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I have a lot of symbols that use gradients which end up slowing down performance. Is there any way to disable illustrator from rendering items when they are turned off? It seems that even when I make them not visible illustrator still runs slowly which is why I believe it still does massive amounts of calculations even when they're turned off.

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Are you working with or without smart guides? Is there a single (1) instance of the symbols which ARE visible? What version of Illustrator? What Operating System? –  Scott Apr 7 '12 at 18:07
    
FYI Smart guies are the #1 thing which slows down Illustrator when you have a great many objects. Turning off Smart Guides generally increases performance dramatically. –  Scott Apr 7 '12 at 18:15
    
I don't know anything about smart guides. I'll have to look into it. Even if I hide all instances it still lags. I'm using CS5 for Windows 7. –  Johannes Apr 8 '12 at 3:06
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You have it easy - in the old days, you'd work in Outline mode and occasionally switch to Preview to get a render. –  e100 Apr 10 '12 at 11:59
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In the Layers Panel flyout menu choose "Panel Options" and turn off thumbnails. Rendering those thumbnails can slow AI to a crawl, and that's what's giving you the problem here.

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