Using Symbols in Adobe Fireworks

Symbols include icons and animations. They also include HTML text, menu bars, and charts.  Symbols are simply graphic elements that you can use in your documents to save you design time and make your work easier. Fireworks CS6 offers you a myriad of prebuilt symbols that you can use. However, it's also simple enough to create your own.

In this article, we will learn how to:

  • Create a symbol

  • Place symbols into a document

  • Add symbols to the Common Library

  • Edit a symbol

  • Break the link between a symbol and an instance of a symbol

  • Use prebuilt symbols

  • Create nested symbols

  • Use 9-Slice Scaling

About Symbols

Symbols are reusable graphic elements that you can use in your documents. Fireworks CS6 offers you three types of symbols that you can use: graphic, animation, and button. Whenever you place a symbol into your document, you are actually placing a linked copy of the symbol. The linked copy is an instance of the symbol.   You can place as many instances as you want.

Symbols can be found by either going to the Document Library panel or the Common Library panel. Symbols in the Document Library can only be used in the current document. However, those in the Common Library can be used in any document.

If all of this sounds confusing right now, don't worry. Once you see actual examples of symbols in this article and start creating them for yourself, you'll see how much time symbols will save you – and how easy they are to use.

Creating Graphic Symbols

Graphic symbols are single-state. This means they don't change states like rollover or animated graphics would require.

To show you how to create a graphic symbol, we have selected a logo we created by drawing, then grouping vector shapes. We want to turn the logo into a symbol.

Go to Modify>Symbol>Convert to Symbol to convert the graphic to a symbol.

You will then see the Convert to Symbol dialogue box.

Enter a name for the symbol in the Name field. We named ours Logo.

Make sure that Graphic is checked since we are creating a graphic symbol.

Click OK.

Take a look at the Layers panel.

You will see our new symbol in the Layers panel. There is an icon in the lower right hand corner of the thumbnail that let us know this is a symbol.

If you look at the document, you will see a blue plus sign. This lets us know it is an instance of a symbol.

NOTE:  You can convert text, images, or any image or object into a symbol.  

Placing a Symbol in a Document

In the last section, we created a logo.   Let's say that we now want to place that logo on other pages in our document.

To place a symbol in a document, go to the Document Library panel.

You can see the symbol we just created listed in the panel.

Simply drag the symbol from the Document Library panel and place it where you want it in your document.

Adding a Symbol to the Common Library

Whenever you add a symbol to the Document Library, that symbol can only be used in that particular document. In order to make a symbol available to other documents as well, you need to add it to the Common Library.

To do this, select the logo in the Document Library panel.

Click the Menu Options button in the top right corner of the panel, then select Save to Common Library.

You will then see the Save As dialogue box.

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Enter a name for the symbol, then press the Save button. As you can see in the snapshot above, our logo was saved in the Custom Symbols folder.

Now, go to the Common Library panel.

You can see our logo in the Custom Symbols folder.

Editing a Graphic Symbol

Editing a graphic symbol is as easy as editing any other object in Fireworks CS6.   There are only a few extra steps, and those are simple too.

Let's use our logo as an example once again in order to how you how to edit a symbol.

In the snapshot below, we have two instances of our logo symbol. We are going to edit one.

Use the Pointer tool to double click on one of the instances.

As you can see below, the other instance appears faded. Also, you can see a dark grey bar at the top of the document window that says "Page 1" and "Logo."   This is a breadcrumb bar that lets you know you are in symbol-editing mode.   This mode is called Edit in Place. (It can also be reached by going to Modify>Symbol>Edit In Place.) 

Next, we are going to click in the Subselection tool in the Tools panel. Remember, our logo contains three vector shapes that we grouped together.   By using the Subselection tool, we can edit each vector element individually without ungrouping them.

We are going to select the star.

Next, let's go to the Properties panel. 

We are going to edit the gradient fill.

Our symbol now looks like this:

When we are finished, we will click on Page 1 in the breadcrumb bar, then save the file.

Creating a Button Symbol

To create a button symbol, select the object that you want to make into a button.

Go to Modify>Symbol>Convert to Symbol.

You will then see the Convert to Symbol dialogue box.

Select Button for the type.

Click OK.

You can then apply states to the button.

You can apply up to four states to a button: Up, Down, Over, and Over While Down. A two-state button has the Up and Down states. Three and four state buttons have the Over state and the Over While down states.

The Common Library contains a wide variety of buttons that you can use.   Take a look at the one pictured below.

You can double click on the button to go into editing mode, then look at the States panel:

You can see the four states listed.   However, the button's appearance only changes for the first two states.

To change any of the states, click on the state in the States panel, then use the Pointer tool to click on the button.

Take a look at the Properties panel. 

You can change the color, texture, and otherwise modify the appearance of the button for the selected state.

Creating an Animation Symbol

To create an animation symbol, go to Edit>Insert>New Symbol.

You will then see the Convert to Symbol dialogue box.

Enter a name for the new symbol.

Put a checkmark beside Animation, then click OK.

Now you can draw an object on the document. We are going to draw an arrow.

Exit out of the editing mode by clicking Page 1 in the breadcrumb bar.

Now, you can go to the Properties panel and add new states.

Breaking Symbol Links

If you want to edit an instance of a symbol without the changes affecting every other instance, you must first break the symbol link – or the link from the instance to the actual symbol.

To do this, go to Modify>Symbol>Break Apart. 

That instance then becomes a group. The symbol that appears in your Document Library isn't associated with it. If the symbol was a button symbol, it will lose its button symbol characteristics. If it was an animation, it will lose its animation symbol characteristics.

The following instance properties can be modified without breaking the link – or affecting the symbol or other instances of it:

  • Opacity

  • Filters

  • X and Y coordinates

  • Blending mode

  • Width and Height

Using Prebuilt Symbols

Fireworks CS6 offers you so many prebuilt symbols, you may find that you don't have to create many of your own. You can find all of the prebuilt symbols in the Common Library panel.

Double click on any of the folders to see the symbols in the folders.   You can then drag any symbol onto our document to place an instance of it.   For symbols that have several states, Fireworks CS6 may ask you if it can add additional states to your document to accommodate the symbol.

Take the time to drag different symbols onto your document to see what they are – and how they can make designing easier for you.

Creating Nested Symbols

A symbol that's created within a symbol is called a nested symbol. You may use nested symbols to create a header or other design element.

To create a nested symbol, draw a vector object on your page, then convert it to a symbol as you learned to do in this article.

Next, double click on the + sign in the center of the symbol on your document using the Pointer tool.   This will take you into its editing mode. Remember, in editing mode, you will see the breadcrumb bar at the top of your document area.

Once you are in editing mode, draw another vector shape as we've done below.

Convert it to a symbol as well.

Click Page 1 in the breadcrumb bar to return to normal mode and exit out of editing mode.

The circle symbol is a nested symbol of the star symbol.   You can create more nested symbols if you want.

About 9-Slice Scaling

When you convert an object to a symbol, one of the options you can choose is to enable 9-slice scaling.

9-slice scaling allows nested symbols to be scaled individually.

If you want to use 9-slice scaling, make sure the option is checked when you convert the nested objects to symbols. 

To use 9-slice scaling, double click the + sign on the symbol to enter its editing mode. You can then use the Pointer tool to click on different nested symbols and edit their properties.