The Symbol Tools in Adobe Illustrator allows you to create and manipulate clusters of symbol images. You can use the tools to change the density, color, location, size, rotation, transparency, and style of the instances in the set. Below I will go through each symbol tool and how to use them.
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Before we start, make sure you have the Symbols panel available by going Windows > Symbols.
Also you’ll need to open up the Symbol Libraries Menu by click on the button on the bottom, left-hand corner of the panel. Adobe Illustrator already a wide variety of symbols built-in, so there’s no need for you to create your own symbols for this guide. Here’s I’ve selected the Nature library. Just double click on a symbol to add it to the Symbols panel.
The Symbol Sprayer Tool
This is the main symbol tool that basically sprays symbol instances onto the canvas. If you click once, it will create only once symbol:
However, if you hold down the mouse button, the brush will create a cluster of symbol images:
If you hold the Alt/Option Key the Symbol Sprayer Tool will have the opposite effect and will delete symbol instances.
Double-clicking on any Symbol Tool button will bring up Symbolism Tools Options window:
Each Symbol Tool has its own options, but from this window you can custom each option. Here the options for the Symbol Sprayer Tool:
Diameter: the brush size.
Intensity: how quickly symbol instances are created when you hold the brush down.
Symbol Set Density: how closely packed the symbol instances are when generated.
The other options such as Scrunch, Size, Spin, Screen, Stain and Style apply the effects of the other symbol tools to the Symbol Sprayer Tool.
When working with any symbol sets you produce with the Symbol Sprayer Tool, bare in mind that any of the other Symbol Tools we will use next will only affect the symbol or symbol sets that have been selected in the Symbols panel. So if you have mixed symbol sets of ants and bees, you will need to select both ants AND bees in the Symbols panel. If you only select one symbol then that will only been affected.
The Symbol Shifter Tool
This tool is used to move symbols around in a symbol set.
Just click into the symbol set and drag out in the direction you desire.
The Symbol Scruncher Tool
This tool moves symbol instances closer together or farther apart.
Increase the brush size to be larger then the symbol set cluster by continually pressing ] (and [ if you want to make brush smaller). Then click onto the center of the cluster to pull all the symbol instances together.
Alternatively, if you hold the Alt/Option Key when you do this, then the symbol instances will be pushed outwards instead.
The Symbol Sizer Tool
With this tool you can resize symbols.
Simply clicking on a symbol will increase its size:
While holding the Alt/Option Key when you press down will shrink the symbol:
The Symbol Spinner Tool
Using this tool will allow you to rotate symbol instances.
Click down on a symbol or group or symbols, drag around the direction you want them in and release.
The Symbol Stainer Tool
Colours symbols by changing the hues towards the selected tint colour, while not affecting the luminosity. However because of this, colours with very high or very low luminosity change very little (blacks or whites).
To use the Symbol Stainer Tool, first select a colour swatch, then click onto the symbol instances.
The Symbol Screener Tool
Applies transparency to symbols.
Clicking on symbols will cause them to become more transparent, but holding option/alt while clicking on symbols will decrease transparency.
The Symbol Styler Tool
Lets you apply or remove a graphic style from a symbol instance, which you can control the amount and location of the application.
To use this tool, first select the Symbol Styler Tool, then select a style from the Graph Styles panel (which you can find via Window > Graphic Styles). Then click onto the symbol instances.
Also, holding down alt/option while clicking down will decrease the style effect amount.
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