I'm sure this is a common problem, but I haven't found an efficient solution yet.

I've created a 4 color logo and I want to create a few versions of it with different colors for use on different backgrounds. I'd love to be able to use the same symbol as much as possible.

My natural inclination is to duplicate the symbol over a number of artboards in the same file, and have a different color scheme in each artboard, but it seems like I need to break the symbol to accomplish this.

My assumption is that there's no quick solution to this, but is there a common workflow that keeps things more-or-less linked and organized?

3 Answers 3


This probably isn't an ideal workflow in all cases but it shouldn't take too long to set up once you know what you're doing and does leave you with a single(-ish) unbroken symbol and will save you a lot of time and effort if you're spending any amount of time exploring different colorways whilst still working on the logo.

  1. Create a symbol for each color and give the shapes within each of those symbols a color you will not be using (you can actually set them all to the same color — I only used different colors here so that you can see the different layers), greyscale is ideal here if possible (more on that later).

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  1. Color each symbol by adding a fill using the appearance panel.

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  1. Group your symbols. You can now duplicate your group and change colors by simply selecting a group and using the Recolor Artwork tool.

    The reason we set our underlying shapes to greys is that the Recolor Artwork tool will give you both the colors set in the appearance panel and the colors within the symbol... But there is a "Preserve Grays" option which will stop those underlying symbol colors from cluttering our list of colors (they'll appear locked at the bottom).

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  • This is much closer to what I was looking for - thanks! It doesn't allow for changing the lock-up of the different assets over multiple artboards, but this is probably the best workflow I can hope for, and I'll take what I can get. :) (also I dig your 4 color logo)
    – SFlagg
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 17:55

I am assuming the symbol you refer to is more than just a single color. Otherwise there'd be little need to worry about breaking the symbolic link or other Appearance Panel options to alter a one-color symbol.

So.. assuming a multiple color symbol....Set up artboards with the symbol on them... same symbol....

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Now using the Symbol Panel, drag the symbol to the New icon at the bottom of the panel to duplicate it.

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Now double click the duplicate symbol and edit that symbol to your heart's content. And click the little "done" arrow when you're happy.

Now select a symbol on one of the artboards.. and in the Control Bar across the top of the screen. Select the Replace menu and choose your edited symbol....

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Repeat as desired.

This way you are just editing symbols without breaking any links or altering the original symbol. I'm really not sure if it's any faster than just breaking the original symbol link and editing. However, if retaining symbols is a concern, this is how to do that. Short of using the Symbol Stainer Tool, there is no direct way to alter the colors within a symbol without breaking the link, or editing the symbol directly.

Screenshots/animations show Illustrator CS6 because I hate the CC subscription model and just prefer working in CS6. However, I do have the latest AI version... if there's a hiccup or something different in CC just let me know and I'll look.


Changes you make to one instance of a symbol will be applied to all instances of that same symbol--that's the nature (and beauty) of them.

I would just break the link and use the symbol as a new object in each artboard. I may be mistaken, but that seems the quickest and easiest way to have full control of each artboard independently from the others.

I assume you know how to break the link, but I'll explain for others.

  • Select the symbol and right-click
  • Click on Break Link to Symbol

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Pay attention to how the symbol was constructed. In this case (one of the AI default symbols), you can see that it is a bit cluttered and can be cleaned up:

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Delete everything except the path(s) you wish to keep

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As you can see, I duplicated the path I created from breaking the link to my symbol and placed it in several artboards. You can then change each one the same as you would any other path. Ignore the slow animation, I'm not sure why it's moving so slowly.

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  • So, you copy the runner symbol, break the link, clean up the superfluous nesting, change the color to blue, and then a few days later you modify the underlying shape. Are you suggesting that the most efficient workflow is to delete the blue version and repeat the process over again?
    – SFlagg
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 21:19
  • @SFlagg you would change the appearance of the newly created path(s) the same as you would any other path/object. You wouldn't need to repeat this process over and over, just click on the path you want to change the appearance of and change it.
    – Manly
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 14:46
  • @SFlagg while this is true its also false. The color of a symbol can come from other parts. There is a near duplcate answer here unfortunately adobe has actually made symbols worse since CS6 and not all of the cool tricks work anymore. For example you can no longer have nested symbols which is great for these kinds of things.
    – joojaa
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 16:16

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