I'm making a deck of cards. I have a "shape" symbol for a suit (hearts) and a "configuration" symbol (ten of hearts) which contains many (12) instances of the "heart" symbol.

I want to use the same configuration with different shapes (symbols, suits), but retain the link to the "configuration" symbol so I can tweak the suit positioning and it will apply to all instances.

I found out that I can do this by using the "direct selection tool": after placing an instance of the "ten of hearts" symbol, I can directly select each instance of the "heart" symbol within the placed instance, and choose "replace symbol" and choose another suit symbol (e.g. "spade").

However, if I try to select multiple instances of the heart symbol within the placed instance of the "ten of hearts" symbol (even with the direct selection tool), the "replace" menu shows that I will be replacing the "ten of hearts" symbol with the "spade" symbol, which is not what I want.

Is there a way to do multiple replacements at once or must I choose between:

  1. Directly select each and every heart instance separately to replace with spades (takes a long time but does produce the intended result), or
  2. Break link with the ten of hearts symbol, select all the hearts on the artboard, and replace them all at once with spades (and then not be able to update the ten of spades configuration via editing the ten of hearts symbol)?
  • I'm not really clear on where you are having trouble. I seem to replace multiple instances without an issue. Oh wait.. it's a symbol nested in another symbol?
    – Scott
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:02
  • @Metis, right. If I break the link to the "parent" symbol (that contains the instances of the suit symbol which I'm replacing), I can select all the suit instances and replace all at once. But without breaking the link, I can't work out how to do it other than one at a time.
    – Wildcard
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:06
  • Linking to related question: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/q/80356/57377
    – Wildcard
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


I don't really know if this would be any easier. However, rather than having to select each and every instance of the symbol you want to replace, it may be faster to select it all then deselect the rest of the nested symbol.

Using the Direct Selection Tool click-drag over the symbol or symbols. Do NOT hold down any modifier keys when you drag. If you hold modifier keys this won't work. Habit makes me want to hold shift or option/alt keys with the Direct Selection tool, but that's a issue here.

Once you drag to highlight the Symbols.. then hold down the Shift key to deselect the object not to be replaced. Notice the different object highlighting in the animation below. Rather than the symbol bounds being highlighted, you get a "key" highlight for the objects. That's important.

Then you should be left with just the symbols to replace.. and then the Replace feature functions as expected.


As posted, I'm not really certain if this would be better. But to me 2 shift-clicks if better than 6 shift-clicks. Multiply those by 10... and there's a large time savings there.

Of course, this is highly dependent upon the number of object which need to be deselected, as opposed to the number of objects to select.

All symbols in the animation are set as Dynamic Symbols.

  • Beautiful! What threw me off is that if you click just one instance, the "Replace:" icon at the top shows the square that you are replacing; if the link to the "red circle" symbol is broken and you select multiple squares, the "replace" icon still shows just one square; but in your animation, when you've selected all the squares, the "replace" icon still shows the red circle as though that is what will be replaced.
    – Wildcard
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:32
  • 1
    Yeah it tends to jump back to highlight the parent symbol.. but it does replace the nested ones.
    – Scott
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:33

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