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Team Think Labs | Start Using Illustrator Symbols 2: The Sprayening
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The Symbol Sprayer Tool

Start Using Illustrator Symbols 2: The Sprayening


I first learned about Illustrator Symbols from Keely’s awe-inspiring post. Symbols sounded pretty useful so I decided to research the subject further. I learned that beyond the benefits of using symbols for managing graphics and implementing them into Flash, Symbols also had other unique capabilities. That’s where the Symbol Sprayer Tool comes in.


The Symbol Sprayer Tool can be found in the lower part of the Illustrator Toolbar or accessed by hitting SHIFT + S. This tool allows you to quickly place multiple instances of your Symbols on your Artboard. You can click and hold to produce a continuous spray of the selected symbol, or quickly click to place a single instance. Holding ALT while using the tool will remove Symbol instances in the same way.

Symbol Sets

When multiple instances of a Symbol are sprayed onto the Artboard, they are automatically contained in an object called a Symbol Set. The results of using the Sprayer can look pretty underwhelming at first, but the real power of the tool is the ability to modify Symbol Sets using an arsenal of Symbol modifying tools. These tools can be accessed by clicking and holding on the Symbol Sprayer Tool.

These tools allow you to modify specific areas of your Symbol Set, according to your brush size and intensity. This process is much quicker than manually modifying tons of Symbols one-at-a-time. The results you get are difficult to be super accurate with, so main applications of this tool, for me, have been adding texture and more abstract elements to my designs.

- The Symbol Shifter Tool can move Symbols and shift them forwards and backwards in the Set’s display order.

- The Symbol Scruncher Tool can draw Symbols away or pull Symbols towards where you click.

- The Symbol Sizer Tool can scale Symbols up and down.

- The Symbol Spinner Tool can rotate Symbols, allowing you to almost “brush” them in the direction you move your mouse.

- The Symbol Stainer Tool can gradually apply a new color to Symbols.

- The Symbol Screener Tool can modify the transparency of Symbols.

- The Symbol Styler Tool lets you paint on custom Illustrator Graphic Styles.

If you choose to add more Symbols to your set, the new Symbols will be influenced by the existing modifications you have previously made to that area of the set.


Spray Your Way

Double-clicking the Symbol Sprayer Tool will bring up a dialog box allowing you to customize how the tool works. You can also modify the aspects of each sub-tool and see how modifier-keys affect its functionality.


Editing Symbol Definitions

Any modifications to a Symbol’s definition will be applied to all instances of that Symbol in all Sets. You can also easily swap out what Symbol is contained in a Set. First select the Set, then click the new Symbol in your Symbol Palette then select “Replace Symbol” from the Palette’s menu.


The Symbol Sprayer Tool is another one of those Illustrator features that is not super intuitive at first, but after a little playing around it can be very handy in certain situations.