Welcome!

Ron Rockwell

Subscribe to Ron Rockwell: eMailAlertsEmail Alerts
Get Ron Rockwell via: homepageHomepage mobileMobile rssRSS facebookFacebook twitterTwitter linkedinLinkedIn


Article

Library Power

Library Power

If your work involves company logos, a photo, or other graphic element that you use often, symbols can save you a lot of time. If you're in the beginning stages of creating a Web site or multipage document with recurring objects, a library of symbols can make layout changes quick and easy. Learning how to work with the library can mean hours of saved time.

What's a Library?
A library is a storage space within a FreeHand document that allows you to place various objects that you want to use more than once. Any vector graphic or bitmap object, block of text, or group of objects can be converted to a symbol that is stored in the library. Within the library you can group symbols in folders for easier viewing and access. Master pages are also stored in the library. A library from one document can be exported and then imported into another document on your computer or shared with a group of artists working on similar projects.

When a symbol is placed onto the page the placed object becomes an instance (child) of the symbol (parent). A symbol can be edited, and the changes will be reflected in every instance of that symbol within the document. This type of global editability is priceless when changes are required to many common objects in a multipage document. By releasing the child from the parent, individual instances of symbols can also be modified. Symbols can also be swapped with other symbols.

What's in the Library?
You can place and find symbols and master pages in the library. If the library is not visible on your screen, choose Window>Library from the main menu bar, or click F11 for a keyboard shortcut. When you first open FreeHand MX, Library, Swatches, and Styles are docked in the Assets panel. To open or close a panel, just click the triangle to the left of the panel's name. In the default setup, FreeHand has a preview, and both graphics and master pages visible, as shown in Image I.

 

The preview window takes up the top of the Library panel. Its size doesn't change, but object previews expand to fit the window. A title bar beneath the preview window tells you which library object is selected. This may seem redundant, but if you have a long list, the object you've selected may not be visible in the list. The list contains the name of the object, the count - or number of times the object is used in the document, and the date the symbol was created. To save desktop space, you can grab the bottom-right corner of the panel and resize it, leaving only the name and count visible. The bottom border of the panel contains four buttons. Click the plus sign (New Symbol button) to copy a selected object in the document to the library as a new symbol. The original object is not an instance of the symbol and can be treated as any other FreeHand object. The next button is the New Group button. When you click it a folder is created (see Image II). Select any objects in the list and drag them into the folder. The folder can be opened or closed by clicking the flippy triangle. If you want to copy an object into a group, hold down the Option/Alt key as you select and drag. That allows you to have the symbol in two or more places at once. The third button is the Swap Symbol button. Clicking this button changes any selected objects in the document to the symbol you have selected in the list. Be careful with this button (see Changing Symbols). The last button is the Trash. Select an object in the library and click the Trash button to delete the object from the library. You will be given the opportunity to release all instances of the symbol by converting them to ordinary FreeHand graphics, or delete all instances altogether.

 

Symbols show up automatically in the list view area of the Library panel with generic names such as Graphic-01, Graphic-02, and so on. Master pages also appear, and if you create a custom brush tip it will be listed as a graphic. To give anything in the library a custom name, open the library options drop-down menu and choose Rename. Any object in the list can be moved up or down in the stacking order to make life more convenient for you.

What Is a Symbol?
Any vector object, bitmap object, or text in FreeHand can be made into a symbol. The benefit of using a symbol is that the library contains the information about the graphic object. When an instance of the symbol is placed on a page, FreeHand relays the file information from the library. Each time an additional instance is placed, FreeHand uses the same information, resulting in a smaller file size when the document is complete. You will be able to think of many ways in which you can use symbols in your workflow, but logos of different color combinations, type slugs, clip art, and animation elements for FreeHand animation can all be used effectively as symbols. For instance, your company may have a logo that is used on dark backgrounds and a different logo for light backgrounds, and yet another for black-and-white use or for use in a Flash animation. With each of those elements in a library - preferably in a group - you can grasp them instantly without searching your hard drive for a particular logo version. You can even import Flash movie and make symbols of them! It's great for testing the effectiveness or layout of a Web site. The Flash movie symbol can be placed anywhere in your design and resized. Then you can view the movie at the new size to see the impact you've made.

