How to make a symbol
In order to create a symbol within your design, first, you need to go to Window > Symbols to ensure the Symbols Panel is visible.
Now simply select the object you would like to convert to a symbol, for example, a logo or an icon using the Move Tool or via the Layers Panel, and then click Create in the Symbols Panel. To make sure all of your symbols update at the same time, you’ll also need to have synchronisation turned on. So, if it is not already highlighted, click Sync.
Now if you copy and paste the symbol elsewhere in your design or across multiple artboards, when you make changes to that symbol they will be reflected in all other symbol instances, in real-time—which is extremely useful if a client requests bulk changes throughout a design or project.
This video shows how to make your design workflows more efficient using symbols.
Using symbols to ensure consistency in branding and UI design
Converting logos and icons into symbols is a great way to avoid inconsistencies in branding and UI projects. Let’s use this coffee shop branding as an example. Once we’ve got our logo ready, we can turn it into a Symbol and start to put this branding onto different product mock-ups over multiple artboards.
This is ideal for when you need to show how something might look in various print formats like letterheads, business cards, menus, packaging or even staff uniforms etc., or to show how it will look as part of a user interface, app or website across different devices.
It is also perfect for UI design where buttons, icons, form elements and logos are repeated and need to be consistent. Using symbols to update all instances simultaneously will allow you to focus more attention on the user experience, rather than spending time trying to combat inconsistencies in your design.
Combining symbols and duplicated objects
You can also create symbols from curves and shapes just before you duplicate and transform them. This lets you create interesting repeating designs which can change all instances in one go! Two duplication methods are possible:
- Move data entry—the symbolised object can be duplicated when you press the Enter key; the resulting Move/Duplicate dialog offers Rotation and Number of copies options. As you adjust these options’ values the design will change with it.
- Power Duplicate (cmd + J or ctrl + J (Mac or Windows)—this modifier-based approach relies on the Duplicate command and on-page manual object rotation rather than using the Move/Duplicate dialog.
By converting the individual shapes a design is made up of into symbols we can very easily change the characteristics of the whole design, in seconds. For example, changing the colour of each petal individually in the flower design below would have taken a very long time, but using symbols I was able to make changes to one petal that were then applied across the whole design instantly, as you can see in this video.
The key to success with this type of design is trying to stick to exact angles and distances when duplicating using either method. The flower design above consists of a duplicated petal shape, which was then rotated by exactly 30 degrees and moved slightly to the right of the very first/highest pedal. I knew that I wanted exactly 12 petals in my overall design, so 30 degrees was the perfect amount to fill the shape as intended.
Using symbols to create pattern designs
Symbols can be incredibly useful when creating repeat patterns because any changes you make to an object will be reflected across all other instances of that object in your design.
For example, I created a simple ice lolly design that I then wanted to repeat across the whole canvas. Using a combination of Symbols and Power Duplicate seemed a perfect choice.
To create the initial symbol from which to build the pattern, I selected the ice lolly design and then clicked Create in the Symbols Panel (with Sync turned on).
I then started to copy and paste the Symbol using Power Duplicate (Command + J or control + J on a PC) in the same direction and distance across the canvas–this is also a quick way to make sure the gaps between your symbols are equal each time.
When I had one long line of symbols, I grouped them together using Command + G (or control + G on a PC) and then duplicated the line several times to fill the rest of the page. Once I filled the page, it was easy to adjust the colour, angle and size of the ice lollies without having to select each one individually.
This cushion mock-up was also made using symbols. After creating a simple design using random shapes, I then turned it into a symbol and used it as the basis for a much larger pattern.
On the left, you can see the original smaller square pattern I designed before I converted it into a symbol and duplicated it numerous times around my design.
When making this kind of pattern, the Distribution options (found in the top-right corner of your Toolbar) are essential to making sure everything is evenly placed, as when an element is spaced even slightly incorrectly, it will really stand out when your pattern is scaled to the correct size.
For more information on creating seamless repeat patterns for textiles, check out this article by pattern designer Weronika Salach: How to achieve perfect repeat patterns every time in Affinity Designer.
Using symbols when warping designs
Any vector warp group made from one or more objects can itself be symbolised. In the same way that changes to symbolised shapes can be applied to all symbol instances simultaneously, multiple symbolised warp groups allow you to always keep your warps consistent across your design.
Creating illustrations using symbols
You can also use symbols to create intricate illustrations with repeat elements. This city design was made by combining numerous different skyscraper symbols and then overlaying them together to create an effective ‘collage-style’ illustration.
Here, I’ve broken it down to show you a few of the buildings on their own to give you a better idea of how it was put together.
If you want to go full ‘Inception-style’, you can have symbols embedded within symbols too. So, to make life even easier, I made the window sections vector symbols. This meant that I could make changes to the colour, height, width and gaps between the windows all in a matter of seconds! Editing two hundred individually placed window sections just wouldn’t have been feasible.
These are just a few examples where symbols can be utilised to great effect. There are many more use cases where they can enhance your workflow, so if you don’t already use symbols in Affinity Designer, hopefully, this article has inspired you to give this feature a try—you might find it a real time-saver!