Is it possible to change the colors of a symbol in a document without breaking the link with its original shape.

Eg.: I have a square a symbol. I have two I races of them in my document. I want on black with a red stroke and the other one yellow with a green stroke. But if I edit the symbol to say, a circle, I want all of them to be updated (but keeping their colors).

PS: Using the appearance panel to change the overall background of the symbol is not an option since (1) it doesn't allow to change the overprint properties and (2) what if I have multiple shapes of different colors in my symbol.

  • 1
    I agree with Scott's answer, however I wanted to share a little tip that I found useful more than once: you can define some “global” swatches and use them to color your symbols. Of course you can edit symbols definitions if you want to change their colors, but I found it easier (all colors to change in one palette) and safer (you won't change your symbol's shape by mistake while selecting different regions) to change only swatches definitions.
    – thebodzio
    Jul 2, 2012 at 23:46

5 Answers 5


Sorry I came upon this question so late. You can have symbols instances with different colors to some extent. Use the Appearance panel to add a fill or stroke color to the selected symbol instance. Here I have added different fill colors to each instance of the same symbol.

enter image description here

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    Read more carefully my PS note.
    – gregseth
    Nov 14, 2013 at 15:12

Note This answer is from 2012. Things have since changed.

Adobe has implemented Dynamic Symbols in Illustrator CC, which allow for further editing than was previously possible. See here: Adobe Help for help implementing dynamic symbols and changing colors of symbol instances.

Previous answer, related primarily to Illustrator CS6 or older.

No. You can't have multiple, differing, iterations of the same symbol. You can use the Symbol tools, like the Symbol Stainer, but that won't allow specific color assignments within any symbol.

If you need different colored symbols, you need different symbols.

You can easily swap symbols. Select a symbol on the artboard and then use the Control bar to swap with another symbol.

replace symbol


Just a little "extension" to David's answer - to color some symbols you can use "Hue" in fill opacity settings: enter image description here


Dynamic symbols were introduced with Illustrator CC 2015 which let you change the fill/stroke/etc without breaking the link to the master. You just select the placed symbol with the Direct Selection tool and change away.



I would like to add for the record that you can change colors in a dynamic symbol with scale-9, but it seems only to work correctly if the export type is set to graphic. If the export type is set to movie clip (and scale 9 is active), Illustrator seems buggy when recoloring the artwork, as I am seeing distortion in the size of the artwork. I am reporting this with Illustrator version 28.1.

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