Master pages were covered in the last issue of MXDJ ("The Art of Pages," Vol. 2, issue 1) but in short, you can use master pages to create brochures, flyers, newsletters, animations, packaging, and Web sites. One slight note of caution however: if you place an action on an object in the creation of a master page, the action will not work unless you release the child page. At that point all your navigation will be functional - but you'll lose the ability to make global changes via modifying the master page.

When you go through the steps to create a custom brush tip, the tip will be added to the library and given a generic name. Drag an instance of the brush tip onto the pasteboard and release it from its parent. Then modify it and save it as a new brush tip. To me, it's quicker than going through the brush edit menu process. Graphic hose elements are not added to the library, but it's not a bad idea to add them manually due to the ease in which they can be modified and added to the Graphic Hose tool later. To add a symbol to the Graphic Hose, place the instance on the pasteboard and copy or cut it to the Clipboard. Then use the Paste Into button in the Graphic Hose dialog box. For instance, you could make symbols of different colored flowers and place them in the Graphic Hose and spray them throughout the document. Later you could decide to make all the blue flowers a dark violet and create the change by editing the symbol. The possibilities are almost endless.

How Are Elements Placed in the Library?
There are several ways to add a symbol to your library. The easiest is to select an object and press the F8 key, or click and drag the object from the pasteboard onto the library list. The object receives a generic name, and a thumbnail view of the new symbol appears in the library preview window. The original object becomes an instance of the symbol - the original object remains in the document, but it's not editable unless you release it from the parent. To have a choice in the matter, select the object and choose Modify>Symbol and make a further choice there as shown in Image III. Choose Convert to Symbol to change the object into an instance and create a symbol in the library - the same result as clicking and dragging as just described. If you choose Copy to Symbol, however, a symbol is created but the original object remains a normal FreeHand object and is editable without taking further steps. The last method of creating a symbol is to select an object and click the New Symbol button at the bottom-left corner of the Library panel. Doing so utilizes the Copy to Symbol process.

 

How Are Elements Retrieved from the Library?
To use a symbol, select it in the list view and drag its name, icon, or preview onto the pasteboard. That's all there is to it. The instance will be an exact replica of the original object. You can transform the instance as to scale, rotation, skew, and position, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if you change the scale nonuniformly, strokes change nonuniformly as well. For example, if you have an instance that is a square, and you stretch the width, top and bottom strokes will remain the same thickness, but vertical strokes will become wider.

Transforming instances will also impact any edits you make later to the symbol, or if you decide to swap symbols. A symbol has its own aspect ratio (relationship between height and width). If you modify the aspect ratio of an instance and then edit the original symbol or swap symbols, the replacement will take on the aspect ratio of the instance you modified. Doing so can create some pretty ugly surprises, so plan ahead. You can see an example of those surprises in Image IV. Symbol 1 is wide; symbol 2 is tall. Swapping symbol 1 for symbol 2 retains symbol 2's aspect ratio and becomes more or less square. When symbol 2 has been rotated and skewed as shown in the bottom of the image, and then swapped for symbol 1, the aspect ratio of symbol 2's bounding box is wider than before, and symbol 1 expands and shrinks to fit that shape. Notice, too, the width of lines and how they have been modified.

 

How Do You Edit a Symbol?
To edit a symbol, you can press Command+E (Control+E on Windows), or choose Edit Symbol from the Modify>Symbol menu. The process can also be started by double-clicking on the symbol's name in the library list. This brings up the Edit Symbol window, which looks just like any other FreeHand document, except there's no page outline, only the symbol itself. In the top left of the window there is an option to Auto-Update. Checking this option (it's on by default) will update the changed symbol in the document as you make the changes. If you uncheck Auto-Update, the changes happen to all the instances as soon as you close the Edit window. So, make any changes and modifications you wish, then click the Edit window's close button. Every instance of the symbol will reflect your modifications.

Say you want to change all instances of a logo to a new, improved logo. Instead of editing the symbol, you can create a symbol of the new logo. Then select all the instances in the document (or plain FreeHand objects, it doesn't matter); choose the new symbol in the library list and click the Swap Symbols button in the bottom left of the Library panel. Everything you've selected will be an instance of the new symbol. Pretty slick.

