Symbol Tools in Illustrator: Uses and applications on your designs

Welcome to the world of symbols, an often symmetrical experience filled with representation and hidden meaning. Symbols are based on conveying a message without the formation of words, relying on pictorials instead, making for a quick and effective tool for communication that graphic designers of today thrive upon. The Ancient Egyptians were masters of this, using a pictorial-based alphabet called hieroglyphs that has taken hundreds of years to decipher. Although we don’t use a pictorial alphabet like our old friends, perhaps we will be one step closer to doing so once you have read this fascinating article!

Hieroglyphs are the origin of symbols

The meaning of symbols

Symbolism is a celebration of humankind’s proud history, providing a visual representation of the world around us, philosophy, and literature. Take the Dove, which symbolizes peace, freedom, and love. This deep symbolic meaning has been embedded in cultures around the world, even making a feature in the Bible, delivering a message to Noah. This marks the importance of symbols, that they carry a message, sometimes strong enough to move mountains. Let’s not rule out that someday you will come up with something just as powerful!

Symbols examples

What all symbols have in common is that they have a story to back them up. However, they don’t necessarily have to be enriched in centuries-old bible quotes to qualify. Today, symbols are a little more humble and easy to understand, using symbols to communicate to your friends, represent your new business start-up, and even show you the exit. You could say that the modern world has gone mainstream with its approach to symbols, and you’d be right! Emojis are a new addition to the symbol family, and you could say they are even taking part in transforming the way we communicate with one another. Find out more about Emojis in this article! Is it possible we are seeing the beginnings of a sub-pictorial language like the Ancient Egyptians had?

Types of symbols

How to create your own symbol

Now that we have a little background on symbols, you probably want to create your own! Our symbolic symbol will need a reason for its existence before we can even begin the creative process. For this exercise, we are going to create our very own fish symbol. The fish is a symbol that refers to subconsciousness, purification, healing, and emotions, a perfect symbol to represent our new cartoon for educational purposes!

First, we use a combination of drawing tools to create the simple shapes that make up our fish. Here we have used the rectangle, oval, and pen tools. Additionally, we have made two of the corners slightly rounded. The reason is not to leave any unfriendly jagged edges.

Symbols tips

Once you are happy with the overall design of your fish, you will need to color or fill the shapes to give its rigidity. While doing so, you can manage the layers of elements. For example, you wouldn’t want the eye lost behind the body.

Our fish symbol is really starting to take shape now! The last thing we need to do is add finer details to give it some style and appeal. Keeping to a minimal look, add stress marks to the fins using the pen tool.

Stand back and take a look at your marvelous creation. It’s important to remember that if you are not happy with your design, you can always go back and edit until you are satisfied! However, this time you got a hole in one. Now you can select and group your new symbol to drop into your symbol library. You are officially a symbol wizard!

Introduction to the Symbol Tool in Illustrator

The symbol tool is an integral part of vector design, used to create exhilarating digital illustrations. Perhaps aiding you in your next cartoon project, or alternatively, you are interested in creating fluid pattern designs for the background of your stationery! The tool is especially useful when creating a piece of work that involves the repetition of a symbol that you have ready in your symbol library.

Illustrator has hundreds of symbols readily available for you, located in the Symbol Library, and you can add more using Freepik´s vast collection of Symbols. However, on this occasion, we are going to utilize the fish we made earlier, which can be found in our Symbol Library!

For this exercise, we are going to create a school of fish using the fish symbol we created earlier. Now we need the background to inspire our design. Freepik has a variety of impressive underwater backgrounds you can use for free! It’s good practice visualizing your ideas on a selection of backgrounds to help make the right choice.

Symbols tutorial step one

Once we have our background fixed in place, we need to select our fish found in the Symbol Library. Go ahead and click on it!

Symbols tutorial step two

So now we have our fish selected in the symbol library, we can head over to our tools, select the Symbol Sprayer Tool and start spraying our fish symbol. Don’t worry too much about placement, we can fix that in the next step!

Symbols tutorial step three

Hold down the click over the Sprayer Tool, and you will open a secret menu bar revealing many other Symbol Tools! Now you can hit the Symbol Shifter and begin shifting your fish symbols into place.

To give your school of fish a more realistic look, we can select the Sizer Tool and change the size of the symbols individually or a few at a time. This will create depth and perspective to the design.

Symbols tutorial step four

Having thought about it, we think adding some other colors would be appropriate. Make sure your color is selected, then click on the Stainer Tool. Click and hold over your symbols to start painting them in different colors. As you can see, this effect has dramatically changed the look and feel of our design!

Symbols tutorial step five

We are nearly at the finish line! One more thing we would like to do is add some styling. To do this, we need to open our Graphic Styles window and select the graphic style we want. For this occasion, we want to use the Drop Shadow preset. Once selected, we can now click on the Styler Tool and simply highlight all our fish symbols. They will look 3D in no time!

Symbols tutorial final result

You can have so much fun with the symbols you create, and who knows where they will end up! We hope this has been a fun and thrilling experience for you, as it has been for us here at Freepik. As always, we wish you well in your voyage toward creative discovery!