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Dynamic symbols across documents?

Community Beginner ,
May 11, 2018 May 11, 2018

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So, as far as I can gather, there’s no way to have symbols change across multiple documents (let alone multiple CC apps)?

Do I have that right? Because it seems ridiculous.

your options (for using same artwork across documents) seems to be:

- symbol library which you can update by saving over it, but which wont affect the instances of those symbols already placed in other documents

- add the symbol to the “cc library” thing (but no dynamic symbols, plus seems to be hard to organise)

- create a .ai with artboards for each artwork, then place that .ai in other files (no dynamic symbols, plus you have to click the “yes update link” thing every time you change something)

Why does placing a symbol in a document automatically and irreversibly un-link it from the symbol library it was from? Like.. maybe I’m missing something, but there’s already an un-link feature for that, so who decided this was how symbol libraries would work? And why? It’s so utterly idiotic that I’m thinking Adobe cannot POSSIBLY have done it that way and clearly it must be that I’m missing something because who would come up with the awesomeness of dynamic symbols, and then not allow you to use them across documents? It’s madness.

Somebody please tell me I'm mistaken. I'd love to be wrong.

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Community Expert ,
May 11, 2018 May 11, 2018

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If you save a Dynamic symbol in a Symbols library, you can open that library in another Illustrator document by going to the Symbols panel flyout menu > Open Symbol Library > Other Library... and navigate to the .ai file where you have that library with the Dynamic symbol.

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LEGEND ,
May 12, 2018 May 12, 2018

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Brontide,

It's an understandable assumption that so-called "libraries" are application-level assets, like document-shared asset libraries in a CAD program or server-shared assets in a database or something. But in Illustrator, they're not. They're just other ordinary Illustrator files. When you "open a library" (Symbols, Brushes, etc.), it's essentially the same thing as just opening another file, copying something from it, and pasting it into your current working document.

For example, as with most any graphics program, it's common practice to "Place" an external graphic file as an external link instead of as an embedded copy (as one commonly does an ordinary raster image) into multiple Illustrator documents. Thereafter, if that external document is edited in its native environment, then it will be updated (re-imported) whenever any of the AI documents that link to it are opened. But Symbols, Styles, etc., etc. don't work that way, despite their being called "libraries."

Yeah, if what you copy is a Symbol Instance (or a path with a Brush applied, or a Character or Paragraph style, etc.) then when you paste it into your current working file, it will be added to the receiving document's corresponding palette. But there is no application-level "connection" between what seems to be the "same" Symbol (or Brush or Style, etc.) used in the two documents. That's why, In fact, Illustrator has to provide "merge" or "add" alerts so you can determine what happens when the naming of the assets conflict.

It's the same way with Illustrator's so-called "templates." A "template" file is nothing but an ordinary Illustrator file that opens as an Untitled document. There is no application-level syncing between a file and the "template" which a user sometimes think's it's still going to be "based upon" after the new file is saved under a different name.

It's always been this way with Illustrator. And it's quite arguable that users (especially beginners) would be distraught if they edited an application-level Symbol, opened a previous document, and found that its content had changed. The problem is that (in typical Illustrator fashion), the interface implies there is more functional sophistication going on than really is.

All of the above assumes CS6 and previous. I don't rent mission-critical software, so I don't know (or much care) what has changed since the Cloudy Captives versions. But I doubt any of the above has changed.

JET

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Community Beginner ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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oh I see, and this is why Illustrator has no complex features that might be confusing to a newbie, right? Except it totally does, and that’s a weird reason to handicap it, especially since editing a global symbol could simply have a "you're editing a global symbol, updates will change all instances across all documents" warning, similar to the warning that is *already* on document symbols.

I get that it makes sense to mostly handle libraries this way- if I imported some brushes, and then modified them, I wouldn't want that modification to go through to other instances of that brush in other documents. But, I still think it's ridiculous to not have the optional ability to create "global" symbols or something like that.

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Community Expert ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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How will you handle documents that get distributed via networks, USB sticks or whatever? How do you want to handle the situation where the source document gets duplicated/copied to the harddisk and then later uploaded again? Not working on a server makes totally sense with Illustrator because of its known issues with networks.

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Community Beginner ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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Documents separated (like distributed, or on USB sticks etc) would automatically un-link when "separated" form the library- the same way linked/placed files already do. We already do this. All I'm saying is basically have a placed .ai only with dynamic editing features. Everything needed, UI-wise, is already in place.

You could then re-link these "separated" files in the links panel later on. Or, maybe it could go via the cloud- you can already put artwork there, AND it already updates across multiple documents! Yay! Except.. you can't use those dynamically.. nor can you unlink it to get the vectors natively in the document (it seems you can only place it).. that's why it's so frustrating.. The feature literally almost exists, they just didn't go the last two steps to make it actually usable. All the needed features and the UI for this is present, it's just not applied in a way that you can actually use it and I think this is nuts. But, the problem with doing this via the cloud is the library is hard to organise- Like, if you had 200 icons you were using for one client, and another ~100 icons for a different project, then, that'd make your "libraries" panel become swamped because it seems to have no subfolders or so. So, if going the cloud route and not the "handle it like a placed .ai only with dynamic editing", that would need to be addressed also.

