I know that symbols and templates are terms already used in Illustrator for different purposes; but what I am looking for is something that could help me avoid drawing the same objects multiple times.

For example if was doing a icon set as a sprite in a single document and each icon had the same background, I would like to be able to draw that background once and use it for all the icons in the set. I know that I can do this by copying and pasting but then if I need to change the background I have to duplicate the change for each icon, which I suppose could be hundreds in the case of some icon sets so I'm assuming there's some way of avoiding this and making one change which would affect all - much like the way a global swatch works in colour but with an object instead of a swatch. Is there anything like this?

I know I suppose I could use the symbol sprayer and or graphic styles and I did have a look at them but the symbol sprayer doesn't seem very accurate seems to be more for fills and art that something like designing an icon set; and the graphic styles seemed to be more geared up towards styles not much use for paths from what I could see.

  • Other than the Symbol Sprayer, did you try just making a symbol???
    – Scott
    Aug 2, 2015 at 20:13
  • No but thanks - I just looked it now and it's exactly what I wanted. I hadn't really given it serious consideration because I got thrown by the symbol sprayer and thought that was the only way to use symbols in Illustrator for some reason. I should have tried out the symbol sprayer and I probably would have found regular symbols. Sorry Aug 2, 2015 at 21:16
  • 90% of the Symbol tools are... well.. uhm.. less than precise. But Symbols themselves can be very useful.
    – Scott
    Aug 2, 2015 at 21:17
  • Yes I hadn't released you could use them from anything other than the sprayer but simply dragging them from the symbols panel works fine for my purposes. Thanks will tick your answer. Aug 3, 2015 at 0:41

1 Answer 1


Make your background a Symbol by dragging it to the Symbol Panel. You can then place instances of that symbol in multiple locations. Just drag the symbol back from the Symbol Panel to the artboard where you want it (or copy an instance already on the artboard). You don't have to use any of the actual Symbol tools to get the benefit of Symbols.

Symbol Instances all reference the same symbol artwork. This way you don't get multiple copies taking up file size. Instead you get multiple references to the same artwork. (kind of like Photoshop smart object copies).

When you want to edit all instances, double-click the Symbol in the Symbol Panel and edit that artwork. All instances will update when you are done editing the Symbol.

  • That's it thanks - would there be any reason not to use this for something like a stationary job which used a logo in multiple situations. I was wondering about that too, but I suppose I'll experiment a bit myself. Aug 3, 2015 at 0:42
  • @byronyasgur there's no technical reason to avoid symbols in artwork that I'm aware of. If the limitations of Symbols don't effect what you are doing, then there's no problem with them - Limitations like every instance must be the same base artwork.
    – Scott
    Aug 3, 2015 at 3:57

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