Graphic Symbols

Symbols are used to help keep file size down as well as being required for some types of animation. They are stored in the Library. Each movie has it's own Library. It's a very good idea to get into the habit of converting an object to a Symbol as soon as you make it. You never know how many times you will want to use it in your movie. When you reuse Instances of the same Symbol, you can save a lot of file space.

When you know that an object in a movie will only be used once, such as a background or text (which naturally has grouped behavior), it's okay to leave it as a grouped object rather than converting it to a symbol. Any other object should be converted into a symbol. In good Flash design, there will never be any "editable" objects on the stage. All objects must be grouped or converted to a symbol.

Editing an Instance:

Remember: Each time you drag a copy of a Symbol from the Library to the Stage, it is an Instance of that Symbol. These instances do not increase the movie's file size. This is why you want to reuse instances of symbols whenever possible.

You can make changes to an individual instance on the stage. These changes only affect the Instance you're working on. Any other Instances of the Symbol and the Symbol in the Library will remain as they were.

To change the size or angle of an Instance, use the Free Transform tool and select it while it's on the Stage. Then activate the rotate or scale modifiers to change the rotation or scale the instance. modifiers

To make other changes to an instance, first select it with the Arrow tool, then open the Property Inspector. There are a few different ways to open the Property Inspector :

  • right click and choose Properties from the contextual menu
  • or choose Window > Properties
  • or press [Ctrl+F3]
NOTE: Depending on your display settings, if the Properties is not in full view you can either undock it by dragging it from the knurled bar (the arrow will turn to a 4 headed arrow), OR close the panel set on the right by right clicking on each title bar and choose Close Panel. You can reopen the panel set at anytime by choosing Window > Panel Set > Flash Intro. You can toggle the view of the panels on and off by pressing the [Tab] key OR [F4] key.
To change color settings for a grahpic symbol:

Select the instance of the symbol on stage.

    From the drop down menu choose one of the options.
  • None:
    • There will be no change in the color of your instance.
  • Brightness:
    • set at 0% the instance is the original color.
    • set at -100% the instance will be black.
    • set at 100% the instance will be white.
  • Tint:
    • Choose the tint color by clicking on the color chip, or by entering the RGB value if you know it.
    • Choose the brightness of the tint color by moving the vertical slider up or down.
  • Alpha:
    • Move the alpha slider up or down to increase/decrease the opacity of your instance.
  • Advanced:
    • Make changes here to create different colors and opacity for your instance by clicking on the Settings button. This option is especially useful when working with a gradient object.

NOTE: Symbols can be arranged/stacked in the same manner that grouped objects can. If at anytime you want to alter a specific instance of a symbol, just choose Modify/Break Apart. You will then have to group that object, or convert it to a new symbol with a new name. Remember, if you "break apart" an instance of a symbol, it is no longer an instance of a is an editable object. Since we do not want editable objects on the stage, the new object needs to be grouped or converted to a symbol. Only break symbols apart if absolutely necessary.

Symbol Library

As you saw, the Symbol Library is where our Symbols are kept after we create them. It's a good idea to convert almost anything you draw in Flash to Symbols...It doesn't make your file bigger and will actually keep it smaller if you want to use the same object more than once in your movie. For purposes of this class, ALWAYS delete extra Symbols before saving the final version of your movie...another point we can't mention enough! Deleting unused symbols from the Library will not save on the movie's file size, but it will save on the fla file size. Since we need to download and view your fla files, we want them to be as small in size as possible :) .

Open or create a movie that has a few Symbols in it and then open the Library.

There are several ways to access the Library:
  • If the Library panel is in the panel set, click on the title bar to expand the Library.
  • or choose Window > Library
  • or press [Ctrl+L]
  • or press F11

default view

The Library can be viewed in two different modes. The narrow view (shown on the left) shows only the name of the Symbols. Select a Symbol name to see the Symbol itself in the top pane.

Click on the button that the blue arrow is pointing to if you want to see the wide view which includes more file information about the Symbols.

To go back to the narrow view, click on the one the red arrow is pointing to.

wide view
  • Name: Indicates the name of the folder or symbol.
  • Kind: Indicates what kind of file the object in the Library is....if it's a folder, it will indicate folder. If it's a graphic symbol it will indicate Graphic.
  • Use Count: Indicates how many times the symbol was used in the movie. To turn the "Use Count" feature on, go Options > Keep Use Counts Updated.
  • Linkage Used in actionscripting to identify and link objects to the swf file.
  • Date Modified: Indicates the date and time the symbol was created or modified.

Click on the Options button in the Library (white arrow in image above) to view Library Options. This is where the Select Unused Items command is located. Use this before saving the final version of your movie. It will select all of the unused symbols in your Library and you can delete them to save on the fla file size.

add new folder or new symbol
These buttons are located on the bottom left corner of your Library window. Use the Create New Folders button to keep your Symbols in so that you can keep them organized. If you look in the Libraries of the Flash Lessons, you will notice that all the Symbols are in folders. They did this so they could stay organized. Give your folders meaningful names such as *buttons*, *graphics*, *sounds*, *clips* etc. 


Built in Libraries

As you may have already discovered, Flash comes with it's own set of Libraries to help get you started. Access them by going Window/Common Libraries. You'll see Buttons, Learning Interactions, and Sound. In previous versions of Flash, a Graphics library was also available, however Flash MX doesn't provide one :(

These built-in Libraries reside in the Flash directory that resides on your hard drive in a folder named Libraries. The path to the Libraries folder should be: C:\Program Files\Macromedia\Flash MX\First Run\Libraries

You can add your own Libraries to this list by creating a Flash file with your symbols in it, and saving it to this folder. 

Open as Library

You can also open Libraries from other movies on your system by going File > Open as Library from the menu. This will open only the Library from that movie, not the .fla file itself. This feature enables you to use previously made symbols in a new movie. Just drag a symbol from the old Library onto the stage or into the new movie's Library. That symbol will now appear in the new movie's Library as well as in the old....Handy feature :) Experiment with this feature and pay close attention to the new movies Library.

Let's Recap:
Symbols:   Assets that are stored in the library. Symbols are the core of Flash to help keep file sizes small.
  • To create a new symbol: Insert > New Symbol or [Ctrl+F8]
  • To convert an object to a symbol: Insert > Convert to Symbol or [F8].
  • You know you are in Symbol Edit Mode if you see the name of the symbol above the work area and a crosshair in the center of the work area.
  • Each copy of a symbol on the stage is called an Instance.
  • Editing the actual symbol in Symbol Edit Mode will change every instance of it in the movie.
  • Editing an instance of a symbol on the main stage only changes the Instance you're working on
Library:   Is used to store symbols.
  • Click on the Options button in the Library to Select Unused Items
  • Create new folders to keep your symbols organized.
Built-in Libraries:   Is accessed by Window > Common Libraries.
  • Save fla files with nothing on the stage to the Libraries folder on your hard drive to access Library items from the Common Libraries menu.
Open As Library: Is used to access other movies's Libraries that are not stored in the Libraries folder.
  • This feature enables you to use previously made symbols from another movies Library without opening that libraries fla file.