When you edit a symbol, the changes are immediate in the current document, but no changes will occur to any other documents that contain instances of the symbol. In order to update those instances, you must export the edited symbol and import it into the older documents. You can export an entire library with the edited symbol, or if it moves you, just export the edited symbol with a new name and use Swap Symbol in the older documents after you've imported the new symbol.

How Do You Release an Instance, and Why?
There are times when you need to release an instance. For example, you cannot use the 3D Rotation tool or the Fisheye Lens tool on a symbol. Then there's the chance that you'd like to change a color in one instance without modifying the symbol itself and changing all the other instances. When that happens, just select the instance and choose Modify>Symbol>Release Instance. This turns the instance into a simple grouped FreeHand object. Ungroup the object and modify as much as you like. There's no keyboard shortcut for Release Instance or Copy to Symbol, but you can create your own from Edit>Keyboard Shortcuts>Modify>Symbol. Doing so can save you a lot of time.

How Do You Save a Library for Future Use?
To be able to use a library in other documents, you must first export the library. There are more dialog boxes than you would expect, but it's not too confusing. First, open the options menu in the Library panel and select Export. This will open the Export Symbols dialog box, which contains all the symbols in your library. You can select one or many of the symbols for export. Using the Shift key, you will select contiguous symbols, but with the Command/Control key you can select individual symbols from the window, as shown in Image V.

 

When you are finished with your selection, click the Export button. A standard Save window opens to the Symbols folder for FreeHand. You are prompted to name your library, and then you click on Save. At this point, you can import the library into any FreeHand document, make it part of your default page, and share it with co-workers. All they have to do is place the file in their Symbols folder. The actual folder is layered pretty deep on your Mac hard drive: HardDrive> Users>yourname>Library>Application Support>Macromedia>FreeHand MX>11>English>Settings>Symbols. The location is similar on a Windows machine.

Accessing a Library
Importing a library is as simple as exporting one. Choose Import from the Library options drop-down menu. This opens the Symbols folder, and you choose the library you want. That opens the Import Symbols dialog box (see Image VI), which looks identical to the Export Symbols dialog box. Choose the symbols you wish to import, and click the Import button. All the symbols will appear in the library.

 

Libraries in Other Macromedia Programs
Although Flash and Fireworks have libraries, they work slightly differently than FreeHand's library. In Flash you can import a FreeHand library, but it's hardly worth the effort. Only one element in the library will be imported to the timeline or library. Instead, import FreeHand objects as you would normally in your workflow. Fireworks allows you to import an entire library (or parts of one), though. The process is just a little different from importing a library into FreeHand. Open the Assets panel in Fireworks and click the Library tab. Then open the Assets options drop-down menu and scroll to Import Symbols. The hard part is navigating to FreeHand's Symbol folder (the path that was described earlier). Then just choose the symbol file you want to import and click on the Import button. The Vector File Options window opens. You can choose the size and resolution of the imports as shown in Image VII. Remember layers is not operable, as all objects within a single symbol are flattened automatically, and anything you may have had on a background layer in FreeHand has been moved up to the same layer as other objects. That said, when you click the OK button, the Import Symbols window opens with a list of all the symbols in the library you've chosen. Select a single file, or use Shift or Command/Control to select multiple files. Click the Import button and all the selected files will be in your Fireworks library.

 

The Science of Symbology
The use of symbols and libraries can make your workflow much smoother. When you become accustomed to their use, you will save time and money, and open new avenues of creativity. The first time you change 8 or 10 logos in a 32-page catalog with a single mouse click, you'll be a convert to creating and using symbols and libraries all the time.

More Stories By Ron Rockwell

Illustrator, designer, author, and Team Macromedia member Ron Rockwell lives and works with his wife, Yvonne, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Ron is MXDJ's FreeHand editor and the author of FreeHand 10 f/x & Design, and he co-authored Studio MX Bible and the Digital Photography Bible. Ron has just introduced a "Casual FreeHand" course available at www.brainstormer.org.
He has Web sites at www.nidus-corp.com and www.brainstormer.org.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.