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How to replace symbol instances in Illustrator tutorial

replace symbol instances in Illustrator tutorial

A guide to how to replace symbols / instance or multiple symbols in Adobe Illustrator with a new symbol in the artboard. Symbols in Illustrator are accessed via the symbol panel. The replace command for the Illustrator symbols can be found in the symbols panel. The replace is also available via the top bar of Illustrator. Select a symbol on the Illustrator artboard and then go to the symbol panel and then select the symbol to replace it. If using the panel, go to the right side menu and select the replace command. If you use the replace top bar option then just select the symbol. The current instances with the old symbol will be replaced with the new symbol in Illustrator. The replaced symbol will be the same size as the previous dimensions of the symbol. If you spray an image with symbols via the symbol sprayer in Illustrator and then use the replace, all the symbol instances will be replaced with the new vector symbol. It works the same with the new dynamic symbols. This tutorial shows you how to replace symbols with a new symbol in a super quick way. This is for Illustrator CC 2017 2015 CS6 CS5 etc

  1. Select symbol instance in Illustrator artboard

  2. go to the symbols panel

  3. select the replacement symbol

  4. go to the right side menu

  5. replace

Key point about the symbols - there needs to be symbols to replace !

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The first thing is that there is a symbol instance to be replaced, so add a symbol or symbols to an artboard in Illustrator and then select that instance or instances, you can select multiple instances of that symbol. You can also replace multiple instances of different symbols so if you have a square symbol and a circular symbol then they can be replaced in seconds with a single design.

Top bar replace in Illustrator panel ... probably the quickest way to replace the symbols

replace symbol instances in Illustrator panel
  1. select the symbol instances you want to replace.

  2. go to the top bar of the Illustrator application and you will see an dropdown maked as 'replace' and you will see all the current symbols available to you.

  3. select one of the new symbols or perhaps the same as before (if you want all symbol instances to be the same).


If you try and replace the symbol instance where all the instances are same as the replaced then nothing will happen

Replace symbol instances via symbols panel

You can do the same as the top bar replace via the symbol panel. Select the symbol instances and then go to the symbol panel and then select the symbol you wish to replace them with. Follow that with a quick trip to the menu for the panel and select the replace command (which will be disabled if you try and replace the identical items)

Replace symbols and size - the results match the previous symbol size

replace symbol instance

If you have a large symbol instance and a small instance and then go to the replace command in the panel or the top bar (personally the top bar is easier) you will notice on replacing the items you will suddenly see the new instance added in exact size / dimensions to the previous instances and the new replaced items will be large and small.

Symbol sprayer

If you add the instances via the sprayer tool you will see a number of the instances and they can be selected as a group and then they can be replaced on mass by going to the panel menu or top bar and select the replace command with the new symbol selected in the panel. So if you have a selection of sprayed oranges they can all be changed to replaced with lemons or limes or raspberries etc and if you use the sprayer sizer and spinner then the newly modified instances will be set to the same dimensions and angle.

Expanded - once you break the link with the symbol they cannot be replaced

Once you have expanded the symbol instance or broken the link then you cannot use the replace.

Some examples of the replace command applied with different numbers etc

replaced symbol in Illustrator

The replace command is a really useful tool such as having a symbol instance with a logo and you have added multiple examples of a logo throughout multiple artboards etc and then you can simply select the new preset in the panel and then select the replace command and all the logos will be changed quickly to your new design and the best thing is that the original is not touched, it is still there in the panel (unless deleted) and you can repeat the same operation with any new logos and all can be quickly slotted into the design. Perhaps you have a design with rows of shops and you want replace 'shop 1' logo with the new 'shop 2' logo then the replace command can quickly change all the artwork


You can also perhaps use the replace command to change all numeric symbols (such as 1. with a new symbol (such as 2 or perhaps a * to hide the number). There are probably thousands of possible uses for the replace symbol command in Illustrator


Another useful feature of the replace command is that you may have thousands of symbol instances and to change them all by hand would be slow such as adding the item on top of the previous item and then deleting the lower preset. If you use the menu command, it can be done in a micro second.


If you have an entire document full of symbols, you can select all the items in the artboard and then use the replace and then you will have all the items replaced with the same item. Quick and easy way if that is what you want.

Replacing dynamic symbols

The menu command works in exactly the same way as before but any color additions added to the dynamic symbol instances is ignored and lost and the colors are set as the new preset

Video Youtube videos tutorials

You can find many tutorials on youtube from us such as replacing symbols in Illustrator (youtube)