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LEGEND ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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oh I see, and this is why Illustrator has no complex features that might be confusing to a newbie, right? Except it totally does...

Don't shoot the messenger, Brontitde. As I said up-front in reply to you, It's an understandable assumption that so-called "libraries" are application-level assets, especially given all the exaggerated "professional" and "industry leading" hoopla so often attributed to Illustrator (especially by those with little-to-no experience with anything else). And I never said Illustrator's interface is not needlessly confusing. (Quite the contrary, in fact.)

I am trying to imagine reopening a document and finding the symbol had changed just because I had changed it in an unrelated document.

Who said it's about unrelated documents? Application-level asset libraries are nothing new and no less appropriate  and applicable to 2D drawing programs than to 3D modelers, CAD solutions, or any kind of data-driven publishing. One need look no further than the obvious company or product logo for applications. Auto-updated symbol assets sourced by many documents could be just as appropriate for everything from maps to exploded parts drawings.

But functionally, Illustrator is pretty much like most programs in the general-purpose Bezier drawing category. They are standalone applications, not networked workgroup solutions.

Serif Affinity Designer is also a standalone desktop application like Illustrator. It's neither a networked program nor a client/server data-driven solution. Yet it provides a straightforward application-level hierarchal Assets panel, which organizes any reusable elements a user may want immediately accessible to all documents, not dependent upon selecting a particular "startup profile" and not scattered across individual construct palettes. It can store basically any of the program's native constructs, including live Symbols, interactively adjustable Shape objects, etc. But both the interface and the documentation makes it clear that elements dragged from the application-level Assets library are copies and that if the element contains a Symbol, then that Symbol it is added to the document-level Symbols palette of that document.

Functionally, this is pretty much the same as Illustrator, but its interface is both more convenient and more intuitively clear as to the distinction between storing things in an application-level library as opposed to a document-specific collection of  live Symbols. By comparison, Illustrator's interface confuses the "library" term, often making beginners think it is application-level, when really it's just an ordinary Illustrator file that may or may not be stored in a particular folder in the application directory.

JET

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Community Beginner ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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sorry, you're right, I was snarky. I'm just frustrated. My point is just that being overly complex or convoluted has never stopped adobe, I mean let's be honest =P. And I don’t think this would even be confusing if done right. Editing cloud symbols already updates it across multiple documents. There’s already a warning/heads up dialogue for that. All I’m talking about is that same feature, only add dynamic-ness and the ability to un-link.

I just don't buy that it'd be overly complex or beyond Illustrator's scope. You can already use either the cloud or a placed .ai to get updates across multiple documents. All I want is for them to add the same unlinking and dynamic functionality to what is already there, which again, is a mechanic that already exists, but for some unfathomable reason, only for the in-document symbols. Those features just need to be combined.

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Enthusiast ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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I know it's not the direct answer to your problem,
I prefer InDesign when I need to use a lot of graphics objects.
When I do this in Illustrator, I use external Illustrator documents.
I am completing my studies by inviting Illustrator document with AI and EPS in Artboard.

Graphic Designer Educator / PrePress Consultant

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Community Beginner ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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yep, that's also how I do it right now- just make a big .ai with my faux "symbols" in artboards, then place that document where I need it, or just copy out of it more often, because I often need the same artwork but in a different colours etc. I assumed I was doing some ugly workaround and went looking for the proper way to do this... only to find that apparently this is it. Still can't quite believe it. Dynamic symbols are awesome- except you can't use that functionality across documents and I think this just blows and is ridiculous.

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Community Expert ,
May 12, 2018 May 12, 2018

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Brontide  wrote

It’s so utterly idiotic that I’m thinking Adobe cannot POSSIBLY have done it that way and clearly it must be that I’m missing something because who would come up with the awesomeness of dynamic symbols, and then not allow you to use them across documents? It’s madness.

If this were the default, it would drive me mad! I am trying to imagine reopening a document and finding the symbol had changed just because I had changed it in an unrelated document. If it were possible to have a choice as to which documents, that would be a good idea.

Dynamic symbols are a fairly recent development, and I do love them.

InDesign has the ability to copy and paste a link (which can be updated in the links panel) into the same document or into another document. Would that work if the Illustrator team could do it?

The place to post your idea for a new feature so that the engineers will read it and others can vote on it is User Voice. Here is the link:
Adobe Illustrator Feedback

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Community Beginner ,
May 14, 2018 May 14, 2018

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that's a good point, but it already warns you that you're editing a symbol and will change other instances- it just needs to say it will change instances in other documents.

also, like I've said before, the fact that someone might be confused is kinda a bad reason not to do it- just do it well then, with it being an option, etc. You can already unlink symbols so the UI for that is already there.

thanks for the feedback link I will put it in

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New Here ,
Mar 09, 2023 Mar 09, 2023

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+10000, it's hard to believe this functionality hasn't been built in. I wish the library + user defined symbols could be combined and work how the Figma components library works. 

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Community Expert ,
Mar 09, 2023 Mar 09, 2023

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LATEST

If you want something, post it to Uservoice (see link in jane-e's post)

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