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Using Symbols in Flash

One of the most efficient ways to use Flash MX is to use symbols whenever you need more than one occurrence of a graphic, or animation or sound. A symbol is a graphic, button, movie clip, or sound that you create once, then reuse in your movie or other movies. Flash allows you to have an item saved in the Library that you can pull out onto your stage over and over again without busting your file size budget. You can also modify certain parameters on each instance such as scale, rotation, alpha and overall color. If you modify the symbol, it will change all the instances, but if you modify the instance, then just that instance is affected.

Symbol Types

Naming conventions

The Library stores symbols in alphabetical order. In order to keep symbol types grouped together, name each symbol using the first letter of the type of symbol that is it first, followed by a comma, then the name of the symbol. When you are working with many symbols, this helps you find the particular symbol quickly and consistently.



  1. Create a simple shape on the stage, such as a red balloon.
  2. Let's save this shape into the Library by making the balloon a graphic symbol.
    • Using the Arrow tool, draw a selection box around the whole balloon.
    • With it selected, from the Modify menu, choose Convert to Symbol.
    • A Symbol Properties dialog box appears with 3 Behavior options. Flash defaults to the Movie Clip behavior.
    • Select the Graphic behavior.
    • Name your symbol: g, balloon. Click OK.
  3. Delete the balloon from the stage.
  4. From the Window menu, choose Library. You'll see your balloon symbol in the Library window.
  5. Drag the balloon symbol (g, balloon) out of the library onto the stage.
  6. Now you have an “instance” of the balloon on the stage.
  7. Let's change the appearance of the balloon instance.
    - Using the properties menu, change the alpha to 50%, change the tint, and change the scale and rotation.
  8. You'll see the original symbol is unaffected. You can keep pulling in the same symbol over and over again but change each instance any way you want. These attributes can also be changed for different keyframes.

Note: If you plan on animating each instance independently, put each instance on a separate layer. Animation requires "tweening", which will only work on one symbol on one layer at a time.

Making a movie symbol from the balloon graphic symbol

Button Symbol

Your button is created now. Let's test it.

Congratulations! You've made a movie, and a button with a movie in it!


  Updated 2006 July 26
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