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Chapter Fourteen

The Symbol Tools

Symbols are great for creating a repeated image that has a slight variation. For example, flowers on a bush. Although the flower would be the same across the bush there would be variations in size, shape and hue, and the Symbol Tools can help achieve this much faster than drawing out each individual flower.

Creating a Symbol

First you will need to create a “master” symbol. This is the
image your symbol sprayer will use as a base to make
adjustments to. For this you can use either a vector image
or a standard Jpeg - but for this tutorial we are going to use
a Jpeg.

Symbol Tools Adobe Illustrator
Traced Rose Image Adobe Illustrator

1) In the Tutorial Folder you will see a file titled “Rose Tutorial”. You will need to open this file in Illustrator.

Once the file has loaded you will see that there is an image of a rose in the file. Use your pen tool to trace the outline of the rose as you did with the Red Cat Logo in Chapter 5.

The tracing doesn’t have to be accurate, but it does have to be in the lines so that none of the green background is showing.

2) Once you have finished your outline select both the path and the Image behind it and press Ctrl-7, or go to the Menu Bar and select  Object>Clipping Mask>Make. This will create a line around your rose - removing the background and “cutting out” or “clipping” the image.

3) This is your “Master” for your Symbol Sprayer. Open your Symbol Palette from the Floating Palette on the right of your screen, and then use your Selection Tool to click and drag your new Symbol onto the palette.

Rose Clipping Mask Illustrator Adobe
Symbol Palette Adboe Illustrator
New Symbol Options Adobe Illustrator

You will then have a pop up Message appear asking you to set some parameters for the Symbol (shown above on the far right). For this example, name your Symbol “Rose”, ensure that the Symbol Type is set to “Dynamic Symbol” and that the registration is central and click OK.

Your Symbol will then appear in the Symbols Palette.

Group of Symbols Adobe Illustrator

4) Now your Symbol is ready to go. Delete the rose on your artboard to start with a clean canvas. This won’t affect the rose in your Symbols Palette. To apply your symbol select the Symbol Sprayer Tool from the Toolbar on the left of the screen and ensure the Rose symbol is selected in your Symbols Palette. Click and drag anywhere on your artboard - the faster you drag, the more spread out your symbols are - or just click and hold in one place.

TIP:  Symbols can spray too large or too small. To remedy this, double click on your symbol in the palette to edit it. Double click anywhere on the artboard outside the symbol to save and exit editing. Ensure that the registration point is still central before you exit.

5) Keep spraying until you have a good number of roses.


Once you feel happy we can start editing. As you can see, we have quite a lot of white space between the roses in the image to the left. We want to get rid of that. Using the Symbol Scruncher and the Symbol Shifter Tools we can remove the gaps with ease. have a play with the two tools on your document to remove any gaps between the roses.

If you want to bring a rose to the top, hold down the Shift button and click on that rose. If you want to send a rose to the back, hold down Alt+Shift and click.

Your result should look similar to the image on the right.

Symbol Scruncher Effect Adobe Illustrator
Symbol Sizer Tool Adobe Illustrator
Symbol Spinner Tool Adobe Illustrator

6) Our next task, then, is to start creating some variation. We are going to
start with size. Select the Symbol Sizer Tool. Click above the symbols on your artboard to increase their sizes. To decrease their sizes, simply hold down the Alt Button and click. The longer you click the more the size changes. You may find you need to fiddle with this tool before you are happy with the results.

7) This is starting to look better, but now we need to start rotating the flowers. Select the Symbol Spinner Tool and use it in the same way as the Symbol Sizer. You may find now that when you rotate the flowers new gaps appear. This can be prevented by using the Symbol Spinner before using the
scruncher and shifter tools. Move the flowers so that they are rotated and fill in any gaps that have been created.

8) You may find at this point that you need to go back and use the tools I’ve previously mentioned in order to create an effect you are satisfied with. After you have done that select the Eyedropper Tool from the Toolbar and select a colour from the centre of the rose. We are now going to alter the
colours on some of the roses to add variation.


9) Select the Symbol Stainer Tool and then click and drag over some of your symbols, or select individual symbols one at a time. The Symbols that will be affected are highlighted and when you release your mouse button they will be stained in accordance to the colour you have selected in the Fill Colour box. The longer you hold down the mouse button when using the Symbol Stainer Tool the more tint will be applied to your symbols.


To add variety, change the colour you have selected with the Eye Dropper
Tool, and leave some of your symbols their original colour. And you are done! Feel free to fiddle with your symbol set as you see fit, but essentially this is your finished effect.

As with all of the other tools we’ve encountered, you can access the settings for these tools by double clicking on the icon in the toolbar on the left of the screen.

If you find that you are trying to edit only one of your symbols but keep accidentally editing multiple symbols, change the brush size from this menu. You can also change whether your effects are applied to your symbols at random or by user settings using the “Method” rollout. The “Intensity” option changes how much of an effect each sprayer has on
your symbols and the Symbol Set Density option changes how fast symbols are sprayed out and how close together they are.

Then there are the individual options for each Symbol Sprayer. These can be accessed by pressing the squares beneath the main options. The initial options shown are the “Symbol Sprayer” Options, and control the entire range of tools. I leave these as average, but you can try out the different options to see what works best for you.

Symbol Stainer Tool Adobe Illustrator
Symbolism Tool Options Adobe Illustrator
Symbol Sizer Options Adobe Illustrator

The rest of the menus are blank, with the exception of the menu for the Symbol Sizer. This gives you the option to have proportional resizing and to have resizing affect the density of your symbols. Again, I leave both of these as they are most of the time but you can try out both options to see
what you prefer.

To conclude; the symbol tools can be fiddly and confusing, but once used to them, they are hugely time and effort saving when you need to create something repetitive but with differences. Leaves on bushes and trees are another great example of this, as is grass (shown below).

One thing to note - if you use more than one symbol in a set, before you can edit each symbol with the Symbol Sprayers, the symbol MUST be selected in the Symbols Palette.

Grass Symbol Tools Adobe Illustrator
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