose. Symbols would be grouped with the brushes and color swatches in the same pallet group however each has its tab. Symbols would be in this group because like brushes and swatches, symbols can be used alone or as decoration for other items. Each user can customize these pallets to fit their use and workspace design.
It is important to note that whenever you add symbols to the symbols pallet, they will not be available for a new document, even if they are built-in symbols. The only way to make them available to other documents after you close Illustrator is to save the library. You can save the library by clicking the menu button at the top right of the symbols pallet after adding the symbols you want, choose Save Symbol library. You will be prompted to choose a name and then save.
By default, the symbols pallet has only five default symbols showing. You can add more symbols if you want more to use.
To add more symbols, go to the symbols pallet and look for the menu button at the top right corner. Click it and a drop-down menu will appear, choose Open symbol library. You will see categories of symbols, choose the category that has the symbol that you will need. You can click on different ones to see if they have the ones that you need.
Here is the Nature symbol pallet, it has some of the things that you would find in nature. You can slick an edge to resize it so you can see what is there better. You can use the same method to make it smaller, so it fits in a corner if you are not ready to close it.
To use the symbols you need to click the ones you need from the new symbol pallet and they will go over to the default symbol pallet. You can also drag from the new category pallet to the canvas, when you drag to the canvas from new category pallet, it will add it to the canvas and also the default symbol pallet.
If you want to explore other symbols, you can go to the original symbol pallet and click the menu button at the top right corner, then choose Open Symbol library then choose the category. Each category you choose will become a tab on the first category you chose.
This time the Flowers category will be chosen, and you will see it become the first tab on the new symbol panel. To use the symbols you need to click the ones you need from the new symbol pallet and they will go over to the default symbol pallet. You can also drag from the new category pallet to the canvas, when you drag to the canvas from new category pallet, it will add it to the canvas and also the default symbol pallet.
If the symbols pallet is not on the workspace, you can add it by going to the top menu bar and clicking Window then Symbols or pressing Shift + Ctrl + F11 to bring up the symbol pallet.
2] Use the Symbol alone
Symbols are like gradient or color swatches, they can be used alone or as decoration for other items you make. They can be used together with tools and other elements in Illustrator to make great artwork. This part of the article will however look at using symbols alone.
Open Illustrator then go to File then New make your selections in the New document dialogue window then press ok. The canvas will appear according to the options you had chosen. You have already thought out what your document will be about so this is the point to make it.
You may need a symbol that is not available in the five default symbols shown in the symbol pallet. You can add more by going to the symbols pallet and look for the menu button at the top right corner.
Click it and a drop-down menu will appear, choose Open symbol library. You will see categories of symbols, choose the category that has the symbol that you will need. The new category will appear on the screen.
You can choose the symbol that you want to use. One category available is Logo elements. There may be something in that category that you want to use for a logo.
To use the symbols you need to click the ones you need from the new symbol pallet and they will go over to the default symbol pallet. You can also drag from the new category pallet to the canvas, when you drag to the canvas from a new category pallet, it will add it to the canvas and also the default symbol pallet. You can then resize the symbol on the canvas so that it will be whatever size you want. The good thing about the symbols is that they are vectors so the quality will not be affected by resizing.
The symbol chosen is the Globe. It has been stretched to make it bigger.
You can use it as it is, or you can add other elements to it to make it fit your theme.
You may notice that you cannot edit the symbol and whenever you double-click to try and make changes to the symbol you get a message that the changes will affect every instance of the symbol and you need to confirm. Symbols are linked and whatever changes you make will be reflected in every instance it has been used.
To make changes that will be reflected in only that specific document, you must right-click on the symbol and choose Break link to symbol. This will make it possible to edit the symbol without affecting the other instances.
This is the symbol edited with some additions for a logo.
3] Use with 3D effect
Illustrator allows 3D effects on your artwork. You can also add color, gradients, and symbols to your artwork. The symbols can be the default ones or the custom ones that you designed. You may want to make a 3D sphere to be a globe with a map of the world or a football/soccer ball with your custom designs for a project. You can make your design and save it as a symbol by dragging it into the symbol pallet and naming it.
You then design the sphere and add the design symbol to the sphere through the 3D revolve effect. The symbol that you chose will then be placed on the sphere.
This is a football that has custom symbols added to it.
This is a globe with a custom symbol map of the world added to it.
4] Combine symbols
This point is for the avid designer whether professional or hobbyist. Sometimes you need to do a design that is so good it is going to take some good tools and features to make it. You may not have the time to design from scratch, so this is a great way to use the symbols.
Note that to combine the symbols you will have to break the link to the symbol. you will have to place the symbols on the canvas and then right-click on each and choose Break link to symbol. This will ensure that you are not affecting other instances of the symbols. You can then use the Shape builder tool or the Pathfinder tool to combine different symbols into one to make your design.
If the symbols will only be placed near each other to make up a logo or picture, then you will not have to unlink them since they will not be edited in any way.
This Image is a combination of ten separate symbols and tree rectangles. The rectangles were used to make the sea, the sky, and the sand. All the other items are separate symbols. You can rotate the symbols so that they fit the orientation that would make them fit the look of the image.
Where is the symbols tool in Illustrator?
The symbols pallet is located on the right side of the workspace. It is grouped with Swatches and Brushes. The symbol pallet is on a tab in the same group as brushes and Swatches. No matter which version of Illustrator you use, you can find the option in the same location.
How do you insert special characters in Illustrator?
You can insert special characters in Illustrator using the Symbol tool. As this tool is already included in the Illustrator, you do not need to install any add-in or plug-in. You can follow this article to insert or import special characters in Illustrator within moments.